When Pope Francis made history in 2015 by becoming the first pontiff to speak before a joint session of the United States Congress, he lauded four Americans as examples of dignity, justice, and service to God: President Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Catholic monk Thomas Merton, and Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, the last of whom is buried in Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island. Day was laid to rest in this Roman Catholic burial ground in 1980, just a few months after it opened on the Island’s south shore.
Resurrection Cemetery is noteworthy as the last major cemetery developed in the city’s five boroughs, created by the Archdiocese of New York as the supply of new graves in Staten Island’s older Catholic cemeteries diminished. Responding to this need for more burial space, in 1977 the Archdiocese acquired 127 acres of land from the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin of Mount Loretto in the Pleasant Plains section. The New York City Council, which for decades had prohibited the creation of new cemeteries within its limits, approved the Archdiocese’s plans in this case because the land was already tax-exempt. Resurrection Cemetery is divided into two parcels on either side of Sharrott Avenue, with 84 acres remaining to be developed for future gravesites.
Since its opening, more than 42,000 Catholics have been interred in graves, mausoleum crypts, and cremation niches at Resurrection Cemetery. Among them are at least two dozen victims who died in the September 11 terror attacks at the World Trade Center site and hundreds of infants laid to rest in the Garden of Angels section for children. Also at Resurrection Cemetery is mobster William Cutolo, Sr., whose headstone marked an empty grave in Section 37 until his body was found in 2008—nine years after his murder. Resurrection Cemetery currently averages over 1,000 interments per year, making it one of the city’s busiest burial places.
Dorothy Day is interred in Section 10 of the east parcel of Resurrection Cemetery. A native New Yorker raised in the Episcopal Church, her conversion to Catholicism came in the 1920s after she moved to a beach cottage on Staten Island, not far from her burial place. After her conversion, Day co-founded the Catholic Worker movement and helped establish “houses of hospitality” in New York City and farms to house the poor. The movement quickly spread, and today there are nearly 200 Catholic Worker communities worldwide.
Following her death on November 29, 1980, Catholic Church historian David J. O’Brien called Dorothy Day “the most important, interesting, and influential figure in the history of American Catholicism.” In 2000, Cardinal John O’Connor formally requested the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome consider Day’s canonization and she was declared a Servant of God, the first step towards sainthood. And just this year a new Staten Island Ferry boat was named in her honor; it is scheduled to be ready for passenger service on November 8, 2022, the 125th anniversary of Day’s birth.
Sources: Resurrection Cemetery; Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “Catholics Eye a Site on S.I. as Place for New Cemetery,” New York Daily News, Oct 16, 1977; “Catholic Cemetery on S.I. Approved,” New York Times, Nov 29, 1977; “Cooke Names New Cemetery,” New York Daily News, Dec 31, 1978; “Death Notices,” New York Daily News, Oct 10, 2001;“Awaiting a Burial, This Time an Actual One,” New York Times, Oct 8, 2008; “S.I. Public Administrator Provides Dignified Burial for 9 Stillborn Infants,” Staten Island Advance, Dec 22, 2020; “The Pilgrimage of Dorothy Day,” Commonweal, Dec 19, 1980; “A Pilgrimage to Dorothy Day’s New York,” Aleteia, Nov 19, 2021; “Meet the Dorothy Day, the Latest Addition to New York’s Staten Island Ferry Fleet,” American Magazine, Sep 20, 2022; The Dorothy Day Guild