Discovering Dorothy Day’s “The Long Loneliness”

(Original version published on Goodreads.)

I suspect Dorothy Day would have winced at the word “legendary” in the subtitle assigned to her memoir: the autobiography of the legendary Catholic social activist. Humility informs every page of The Long Loneliness. So does clear and inviting prose, a testament to Day’s experience as a journalist. She was a 20th-century treasure.

Up until now, Dorothy Day has been to me the subject of magazine articles and other people’s blog posts, some quite critical (not that criticism was likely to deter her). Picking up Day’s 1952 memoir was a revelation to me.

She wrote The Long Loneliness in middle age, when she was already known for her commitment to nonviolence and service to the homeless. (She had decades of activism ahead of her.) Known now as a “Servant of God” – an honorific for a Catholic whose cause for sainthood is under consideration – she was a convert, a decision that cost her dearly even as she embraced it with joy. She was determined to put her love of God into practice, whatever the cost. 

She didn’t give lip service to “social justice.” She lived it, in soup kitchens – “houses of hospitality” – that she helped to establish and in the advocacy she gave to anyone who was disadvantaged. She didn’t romanticize the work; anyone coming to help was expected to take a practical view of things. Yet workers and volunteers came anyway, building a community grounded in faith and service that came to be known as the Catholic Worker movement. Day called community of that sort the key to dealing with “the long loneliness.” 

Not everything she did met with approval from authorities. The memoir includes a brief account of the moral and practical challenges faced by pacifists like her as the United States formally entered World War II. Her explanation of her actions has no trace of self-righteousness. Instead, as throughout the book, her words are full of warmth and compassion even when they are blunt and forthright.

The memoir is rich with Day’s descriptions of the people she met along her way. None was more influential to her spiritual and social growth than Peter Maurin. She generously considered him the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, leaving the reader to reflect on how the movement might have foundered without Day’s particular gifts as writer and organizer. 

Day was an interesting woman who lived in interesting times, and she wrote with a keen pen. That alone makes The Long Loneliness worth reading. A better reason, and one Day would likely deem more important, is her story of conversion to the Catholic faith and the vocation she followed thereafter.

There are multiple editions of The Long Loneliness. Look for one unburdened with explanatory material. Let Day speak for herself.

Summer on the trails

It’s time to dig out my blaze orange gear. My favorite hiking season is at hand. I have no complaints about the season just ended, though. It was a beautiful summer in New Hampshire and beyond, including out west for what I expect was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

North Country

Four days of car camping in August brought me to trails in Pittsburg and Jefferson and a few places in between. Ramblewood Campground in Pittsburg (a five-star establishment, in my book) and Percy Lodge and Campground in Stark served as homes-away-from-home.

Cherry Pond, NH

Cherry Pond, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, Jefferson NH

It’s tough to pick my favorite part of the Cohos Trail. On this trip, though, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson staked a pretty strong claim. I circled the refuge one sunny afternoon, stringing together several trail and road segments to make an 8-mile loop. Once out of the woods, the view was all about the surrounding peaks: Mt. Martha to my south, the Presidentials to the east, and the Pliny Range to the north. That just might be the most rewarding flat hiking route I’ve found so far in New Hampshire.

I didn’t limit this trip to Cohos Trail segments. I discovered Second College Grant, a Dartmouth College property the size of a town, where I enjoyed a serene walk alongside the Dead Diamond River. Another day, perhaps I’ll return for a hike up Diamond Ridge.

From Stark, I took a quick drive to Milan Hill State Park to check out late-afternoon views from the fire tower. Not a hike, but still a treat.

Androscoggin River valley NH

Androscoggin River valley seen from Milan Hill, NH

For more destinations and photos, find the rest of the post at Granite State Walker.

The State Budget and Abortion Funding

The New Hampshire House and Senate expect to vote on September 25 on whether to  sustain or override Governor Sununu’s veto of a proposed state budget. At stake is the use of state general funds, i.e. taxpayer dollars, for direct and indirect funding of abortion.

That’s a Catholic citizenship alert if ever I saw one.

Set out below are the reasons why it’s important to contact state representatives, state senators, and Governor Sununu with the clear unambiguous message: no public funding, direct or indirect, for abortion. That means sustaining the Governor’s veto of the state budget, and fighting to keep abortion out of any subsequent negotiated budget.

