Catherine de Hueck Doherty, by Albert Schorsch, III, 12/14/98

A heavily abridged version of this sketch appeared in Initiatives, a publication of the National Center for the Laity, 10 E. Pearson, St. #101, Chicago, IL 60611, March 1999, Number 97.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985) was one of the past century's most delightfully colorful and productive Catholic leaders. A member of the Russian gentry who faced forced starvation at the hands of the Bolsheviks, she became one of North America's most outspoken advocates of racial justice in the 1930s and 40s, founding (1930, Toronto) the Friendship House movement and apostolate, which integrated hundreds of institutions in Harlem, NY, Chicago, Washington, DC, Portland, OR, and Shreveport, LA prior to the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blessed with striking physical beauty in her youth, she combined astounding multilingual skills and urbane culture with earthy practicality. A mother and grandmother, her jobs ran the gamut from wartime nurse, to sales clerk at Macy's in New York City, to lecturer on the Chautauqua circuit, to magazine writer, to barmaid, to spiritual author. She achieved the highest award for civilian service from two nations, the Cross of St. George from Russia, and the Order of Canada. An electrifying lecturer, she authored books on prayer, solitude, and the believing life, founding (1947) the Madonna House apostolate in Combermere, Ontario, Canada, now with a number of world-wide missions, and now constituted as a "Public Association of the Faithful" under the authority of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Pembroke, Ontario. Catherine’s work bringing the contemplation, prayers, and liturgies of Eastern and Western Christianity together, as reflected in the liturgies of Madonna House, has great promise for the unity of Christians in the next millennium. Along with her friend and contemporary Dorothy Day, Catherine is being advocated for sainthood.

In Catherine, one met contemplation and action combined. While waiting to meet Catherine in the Madonna House library in Combermere in 1978, I noticed two books on display, accompanied by "Book Reviews by the 'B'" (the "B" being Catherine's long time Friendship House nickname as the Baroness). One book was the Cloud of Unknowing, the other was Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky. Catherine recommended both of them highly, and praised Alinsky as a good man and friend.

"Bigger than life," not all of Catherine's contradictions can easily be resolved, unless one considers her lively humanity. She lived in poverty for a time, but wore a nice fur coat and rode the first class trains. She founded lay apostolates, which embraced the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience for the "staff," but she suddenly married famous Chicago reporter Eddie Doherty in 1943. Catherine and Eddie later chose a celibate relationship, and with ecclesiastic permission, Eddie was ordained an Eastern uniate rite priest. A lay leader, Catherine's lifestyle in the end became more and more monastic. While some lay activists have been critical of Catherine for this, we might reflect that the Christian lifestyle is not one-dimensionally active or contemplative, but can take different forms within the span of a person's life, especially if that life is as long and as eventful as Catherine's was.

Most who know Catherine de Hueck Doherty today know her from her spiritual writings. During a spiritual crisis in the early 1930s, Catherine composed in prayer the following "Little Mandate":

Arise - go! Sell all you possess . . . give it directly, personally to the poor.
Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me - going to the poor - being poor - being one with them - one with Me.
Little - be always little . . . simple - poor - childlike.
Listen to the Spirit - He will lead you.
Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.
Love - love - love, never counting the cost.

Go into the market place and stay with Me . . .
pray . . . fast . . . pray always . . . fast.
Be hidden - be a light to your neighbour's feet.
Go without fears into the depth of men's hearts . . .I shall be with you.
Pray always. I WILL BE YOUR REST.

Although she might have striven to be, Catherine was anything but "little."

Catherine's continuing spiritual best-seller is Poustinia: Christian Spirituality of the East for Western Man. Poustinia is Russian for desert, and this book encouraged its readers to work solitary prayer into the scope of their lives. Catherine's book The Gospel Without Compromise gained a following among Catholic activists, and another series of Russian titled books followed:

Sobornost: Eastern Unity of Mind and Heart for Western Man
Strannik: The Call to Pilgrimage for Western Man
Bogoroditza: She Who Gave Birth to God
Molchanie: The Silence of God
Urodivoi: Fools for God
Lubov: The Heart of the Beloved

Some other books by Catherine de Hueck Doherty:

The People of the Towel and the Water
Not Without Parables: Stories of Yesterday, Today and Eternity
Soul of My Soul: Reflections from a Life of Prayer
O Jesus: Prayers from the Diaries of Catherine de Hueck Doherty
Our Lady’s Unknown Mysteries
The Gospel of a Poor Woman
Doubts, Loneliness, Rejection
Dearly Beloved: Letters to the Children of My Spirit
Apostolic Farming
Vision on the Mountain: The Madonna House Artist
Re-entry into Faith
The Stations of the Cross
My Russian Yesterdays
Welcome Pilgrim
Donkey Bells
Season of Mercy
Journey Inward
Dear Father
Dear Seminarian
Dear Parents
Dear Bishop (out of print)


Fragments of My Life, an autobiography, by Catherine de Hueck Doherty
Tumbleweed, by Eddie Doherty
A Cricket in My Heart, by Eddie Doherty
Katia: A Personal Vision of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, by Fr. Emile Briere
The Life of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, by Mary Bazzett
They Called Her the Baroness: the Life of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, by Lorene Hanley Duquin, Alba House 0-8189-0753-3. 350 pages hardbound - $19.95 US.

All of the above listed in print are available from the Madonna House home page at:
or from Madonna House Publications, Combermere, Ontario, Canada, KOJ1L0,
(613) 756-3728. Fax: (613) 756-0103, Toll Free number (for book orders only):

For information on Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s work for interracial justice, visit the Friendship House home page at:

Copyright, 1998, Albert Schorsch, III

Albert Schorsch, III, a city planner and university administrator, served on the board of NCL, and has been involved with the Friendship House apostolate in Chicago since 1976.