“Frank Cordaro Essay” by Dylan Gramlich, April 14, 2017 – Intro to History Major: IA Topics, U of IA, Professor Gordon

Dylan C. Gramlich

Introduction to History Major: Iowa Topics

Professor Gordon

Due: April 14th, 2017

Final Draft- Frank Cordaro Essay

Ask yourself this: Would you be willing to do absolutely anything and everything you could for something that you truly and deeply believe in? Even if that means breaking laws that you would otherwise follow and obey? Would you be willing to spend time behind bars, in jail or prison, for these beliefs and truths that you follow and put faith in? For some people these questions can be difficult and or nearly impossible, however, for Frank Cordaro the answer was as natural, and easy as taking a breath: “Civil protest and disobedience,” he observes, “Are as American as grandma’s apple pie.”[1]

Frank Cordaro has been devoted to his religion, his community, and his country including (but not limited to) spending nearly twenty years as a Catholic priest- taking a proactive stance in spreading the word of Christ- and starting the Catholic Worker House Program in Des Moines, Iowa. Frank has also been an important and familiar face in the (worldwide) peace and anti-nuclear arms movements- which included various types of protests and sit-ins as well as acts of both civil disobedience and destruction of government property- which landed him in jail and or prison from time-to-time. It is ironic, to a degree, because, from Franks mind state and point of view, not expressing and or utilizing these unwritten rights is a great shame and undermines one of the core virtues of our, as Frank calls it, “Americanism Exceptionalism,”- which is the ability to freely express the god given rights and liberties that we possess, which in turn makes Americans seem truly ‘exceptional’ compared to everybody else in the world.


EARLY YEARS.  Frank was born into this world on February 16th, 1951, in Polk County, Des Moines, Iowa.[2] Frank was raised in a family headed by his mother and father along with four brothers. The Cordaro family, being Irish Catholics, maintained a deep belief in the importance of family, faith and prayer. Their family home was located on the South side of Des Moines, Iowa, where traces of family roots remain. Young Frank (and his brothers) would attend and graduate (1969) from Dowling High School, at the time an all boy’s, Catholic high school in Des Moines.[3]

Frank views himself as a truly, “Homegrown, born and raised,”[4] Iowan, that has never strayed too far from the place that helped shape him into the man he is today. “The only times I ever left Iowa were for institutional reasons,” Frank recalls, “either to go to school or jail!”[5] The latter being, in Franks words, “Where I received the better and more useful of the educations that were available to me.”[6]

Cordaro was a standout in both high school football and wrestling. Upon graduation of high school, Frank was inducted into the Dowling athletics hall of fame.[7] He was also able to earn an athletic scholarship to play both sports at the college level, at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). After being involved in an injury, Frank was no longer able to participate in football at UNI but oddly enough could continue wrestling. “It’s a different kind of contact,” Frank stated, “[But nevertheless] I was a terrible wrestler,”[8] he added with a halfcocked smile on his face. Upon completion of college in 1973, Frank gave into his lifelong calling and ultimately joined the local diocese in Des Moines, later in that same year.[9] However, the journey from layman to clergyman did not happen right away, ultimately it would take a little over ten years to complete.


THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE CATHOLIC WORKER PROGRAM.  “[For] As long as I can remember, I was always open to the idea of becoming a priest,”[10] Frank remembers. However, the yearning to answer god’s call to service didn’t become a reality until Frank graduated from college. Cordaro would start his journey to becoming a member of the priesthood by joining a seminary program in Des Moines. Shortly after joining the seminary program Frank was sent to spend, “The next three years at The Thomas Aquinas Institute of Theology in Dubuque [Iowa],” to focus on his studies and would later, “receive his Master of Divinity degree,”[11] in 1976. Frank would leave his seminary/theology studies shortly after receiving his masters. He did so partially because he had fallen in love with a woman, named Jackie Dickie. Because of this relationship Frank didn’t want to take a vow of celibacy, that he could not whole heartedly fulfill and be faithful to. Frank would struggle with this (celibacy vow) throughout his nineteen-year career within the priesthood. This would also be one of the issues that led to Franks eventual parting of ways with the priesthood, but not with the faith itself.[12]

