In the middle of a month dedicated to the Saints, Blesseds and those heroes and heroines who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, I would like to consider the lives of two great lay people who are "saints in waiting:" the Austrian Franz Jaegerstaetter and the American Dorothy Day. The causes for beatification for both people are now open and under careful study in Austria, the United States and at the Vatican.
Jaegerstaetter was an extraordinary layman, father of a family, disciple and martyr for the truth. Born in 1907 in the small town of St. Radegund in Austria, he became one of the outstanding figures of Christian resistance to National Socialism. A married man, he led a simple farm life and served as sacristan of his parish church. Franz became known for his opposition to the Nazi regime, casting the only local vote against Nazism.
He was condemned to death for sedition and sentenced to loss of civil rights and of eligibility for military service. Early on Aug. 9, 1943, Jaegerstaetter was taken from Berlin to Brandenburg/Havel and beheaded for his refusal to serve in the armies of the Third Reich. He was survived by his wife and three daughters, the eldest of whom was six years old.
One of the last things he wrote before his death was: "Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute us. For love will conquer and will endure for all eternity. And happy are they who live and die in God's love." The second remarkable figure is Dorothy Day, born on Nov. 8, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. She was neither baptized nor raised in the church. After dropping out of college in 1916, she pursued the radical causes of her day: women's suffrage, free love, labour unions, and social revolution. But when a decade of protest and social action failed to produce changes in the values and institutions of society, Dorothy converted to the Catholic Church and the radicalism of Christian love. The triggering event for Dorothy's conversion was the birth of her daughter. After an earlier abortion, Dorothy had desperately wanted to get pregnant. She viewed the birth of her daughter as a sign of forgiveness from God.
For 50 years, Dorothy lived with the poor, conducted conferences, and published a newspaper, dependent entirely upon donations. Seventy-five houses of hospitality were established during her lifetime, where the hungry were fed, the naked clothed, the homeless sheltered, the sick cared for, and the dead buried. She was put in jail, for the first time, at the age of 20 while marching in support of women's suffrage. She was put in jail, for the last time, at the age of 75 while marching in support of the United Farm Workers.
Dorothy died on Nov. 29, 1980. She was an average person who read her bible and tried to live and to love like Jesus. She challenges each of us to take seriously the message of the gospel.
Daughter of the Church
In March, 2000, the Late Cardinal John O'Connor of New York City formally announced the opening of the beatification process and wrote: "It has long been my contention that Dorothy Day is a saint -- not a "gingerbread" saint or a "holy card" saint, but a modern day devoted daughter of the Church, a daughter who shunned personal aggrandizement and wished that her work, and the work of those who laboured at her side on behalf of the poor, might be the hallmark of her life rather than her own self." Both Dorothy Day and Franz Jaegerstaetter continue to inspire many people throughout the world by their lives and witness. They teach us that holiness is not reserved for an elite few popes, bishops, priests, nuns and "religious" people. It is also something offered to ordinary folks like us who read the Toronto Sun.