Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton

Updated 11:37 AM ET, Fri September 25, 2015

(CNN) Pope Francis invoked four Americans in his historic speech to Congress on Thursday. Two are instantly recognizable: Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The others — Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton — were Roman Catholic activists and ardent pacifists but lesser known, until the papal mentions sent many listeners on a Google search.

Thomas Merton

Merton, a French-born Trappist monk and arguably the most influential Catholic writer of the last century, converted to Catholicism after a stormy start in life. His parents were artists, and both died before Merton grew to adulthood.

Merton stirred controversy with his beliefs among Catholics, certainly, but also among Christians at large who saw his social activism as ill-fitting for a monk. People angered by Merton’s stance against the Vietnam War burned his books not far from the Kentucky abbey.

Merton died in Bangkok in 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution.

Dororthy Day

She was a radical journalist, an activist who was branded a communist and socialist.

What’s made her controversial, while being considered for sainthood, is not these matters but rather her position as a pacifist and anarchist who opposed all war and called out bishops who failed to do the same.

Day converted to Catholicism in the late 1920s and died in 1980 at age 83. She was the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a staunchly pacifist movement that works on behalf of the poor and homeless.

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