Governor Sununu has said reassuring things about direct funding of abortion. That is not the case about indirect funding, in which public dollars go to abortion providers purportedly for non-abortion work. Perhaps you have heard similar messages and non-messages from your own representatives.

To learn more, see the rest of the post at Leaven for the Loaf. 

Postscript: why showing up matters

Postscript to an earlier post about the bill repealing New Hampshire’s death penalty: the Governor’s veto was overridden. The margin in the House: one vote. Margin in the Senate: one vote.

At some point, another life issue bill will come up in Concord. Maybe it’ll call for care for children who survive attempted abortion. Maybe it’ll be a stats bill. Maybe it will be something promoting or preventing assisted suicide.

Whenever such legislation comes up, remember: every vote matters. With 400 House members, a legislator – or a constituent, for that matter – might figure that one absence more or less won’t make a difference.

Wrong. Showing up matters.

Maybe we need to be reminded of that now and then.

(originally published at Leaven for the Loaf)

Podcast: A Lesson in “Concord 101”

Drum roll, please: I’m happy to participate in a new podcast, Concord 101: How to Engage in Local Government, in which I get to share my enthusiasm about New Hampshire’s State House and all that happens inside. I might even give you some ideas about how to get more involved in state government yourself!

“Concord 101” is produced by Cornerstone, a nonprofit and nonpartisan New Hampshire family policy council. The podcast is a capsule version of a two-hour interactive seminar introduced in the Spring of 2019, in which I’ve worked with Cornerstone’s Neil Hubacker to bring the why and how of civic engagement to interested groups all over the state.

Don’t miss Neil’s podcast segments: Why New Hampshire Citizens Should Engage in Government and How You Can Influence the Lawmaking Process.

Writing is my favorite medium, but the invitation to create this podcast was too good to pass up. I hope you enjoy the result.

A Note on Death Penalty Repeal in New Hampshire

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has vetoed repeal of the state’s death penalty law. As I write, the House will vote on an override in just a few hours. Whether enough votes are there is anyone’s guess. It’s going to be close. The Governor is fighting hard to have his veto sustained.

He considers capital punishment to be a way of supporting law enforcement. As the granddaughter of a cop and the niece of two others, I don’t, but that’s not what this post is about.

It’s odd that in a year when the Governor has promised that he’ll be vetoing all kinds of bills, he’s putting such a high value on vetoing this one. It’s his first veto, and he’s facing a Democratic House and Senate. I have heard from Republican legislators about the pressure being brought to bear by party brass to back up the Governor’s determination to keep the death penalty on the books.

I got a faint whiff of the pressure myself this morning at an informal gathering of political acquaintances. I’m an undeclared voter (that’s Granitespeak for “independent”), but I was admonished by someone who should know better that I had to back the Governor on this one, and tell my reps to do likewise.

A conscience vote was fine when the bill first came through House and Senate, I was told, but that was then and this is now. Now, it’s not a conscience vote. It’s a matter of supporting the Governor. The Dems are doing this on purpose, timing this, trying to make him look bad.

The Governor, by the way, touted a 64% approval rating in April, making him the third-most-popular governor in the nation. He doesn’t need my pity.

I’ve been involved in politics all my adult life. I understand horse trading, whipping votes, and how arms need to be twisted now and then. But never, least of all now, have I had any patience for considering a life-issue bill to be a matter of conscience in March and a matter of saving face two months later.

This is the kind of thing that makes “undeclared” the largest bloc of voters in New Hampshire.

Opposition to the death penalty is something of a stumbling block to a lot of people who are pro-life in other respects. Some of those people are Republican legislators who voted against the repeal bill earlier this session and will vote to sustain the veto. They’re not giving the party whips any heartburn. They will be consistent.

The Republicans who voted in favor of death penalty repeal are the ones getting the lectures now. They’re the ones I’m thinking about as the vote nears. I hope they’ll be consistent, too.

(originally posted on Leaven for the Loaf)

Six Years After Gosnell Conviction, N.H. Laws Unchanged

May 13, 2013, Philadelphia: Kermit Gosnell was convicted of murder, manslaughter, and a couple of hundred lesser offenses. He’s in prison for life. If he were released, he could set up shop in New Hampshire and commit with impunity some of the same actions for which he’s now imprisoned.

