Some say that the process of canonization could try the patience of saints themselves. But others argue that the arduousness of the process is only further testament to the importance given them.
In the “cause” (or “case”) for Dorothy Day, the first steps have been completed. After initiating meetings with people who had known and worked closely with her, Cardinal John O’Connor in February 2002 formally requested that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome consider her canonization. Upon the Congregation’s approval, Dorothy was officially named a “Servant of God.” In 2005, the Guild was established to support the cause.
The next steps to be conducted include the writing of a “positio,” a biographical presentation, grounded in the context of history, that reveals both Dorothy Day’s unique holiness and her distinctive gifts to the Church. Following its review by a theological commission, a recommendation would be made to the pope that, pending a documented miracle linked to her, Dorothy Day would be declared “Venerable” and later “Blessed.” A second miracle would then open the way for her formal recognition as a saint.
In all causes for which there are still living witnesses, the evidence of holiness (manifested by the individual’s exceptional or “heroic” practice of the three supernatural virtues, faith, hope, and charity [love of God and of neighbor] and the four cardinal moral virtues [prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance]) is based, in part, on their testimony. Coupled with letters, diaries, books, sermons, and any other written material, an in-depth picture of a candidate’s spiritual life is documented.
A theology of saints, fostered by Vatican II, stresses the person’s uniqueness. As the Anglican author C.S. Lewis writes in his Mere Christianity, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.” Christopher Dawson, the famed historian of Catholic culture, also recognizes their striking originality. “Nothing shows the catholicity of the Catholic Church better than the extraordinary range of human character and behavior on which the seal of her approval [canonization] has been placed.”
Nonetheless, laywomen like Dorothy Day represent a type of vocation not often seen in the canon of saints. Eileen Egan, a lifelong friend and colleague of Day’s, saw her as someone who “shows that ordinary people can live by the Sermon on the Mount. She tried to relate the Sermon on the Mount to everything she did. This makes her a tremendous inspiration for lay people. Most saints appear to be hedged in by vows or life style, but Dorothy wasn’t hedged in by anything.”
Not only was Dorothy not “hedged in,” she transcended the divisive boundaries of right and left, pointing to the common ground of discipleship. In Saints as They Really Are, the Orthodox theologian Michael Plekon observes “it is precisely the clash of characteristics, the flash of radicalism and traditional piety, that reveals Day’s singular character. Her complex personality and rich life, focused however on love for God and for neighbor, make her very much a saint for our times.”