Catholic Workers’ “Peter Maurin Farm” Helps War Tax Resisters

The Auburn, New York, Citizen published an article about the Catholic Workers’ “Peter Maurin Farm” in its edition. If you read to the end you’ll see how the project was in part designed to help the war tax resistance of those who participated in it:

Catholic Workers crave simple life, religious devotion

by L.W. Striegel
The Poughkeepsie Journal

 Drive about four miles west of town, turn at the rainbow painted mailbox, and dodge the ruts in the dirt road.

You’ll arrive at the Peter Maurin farm, a community of a dozen or so people, a dog, three cats and about 40 chickens.

It is a peaceful 55-acre parcel with two houses, a garage and a few barns. A statue of St. Joseph overlooks five acres that are cultivated organically to grow corn, tomatoes, asparagus and other vegetables. The food goes to soup kitchens in New York City and Newburgh, and to neighbors who need food.

This is a place where the words of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate, are taken seriously. To feed the poor, clothe the naked. A place where the four resident children will not receive guns or Rambo dolls, and will play almost all day because TV is unavailable.

It is a farm of the Catholic Worker Movement, an organization founded in the Great Depression by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, both deceased. Maurin, a son of French peasants, and Day, a socialist writer and a Catholic convert, began the movement in with the monthly Catholic Worker, a newspaper which still sells for a penny.

They spoke out about the unsheltered in a wealthy nation, and American spending on technology and weapons. They urged simple living, not continuous possession of more expensive clothes, cars and homes. And they established soup kitchens to serve the unemployed of the Bowery, and later “hospitality houses.” which number around 50 today.

Catholic Worker members need not be Roman Catholic. “At the Worker you can just drop in. You don’t have to give your life history, you don’t even have to give your name,” said George Lee, who has worked Catholic Worker houses in New York.

“If you want to do a story on the Catholic Worker, why don’t you just print the Sermon On The Mount?” Carol Campain, 38, asked a reporter. She was skeptical and said past articles failed to capture the flavor of the farm.

Campain has been with the movement . She went to Tivoli, where an 86-acre Catholic Worker faxm operated .

Catholic Worker officials said they wanted a site closer to New York and founded the Marlboro farm in . About 10 people came down from Tivoli, including Campain. One who remains is George Collins, 71. A spry farm worker, he spends much time alone in the winter to meditate on scripture or lives of the saints. During World War Ⅱ, Collins served “27 months and 20 days” in a Minnesota prison for refusing to bear arms. As a conscientious objector, he said Christ told disciples to turn the other cheek.

There is also Theodore “Slim” Kidlon, 67, a quiet 50-year movement veteran who is described as “saving nothing, knowing everything.”

And there is Arthur “Arty” Sullivan, 67, an enthusiastic man who walks with a limp from childhood polio. Sullivan says he heard about the movement in while working for a chemical company in New York. He wanted to help others and donated time at a Catholic Worker shelter to fold newspapers.

“I was asked to go to Tivoli in for a three-day weekend,” he says, adding he stayed for 14 years to clean house, do laundry and live simply. “You come to the Worker, you learn how to do for yourself and for other people,” he said.

Dorothy Day, who lectured around the nation, marched with migrant workers and stood alongside conscientious objectors, stayed at Tivoli a few months a year. Sullivan brought her coffee at 6:30 every morning.

Fervently Roman Catholic, she was straightforward, outgoing and generous. Sullivan said “She gave her coal away a few times, and she’d have to borrow mine,” he says.

Dozens of people pass through the Peter Maurin farm. Some stay a few days, others for years. The Catholic Worker organization contributes money to run the farm, and residents say they also help buy food or whatever is needed.

The Dowdy family — 44-year-old Ralph, 34-year-old Else, and their sons, Jonathon, 8, and Peter, 6 —  arrived last summer.

Ralph and Else met in a Christian community in Israel in and married. Besides farm and house chores. Ralph does carpentry part time. He says he earns little so that he will be exempt from federal taxes and not have to contribute to military spending.

Wearing patched jeans, he says he and Else want a simple life. “The elements are human service, reverence for praxis (practice of a skill), reverence for reflection, the dedication of one’s life to the poor and the underclass, and resistance to organized violence.” he said.

Born an only child in Norway, Else says sharing a house means sacrificing privacy, but also brings good company. She is unsure how long they will stay, but feels drawn to a community with a basis in religious faith. “I want something more than just church on Sunday,” she says.

The Dowdys do not want to have their own apartment or house, and do not want to make much money. Ralph says he wonders if his young son, Jonathan, realizes what this means. “I worry about it, you know, when he grows up, what kind of pressure he’s going to face. I’m not going to go gung-ho for an upper middle class lifestyle.”

Carol Campain has just come in after chopping firewood for an old woman who lives in the area. She talks about the movement.

Peter Maurin died in and Dorothy Day in . They devoted their lives to denouncing materialism and war, and helping the poor.

Campain drives a truck for the Hudson Valley Federation of Food Cooperatives, but only five days a month because she also does not want to pay “federal war taxes.” She says 66 cents of each federal tax dollar goes to the military. Christ’s teachings, and his death, are clear lessons of non-violence, she said.

But she admitted that her approach — buying fewer goods, not contributing to military spending, letting go of conventional careers to serve the poor — is too much for most.

“It starts shaking everything that it’s built on,” she says of America. “It’s too radical. It’s too radical, but so was He.” And she points again to the crucifix, depicting the man whose birth we celebrate.