For the next seven years, during his time away from religious studies and the seminary, Frank would play an instrumental part in establishing the first Catholic Worker House Program within the city of Des Moines, Iowa[13]. The Catholic Workers theology and overall aim is spelled out exceptionally well in a text that, Frank refers to frequently, entitled, The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker Movement, written by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who were also the founders of the national Catholic Worker Movement. “The short version,” Frank explains, is that, “The Catholic Worker Movement is based on a sense of personalism that doesn’t start, extend and focus on the individual, hardly at all. Instead it starts, extends and focuses on the individual human being in service to others [who are less fortunate] through works of mercy and service such as hospitality and charity- the giving of food, the availability of shelter, the giving of items of value including money, the visiting of the sick, etc.- and an overall view of living a life focused on helping the community by living in ‘poverty’ to correctly help those living in or near that level. Or to simply help anyone seeking or needing it.”[14]

Once the Des Moines Catholic Worker House was established, Frank focused his attention back to finishing up his theology/seminary studies. Ironically enough, Frank would finally make the decision to complete the requirements to become a priest, while serving time in a Missouri prison for destruction of government property.[15] In June 1985, sometime after being released from prison, Frank would achieve his goal when he, “Was [officially] ordained [as] a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Des Moines, IA, by Bishop Dingman,”[16] who would prove to be a lifelong friend and mentor of Cordaro. In one of Franks first assignments as a newly anointed Catholic priest was to go serve the, “Catholic communities of Harrison County, Iowa, five different parishes in five different towns,”[17] with the help of a few other priests and deacons, who were previously assigned to this diocese.

Father Frank Cordaro would go on to serve the people of Iowa as a priest for the next nineteen years until 2003. “I was a great priest; I was an excellent priest, I still am,”[18] Cordaro exclaims proudly. Unfortunately, Father Frank and the new Bishop of the Des Moines diocese (after Dingman passed), were unable to come to terms regarding Franks consistent involvement in acts of civil disobedience and public protest as well as Franks own personal and public doubts about his vow of celibacy. “Why is everyone so obsessed with [clerical] sex? It has been this way forever…!”[19] proclaims Frank at a near scream. Another issue that caused issues between Frank and the new Bishop was the topic of allowing women to enter the priesthood and take on active roles preaching and spreading the word of God. Frank (unsurprisingly) was a very consistent and loud voice in support of allowing women to enter the priesthood, unfortunately the Bishop (also unsurprisingly) was very much against the idea.[20]


CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AND NONVIOLENT PROTEST. Aside from Father Frank Cordaro’s clear love for and dedication to Jesus Christ and the Catholic religion, he was and continues to be a never-ending beacon of light and vivid advocate for non-violent acts of civil disobedience and protest. Over the course of his lifetime, Frank has been involved in many public protests all operating under the same creed of nonviolence. Frank Cordaro was bred to be, in his words, “A voice for the voiceless and less fortunate,”[21] and has dedicated his life to doing just that, even if that means getting thrown into jail and or prison every now and again.

For starters, while taking time away from the seminary and establishing the Des Moines Catholic Worker House, Cordaro had a nearly impeccable attendance on the scene of all types of local protest in the Iowa area. “His protest efforts covered a wide range of issues including nuclear weapons, the arms race, US foreign policies, nuclear power and issues surrounding poverty in the USA,”[22] and that is just scratching the surface.

Franks first act of non-violent, civil protest and disobedience would prove just how motivated and dedicated he was too the cause. August 9th, 1977, on the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, Frank and other loyal peace seekers would make their move. Walking up to the steps of the Pentagon, after their tour of the facility, the group took out packets of blood, that were hidden on their person, and began to cover the steps of the Pentagon in real, human blood (that of the protestors). This would be the first time that Frank would be arrested for crimes of civil disobedience and the first time that he would spend time behind bars for his actions.  “It felt great,” Frank said, “I felt liberated,”[23] the reality of sitting in a jail cell didn’t matter.

Another example of the resilience of Cordaro to continue his civil disobedience and protest would be: The World Food Prize Protest, held at the state capital in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2012. The aim of the protest was to shed a light on the, “Global takeover of the food supply by large corporations.”[24] This in turn negatively effects the small, local (Midwestern) farmers, since the large corporations can set the prices and regulations on the food that the farmers produce and ultimately sell. The protesters were also targeting the large corporations and charging them with refusing to help feed the hungry and for making it more difficult for the less fortunate to acquire these essential resources to live. “These corporations are not interested in feeding people… [The] problem [is] with the way they look at feeding [people] through a buying model rather than through the common good. They want complete countrywide domination.”[25] When the group of protesters refused to leave the grounds of the state capital the ‘leaders’ of the group, including Frank, were arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. Along with a fines Cordaro was, “Sentenced to [serve] 30 days in [the] Polk County Jail,”[26] located in Des Moines Iowa.

