By Carol Zimmermann and Jessica Easthope
PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The Dorothy Day ferry — a new Staten Island Ferry boat bringing passengers between Staten Island and lower Manhattan — made its inaugural ride April 28.
And before it set sail across the New York Harbor, city officials, and friends and family of Day marked the occasion with a brief ceremony, paying tribute to the ferry’s namesake — a peace activist and journalist who is a candidate for sainthood and primarily known for co-founding the Catholic Worker Movement, a group committed to the social justice teachings of the Church.
“As we get on this boat and sail the choppy waters with her, stand tall against the headwinds which sometimes can cause us to falter. And may we, like her, ask for that vision that sees goodness, love, and dignity in every single person,” said retired New York Auxiliary Bishop John O’Hara.
Bishop O’Hara noted that the significance of the ferry named after Day was not just about boats but should remind people in this polarized and divided society that “God has raised up a prophet from Staten Island.”
He said Day had a vision “that we need to embrace, celebrate, and activate in our own lives.”
Martha Hennessy, social justice activist and granddaughter of Day, thanked those who made this day possible and shared with the crowd one of her grandmother’s writings that spoke against war and emphasized the need to care for the poor.
“We know that during her life, Day loved riding this ferry — and she was like Staten Islanders who know that a short ferry ride can serve as a peaceful, even meaningful, escape from the hustle and bustle of life in our city,” said Ydanis Rodriguez, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.
Day, who died in 1980, had deep roots in Staten Island, where she lived for many years and where she is buried. It is also where she was baptized into the Church as an adult and began a cooperative farm for those in need and Catholic Worker members.
Coincidentally, Day also loved the Staten Island Ferry, which she rode back and forth for years from her cottage in Staten Island to the soup kitchen where she worked in Manhattan.
Those promoting her sainthood cause — which officially opened in 2000 and gave her the title “Servant of God” — are hoping the ferry lets more people know about her.
“There’s a very nice plaque (on the ferry) that tells who she is,” said Kevin Ahern, an associate professor of religious studies at Manhattan College and member of the advisory committee for the Dorothy Day Guild working to promote Day’s sainthood cause.
Ahern told The Tablet that the ferry launch comes at a time when there is an increased interest in Day’s life and legacy, and is a good opportunity to educate more people about her.
He said it was conflicting for some in the Catholic Worker Movement that Day, who was such a humble woman, is getting her name on an expensive vessel paid for with public funds, but he also said there are many positive aspects to this honor that the members acknowledge.
For starters, Day loved Staten Island, which she viewed as a place of retreat, and she wrote about her love of taking the Staten Island Ferry, taking in nature and the New York City skyline.
Ahern also stressed that the Staten Island Ferry is free, connects New Yorkers, and serves primarily the working class, all things Day would appreciate.
Also, Day often wrote about the Christian view of pilgrimage — being on a journey — which the ferry ride certainly is.
The ferry will join the rotation of vessels going back and forth across the New York Harbor about a week after the initial launch.
It is one of three Ollis-class passenger ferries commissioned in 2014. The first two ferries, the Staff Sergeant Michael H. Ollis and the Sandy Ground, began serving passengers in early 2022.
The group of new ferries is named after US Army Staff Sergeant Ollis, a Staten Islander killed in action during the War in Afghanistan in 2013. Sandy Ground is named in honor of the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited free black settlement on Staten Island.
New York City has operated the Staten Island Ferry since 1905. The boats carry more than 12 million passengers annually on a 5.2-mile run between the St. George Terminal in Staten Island and the Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan.
The ferries run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and on a typical weekday, five boats make 117 trips, carrying approximately 35,000 passengers. The boats make over 40,000 trips a year.
When the Dorothy Day ferry was commissioned last November, Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement: “Dorothy Day represents so much of what is great about New Yorkers and our city, and we are proud to honor her by commissioning this Staten Island Ferry.
“Having her name on this boat,” he said, “will remind New Yorkers and visitors alike of her fight for peace and against hunger, fights that we are continuing every day.”