A poignant story from Dorothy Day of her mentor and friend Peter Maurin at the end of his life. He’d been one of those men of great innocence and energy, who walk into the room and start talking, throwing off ideas like fireworks. Now his mind was going. He’d wandered away from the Catholic Worker house and no one could find him.
We slept uneasily. We dreamed of hearing his footsteps on the stair, or hearing his cough, of his call. “Dorrity,” he always called me. But there was no sign of him.
His accent was so thick, and had become thicker these recent years, so if he did ask directions, falteringly, would people take the trouble to wait patiently until they understood him, and answer him? Or would he be too independent to inquire? There are strong streaks of the anarchist in Peter.
Yes, Peter is bearing his cross now, not being able to use the mind in which he used to take such keen delight. “I can no longer think,” he says now and then, sadly. . . .
But then, suddenly one noon, after he had been gone four days, he returned. He was thinner, but his color was better. he had been lost, he said, and he was smiling happily to be back. He had been riding on buses up to the Bronx and down to South Ferry. . . . What the human frame can endure in the way of fatigue and hunger! Strangely enough, Peter looks all the better for his adventure. . . .
And just to see that he does not get lost again, we will put notes in all his pockets. “I am Peter Maurin, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. . . . I live at 115 Mott Street, half a block north of Canal.” And we ask any of our friends and readers, if they see him wandering ever, to bring him home.
At the end of Lent, we will have his room fixed for him at Maryfarm, Newburgh, and he can sit on the porch in the sun and watch John spreading manure over the fields ready for plowing.
Day wrote that in April 1947. Maurin died on May 15th, 1949. The story comes from her “On Pilgrimage” column in The Catholic Worker, but can be found in her diaries, published as The Duty of Delight. Her story of Maurin’s death can be read here and her story of the requiem Mass offered five years after his death can be read here.