In 2016 there would be a similar protest on the campus of the Iowa State capital. Frank and others were protesting a company by the name of Monsanto- an agriculture company- who was sponsoring the 2016 World Food Prize Party in Des Moines. Again, Frank and the other demonstrators were arrested for trespassing, when they were asked to disperse by local authorities and refused. Once again, Frank was jailed and fined for his actions.[27]

Frank’s civil disobedience and protest didn’t stop at local events- where he was being a positive voice for local farmers and a negative and criticizing voice toward large companies and their monopolizing midframes. In fact, Frank has brought the non-violence disobedience and protest movement to other states across the nation such as: Nebraska, Maryland and the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. “

This is important my friend, so I will say it again,” Frank says with a sense of seriousness not yet expressed throughout the duration of the interview. “The single most detrimental threat to the existence of human beings,” which correlates with Franks idea of the, “Degradation of the human species,” is the, “Existence, development and usage of all types of: Missiles, nuclear weapons, and drones.”[28] This issue continues to be one of the main focuses of Franks agenda. Cordaro is dedicated to not letting humanity degrade to the point of non-existence by making his voice (and those who he speaks for) be heard and his presence be seen in places where, the manufacturing, acquiring, distribution and usage of these ‘godless group of weapons’ is viewed and accepted as a normal part of life.

The protest held at the Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, in 1998,[29] is another perfect example of the various types of anti-nuclear-weapons assemblies that Frank has been involved with. In this case, Frank and a group of five peace and anti-war activists, known as Gods of Metal Plowshares Five[30], attacked a B52 bomber during an annual gathering put on by the local Air Force. They targeted this specific aircraft because it had the capabilities to hold, transport and fire nuclear weapons. Striking the plane with hammers wasn’t enough, the protestors also threw their own blood onto the aircraft, representing the immense amount of bloodshed and death that this piece of military technology could and would produce.[31] Police would then arrive on the scene and arrest the protestors, Frank would be sentenced to and serve six months in prison for his involvement in the crime.[32]

Again, Franks undying dedication to a life of civil disobedience and protest would be shown with his multiple visits, protests, and arrests within the state of Nebraska. First, In December 28th, 2015, a day known as Holy Innocents’ Day, Frank and three others would deface and damage a Northrop Grumman- a aerospace and (military) defense company that is contracted with the United States Military- company building in Bellevue, Nebraska. Frank and the others were arrested on the Northrop Grumman campus and were charged with destruction of government property, among other minor charges. Participants involved were jailed and fined anywhere from, “$20,000 to $100,000.”[33]

Frank Cordaro has also spent a considerable amount of time in or near the area of Omaha, Nebraska, both in the community and in the jails. Frank spent most of that time being present and protesting at the Offutt Air Force Base located just outside of Omaha.[34] Offutt is home to (among other things) the, “U.S. Strategic (Air) Command (USSTRATCOM/SAC), center and was the location where the construction of the planes that dropped the atomic bombs in World War II.[35] It is no wonder that Frank Cordaro would be found frequenting the SAC campus. In this case, on the, “56th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki… Fr. Frank Cordaro and three others were cited for trespassing [‘crossing the line’],” while protesting at the SAC center near Omaha. At the end of the day Frank would be arrested, “For a seventh [but not final] time for protesting against the nation’s [obsession with] nuclear weapons.”[36]

Nearing 70 years of age, Franks commitment civil protest and disobedience seems to have only gotten stronger and shows no signs of ending anytime soon. We can see this through examination of two recent protests, that Frank was involved in. These incidents took place in December 2016 and February 2017, respectively: First, the interruption of President-elect Trumps speech in Des Moines, Iowa. Second, the sit-in at the office of the Iowa governor, Terry Branstad.

