Living Day’s Legacy

May 13-19, 2004
Living Day’s Legacy
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
Syracuse Couple Receives Dorothy Day Award

John and Nancy Murray, parishioners of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Syracuse, have spent their lives emulating Dorothy Day’s faith-based activism and hospitality to the poor. “Dorothy Day influenced both of us,” said Nancy. “She taught us that peace-making is what’s most important.” It is fitting the couple received an award in Day’s name. On May 5 they were honored with the Dorothy Day Award at St. Andrew’s Church. The parish began the award in 1994. Its recipients are people whose lives and actions exemplify the life and actions of Day, a journalist and political activist who helped create the Catholic Worker Movement and its network of houses of hospitality for the poor. She is considered one of the great Catholic lay leaders for her promotion of pacifism, civil rights and shelter for the homeless.

The Dorothy Day Award is not the only way St. Andrew’s has carried on her legacy. For 15 years, the parish has also been giving one-third of its weekly collection to the Dorothy Day House, a Syracuse shelter for women and children that is operated by Onondaga County Catholic Charities. The Murrays, now retired and parents of eight grown children, met 54 years ago. They spent their first date talking about Day. “Her ideas were part of our romance,” said Nancy, 74. “That whole era of what was happening in the church, it knocked us into a different sphere.” Since moving to Syracuse in the 1950’s, Nancy and John have worked with Catholic activists on issues including housing, employment and school integration. Both were actively involved in the early days of the Young Christian Worker Movement –– groups of lay people who dialogued and sought change in the Church, the neighborhood and the workplace. “We spoke straight about what we saw and were not afraid to seek positive change for others,” said Nancy of the couple’s activism.

Nancy was a founding member and president of the interfaith agency that became the Inter Religious Council of Central New York. She participated in Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue Group and is involved with Women Transcending Boundaries, which brings interfaith groups together in response to 9/11. John, 75, worked for the Federal Poverty Program and Regional Medical Program, both of which brought needed services and opportunities to the poor. More recently, he was a founder of Appleseed Trust, serves on the board of Jericho and is determined to make biking a safe alternative throughout the county.

“There are the obvious reasons to choose biking [over driving], like fuel conservation. One of the other things I found is that when you bike you can talk along the way,” said John, who helped establish the Syracuse-Onondaga Cycling Coalition. The coalition has worked to install various bike lanes throughout the city, and is working to include more. Biking is an extension of Day’s philosophy, said Nancy. “Dorothy Day was about sane living, simplicity and taking care of the land,” she said. Nancy met the award’s namesake while working in New York City. A former “lay apostle,” she spent time in the city volunteering at the Catholic Worker and Friendship House in Harlem, where she performed simple tasks such as ironing and distributing the monthly paper. Meeting and working with Day changed her life forever, she said. “Dorothy Day was the image of the embodied Holy Spirit and she remains such for me,” she said, “There will never be another Dorothy Day.”

Day visited Syracuse several times before her death. She was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls in 2001. John and Nancy believe her philosophy encourages people to think about what they say and believe and the ramifications of the Gospel. “If we believed the Gospels, we Christians, we’d all be living differently,” Nancy said.

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