Loaves and Fishes Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Dorothy Day’s Loaves and Fishes tells the story of the movement that she cofounded in 1933, the Catholic Worker. She intended the book to be a sequel to The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (1952), which focused on her conversion from secular radicalism to Catholicism grounded in Jesus’ radical message of love. It also updates Day’s House of Hospitality (1939), an account of the movement’s first five years.

The book is divided into nineteen chapters and five thematic parts, each relating the values of her radical gospel Catholicism through her experiences and observations. A journalist rather than a philosopher, Day presents her radical gospel Catholic beliefs as an integral part of the movement’s history, not as abstractions.

In part 1, Day recounts Catholic Worker history, emphasizing the role of Peter Maurin, originally a French peasant, whose ideas helped her live her Catholic faith while finding a vocation that allowed her to blend her radical activist past with a gospel faith nourished by Catholic worship, sacraments, and teaching. What begins as a journalist’s attempt during the Depression to promote the radical implications of Catholic social teaching through the Catholic Worker (the paper where she was founder, publisher, editor, and often contributor), evolves into an urban movement that houses, feeds, and clothes the poor; an agrarian communal alternative to industrial capitalism; and a movement uncompromising in its pacifism and nonviolent resistance, an approach previously unfamiliar to Catholicism in the United States. Day believed that by living Christianity, she and others could start building a new society.

In...

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Loaves and Fishes Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Coy, Patrick G., ed. Revolution of the Heart: Essays on the Catholic Worker. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988. Some of the most accessible and incisive writings on such aspects of the movement as personalism, peace, advocacy journalism, free obedience, hospitality, and resistance.

Ellsberg, Robert, ed. Dorothy Day: Selected Writings. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1992. The introduction provides an excellent brief study of Day, her spirituality, and the movement, with judiciously chosen selections from a wide range of her writings.

Klejment, Anne, and Nancy L. Roberts, eds. American Catholic Pacifism: The Influence of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996. Highlights include Day’s letters to Thomas Merton and essays on Day’s preconversion pacifism, conscience and conscription, Cold War era peacemaking, and the movement’s international influence.

Riegle, Rosemary, ed. Dorothy Day: Portraits by Those Who Knew Her. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003. A collective biography of Day, thematically organized, based on interviews with family and friends. With contextual comments and photographs.

Thorn, William, et al., eds. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement: Centenary Essays. Milwaukee, Wis.: Marquette University Press, 2001. Contributions by activists and scholars. The most valuable essays discuss the movement’s significance, spiritual and philosophical roots, radical orthodoxy, and mystical body theology.

Zwick, Mark, and Louise Zwick. The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins. New York: Paulist Press, 2005. A well-researched popular volume that analyzes such influences on the movement as the works of mercy, monasticism, voluntary poverty, pacifism, and the “little way.”