Unruly Saint – Dorothy Day’s Radical Vision and its Challenge for Our Times – D.L. Mayfield

Unruly Saint DL Mayfield
Unruly Saint: Dorothy Day's Radical Vision and its Challenge for Our Times by D.L. Mayfield
Also by this author: The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power
Published by Broadleaf Books on November 8, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Biography, Memoir
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In Unruly Saint, activist, writer, and neighbor D. L. Mayfield brings a personal lens to Day's story. In exploring the founding of the Catholic Worker movement and newspaper by revisiting the early years of Day's life, Mayfield turns her attention to what it means to be a good neighbor today.

Through a combination of biography, observations on the current American landscape, and theological reflection, this is at once an achingly relevant account and an encouraging blueprint for people of faith in tumultuous times. It will resonate with today's activists, social justice warriors, and those seeking to live in the service of others.

Some biographies come from historians. There’s usually a theme, a particular perspective or interest, some sort of driving reason for the author’s time and talents spent in research and writing. Other biographies come from individuals with an agenda who seek to reframe historical personages to fit a particular narrative. And still others are the products of individuals who, in exploring their passions and problems discovered that they were not alone. Unruly Saint is that latter kind of work.

D.L. Mayfield is clear from the outset that Unruly Saint is a book about her personal engagement with life of Dorothy Day. She moves from history to application to personal reflection in a way that is almost a memoir. Its focus is on Dorothy, not D.L., but Mayfield’s own struggles and passions are seen clearly through the lens of Dorothy. The result is a generational connectedness that allows the reader to explore the areas where we have changed and laments the places we have stayed the same. Unruly Saint is a love letter to Dorothy Day by someone committed to following in their footsteps.

Mayfield divides Unruly Saint into three sections: The Beginning Years, The Birth of the Catholic Worker, and The Work Continues. While the first two sections progress chronologically, the latter is more of a thematic reflection on Day’s life and work. In all, Mayfield’s work is casual and conversational. It’s a friend telling you about their favorite thing or person, not a university lecture. In taking this tactic, Mayfield brings Dorothy Day to life—not just the facts of her history but the passion of her story. She tells us the story of Dorothy the way Dorothy would have wanted it told.

Amid this story, we find that the calls for social justice that have just now permeated into the social consciousness (of white American evangelicals) have been resounding for generations. The fights of today were also the fights of yesterday—which gives us something to learn from and also lament. We feel solidarity in knowing that we’re not alone in the fight, in knowing that there were others who bucked all religious trends and blazed a bold and rebellious trail of faith full of mystery and dichotomy. Unruly Saint captures Day in all of her complexity, offering an unsanitized and unapologetic view of a complicated person—an ordinary radical who eschewed religious niceties in favor of prophetic calls to action.

Lots of people could (and have) written biographies about Dorothy Day. Only D.L. Mayfield could have written this book about Dorothy Day. Unruly Saint is a treasure that ensures that legacy of Dorothy Day will live on.