Peter Maurin

36

DOROTHY DAY Part 41

Peter Maurin, co-founder with Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement, was 20 years older than the woman he inspired to set up this radical, almost revolutionary, Christian initiative. Dorothy in her later years described her life as falling into two parts – her pre-conversion part and her Catholic part. In that latter part Peter Maurin was a pivotal force.

 

Peter’s entire life was one marked by suffering and sacrifice – and in the last five years of that life, a particularly intense surrender to the will of God. Dorothy described him as a St. Francis of modern times. “He was used to poverty as a peasant is used to rough living, poor food, hard bed, or no bed at all, dirt, fatigue, and hard and unrespected work. He was a man with a mission, a vision, an apostolate, but he had put off from himself honors, prestige, recognition. He was truly humble of heart. Never a word of detraction passed his lips and as St. James said, the man who governs his tongue is a perfect man. He was impersonal in his love in that he loved all, saw all others around him as God saw them, saw Christ in them.”

In those last five years he put the final touches – or let his Creator put the final touches – to the saintly life which would, in 2010, lead to the petition to the Holy See that he too be recognised by the Church as a saint in Heaven.

In her reflections on Peter’s last years, Dorothy described his total self-surrender: “The fact was he had been stripped of all. He had stripped himself throughout life; he had put off the old man in order to put on the new. He had done all that he could do to denude himself of the world, and I mean the world in the evil sense, that world which we pledge ourselves to combat, with the flesh and the devil. There is another sense of the world — “God so loved the world,” and “God looked at the World and found it was good” — and Peter was an apostle to this world. He loved people; he saw in them what God meant them to be, as he saw the world as God meant it to be, and loved it.”

Peter was ill for the last five years of his life, debilitatingly ill. It seemed that he may have had a stroke in his sleep. Finally, his mind began to fail and Dorothy’s consolation was that before that happened he had peacefully accepted that there was no more that he could physically do for the movement God had chosen him to serve. He said at one point prior to the onset of dementia, “I have done all I can; let the younger men take over.”

Dorothy was absent from New York when Peter died. Before she left she spoke to him, in what turned out to be the last time, about the death of a co-worker whose funeral she had to attend and to whom Peter was very close. When she said to him, “Now you will have someone waiting for you in heaven,” his face lit up in a radiant smile. He had not been able to smile for months. On her way back from that funeral Dorothy received a message telling her of Peter’s peaceful death.