In late 2016, on December 8th, Cordaro and others would attend a president-elect Donald Trump gathering in Des Moines, Iowa. Armed with signs reading, “IOWA SAYS NO [Image of a swastika],” and chanting catchy phrases like, “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” The demonstrators would accomplish their goal of interrupting Trumps speech, although it was only for a short period. This in turn would cause the demonstration to be covered by MSNBC. That night on the news a picture of Frank Cordaro with his thick ‘Santa like beard’ could be seen on televisions across the nation. In the end, no demonstrators were arrested but one of the women involved with the protest got into a confrontation with the local police and suffered a broken and permanently disfigured finger.[37]

In February 2017, Frank and others were protesting the highly controversial, “Dakota Access/Bakken pipeline sites throughout Iowa,” they did so, “By occupying Governor Branstad’s office at the statehouse [capital of Iowa in Des Moines].” The various pipelines that have been under debate, as of late, have drawn massive amounts of media and civil protest unrest, which in turn spread to Iowa. The protestors demands were simple, “We are asking the Governor to help us shut down the Dakota Access/Bakken pipeline through[out] Iowa…” When the protestors failed to leave the Governor’s office by closing time, they were arrested and sent to Polk County Jail.[38]


FRANKS HOLY COMMITMENT BEHIND BARS. While still an active priest, Cordaro, as shown above, was involved in an enormous number of public protests and acts of civil disobedience. This in turn has led to his now decorated and extensive rap sheet[39] that is coupled with his personal acquaintance with America’s prison and jail system. While in prison, Frank would write weekly newsletters to his congregations. These correspondents would cover a time span of nearly 12 years; of course, Frank was not incarcerated for 12 consecutive years, this number represents the length of time that that Frank was serving various, multiple, prison and or jail terms. Among other things, these writings were: Updates on Franks condition as well as how the life within the church was running without their “jailbird pastor.”[40] During Franks various stints in prison/jail, he made the decision to, “Not be drawing any salary from the counties… this will help make the point that I am acting my own in these matters.” He also decided to, “Continue writing my weekly pastoral letters from jail, despite my absence I will still be your pastor.”[41]


UNDER GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE. To everyone’s astonishment, in 2005, “Anti-war activists in New York, Florida, California, Iowa and Ohio who organized protests [were] listed as [possible] threats by the Pentagon.”[42] Peace activists, across the country, were being watched by the United States Government, including Frank, but that didn’t seem to bother him at all. It simply added fuel to the already blazing fire. “This ordeal shows us two things,” Cordaro responded with a smile, “One, that we knew that the [US] Government spied on its people, but second and most important, we know now that our voices are being heard and that all of what we have done here hasn’t been done in vain…And believe me, my friend, we are far from finished.”[43]


CONCLUSION-IMPACT ON IOWA&THE WORLD. As you can see, Frank Cordaro has spent much of his life fighting, preaching and protesting for the betterment of humanity. The lifelong work of Frank Cordaro has impacted not only the state of Iowa but also America in general- through his acts of public protest, civil disobedience and preaching of the word of God. “However, if we are to successfully move forward as a nation it is pivotal that we make changes in our behavior,” Frank observes. “We must stop all usage of drones, missiles, bombs, etc. because these things are the most detrimental threat that we as human beings face. Along with that we must discontinue all warfare, PERIOD, no war is a just war. Dismantling the production and usage of GMOs for farming is also important. Living at and or below the poverty line communal style groups. But most importantly, striving for [worldwide] peace through acts of mercy, such as: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, etc. However, none of this is possible without having individuals who are dedicated to and willing to fight for the changes that they want to see in life.” If we do these things than Frank thinks humanity still has a chance to be humane. In conclusion, Frank is simply living out his purpose in life: to help those in need and to stand up for and be a voice for those who are voiceless or powerless to act. “God bless.”[44]







Works Cited


[1] Frank Cordaro Interview. Catholic Worker House- Des Moines, Iowa. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[2] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17. (Audio file in possession of author).

[3] Cordaro, Frank, Fr. “Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro.” Biographical Information for Fr. Frank Cordaro. Catholic Worker Community, Jan. 2002. Web. 13 Apr. 2017. http://www.no-nukes.org/frank/f-biography.html.

[4] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[5] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[6] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[7] Ufheil, Angela. “The Protesting Priest.” Urban Plains. N.p., 07 Mar. 2017. Web. 15 Apr. 2017. <https://urban-plains.com/impact/the-protesting-priest/&gt;. Frank Cordaro sent me the link to this email shortly after our interview on 3/15/17.

