Day developed a concern for the poor at an early age. Her family endured the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. When her family lived in Chicago, she often wandered into the poor tenement districts to observe the life there. At the age of 16, Day won a scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana, where she studied journalism.
At various times throughout her life she protested against conscription, championed women’s and African-American rights, and called for an end to war. Day was jailed numerous times for her participation in nonviolent demonstrations.
Day aborted her first child to please her lover, who deserted her. She was married briefly to an older man before entering a common-law marriage with a scientist. The birth of her daughter Tamar prompted a spiritual awakening that led her to the Catholic Church. She became a devout Catholic, attending daily Mass and immersing herself in Scripture.
Day’s particular concern was to find an equitable way of life by which people could “feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do.” She felt the solution was a return to the land and worker ownership of the means of production. In 1932 she met Peter Maurin, a poor French Catholic immigrant. Together they formed the Catholic Worker Movement.
The Catholic Worker was a journal Day and Maurin used to spread the news of the movement. They also formed Catholic Worker houses of hospitality and farms, where people would live together and share their resources with one another. These venues pitted the gospel against the realities of human weakness, often with disappointing results.
Viewed in her time as a revolutionary, Day’s radicalism as she applied it to the gospel now inspires many to view her as a saint. Pope John Paul II approved the opening of her cause for canonization in 2000.