On a cloudy November Saturday, Eric Krewson sat in the warmth of the St. Joseph House of Hospitality in New York’s East Village, where Dorothy Day lived from 1968 to 1974. Sharing a pancake breakfast, d undercooked eggs and bacon, Eric listens to community stories he has commemorated in song.
Eric and the group he leads, The Chairman Dances, wrote a song that celebrates the friendship of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the founders of the Catholic worker movement. And this song will soon be on its way to Rome. The guild that prepares Day’s cause for holiness has included a CD of the song along with the documents it sends to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
“I was quite shocked that they asked me, that someone heard it and that it was found useful to be included,” Krewson said.
Eric Krewson and the band he leads, The Chairman Dances, wrote a song that celebrates the friendship of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. And that song will soon be on its way to the Vatican.
Becoming a saint is a supernatural process, but being declared a saint is a process surrounded by bureaucratic routine. In order to attain the title of “saint,” a deceased Catholic usually needs two impressive miracles credited with his intercession. But miracles are often announced by the worldly, and canonization is no exception. There is a long paperwork process that takes place for a beloved icon to be declared “venerable” – usually a timid miracle of “blessed” and two less than “holy”.
For Dorothy Day, who died that day in 1980, the first stage of the paperweight is almost complete. The Archdiocese of New York has completed its investigation into the holiness of Day. The documents they have compiled as evidence of his reputation for holiness will be sent to the Vatican. On December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Cardinal Timothy Dolan will bless them during a mass in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral before they are sent to Rome. In addition to the song by The Chairman Dances, the material includes Day’s diary entries, journal articles, his several biographies, icons, illustrations, and lists of buildings and scholarships named in Day’s honor.
The Chairman Dances was started by Mr. Krewson, 35, who fell in love with music growing up in rural Pennsylvania. He started playing the trumpet in fourth grade until he discovered guitar in college. In high school, he began to write and sing songs.
President Danses took shape after his graduate studies in musicology. His group mate, Luke Pigott, graduated in theology. With six others, they formed a band, recorded six albums and still toured the greater Philadelphia area. In 2016, they gave a concert at Maryhouse, the East Village worker house where Dorothy Day spent the last years of her life.
“I was quite shocked that they asked me, that someone heard it and that it was found useful to be included,” said Eric Krewson.
Molly Swayze, co-coordinator of the Dorothy Day Guild investigation, contacted Mr. Krewson on Bandcamp this summer. Ms Swayze asked if Eric would be willing to include a CD with his song in the documents the Guild sends to Rome. The documents are believed to detail Dorothy’s life and spirituality and demonstrate her reputation for holiness among American Catholics.
The song about Dorothy Day that is included in her cause for canonization is the opening song for Mr. Krewson’s 2016 album, “Time Without Measure”. Title pays homage to Jesuit priest Dan Berrigan’s volume of poetry Time without number, who won the Lamont Prize for Poetry in 1957.
Fittingly, the album tells the story of radicals and saints – some canonized, some popular, some modern, some ancient (Augustine makes an appearance) – but all Christians whose lives have challenged the social order of one way or another. “Many of them were advocates for the poor or anti-war or pro-LGBT or anti-authoritarian,” Krewson said. “But the main thing is that they are all holy.”
Mr. Krewson grew up nominally Catholic, but he really began to take his Christianity seriously in college. Since he rediscovered his faith, All Saints’ Day has been a celebration with deep meaning for him.
The album tells the story of radicals and saints, some canonized, some popular, some modern, some ancient.
The feast of All Saints emphasizes the universal call to holiness and to the mystical body of Christ. And that’s what resonates with Mr. Krewson. All Saints’ Day reminds him to recognize God in everyone we meet. “The witness, for me, is really the main reason people open up to religious sentiment. The album was meant to highlight a fellowship of saints to whom I was drawn, for one reason or another, faithful Christians with whom I could dialogue, ”he said.
What prompted him to write a song about Dorothy?
Mr. Krewson met his wife, Natalie, eight years ago. From their first meeting, they exchanged books that were important to them. He gave her Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, and she gave him a copy of The long loneliness.
Mr. Krewson was immediately impressed with Dorothy’s account of her life. The effects of the book continue to resonate with him. “She’s amazing,” he said simply. Dorothy’s life and lyrics influenced other songs of his – he even wrote a hymn inspired by her.
Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin are not the only radical Catholics represented on “Time Without Measure”.
There’s a light ballad about two members of the Catonsville Nine, the famous anti-war action that propelled Philip and Dan Berrigan to national fame as outlaw saints. But the song focuses on the experience of two lay participants, Thomas and Marjorie Melville. A former priest and recently married Maryknoll sister, Thomas and Marjorie are pictured en route to Catonsville with homemade napalm on their knees, imagining their marriage during and after prison.
“My calling is to write music, to write, to do it responsibly and to do it for the glory of God.
Mr. Krewson has an affinity for the stories of “all the activists who haven’t written.” He finds that the radical 20th century Christians whose legacy lives on are Christians who wrote their own stories. But he is interested in writing the stories of those Christians who are concerned with living their story rather than recording it.
His enthusiasm for these ordinary men and women who have taken radical action for peace is palpable. His eyes light up and his soft voice rises slightly when talking about the Catonsville Nine or their predecessors, the Baltimore Four.“All of these people are great,” he says. “And it’s amazing to learn these things that they did in the name of God, in the name of Jesus.”
One of the beauties of Christianity that he rediscovered in his twenties was its power as a catalyst for social change. “When you dig deeper and learn more about our faith, we are uniquely qualified to understand how every institution fell, in a way that progressives without faith cannot,” Mr. Krewson said.
Her goal is for her songwriting to participate in this radical Christian tradition, a way of sharing the theological vision that inspired the Melvilles, the Berrigans, Dorothy and Peter.
“My vocation is to write music, to write, to do it responsibly and for the glory of God,” he said.
Several Saturdays after his visit to Maryhouse, Eric sat around a group of young Catholic workers in Lancaster, Pa., A short drive from where he was staying with his in-laws.
Around well-seasoned eggs in the cozy dining room, the conversation turned to liturgy and culture, the seasonal rhythm of agriculture and the church year, and the right relationship with the land. Eric stepped in, sharing some ideas from his eco-theology studies.
“All we ask is your sympathy, all we ask is your attention,” says the chorus of Eric’s song “Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin”.
On the wall of the Catholic Worker Dining Room in Lancaster, just behind Eric’s head, Dorothy Day’s words describe the beginning of the movement: in time without measure – time spent paying attention and sympathy for one another – time spent not in money but in love: “We have all known long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we were sitting there talking and it is still going on.