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Granddaughter of Dorothy Day to offer intimate look at famous relative

The Dorothy Day House at 714 Eighth Street South in Moorhead opened in 1983, 50 years after Dorothy Day opened her first house of hospitality. Forum file photo

FARGO — "My granny said there is no time with God, and so I set out to find her when she was a young woman of 20, the age I was when she died."

As the daughter of Dorothy Day's only child, Kate Hennessy knew that her grandmother was a remarkable woman.

Being the granddaughter of a woman who co-founded "The Catholic Worker," a newspaper which promoted Catholic teachings, as well as The Catholic Worker Movement, Hennessy was given a unique opportunity to share her grandmother's story with the world — in a way that no one else could.

"There are many biographies about my grandmother," Hennessy says. "They're all pretty much theologians, historians, academics writing about her life, which is fabulous. But to me, there was always something missing, and that was the story of my grandmother as a mother."

Though Hennessy was only 20 when her grandmother passed away, she was able to learn more about her grandmother through her mother's stories.

"My mother and I spent probably 27 years after my grandmother died in 1980 just talking about her," says Hennessy. "My mother loved her life growing up with the Catholic Worker. After my mom died, I thought, 'Good Lord these stories are going to disappear unless I do something about it.' "

That something became her book, "Dorothy Day: The World Will be Saved by Beauty". It offers an inside look into Dorothy Day's life as a mother.

"Even though it is a story of this incredible woman, it's also at its basic, the story of a relationship and love between a mother and daughter," Hennessy says.

Now Hennessy travels the country, speaking to groups about her book and grandmother's life. She has spoken at several colleges and groups in many states across the nation and will soon make an appearance in Fargo on April 19 at the Presentation Prayer Center.

Scott Mathern-Jacobson, the Presentation Prayer Center's assistant director, says bringing Kate to Fargo was almost a no-brainer.

"I knew about Dorothy Day and had been myself in the Catholic Worker for many years, and I knew the book was out and I knew she would be a good speaker," Mathern-Jacobson says. "It's just another opportunity to have a good speaker and a good subject. There's a lot of people in this area that are interested in Dorothy Day and know quite a bit about her history but don't necessarily know what her family is like. This presentation will give everyone insight to what that was like."

For Hennessy, giving presentations on her book is another way to share her grandmother's love of storytelling with the country.

"I am so grateful that I have these stories and I can tell them," Hennessy says. "Even though I was only 20 when my grandmother died, I still heard a lot of stories from her. She was an amazing storyteller ... I am grateful to be able to share them with others. I think they have a lot to say to us now, my mother and grandmother, about how we follow our conscience, how we find our vocations, what is it ours to do in the world, and also to be prepared for great failure."

If You Go

What: Kate Hennessy presents "Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty"

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, April 19

Where: Presentation Prayer Center, 1101 32nd Ave. S., Fargo

Info: The event is free, however a suggested donation is $10 per attendee 

Carrying on Dorothy Day's mission

The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, Inc., at 714 8th St. S., in Moorhead opened in 1983 as a safe shelter for area homeless people. At the time, area churches were housing destitute people in their basements, according to a March 13, 1983 Forum article, so the Metropolitan Area Catholic Churches proposed a plan to create a shelter based on Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Movement. As a journalist during the Great Depression, Dorothy Day saw the need to offer society's outcasts a home, opening her first hospitality home in 1933. Today, there are approximately 250 houses of hospitality worldwide.