Thursday, March 24, 2011

Catherine de Hueck Doherty

Photo of Catherine de Hueck Doherty by Merton, 1941
Merton first met Catherine de Hueck Doherty when she spoke at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., in 1941. He had heard about her work in Friendship House (FH) when he lived in New York City, but he had never met her. On that very evening after hearing her talk, he was inspired to ask if he could come to Harlem. Catherine said yes. (How many others had said they wanted to come and never did!) He spent “[two] weeks of evenings,” as he put it, at Friendship House in Harlem. He met Catherine again later that same year at St. Bonaventure when she came for another talk.

The following passage is from Seven Story Mountain, where Merton is reflecting on his first encounter with Catherine:

“The Baroness was born a Russian. She had been a young girl at the time of the October Revolution. She had seen half of her family shot, she had seen priests fall under the bullets of the Reds, and she had escaped from Russia the way it is done in the movies, but with all the misery and hardship which the movies do not show, and none of the glamour which is their specialty.

“The experiences she had gone through, instead of destroying her faith, intensified and deepened it until the Holy Ghost planted fortitude in the midst of her soul like an unshakable rock. I never saw anyone so calm, so certain, so peaceful in her absolute confidence in God.

“Catherine de Hueck is a person in every way big: and the bigness is not merely physical: it comes from the Holy Ghost dwelling constantly within her, and moving her in all that she does." - Seven Story Mountain, pp. 342-343


  1. I throughly enjoy these posting and look forward to each new one. Another Russian emigre who had an impact in this circle was Helene Iswolsky, who published a magazine call The Third Hour. There is a story about the friendship of Iswolsky and Dorthy Day on the wsebsite of the Houston Catholic Worker

  2. Thanks for the link, Mike.

    I'm reading a collection of letters between Merton and Catherine Donerty now. I'm finding the "piety" (for lack of a better word) of the early 40s a little hard to translate, and looking forward to seeing how the later letters will evolve.

    Catherine seems to be like Dorothy Day, and yet very unlike her as well. I look forward to reading about Helene Iswolsky. Why do I think that orthodoxy has something to do with all of this???

    It is refreshing to find inspiration in these American Catholic LAY women!!!

  3. Her commitment to the Church, liturgy, priesthood and lay participation in Its mission filled her life. Met her. Sought her direction in person in her latter years in Combermere. She was right. 33 years married. Still cantering in church. She and Dorothy had different gifts yet they continued in friendship and influence on the world they chose to inhabit in response to the Spirit in their souls. East and West the two lungs of the Church.



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