By Sister Regina Siegfried, ASC
Historians and researchers dream and fantasize about finding a hitherto undiscovered document, letter, or artifact hidden in some obscure area of files in archives.
Although I’ve done my fair share of daydreaming about that great discovery, I also knew it would probably never happen, until that Thursday, November 16 when I was once again sorting through Sister Angelita Myerscough’s files. There it was, buried in a file of articles about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker. It’s a 1938 handwritten letter from Dorothy Day to Angelita, carefully protected by a plastic sleeve. Angelita knew what she had, even as a first-year temporarily professed Adorer.
Dorothy Day’s papers are housed in the Marquette University archives in Milwaukee, so I contacted Phil Runkel, the archivist who supervises her collection, and sent him a scan of the letter and envelope. Phil told me that they are in the process of digitizing Dorothy’s papers to send to Rome in support of her canonization. He didn’t find any correspondence from Angelita and didn’t know if this letter would be included in the collection sent to Rome.
So the letter leaves me with more questions than answers. The Catholic Worker movement dates it founding from the publication of Catholic Worker newspaper on May 1, 1933. So Angelita corresponded with Dorothy Day during the early days of the movement. How did Angelita know about the Catholic Worker movement? What was the “May meeting” the letter references? How did Angelita get money to send to Dorothy, when she was a first-year temporarily professed Sister? Who are “the forty” who might be recipients of copies of the prayers presented by Ade Bethune? Are those prayers hidden somewhere else in the archives, since they weren’t in the Dorothy Day folder? Were “the forty” other temporarily professed sisters?
This letter is not a historically significant document for the history of Dorothy Day or the Catholic Worker, but it highlights Angelita’s long interest in ministries to help the poor and Dorothy’s warmth and generosity in responding to someone she didn’t know. Written during the early days of their lives’ work when a hand-written thank-you note indicated good manners, this letter captures some of the essence of why these two women are important to many of us.
More excavation in the archives might answer some of these questions and perhaps raise more. At this point, the letter came to light, and it’s ours.
Editor’s note: Sister Regina Siegfried, the Ruma archivist, wrote this piece for an audience of sisters four years ago. We bring it back today, the Feast of All Saints, as her cause for sainthood advances. Dorothy Day was complicated, a radical activist who wrote for socialist and communist publications, and who got an abortion before she converted to Catholicism and was so deeply distraught by it, she attempted to take her life. Day famously said that she didn’t want to be put on a pedestal as a saint. “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily,” she said.