Wednesday, 20 August 2014

On class envy, poverty and saintliness

On class envy, poverty and saintliness

My reading at the moment is very much based on Fr William Doyle SJ; Dorothy Day – Catholic activist; Catherine de Heuck Doherty – founder of the Madonna House Apostolate and the Pope.

“Jesus and Voluntary Poverty Jesus, the Son of God, practiced voluntary poverty. He chose to be born in a stable without any of the accoutrements of a middle class life style.” - See more at:

The moral doctrine of poverty from New Advent here, has tons of information.

It’s the “ middle-class” bit that intrigues me. You see, one of my friends thinks I suffer from “class-envy”. It is actually very true. Another friend thought I might suffer from an “inferiority complex”. That is actually true too. Obviously, I suffer from neuroticism & narcissism as well.

We grew up in a close-knit neighbourhood, of predominantly English, Irish, Italian, and West-Indian families. My dad, the 10th of 11 children had come to England from Co Dublin in search of work in the late 1950s. Many of the other immigrants had done the same.

We lived peacefully with our neighbours and as children enjoyed play outside on the streets. When I was 11, I passed the 11 plus as did my mother, and went to the Girl’s Catholic Grammar.

One thing I noticed was that although I had the correct school uniform, many girls had the “better brands” ie Clarks. So it amuses me when the middle classes go on about “brands” because they tend to dress their children in brands, - Marks & Spencers- Clarks etc. Obviously the Upper Classes can use Burberry & the like. So school uniform is not really class-free, which is the point I’m making.

Reading about Fr William Doyle inspires me because of his wonderful spirituality and holiness. He was born William Joseph Gabriel Doyle, in Melrose, Dalkey, Co Dublin, in March 1873. I was amazed to read that the family had many domestic servants, including a cook, maids, valet, nurse and parlour maid.

Dorothy Day’s family had a servant until they moved after the San-Francisco earthquake, though she writes in “The Long Loneliness” – “ Our poverty did not last long. “
Catherine Doherty was born in 1896 to a deeply devout and wealthy, aristocratic family. More information here

What intrigues me most about my reading, is why people from comfortable, well-off backgrounds would actually choose “holy poverty?”. Also is it easier to choose rather than endure because you have no choice.?.

Pope Francis has much to say about poverty:
 “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.”  (Pope Francis, Address to the Food and Agricultural Organization, 6/20/13).

Pope Francis was born, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, to Italian immigrants. In his recent Apostolic Exhortion, Evangelii Gaudium, he says: "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”.

Continuing, on with my rambling thoughts. My thoughts get drawn to the distributism of GK Chesterton, and there is a good discussion here about similarities between Dorothy Day & Chesterton’s ideas.

Owning property, is always seen as a good thing by the middle-classes. The distributists think it good too. My thoughts are that owning property can prevent total abandonment to God. If one is fortunate enough to have been handed down property, wealth and has savings in the bank, is one’s faith compromised? Obviously, there is prudence & a desire to provide for one’s family which is good.

I must be sounding very anti middle-class now. Which I am and am not. Having adopted many middle-class practices with my own family, particularly buying their shoes from Clarks, I still am loathe to leave my “working-class” background.  More to come.

(Deacon Tony Flavin touches on some of this in his post "Privilege" here)


The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
Father William Doyle by O’ Rahilly
Fragments of My Life by Catherine de Heuck Doherty
Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis

On my wish list:


  1. How provileged am I that you should name me, thank you.

    I find the middle classes choose etreme brands, Primark and Boden, Aldi and Waitrose, and I tease them about it in my charity shop clothes over a Tesco's bought tart tatin.


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