Feb 1980 v.p. The Story of Peter
Cordaro, VP, Vol. 4, No. 4, Aug-Sept 1980, The Story of Peter
THE STORY OF PETER
By Frank Cordaro
Stanley Vishnewski would say that there are two types of people who work at Catholic Worker: the saints and the martyrs. “The saints are always cheerful and self-sacrificing. They give of themselves to guests and staff alike. The martyrs are the rest of us who have to live with the saints.” Peter DeMott is one of the saints. Prior to his arrival we were warned by his friends in Omaha that Peter was without a single vice. We soon found out the truth of their statements. He liked a beer once in a while, but never out of proportion and almost always at social occasions. His monk’s pallet is now a legend. He loved to get up at the crack of dawn and run 10 miles out to the city limits and back. He did his running in old army boots! He had a real aversion to energy consuming machines of all kinds, especially the automobile. He literally would not accept rides to places in the city; even if the entire community was to go to the same destination. Peter would insist on running or riding his ‘orphan’ bike. It was an orphan because it was made from about a dozen partial bikes that Peter had found in the neighborhood. On trips outside the city, Peter would usually hitchhike. On occasion he would ride with us to other cities, although Peter said to us more than once that we should consider getting rid of our Volkswagen since he saw no real reason of having it. Those of us who have lived with Peter believe his true calling is that of inventor, however. Some of his notable inventions are homemade fly swatter (called the fly-swiper), homemade sandals, and a ‘sit-up’ machine. Despite his saintly character, Peter was a joy to have around for a party. The conversation was never dull. Peter’s distinctive vocabulary and endless recall of both poetry and prose made him a hit at any gathering. Our favorite song was ‘The Keeper of the Eddy Stone Light.”
Peter was no stranger to the world. Originally from Omaha and a graduate of Creighton Prep, his post-high school days echo those of a soldier of fortune. Upon his graduation from high school, he entered the Society of Jesus, but left after three years to enter the military. Three years in the Marines with duty in Viet Nam and another four years in the Army with overseas duty in Turkey gave Peter a variety of experiences upon which to expound. While in Turkey he served as a translator…ergo his ‘fun’ with languages. Peter would say, “The only difference between the military and the Jesuits was that the Jesuits get up at 4:30 am and the military gets up at 5:30 am.” Once out of the service, he went back to school. This time the Diocesan Seminary in St. Paul, MN. It took a little over a year for Peter to discover that the priesthood was not for him, but ever since makes a point of being in the company of priests at the strangest times. Back to Omaha and working at odd jobs for cash led Peter to his association with the Serpents and Doves Community there and to his first demonstration–the arms bazaar in Rosemont in February 1979. On their way through to the Chicago area, the Omaha folks stopped at the Des Moines CW and we met Peter for the first time. All he wanted was a cup of hot water and some lemon juice. Peter was arrested at the arms bazaar with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Fr. Carl Kabet, and Fr. Darrell Rupiper. See what I mean about the priests and Peter? The following spring we were low on staff and I was planning to do civil disobedience at the Palo Nuke in Cedar Rapids, IA. Peter came to Des Moines to help staff the house while I risked imprisonment. His intent was to stay a couple of weeks. Instead, he stayed for fourteen months. I remember asking Peter how long he was going to stay with us so I could plan ahead. Peter answered, “Don’t ask me how long I’m going to stay because once I make a commitment I’ll feel trapped by it. I might stay a day or a year. Let’s go a day at a time.” I should know better than try to plan ahead at the Catholic Worker. You need to trust in God’s timing and not your own. While at the Worker, Peter added a certain class to the house. My mother would say she felt better about the place when Peter was here. It was in good hands.
Peter’s departure was as subtle as his arrival. A note under my door one day told me that he was on his way to Omaha to help out the struggling CW there, and thanked me for the ‘learning experience.’ He did not leave without laying the seeds for he replacement. He did lead two present staff members to the house: Fr. Bert and Randy. How about that! The guy replaces himself with two staff! Dorothy Day was surely right when she said, “The gold moves on and the dross remains.” His visit to Omaha was short-lived, however. He left to go to the Pentagon with the Chicago area people for a Jonah House session. We received word in late May that he and several others were arrested for blood spilling at the Pentagon. Peter received 30 days. He was arrested with Fr. Eagan and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, spending jail time with them in Richmond VA. Peter must have this thing about priests because he’s with them in the strangest places.
Our friend Peter would be with us today, but the courts decided to tack on another six months on his sentence because his latest arrest was a violation of his probation from a previous incident at the Pentagon. Please write to him: Peter DeMott/Lewisburg Federal Prison Camp/PO Box 1000/Lewisburg, PA 17387. He should be there well into the fall. Tell him we miss him and love him. Tell him we support him and also ask him to come back to us. Maybe your letters of flattery will get him to come back. He must be tired of mine!