Contributing to the ongoing excavation of the spiritual lifeworld of Dorothy Day—“the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism”—The Bread of the Strong offers compelling new insight into the history of the Catholic Worker movement, including the cross-pollination between American and Quebecois Catholicism and discourse about Christian antimodernism and radicalism.
The considerable perseverance in the heroic Christian maximalism that became the hallmark of the Catholic Worker’s personalism owes a great debt to the influence of Lacouturisme, largely under the stewardship of John Hugo, along with Peter Maurin and myriad other critical interventions in Day’s spiritual development. Day made the retreat regularly for some thirty-five years and promoted it vigorously both in person and publicly in the pages of The Catholic Worker.
Exploring the influence of the controversial North American revivalist movement on the spiritual formation of Dorothy Day, author Jack Lee Downey investigates the extremist intersection between Roman Catholic contemplative tradition and modern political radicalism. Well grounded in an abundance of lesser-known primary sources, including unpublished letters, retreat notes, privately published and long-out-of-print archival material, and the French-language papers of Fr. Lacouture, The Bread of the Strong opens up an entirely new arena of scholarship on the transnational lineages of American Catholic social justice activism. Downey also reveals riveting new insights into the movement’s founder and namesake, Quebecois Jesuit Onesime Lacouture. Downey also frames a more reciprocal depiction of Day and Hugo’s relationship and influence, including the importance of Day’s evangelical pacifism on Hugo, particularly in shaping his understanding of conscientious objection and Christian antiwar work, and how Hugo’s ascetical theology animated Day’s interior life and spiritually sustained her apostolate.
A fascinating investigation into the retreat movement Day loved so dearly, and which she claimed was integral to her spiritual formation, The Bread of the Strong explores the relationship between contemplative theology, asceticism, and radical activism. More than a study of Lacouture, Hugo, and Day, this fresh look at Dorothy Day and the complexities and challenges of her spiritual and social expression presents an outward exploration of the early- to mid–twentieth century dilemmas facing second- and third-generation American Catholics.
“The Bread of the Strong is a thrilling spiritual adventure story. Jack Downey brilliantly tracks the origins and flourishing of the controversial, mysterious, and extremely influential retreat movement most prominently associated with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers. ‘The retreat’ blended passionately mystical Québécois spirituality with the hard-nosed militancy of Catholic labor movement advocacy of Industrial Era Pittsburgh. The result was a paradoxical—and most potent—form of Catholic spiritual radicalism that fulfilled Dorothy Day’s lifelong search for authentic communion with Jesus and her fellows.”
author of On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York
“To my knowledge, no other work pulls together so much transnational, bilingual,cultural and historical background on the three main figures, Onesime Lacouture, John Hugo, and Dorothy Day, in the context of the controversial retreat with which they were all involved. The book is impressive in its transnational focus and bilingual sources”
University of Dayton
Downey has written a very good book of historical and cultural analysis based on extensive archival research. It offers the first critical examination of a profound theological and spiritual resource for a figure who – as Pope Francis reminded us in his speech to Congress – remains one of the most significant Catholics in U.S. history. It is an important book for anyone who not only wants to understand Day better, but also to appreciate the often forgotten or ignored theological diversity that existed in early twentieth-century American Catholicism.
American Catholic Studies
“The Bread of the Strong is a remarkable contribution to the literature on the history of American Catholicism and will long be an indispensable resource for gaining a deeper understanding of the Catholic Worker movement as a notable spiritual phenomenon that emerged within an American context.”
Director, Fordham Center on Religion and Culture
... The Bread of the Strong offers a rich and often provocative interpretation of the entire world of French Canadian (Quebecois) Catholicism from which Lacouturism emerged.
—Journal of Jesuit Studies
This contribution to American Catholic scholarship rightfully deserves a place in every university library and on the shelves of all those who wish to more deeply understand Dorothy Day's life and the movement she launched, which continues its works of mercy throughout the country today.
—Catholic Library World