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Dorothy Day ferry on its way to New York Harbor

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John Burger - published on 09/03/22

Staten Island Ferry's newest ship is named for New York founder of the Catholic Worker movement.

Dorothy Day is coming back to New York City. 

Well, not the Dorothy Day who began a well-known outreach to the poor on the city streets, but a boat named in her honor.

The Dorothy Day, the newest ship in the Staten Island Ferry fleet, is being towed up the Atlantic coast from where she was built to take her place along the familiar orange vessels that cross between the New York boroughs of Manhattan and Staten Island multiple times a day.

Built by Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Florida, the Dorothy Day set sail Friday after passing a U.S. Coast Guard inspection. The maiden voyage is expected to last about two weeks, depending on weather, so the new ferry should be in New York Harbor on or around September 16.

After cleaning, further trials, and training, the Dorothy Day should be in regular service sometime later this year.

The 4,500-passenger ferry is one of three new vessels in the Ollis class, named for Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, a Staten Islander who lost his life in Afghanistan while saving a Polish soldier from a suicide bomber in 2013. 

“It has been an honor for our company to build the three Ollis Class Staten Island Ferries for the citizens of New York City, marking a bold new chapter in the Staten Island Ferry’s 200-year-old legacy of public transportation,” said Joey D’Isernia, president of Eastern Shipbuilding Group. “These cutting-edge ferries are now the premier vessels of the world’s busiest passenger-only ferry system that has reliably served the people of New York, New Jersey, and the millions of tourists New York City welcomes each year.”

The two other Ollis Class vessels are the SSG Michael H. Ollis and the Sandy Ground, which are already in service. The Sandy Ground honors one of the nation’s first Black settlements — located on Staten Island’s South Shore – which also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Staten Island connections

Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Day as a child followed her family to different parts of the U.S. She studied at the University of Illinois, where she became a socialist. Moving to New York, she worked for socialist newspapers and was arrested for marching for women’s suffrage. She also studied nursing in Brooklyn before moving to New Orleans. After a love affair, an abortion, and a brief marriage, she bought a cottage on Staten Island with proceeds from a book sale.

In 1925, she fell in love with an anarchist, with whom she had a daughter, Tamar. Though she knew it would lead to the breakup of her relationship with the child’s father, she had Tamar baptized, and she herself, turning her back on her past life, received baptism, at Our Lady Help of Christians Church on Staten Island.

“While covering the 1932 Hunger March in Washington, D.C., for some Catholic magazines, she prayed at the national Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that some way would open up for her to serve the poor and the unemployed,” according to the Dorothy Day Guild. “The following day, back in New York, she met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant and former Christian Brother, who had a vision for a society constructed of Gospel values. Together they founded the Catholic Worker newspaper which spawned a movement of houses of hospitality and farming communes that has been replicated throughout the United States and other countries.”

In addition to her work of offering food and shelter to those in need on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Day was involved in activism in support of farm workers and against war. In the 1950s, she opened a cooperative farm on Staten Island. 

Following her death in 1980, Day was buried at Resurrection Cemetery in the Pleasant Plains section of Staten Island.

In 2000, then-Archbishop of New York Cardinal John J. O’Connor introduced Day’s cause for canonization. The Dorothy Day Guild was formed in 2004. In November 2012, after a unanimous voice vote, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Holy See to continue the canonization process.

In 2015, Pope Francis cited Day’s inspired leadership alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln during an address he delivered to Congress. In that address, Francis said:

“In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. … Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”

What would Dorothy think of her ship?

For someone who devoted her life to serving the poor, it might surprise Day to have a ship named for her that has such modern amenities for commuters as more comfortable seating, phone-charging stations, and an outdoor walking track

But it might also be apropos to lend her name to something that has long been a form of transportation shared by wealthy and poor New Yorkers alike. Long known as a ferry one could hop on for a mere nickel, it’s been a free ride since 1997.

Last year, Kate Hennessy, a granddaughter of Dorothy Day and author of Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty, said:

“My grandmother loved Staten Island and treasured her trips on the Staten Island Ferry, the rare time when she could relax and be free of her many responsibilities.”

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