[8] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[9] Cordaro, Frank, Fr. “1988 June RESISTANCE AND PRIESTHOOD- A DEVELOPING MODEL.” Frank Cordaro’s Writings and Archives: Life time Catholic Worker, former priest and peace activist. Des Moines Catholic Worker Newspaper (Archives), 18 Mar. 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017. https://frankcordaro.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/1998-june-resistance-and-priesthood-a-developing-model/. Originally published in June 1998 while Frank was serving time in prison.

[10] Cordaro. “RESISTANCE AND PRIESTHOOD.” 1988.

[11] Cordaro. “RESISTANCE AND PRIESTHOOD.” 1988.

[12] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[13] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[14] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author)/ Frank Cordaro Phone Call Session. North Liberty IA-Des Moines, IA. 4/13/17. 8:00pm-8:15pm.

[15] Cordaro. “RESISTANCE AND PREISTHOOD.” 1988.

[16] Cordaro. “Words.” Biographical Information. Jan 2002.

[17] Cordaro. “RESISTANCE AND PRIESTHOOD.” 1988.

[18] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[19] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[20] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[21] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[22] Cordaro. “Words.” Biographical Information. Jan 2002.

[23] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[24] Stanton, Su. “Five Arrested at Protest of World Food Prize in Des Moines.” National Catholic Reporter: The Independent News Source. National Catholic Reporter Publishing Co. (US), 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2017. https://www.ncronline.org/news/peace-justice/five-arrested-protest-world-food-prize-des-moines.

[25] Stanton. “Five Arrested at Protest in Des Moines.” National Catholic Reporter. Oct 2012.

[26] Stanton. “Five Arrested at Protest in Des Moines.” National Catholic Reporter. Oct 2012.

[27] Burke, Monte. “In a Trial Against Protesters, The State of Iowa Seeks Unusual Ban on First Amendment     Defense.” Forbes: Lifestyle. Forbes, 10 Jan. 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/monteburke/2017/01/10/in-a-trial-against-protesters-the-state-of-iowa-seeks-unusual-ban-on-first-amendment-defense/#283816352a6e&gt;. The incident took place in October 2013.

[28] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[29] Ufheil, Angela. “The Protesting Priest.” Urban Plains. N.p., 07 Mar. 2017. Web. 15 Apr. 2017. https://urban-plains.com/impact/the-protesting-priest/. Frank Cordaro sent me the link to this email shortly after our interview on 3/15/17.

[30] State Historical Society of Iowa. Frank Cordaro Files. Ms.223 Box. 2. Gods of Metal Plowshares File. 4/26/17.

[31] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author)/ Ufheil. “The Protesting Priest.” Mar.2017.

[32] Ufheil. “The Protesting Priest.” Mar. 2017.

[33] McKenith, DaVonte, and Chinh Doan. “Bond set for suspects in Northrop Grumman Vandalism.” KETV.Com. KETV.Com, 29 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2017. http://www.ketv.com/article/bond-set-for-suspects-in-northrop-grumman-vandalism/7657150.

[34] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, Ia. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[35] N.A. “US priest arrested in anti-nuclear protest.” Catholic News – Catholic Telecommunications, a division of Catholic Resources. N.p., 13 Aug. 2001. Web. 17 Apr. 2017. http://cathnews.acu.edu.au/108/52.php.

[36] “US priest arrested.” Catholic News. Aug 2001.

[37] Via Pacis: The Voice of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community. “DMCW Disrupts Trump Speech in Des Moines.” Frank Cordaro. State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI). 4/26/17.

[38] Via Pacis: The Voice of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community. “DMCW Pipeline Resistance at Governor’s Office.” Frank Cordaro. State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI). 4/26/17.

[39] Slang Term for Arrest Record.

[40] Frank Cordaro. Writings While In Prison, 1987-1999 (Includes the Inside Word, 1994-1995). MS223 b.2 f.1. State Historical Society of Iowa.

[41] MS223- Frank Cordaro Papers- News clippings, 1995-2000. Frank Cordaro. Dear Friends Handbill, April 8th, 1998. State Historical Society of Iowa. Folder 1, Box 2.

[42] N.A. “Anti-War Protesters Under Pentagon Surveillance Speak Out.” Democracy Now! N.P., 15 Dec. 2005. Web. 17 Apr. 2017. https://www.democracynow.org/2005/12/15/anti_war_protesters_under_pentagon_surveillance.

[43] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).

[44] Cordaro Interview. Des Moines, IA. 3/15/17 (Audio file in possession of author).


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