Granddaughter of Social Justice Icon Dorothy Day to Speak at St. Ambrose


A best-selling author and the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the prominent Catholic social justice advocate who is under consideration for canonization, will speak Sept. 27 at St. Ambrose University.

Kate Hennessy will discuss her critically-acclaimed book, Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother, as part of a national speaking tour.  

Hennessey's presentation runs from 6:30 - 8 p.m. at Christ the King Chapel, 518 W. Locust St., Davenport. The event is open and free to the public and co-sponsored by the SAU Departments of Theology, Philosophy and Campus Ministry, the Wilber Endowment for Peace and Nonviolence, and the Iowa City Catholic Worker.

Prior to the presentation, Hennessy will sign books from 1-2 p.m. at the SAU Bookstore, 2nd floor, Rogalski Center.  Her latest work was recognized with a Christopher Award for helping to "affirm the highest values of the human spirit," in addition to being chosen by the Chicago Tribune for the best spiritual writing of 2017. 

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a prominent writer, social activist, and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. Hennessy's book offers a frank and reflective, heartfelt and humorous portrayal of her grandmother.

According to SAU Theology Professor Keith Soko, PhD, Hennessy's presentation will build on a discussion hosted earlier this year at SAU. The Wilber Symposium on the Christian Tradition and Non-Violence in April focused on Day's work.

"Dorothy Day was a Catholic social justice icon and her messages continue to have value. Sometimes she was outspoken, and the Church and the government did not always agree with her. But, she was an advocate for nonviolence and economic justice, and a lot of what she said remains current today," Soko said.

According to publisher Simon & Schuster, Hennessy is the youngest of Day's nine grandchildren. In the book, she describes her grandmother as an unusual candidate for sainthood. Before Day's conversion, she lived what Hennessy called a "disorderly life," during which she had an abortion and then gave birth to a child out of wedlock.

"After Day's conversion, she was both an obedient servant and a rigorous challenger of the Church. She was a prolific writer whose books are still in print and widely read. Although compassionate, Hennessy shows Day to be driven, dogmatic, loving, as well as judgmental, in particular with her only daughter, Tamar. She was also full of humor and laughter and could light up any room she entered," according to the publisher.

Hennessy's work has been included in Best American Travel Writing. In addition to her latest book, she authored in collaboration with the photographer Vivian Cherry, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker: The Miracle of our Continuance.

Hennessy attended New York University and the School for International Training in Vermont. She has traveled and worked around the world, including at an international summer camp in the former USSR, and as an ESL Teacher in Guatemala and in India to Tibetan refugees. She also walked 750 kilometers on El Camino de Santiago in Spain.

She and her husband, Garry Jones, a musician and artist, divide their time between Vermont and Ireland.

Photo of Kate Hennessy

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