Dorothy Day’s Second Conversion

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/dorothy-days-second-conversion

Fr. John Hugo
Fr. John Hugo


Who was Fr. John J. Hugo? What was the “famous retreat” he preached in the early 1940s, the so-called Lacouture retreat, that had such a profound influence on Dorothy Day? Why did the retreat quickly land Lacouture, Hugo, and others in ecclesiastical “hot water,” suppressing Hugo’s preaching of the retreat for more than fifteen years and leading to his internal exile in the Pittsburgh diocese? Why did Hugo’s themes (particularly his emphasis on self-sacrifice, the primacy of the supernatural, the importance of human intention in achieving holiness, and on poverty and pacifism) meet with such strong resistance in the theological circles of his day? Finally, how might a study of Hugo shed critical light on the “public theology” that holds sway in American Catholic theology today?…

…In January 1973, Day wrote a letter of thanks to supporters of the Catholic Worker. In it she noted that Fr. Hugo was “the most exciting teacher of applied Christianity it has ever been my good fortune to meet.” She then remarked on how he had taught her to “sow time”—that if you give up time to respond to others’ needs, even when most inconvenient, you will be given the time and energy to achieve what you need to do. Then she concluded her letter: “So I’ll finish this, adding only that 5 knocks at my door, five visitors, five conversations (all interesting) interrupted this letter. Love, gratitude, and peace to you all, Dorothy.”

Called to Be Saints: John Hugo, the Catholic Worker, and a Theology of Radical Christianity, Benjamin T. Peters, Marquette University Press, $25, 586 pp.