On April 11, 1963, Pope John XXIII wrote a 173-paragraph letter spelling out the social justice imperative of Catholics everywhere. It was titled “Pacem in Terris,” Latin for “peace on earth.” The groundbreaking work shook up much of the Catholic church with its admonition to work for justice. Tough work. Lousy pay.
But by 1963, the Rev. Marvin Mottet already was on the job. The same year, the young Davenport priest was taking white Davenport students into the homes of African-American students for snacks and conversations. “Some little girls … told us after the visit that they never before had the opportunity to talk to a Negro,” he told the Sunday Times-Democrat.
The very next year, Mottet helped originate the Pacem in Terris award, bestowed through the Davenport Diocese to those who work for justice.
On Sunday, Mottet joins Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Lech Walesa and other international dignitaries who have traveled to St. Ambrose University to accept the award.
Mottet’s trip will be much shorter.
His national reputation was largely earned working for social justice in the Quad-Cities. Accounts of his activism begin with that 1963 Times-Democrat clip and continue into our electronic archives through 2008.
In 1970, we reported on Mottet’s ministry to Mexican migrant workers in Iowa.
Through the 1970s, Mottet lived at a Catholic Worker house at 625 Vine St., ministering to the community in which he lived. “Involuntary poverty is a prison. But voluntary poverty is liberation,” he told the Times in 1978
In 1981, Times reporter Alma Gaul reported from Washington, D.C., where Mottet was sent to head the Catholic church’s National Campaign for Human Development. He lived in a Catholic Worker house among our capital’s neediest residents.
Columnist Bill Wundram quoted from Mottet’s eulogies for V.O. Figge in 1995 and for a homeless man, Woodchopper, in 1993.
This year, Mottet was among those who rushed to help when John Lewis Community Services collapsed.
The headlines and news stories capture only snippets of a life dedicated to social justice. Our community is better because of Mottet’s faith and work.
It’s tough work. Those who do it never get rich.
Instead, as Pope John XXIII wrote in 1963, everyone does.
The Rev. Marvin Mottet will be honored 3 p.m. Sunday, when he receives the 2008 Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.
The event is at Christ the King Chapel on the campus of St. Ambrose University, Davenport. A public reception will follow the ceremony, which is expected to last about 45 minutes. Events will wrap up at 5:30 p.m.