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All the Way to Heaven. The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day Hardcover – October 20, 2010

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About the Author

Robert Ellsberg is the Publisher of Orbis Books. For five years (1975-1980) he was part of the Catholic Worker community in New York City, serving for two years as managing editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper. His own books include All Saints, The Saints Guide to Happiness, and Blessed Among All Women.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


This volume and its companion, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, complete the publication of Dorothy Day’s personal papers, part of the Dorothy Day–Catholic Worker Collection housed at Marquette University’s Raynor Memorial Libraries in Milwaukee, Wiscon­sin. According to her wishes, these materials were sealed for twenty-five years after her death in 1980.
After receiving an invitation from the University in 2005 to edit these writ­ings, I chose to begin first with the diaries. That project was a greater editorial challenge, both in terms of the sheer quantity of material to be transcribed, and the difficulty of deciphering Day’s handwriting. In contrast, it was a posi­tive relief to turn to the letters. As these were intended to be read, at least by their recipients, they were mercifully legible—many of them typed. The relatively limited number of letters, however, was a disappointment.
While she spent little time each day writing in her diary—sometimes only a few minutes—Day evidently spent many hours writing letters. Many of these were short notes, postcards, polite acknowledgments, and the like. But in many other letters she poured out her thoughts and feelings in a personal way, quite different from her public writings. With the exception of letters of an official character, she did not keep carbons or drafts. Thus, the extent of the letters available for this collection reflects the choice of her correspon­dents to preserve them and their willingness, or that of their heirs, to make them available. I have no illusions that these letters represent any more than a small fraction of the many thousands of letters she wrote in her lifetime. Many letters to close friends, colleagues, and even family members were lost or discarded. Fortunately, a wealth of material remained, including her pre­cious early letters to Forster Battherham, to her daughter Tamar, to Ammon Hennacy, Thomas Merton, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, and many other lifelong friends and fellow travelers. In making the selection for this book, I included only those that seemed to hold particular interest. All were edited to omit repetition and inconsequential detail.

Many people helped with this project. I am particularly grateful to those who stepped forward, in response to my appeals, to share their letters from Dorothy Day. These include the Woodcrest Bruderhof, Sidney Callahan, Jeff Dietrich and Catherine Morris, Jim Douglass, Francisco Fernandez, Eric Gauchat (the son of Bill and Dorothy Gauchat), Judith Gregory, Father Paul Lachance, Karl Meyer, and the family of Karl Stern. I am immensely grate­ful to Kate and Martha Hennessy for their consistent encouragement of this project and for sharing Dorothy’s many cards and letters to her grandchildren. Johannah Turner, who grew up in the Catholic Worker, was exceptionally generous with her talents as a proofreader. Other careful readers were Tom Cornell and Jim Forest, whose long personal memories of the Catholic Worker story and many of its fabulous characters were an invaluable resource. Rachelle Linner and Julie Pycior helped track down sources. Pat Jordan and Frank Donovan offered critical assistance on numerous points. Thanks also to Rosalie Riegle, Claudia Larson, Jim Martin, Jim Allaire, George Horton, Michael Harank, and Gabrielle Earnshaw.
This project would not have been possible without the expert assistance of Phil Runkel, the dedicated archivist of the Dorothy Day–Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University’s Raynor Memorial Libraries. It was he who obtained and catalogued the majority of the letters selected here. For this work, as well as his tireless willingness to pursue all leads, no matter how unlikely, and for his patient attention to any and all questions, he has been a true partner in this project. I am grateful to Matt Blessing, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Marquette, for initially entrusting this project to me and for his many years of support. It has been an honor to work again with Andrew Tallon, director of Marquette University Press, who, together with Maureen Kondrick, oversaw every aspect of this publication. In addi­tion, once again I wish to thank the Archdiocese of New York and Marquette University’s Edward Simmons Religious Commitment Fund for their gener­ous financial support.
I am glad for an opportunity to thank Dorothy’s daughter, Tamar Hennessy, who preserved so many of these letters, and who was generous, in the final months of her life, in sharing memories of her parents. Readers of The Duty of Delight as well as this book will appreciate that some of these memories were not particularly happy. Tamar deeply loved her mother and treasured her as­sociation with the Catholic Worker. But she was initially apprehensive about publishing private materials that stirred up complicated emotions. In the end, I am glad that she made her peace with the past and with this project, and I am grateful for the trust she placed in me.
Finally, it is only right to acknowledge my debt to Dorothy Day, whom I met in 1975 when I was nineteen and who asked me, just a few months later, to take on the job of editing The Catholic Worker. I could not know at that time just how significant this assignment would be, nor how much her example and her spirit would dominate the rest of my life. I possess only one letter from Dorothy, a picture postcard—like countless others she wrote, too insignificant to include in this collection. I received it while fasting in a jail cell in Colorado where I was confined as a result of an anti-nuclear protest. It was an aerial picture of Cape Cod. On the reverse she had written:

Dear Bob—Hope this card refreshes you and does not tantalize you. We all love
you and hold you in our prayers. Dan Mauk will feature you on the first page in
CW. Love in Christ, Dorothy

I knew that Dorothy’s bedroom wall was covered with postcards like this: pictures of mountains, deserts, tropical birds, and polar bears. … I hung her card on the wall of my cell and I have remembered it many times since. It has never ceased to refresh me. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Marquette Univ Pr; 1st edition (October 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874620619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874620610
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,939,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jim Forest on May 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Dorothy Day was a prolific letter writer but until now few of her letters were available. The hundreds of letters in the Catholic Worker archive at Marquette University were sealed for the first 25 years following her death in 1980. With the publication of All the Way to Heaven, finally those who value her life have access to a more private Dorothy, in some ways familiar, in other ways full of surprises.

