Photo from left to right: Anne Symens-Bucher ’75, Kate Hennessy, Robert Symens-Bucher ’18 and Troy Williams.
When Pope Francis addressed Congress in 2015, he singled out four great Americans – President Abraham Lincoln, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., contemplative and spiritual writer Thomas Merton and activist Dorothy Day – who through hard work and sacrifice were able to build a better future.
For most, Day’s name was likely the most unfamiliar of those mentioned by the Pope. Last week, students in Doug Vierra’s Peace and Justice class got a rare glimpse into the life of one of America’s most revered social activists when Day’s granddaughter, Kate Hennessy, visited campus. The visit was arranged by O’Dowd parent Anne Symens-Bucher ’75, who lived and worked at Day’s New York Catholic Worker house and was inspired to create Canticle Farm – an urban farm, intentional community and eco-spirituality center – in East Oakland. “The Catholic Worker movement changed the course of my life,” Symens-Bucher said.
Hennessy recently published The World Will Be Saved by Beauty an intimate portrait of her grandmother, who is currently being considered for sainthood, and shared memories with O’Dowd students.
She talked about Day’s early years as a journalist who became involved with New York City’s radical crowd, her feelings about having an illegal abortion and then later becoming a mother, her unexpected conversion to Catholicism, her efforts to launch a newspaper, her social activism that included multiple arrests for protesting injustice, and the beginnings of Catholic Worker Movement.
Vierra was struck by Day’s formidable presence in the community, given her life of voluntary poverty. “While Dorothy Day embodies the power of political activism, civil disobedience and refusal to give in to the whims of unchecked governmental and corporate authority, she did so with basically no money and just her will and a conscience open to the Holy Spirit. Remarkable!” he said.
He marveled at the interconnectedness between Day, Symens-Bucher and himself. “Someone I didn’t know inspired Anne who gave me an opportunity when I came home from prison,” he said. And now he is paying it forward to others.
Hennessey said she loved having Symens-Bucher and Williams present along with her to continue the story. “It was a unique and powerful moment for me,” she said.
At the conclusion of the visit, Symens-Bucher shared a St. Francis quote that also characterized Day’s life. “I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what you are to do.”