Introductory Note:

In his original piece on the virtue of fortitude—published in Perspective in 2001— and shared on Monday, Richard Foster ended by exhorting his readers to look into some lives of Christians who exemplified this virtue, and then listed six from the 20th century: Nee To-sheng (Watchman Nee) of China, Eberhard Arnold of Germany, Rosa Parks of the United States, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Russia, Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) of Poland, and Dorothy Day of the United States.

Due to space constraints, we have chosen three of those listed above and gathered some biographical information about them to share with you today. On Friday, we’ll finish up our week on fortitude by sharing some of Richard’s ideas to practice this virtue in our own lives.

Renovaré Team

To Serve the Poor: Dorothy Day (18971980)

Dorothy Day — journalist, activist, radical, Catholic convert — was a woman of conscience who devoted her life’s work to helping the urban poor. The Dorothy Day Guild explains below:

Dorothy had grown to admire the Catholic Church as the Church of the poor” and her faith began to take form with the birth of her daughter Tamar in 1926. Her decision to have her daughter baptized and embrace the Catholic faith led to the end of her common law marriage and the loss of many of her radical friends. Dorothy struggled to find her role as a Catholic. While covering the 1932 Hunger March in Washington, D.C. for some Catholic magazines, she prayed at the national Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that some way would open up for her to serve the poor and the unemployed. The following day, back in New York, she met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant and former Christian Brother, who had a vision for a society constructed of Gospel values. 

Together they founded the Catholic Worker newspaper which spawned a movement of houses of hospitality and farming communes that has been replicated throughout the United States and other countries. At the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day lived a life faithful to the injunctions of the Gospel. Often the newspaper quoted G.K. Chesterton’s famous observation that Christianity hadn’t really failed — it had never really been tried. Day’s life was spent trying. She was shot at while working for integration, prayed and fasted for peace at the Second Vatican Council, received communion from Pope Paul VI at the 1967 International Congress of the Laity, and addressed the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. Her pilgrimage ended at Maryhouse in New York City on November 29, 1980, where she died among the poor.

Tired of Giving In: Rosa Parks (19132005)

Rosa Louise Parks is nationally recognized as the mother of the modern day civil rights movement” in America. Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, December 1, 1955, triggered a wave of protest December 5, 1955 that reverberated throughout the United States. Her quiet courageous act changed America, its view of black people and redirected the course of history. Here she recounts what led up to that fateful decision (from her book, My Story):

I saw a vacant seat in the middle section of the bus and took it. I didn’t even question why there was a vacant seat even though there were quite a few people standing in the back. If I had thought about it at all, I would probably have figured maybe someone saw me get on and did not take the seat but left it vacant for me. There was a man sitting next to the window and two women across the aisle.

The next stop was the Empire Theater, and some whites got on. They filled up the white seats, and one man was left standing. The driver looked back and noticed the man standing. Then he looked back at us. He said, Let me have those front seats,” because they were the front seats of the black section. Didn’t anybody move. We just sat right where we were, the four of us. Then he spoke a second time: Y’all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.”

The man in the window seat next to me stood up, and I moved to let him pass by me, and then I looked across the aisle and saw that the two women were also standing. I moved over to the window seat. I could not see how standing up was going to make it light” for me. The more we gave in and complied, the worse they treated us. I thought back to the time when I used to sit up all night and didn’t sleep, and my grandfather would have his gun right by the fireplace, or if he had his one-horse wagon going anywhere, he always had his gun in the back of the wagon. People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

No Way Left but Upward: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (19182008)

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system. Lev Grossman wrote the following memorial of Solzhenitsyn for TIME Magazine in 2008:

In 1973 [Solzhenitsyn] completed the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, a thundering, encyclopedic indictment of the Soviet labor camp system and the government that built it which combines literary fiction with the testimony of hundreds of actual survivors. It is a towering monument to the power of witness. 

In The First Circle Solzhenitsyn wrote: For a country to have a great writer is like having another government. That’s why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.” With The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn had become too great for the Soviet government. After years of harassment he was put on a plane and expelled from Russia. 

[He and his family settled in Vermont.]

Solzhenitsyn was an icon of freedom to the Western world, but he did not return the esteem it heaped on him. As a man of enormous Christian faith, he regarded the West as spiritually deteriorated, and he sometimes baffled supporters and critics alike with his reactionary criticisms of Western democracy. In a searing speech to Harvard’s graduating class of 1978, he observed that a decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today.”

Solzhenitsyn remained hopeful that the coming centuries would bring with them a world where mankind’s material and spiritual lives, our bodies and our souls, would be able to flourish together. After personally enduring and bearing witness to some of the greatest tragedies of a tragic century, he still believed that life could and would evolve and improve. The ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage,” he said. No one on earth has any other way left but upward.”


Dorothy Day Guild (n.d.). "Brief Biography." Retrieved from

Grossman, Lev (2008, August 4). Remembering Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. TIME Magazine. Retrieved from,8599,1829150,00.html

Parks, Rosa & Haskins, Jim (1999). Rosa Parks: My Story. New York: Puffin Books. Retrieved from