Gosnell snipped the necks of children who survived his attempts to abort them, one of whom he joked was big enough “to walk me to the bus stop.” Karnamaya Mongar, a woman who came to him for what she thought would be a safe and legal abortion, was sedated to death by the staff Gosnell was supposed to oversee, using protocols he had established to compensate for the staff’s lack of formal medical training.

The carnage was uncovered only accidentally, triggered by a 2010 drug raid at Gosnell’s “clinic,” which was a pill mill on top of its other charms. (Convictions on twelve drug offenses netted him another 30 years in prison.)

He got away with abusing women and children for a long time, because the one-time governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – a Republican named Tom Ridge, later entrusted with the Department of Homeland Security – ordered that abortion regulations not be enforced. They might have interfered with abortion access, and that was something Ridge wouldn’t countenance. Ridge’s policy prevailed for an appalling length of time.

Karnamaya Mongar isn’t around to offer her thoughts on Ridge’s defense of her rights.

New Hampshire differs from Pennsylvania in that we don’t have unenforced abortion regulations as far as we know; instead we have next-to-no regulations.

Infanticide: Since the Gosnell trial, New Hampshire legislators have considered three bills that would have required that children surviving attempted abortion be provided with the same level of care that would be given to a child born at the same stage of fetal development without any abortion attempt. Two of those bills were killed, and the third was tabled and never revived. I reported on each one: HB 1627, 2016; HB 578, 2017; HB 1680, 2018.

I attended the hearings and executive sessions on those bills. Opponents complained that such measures would tell doctors how to practice medicine and would cause undue distress to women seeking abortion due to fetal anomalies. Rep. Paul Berch’s remark on HB 1627 was instructive: “This bill seeks to address a problem that appears not to exist in New Hampshire.”

Well, since there is no evidence that New Hampshire public health authorities publish data on the incidence of live births following induced abortion, it’s easy to say a problem “appears not to exist.”

In 2013, Pennsylvania jurors recoiled at Gosnell’s horrific execution of the children who survived his attempt to abort them. Six years later, in our New Hampshire, I doubt there’s a prosecutor who would consider Gosnell’s spine-snipping worth prosecuting. Here, a woman seeking abortion is entitled not only to a terminated pregnancy but a dead child. New Hampshire legislators have passed up several chances to establish a different policy.

Mid- and late-term abortions: Among the crimes of which Gosnell was convicted were more than 200 violations of the Pennsylvania law restricting abortions to a maximum of 24 weeks’ gestation. No such restriction in New Hampshire, then or now.

Type of facility: The Gosnell grand jury sharply criticized the refusal of Pennsylvania authorities to subject Gosnell’s clinic to the same inspection and licensing requirements as ambulatory surgical facilities, as Pennsylvania law required. No such law in New Hampshire, then or now.

Personnel performing abortions: Gosnell employed people who were untrained and unlicensed to “care” for the women who came to him for abortion. In New Hampshire, there are no restrictions whatsoever on who may perform abortions. No medical training is required, and no particular kind of facility is required.

I’ve heard doctors who should know better argue that abortion in New Hampshire is self-policing, and that any incompetent abortion provider would be dealt with by the appropriate certifying board. Assuming that’s true – and I think it’s a generous assumption – what if the abortion provider isn’t subject to a certifying board? Who’s watching out for women then?

So the next Gosnells could come to New Hampshire and do late-term abortions, dispose of the “products of conception” (born-alive or not) as they saw fit, and put women at risk by employing unlicensed and untrained personnel (and indeed forgo a medical license themselves) – all without breaking any current state law.

Watch out for the drug laws, though. They are what finally tripped up Gosnell in Pennsylvania.

That’s what I mean by New Hampshire being Gosnell-friendly. It gives me no pleasure to say that.

The day of Gosnell’s conviction, Planned Parenthood sent out a fundraising email calling abortion regulations “extreme” and “outrageous.” Again, Karnamaya Mongar couldn’t be reached for comment.

And Gosnell himself? “I very strongly believe myself to be innocent of the heinous crimes of which I am accused.” (See interview in the book Gosnell by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer.)

I hope Gosnell’s victims rest in peace. I hope he undergoes a change of heart. And I hope our beloved state learns from his crimes and their aftermath. It’s not too late.

This post originally appeared on GraniteGrok.


If the Gosnell case is new to you, go to YouTube and find “3801 Lancaster: An American Tragedy,” or pick up the Gosnell book, or watch the film Gosnell. I also recommend the grand jury report on the case (PDF here; also available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99).