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Death of Pat Mahoney, long time Catholic Humanist, Long Distance Runner for Peace and Justice

August 3, 2008

It has always been interesting to me to see how different people process their religious upbringing. It can serve an excuse for supporting the status quo – as it seems to be with something of a vengeance for the current Denver Archbishop Chaput, who is arguably the most reactionary Catholic leader in this state’s history and an anachronism – if not an insult – to Catholicism’s deeper humanistic traditions. Contrast him with Sister Pat Mahoney, long time a Denver social justice activist who gave her life to working particularly with drug addicts but also was an integral part of the city’s peace movement during the long years she blessed us with her presence in Colorado. Mahoney died recently in San Francisco where she has relocated in the late 1980s

In 1981, accompanied by another nun, Ann Marie Nord, and having a forged security pass, Sister Pat Mahoney drove through the entrance of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant northwest of Denver on to the plant grounds. Once inside the facility, the two nuns got out, hoisted a flag which said `Death Factory’, waited to get arrested, prayed for an end of the nuclear arms race and for Rocky Flats to stop making plutonium triggers for the US nuclear arsenal. For their actions, Federal District Judge Zita Weinshank sentenced the two to five years in a federal peniteniary, suspending all but six months of it which the two nuns served. The next year in a kind of follow up operation, two other nuns, Pat McCormick being one, broke through the Rocky Flats gate, planted crosses with pictures of the world’s poor on them, poured blood (donated by peace activists of all faiths, including a few drops secular drops of my own) and waited in turn to be arrested.

Much of Mahoney’s work centered around the Catholic Worker House, – that class conscious national movement started by Dorothy Day that continues to this day and includes small but active circles of Catholic activists, both in Colorado Springs and Denver. Running soup kitchens for the poor, active in the peace – and most especially the anti-nuclear and Latin American solidarity movements, the Catholic Worker movement in which Pat Mahoney participated has been a quiet but enduring – and effective – part of the broader peace movements and includes among its ranks such talented peace organizers as Tom Rauch, Byron Plumley, Shirley Whiteside, Bill Sulzman down in the Springs, Pat McCormick, Ken and Mag Seaman and ofcourse the unimitatable William Watts. Many, many others including recently deceased close friends of mine – Jack Galvin and Scott Keating – were influenced by the Catholic Worker although their active political work was in more secular realms most of the time. Galvin and Keating never lost their personal connection with Catholic Worker friends, some of whom showed up to pay their respects at memorial services when the two companeros died within months of each other last summer and fall. Even some of `Recreate-68’s ‘ airheads flirted with the Catholic Worker, but, unable to understand the social chemistry of a genuine social movement just moved on to flashier but more irrelevant forms of activism.

Catholic Worker supporters, activists are found in virtually every important social movement in Colorado and have been since the 1930s when the movement was first founded. . They are there – whether it’ s in the labor, peace or civil rights activitieies, – wherever there is poverty, racism, sexism and other forms of oppression, you’ll find them. Although I don’t share a similar `point of departure’, I am no longer surprised that our concerns – and many of the solutions – converge again and again. In the movements for peace and social justice, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindi, Marxist and Democrat find the best of one another and come to appreciate the values of each that form the moral basis of vibrant social movements. Common values connect in the end – simply different ways of expressing respect if not love for all of humanity.

They – the Catholic Worker people – seem to have developed an almost visceral sense of fighting injustice. Occasionally their actions hit the headlines, like when the three nuns protested the nuclear arms race by symbolically hitting the gate of a nuclear missile site in NE Colorado. But more often than not it’s that less dramatic stuff, the day to day grind of organizing for no or little money, year in and year out – that which separates the fly-by-nights, the trust fund babies playing with left politics from the real thing – which characterizes their work and the work of others like Betty Ball, Caroline Bninski in Boulder, Sarah Gill and Claire Ryder in Denver, people who never lose sight of the human dimension of organizing.. And as such the Catholic Worker people, the Pat Mahoneys are among the long distance runners of the peace movement. And we should cherish their contribution and their memory.

In a city that has seen social movements come and go over the past forty years, the Catholic Worker movement is something of an oddity. It has endured, and more – although modest in size, it has, through its efforts, managed to maintain a strong sense of community. That is no small accomplishment. I contrast it with Jewish groups like New Jewish Agenda, that had a nice run in the 1980s before virtually collapsing under the weight of various pressures it could not withstand. True a few new groups are emerging to pick up the slack. In contrast,Catholic Worker just keeps on trucking. And while the political base of American Catholics has, in recent decades, shifted right, the Catholic Worker movement is there, a kind of anchor, preventing American Catholics from going even further over the edge. What a wonderful legacy to have been a part of, and to leave for future generations of Catholics and even hard bitten non-believers like myself. Pat Mahoney’s spirit will forever be a part of that movement.

