MARC HIRSCH ELLIS, Marquette University


The twentieth century has seen the death rate due to improper nutrition and medical ignorance of past centuries equalled by avoidable human-induced violence. The past eighty years have seen the world move through the terrible terrain of holocaust: in the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, in Southeast Asia. Gil Elliot has appropriately labelled our time the century of the dead. Not surprisingly, a century so violent has called forth voices who oppose the course of world history and propose a future that could honesty be called human. In the century of the dead the prophet is born. One such prophetic voice was that of Aristide Pierre (Peter) Maurin. Maurin was born to a large, Catholic, peasant family in the south of France in 1877. From the age of fifteen, his schooling was done primarily within the Christian Brothers' school, and when he finsihed his studies, Maurin taught as a Brother in Paris for seven years (1895 - 1902). Despite the fact that he was teaching with the Christian Brothers Maurin was subjected to military service. Maurin objected strongly to military service and began to study the social and political questions of his day. From his studies, the need for a new social order became urgent, and not having taken final vows as a Brother, he left in 1902 to join a movement which sought to reconstruct the social order, a movement called Le Sillon. The Sillon was a Catholic, urban, activist movement, and Maurin participated in its activities for five years. However, as the movement grew, the Sillon's original calling was replaced by a non-confessional and political orientation. Maurin continued to be called in for military service, and the Sillon was involved in altercations with political adversaries. In 1909, Maurin decided to leave both the Sillon and France itself and settle in Canada. Maurin arrived in Canada, worked a homestead with his partner, and left for the United States in 1911 after his partner was killed in a hunting accident. For the next six years, Maurin wandered around America taking odd jobs to support himself. With the start of World War I he opened a French language school in Chicago where he remained until 1925. In 1925, Maurin left for New York, giving up all that he had accumulated as a successful teacher, and adopting a life of voluntary poverty. At the same time, his ideas on the ills of contemporary life came into focus. Maurin's ideas and plans for a new social order began to reach a wide audience with the founding of the Catholic Worker movement in 1933 by Maurin and Dorothy Day. Generally speaking, Maurin's understanding was that the world was moving into darkness; only by establishing a decentralized, religiously based agrarian civilization could the direction of world history be reversed. Maurin's program to reach this destination was as follows: round-table discussions where worker, scholar, and bourgeoisie would come together to reach a clarification of thought; hospices where the fortunate would care for the afflicted; agrarian universities where an urban people could learn the skills requisite to a life on the land. Maurin's program was instituted over the next sixteen years by the Catholic Worker movement. During this time, Maurin travelled across the country to spread his message of a social order based on the teachings of Christ. As he lived from 1933 to 1949, he died: in poverty. Like the prophets of old, Maurin had brought a message of personal and social renewal to a world in search of affluence and power.

Recommended Citation

ELLIS, MARC HIRSCH, "PETER MAURIN: PROPHET IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY" (1980). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8111853.