During his speech to Congress last week, Pope Francis praised Irish American activist Dorothy Day for her “passion for justice.” 

The pope mentioned Day along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr and philosopher Thomas Merton, calling them “four representatives of the American people.”

So who was Dorothy Day?

Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Day was a journalist, activist and devout Catholic. A champion of the poor and a pacifist, she was frequently arrested for her protests against war and injustice.

The Daily Beast reports that Day's first job was writing for a socialist newspaper in New York, and that accusations of communism followed her for the rest of her life.

In 1933, Day, along with Catholic social activist Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that worked to create autonomous communities of Catholics based on the concept of charity and established special homes to help those in need. The movement came out of The Catholic Worker newspaper, which was started by Day to advance church teaching on social justice. 

The Catholic Worker Movement still follows the precepts laid down by Day:  accepting voluntary poverty, carrying out direct action on behalf of the worker and the poor, and leading a life of absolute nonviolence and pacifism.

Historian David O’Brien described her as “the most important, interesting, and influential figure in the history of American Catholicism.”

In 2000, the Vatican announced that they were beginning the process of of working towards her canonization. Day is currently referred to as a Servant of God. In 2012, the case submitted by the Archdiocese of New York earned the approval of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The push for her canonization is controversial, in part because she had an abortion before she converted to Catholicism. Day later wrote she regretted the decision for the rest of her life. 

Pope Francis told Congress: "In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints."

Dorothy DayWikimedia Commons