Peter Maurin, who died at the Catholic Worker's Maryfarm, near Newburgh, on May 15, was original in both the French and English senses of the word. He was a personality of winning innocence, integrity and independence; he was a prototype of lay Catholic Action with an enthusiasm for voluntary poverty. Dorothy Day says that the Catholic Worker would never have existed except for Peter. Yet Peter was more a professor than a publicist. Best of all, he practiced literally what he professed. He was a great simplifier. The scholastic scaffolding of St. Thomas' Summa came tumbling down as Peter outlined in his blank-verse "Easy Essays" the medieval teaching on the importance of Big Shots and Little Shots.
He simplified everything. The corporal works of mercy are an inescapable personal responsibility. Peter's impressive knowledge of Irish history gave him the idea of Houses of Hospitality, shelters for the homeless. There are more than thirty of them now, thanks to Peter's inspiration. Before there was a Catholic Worker Peter was visiting AMERICA to explain his program of the Green Revolution to Fathers Parsons and LaFarge. Personal indoctrination was Peter's mission in life. His pedagogy was unique. He would loudly question a sleeping bench-warmer in Union Square until a crowd arrived. "The trouble with the world is," Peter was convinced, "that the man of thought doesn't act and the man of action doesn't think." It would be a delight to angels to hear Peter explain to Gandhi the positive Christianity of Péguy, for Peter's life was a challenge to Brahmin escapism as well as bourgeois smugness.