The letters shed fresh light on her struggles, her faith, her spiritual life, her life in community, her relationship with her common-law husband, Forster Batterham, and with her daughter Tamar and with her grandchildren. The result is a rich, three-dimensional portrait of one the most remarkable Americans of the twentieth century.

Robert Ellsberg's introduction is itself one of the book's treasures. Dorothy's life, he notes, "involved constant letter-writing: acknowledging and thanking contributors, responding to queries from priests and church officials, answering critics, exhorting and encouraging fellow Catholic Workers around the country, writing letters to editors and city agencies, letters of support to prisoners of conscience, advice on practical aspects of hospitality, or pastoral responses to young people coping with existential crises and spiritual struggles. When she traveled there were also letters home, or letters to her daughter Tamar and her grandchildren. There were letters to old friends and to innumerable strangers. In every case she connected intensely with the needs of her correspondents, just as she did with the people at hand. In reading and responding to letters, Dorothy responded not just to the particularities of the moment; she saw her correspondents' struggles, their yearnings, their sufferings in relation to the universal human condition, and as part of a drama that linked this life and the life to come. As she liked to quote St. Catherine of Siena, the fourteenth-century mystic, `All the way to Heaven is heaven.'"
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jon M. Sweeney on October 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This terrific collection of letters offers glimpses of the daily life and work of Dorothy Day. Her correspondents are sometimes famous, such as Allen Ginsberg and Thomas Merton, and there are plenty of letters here written to other key figures in the Catholic renaissance movement of social justice from the 20th century, such as Daniel Berrigan, Jim Forrest, and Fritz Eichenberg. But my favorite moments are letters written to the IRS (the Catholic Worker never paid federal income tax) and to priests and monsignors who objected to the liberal positions published in the paper.
One final note: The press has published the book beautifully and lastingly. You will appreciate the sewn binding and pass this book on to your grandchildren.
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Format: Paperback
The Catholic Worker Movement, as I see it, was and is a personal movement that seeks to alleviate the suffering of the poor and promote Christian tenets of peace in a non-Christian society. That's a gross simplification, but when the Worker was founded and grew, some of its foremost interests were providing alternatives to war and addressing a growing disparity between rich and poor. For more information, I would suggest looking at Catholic Worker [dot] Org's web page.

So, the Catholic Worker was not only a House of Hospitality (addressing bodily and spiritual needs of the poor) but also a newspaper. Some call it a radical movement, and in my reading of Dorothy Day's letters, I definitely see that her views and the views of the Worker were radical. But not in the often used sense of the word radical- the one that dismisses others as "extreme". No, her views were radical but in the oldest sense of the word: going to the root. She, Peter Maurin, and the other Workers went to the root and heart of Christianity. The center of Christ's teaching to care for the poor, to turn the other cheek, to love others, to live sacrificially. That's radical.

Day is also often referred to, punnily enough, as a Saint for our day- which I think is apt. She reflected and addressed timeless concerns, but also modern concerns: abortion, the decay of family, modern warfare.

The book itself, as the title indicates, is a collection of Day's letters to various clergy, politicians, and laypeople. Day was a prolific letter writer and wrote to the likes of Alan Ginsberg, Eunice Shriver, Thomas Merton, Cesar Chavez. She wrote tenderly, honestly, passionately.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Dunn TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
All the Way to Heaven is an anthology of letters written by Dorothy Day from 1923 to 1980. I did some research to find out the year in which she was born (which was 1897 if you were wondering). This means that these letters began when she was approximately 26 and continued til February of 1980, when she was 82 years old. This is impressive in and of itself. Like most twenty-somethings, her early letters deal with love and relationships. This first series was written ten years before she established the Catholic Worker movement. By reading these letters, we are able to see her life before God got a hold of her.

We then see a dramatic shift in the next series of letters. By this time, she had become the leader of a lay movement and was addressing issues of labor and social justice. her focus had shifted towards helping others and away from herself. The rest of the letters continue to show her spiritual growth and maturity, as well as the advancement of her newspaper and the cause for which she fought her whole life - social justice. Besides writing to ordinary lay people interested in her cause, Dorothy Day also wrote to some of the most important people in her day, including bishops and Thomas Merton.

I did not read all the letters, as they span nearly 600 pages. However, during the ones I did read, I found myself wishing to read the responses she received to these letters. I feel it would have fleshed out the dialogue more and made for more interesting reading. I did like that there was an index at the end, as it was helpful if you were looking for a letter to a specific individual. While this book isn't technically a biography, it feels biographical in a way as you read through it. Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
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