Below is an portrait of Pat Mahoney sent to me by William Watts this morning.

> 30 Years. . .
> But Who’s Counting?
> by Julie O’Neill, BVM
> (note – this is a link to a magazine, Mahoney is on the cover)

> The volunteers are hurrying to complete last minute preparations and
> Pat Mahoney, BVM (Mel) is right there in the midst of all the
> activity.

> The site is Martin dePorres Food Kitchen in San Francisco and the
> first thing one notices upon entering the garden and then the dining
> room itself are all the pictures and “altars.”

> Original images and paintings from the guests themselves are
> side-by-side with pictures/statues of Mary Magdalene, Mother Teresa,
> Buddha, Martin dePorres, Dorothy Day, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Eagle
> Feathers, Moses and St. Francis of Assisi. Indeed, the guests take
> great pride in enriching the environment of the site.

> Pat’s been a regular member of the volunteer crew at Martin’s since
> 1988 when she arrived from Denver where she’d given ten years of
> service. Her years of various ministries before 1978 paved the way for
> her 30 year commitment to the Catholic Worker Movement.

> After being assigned to teach in Hawaii in 1963, Pat began her studies
> at the University of Hawaii. While there, she began her long term
> volunteer connection with the John Howard Agency’s methadone program  for treating street addicts and G.I. “junkies.”

> In 1970, Pat was hired fulltime by the agency in Honolulu.
> Additionally, she began serving 18 months on the Grand Jury. She knew
> LOTS of narcotic officers, and, eventually, was judged to be too
> closely connected to remain on the jury.

> After a year at Guadalupe College in Los Gatos and a year’s sabbatical
> at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Pat settled with the
> Catholic Worker House in Denver where she participated in many peace
> activities. Demonstrations in theRocky Flats area frequently involved
> thousands of persons and arrests were an everyday occurrence.

> Pat re-located to San Francisco in 1988 and joined the Martin dePorres
> “family.” Until St. Paul’s Convent closed in 1995, Pat lived with
> other BVMs there.

> For the past 13 years, she has lived in “David House.” To reside
> there, a volunteer must work at Martin’s Kitchen, demonstrate a
> support for the work at the kitchen and be really committed to the
> work of the Catholic Worker Movement.

> During a typical week at Martin’s, the guests receive a variety of
> services: ten meals, showers, informal counseling and fi rst aid
> assistance, massages and a chance to “sit and just talk.”

> Pat will be the first on to assure you that every week is not
> “typical”—every day is not “easy”—every guest is not “agreeable”! Most
> of the guests are homeless and many are mentally ill, alcoholic and/or
> on drugs. Hopefully, some are in detox or rehab.

> Recently another soup kitchen in San Francisco served its last free
> meal. The Haight-Asbury kitchen ended its quarter of a century of care
> in April after serving as many as 450 guests a day. Certainly,
> Martin’s will be struggling to meet the ever-increasing needs of the
> hungry in their area!

> Volunteers are the “heart” of the program and they come from church
> groups, family members, friends at work, students completing school
> service projects and those working off too many parking tickets.

> One high school boy volunteered at Christmas and brought his dad. The
> student is now away at college but his dad continues to be a regular
> volunteer.

> Why, after 30 years, does Pat continue when the work is tiring, often
> emotionally draining, and the guests not always too appreciative. She
> responded, “Everyone still does not have what they NEED! There is
> still such a terrible mis-distribution of food and funds!”

> On a September day in 2004, the atmosphere at Martin’s was ALIVE with
> excitement. We were celebrating Pat’s Golden Jubilee with a mass and
> LOTS of good food. The regular guests welcomed all of us and were
> soooo glad that we had come to their site to have our party.

> Later this year, we’ll be gathering for another celebration at
> Martin’s. On Nov. 1, 2008, we—the Bay Areas BVMs—will again have a
> great party to mark the end of our Jubilee year. We will share good
> food and friendship with the regular Martin’s guests and, oh! How
> special it will be!

> About the author: Julie O’Neill, BVM is Volunteer Coordinator of
> Special Needs for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.


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