London: Evening with Kate Hennessy

  • Theresa Alessandro

Pax Christi and London Catholic Worker hosted an evening with Kate Hennessy last night, at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. People came from far and wide for such a rare opportunity: Scarborough, Leeds, Wisbech, Abingdon, Maidstone, Portsmouth and Liverpool. Every seat was taken and two people even sat on the floor to listen.

Kate is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day. Dorothy was an American woman who became a Catholic as an adult and founded the Catholic Worker with her friend Peter Maurin. In her own words, 'What we would like to do is change the world - make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of workers, of the poor, of the destitute - the rights of the worthy and unworthy poor, in other words - we can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world.'

Kate spoke about her book The World Will Be Saved By Beauty. In it, she writes about Dorothy and her daughter Tamar, who is Kate's mother. Many of those who came to hear Kate speak had already read the book and found it to be rich and beautiful in its depiction of Dorothy and Tamar as complex, real people whose relationship with each other was at times a difficult struggle while still full of love for each other. It was a great privilege to hear from Kate directly about her memories of Dorothy and Tamar and how she researched and wrote the book.

Mirjam Johansson of the London Catholic Worker said that in the Worker House, they often ask themselves 'What would Dorothy Day say?'. She asked Kate what she thought Dorothy would say about being considered for canonisation and about the broken and divided world we find ourselves in. Kate said that Dorothy told people that where there is work to be done, you should do it.

A member of the audience asked Kate about Dorothy's own feeling later in life of having failed completely. Kate said that Dorothy believed we should expect failure. Kate counselled against trying to smooth away Dorothy's feelings of failure. She reminded listeners that Dorothy was a complex person and that failing is part of our experience and something to be acknowledged and lived.

The evening was chaired by Pax Christi Vice President, Valerie Flessati. Valerie explained that Dorothy Day visited England several times. First, she came on a 'grand tour' of Europe as a very young woman during her brief marriage. Then 40 years later she came back as the guest of PAX, the peace organisation that pre-dated Pax Christi. She came to speak at the annual conference of PAX at Spode House, the Dominican conference centre in Staffordshire, in 1963. Among the others speakers on that occasion were Dorothy's friend Eileen Egan, and the Benedictine Bede Griffiths.

Dorothy also came back to Spode in 1970. One or two members of the audience had been at that event. Valerie commented that, 50 years later, it was our privilege to welcome Kate, Dorothy's grand-daughter, to speak at a Pax Christi meeting. She presented Kate with a set of photographs which were taken at the 1963 conference.

The evening was moving from the moment Kate first spoke, saying she would like to make this an evening where she talked very personally to us. Later, hearing her read from her book about all the ways in which Dorothy supported those she met and drew into her 'ever-widening circle of family sheltered under her cloak of love', was such a powerful and appropriate way to acknowledge Dorothy Day's contribution to our world. Those present who had long been inspired by Dorothy's life and writings were not disappointed.

Pax Christi live streamed the first part of the evening. You can see that on our Facebook page:

We also audio-recorded it and will make this available on our website soon:

We also have an educational resource about Dorothy Day here:

We hope to have copies of Kate's book, The World Will be Saved By Beauty, available in our online shop again soon. The first batch we ordered sold out fast!

This evening (Thursday 5 March) Kate Hennessy will be speaking at the screening of a film about Dorothy Day at an event at Farm Street Church hosted by The Tablet. For details and to book tickets see:

Tags: Dorothy Day, Pax Christi, London Catholic Worker Kate Hennessy, Theresa Alessandro, Valerie Flessati, Eileen Egan, Bede Griffiths

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