Tom Cornell, a writer and lecturer, dedicated his life to advancing the Catholic “Works of Mercy,” conscientious objector rights, and nonviolence—three principles at the heart of the Catholic Worker Movement.
How Did Catholic Worker Tom Cornell Die?
Longtime Catholic pacifist Tom Cornell, who modestly referred to Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, as “my spiritual mother,” passed away on Monday, August 1, in a hospital close to the Peter Maurin Catholic Worker farm in Marlboro, New York, where he lived with his wife of 58 years, Monica.
At the Peter Maurin Farm in Marlboro, New York, Tom Cornell, whose acts and words over more than six decades pushed Christian nonviolence and war resistance to the forefront of Catholic life, passed away quietly on August 1 with his wife, Monica, and two grown children by his bedside. He was 88.
After a brief illness, Cornell, 88, passed away due to complications from an aneurysm.
Tom Cornell Biography
Cornell, a deacon in the Roman Catholic church, organised one of the first anti-war demonstrations in Manhattan in 1963. Cornell, a writer and presenter, dedicated his life to advancing the Catholic “Works of Mercy,” conscientious objection, and nonviolence, which are the fundamental principles of the Catholic Worker Movement.
When Cornell was just 19 years old, he recounted travelling by train from his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to the “motherhouse” on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where he first met Day: “When I arrived, every chair was occupied, and some people were sitting on the floor with their backs to the wall. A woman sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of me had grey hair that was braided on top of her head. The person sitting next to me muttered, “That’s Dorothy Day.”
Tom Cornell Catholic Works
While working to manage a second Catholic Worker house in Waterbury, Connecticut, and spending the later portion of his life on the Marlboro farm, Cornell continued to live close to Day.
But Cornell made friends with well-known religious pacifists and activists throughout his life. He was one of the 14 men (and only 14 men) selected to participate in the fabled retreat that Trappist monk Thomas Merton organised at the Abbey of Gethsemani in the fall of 1964. A who’s who of peace activists, including Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Jim Forest, John Howard Yoder, and A.J. Muste, gathered at Merton’s villa. In order to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King Jr. missed the retreat.
In the end, Ken Curtin joined the staff of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, which Cornell co-founded, after approaching Cornell for “draught counselling” during the Vietnam War. When Cornell travelled to deliver speeches about pacifism and conscientious objection, Curtin accompanied him.
To meet Lanza del Vasto, Danilo Dolci, the nonviolent social crusader known as “the Gandhi of Italy,” and Dom Helder Camara, a former Brazilian archbishop, all you had to do was follow Tom, according to Curtin. “You’d get to travel and interact with these individuals.”
Cornell maintained a framed letter from Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero at his home office. Romero had written it just weeks before he was murdered by a shooter who was thought to be a member of the right-wing government.
Day appointed Cornell to the position of managing editor of the New York Catholic Worker newspaper at the start of the 1960s. Additionally, he spent over 30 years with the Catholic Peace Fellowship and another 14 years working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
The Catholic bishops of the United States invited Cornell and Day to the Third World Congress of the Laity in Rome in 1967. In St. Peter’s Square during the Fourth World Congress in 2000, Cornell served as St. John Paul II’s deacon during the Mass of Christ the King. The pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response” from the 1983 National Conference of Catholic Bishops included advice from Cornell. Cornell participated in the March to Montgomery as one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s marshals in March 1965. Pax Christi USA, of which Cornell was a co-founder, designated him as an ambassador for peace.
Tom Cornell Gandhian vision of nonviolence
In an interview with Religion News Service, Mike Baxter, who will deliver Cornell’s eulogy, said: “Tom worked side by side with Dorothy on problems of war and peace. When it came to planning a peaceful demonstration against war, he took her lead.
Day’s granddaughter, Martha Hennessy, said, “He liked her very much and he learned from her. We had some conversations together, and it was extremely nice to read the breviary together on the train.
According to Baxter, Cornell largely followed Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence and open direct action, which frequently put him at odds with Catholics and other people who burnt and tore up documents during draught board raids during the Vietnam War.
According to Baxter, “Tom always held to Gandhian principles: stated plans in advance, public demonstrations, no secret schemes, and no clandestine break-ins.” “To this day, peace activists disagree on this subject. My personal opinion: Both are valid, and there is place for a variety of anti-war activities. Let ten thousand blossoms bloom.
Rather than completely rejecting the church’s just-war doctrine, Cornell also loved to use it as a talking point, according to Baxter.
Tom was prepared to debate the just-war tradition because he believed that if its principles were applied to current warfare, the conclusion would be that all modern warfare is unfair, according to Baxter. He permitted what is referred to be a just-war pacifism.
The devotion to peace and his opposition to the draught were unaffected by this stance. Baxter, who oversees Catholic studies at Regis University in Denver, maintains a framed image of Cornell burning his draught card among four others outside the federal courtroom in New York while Day and Muste watch in his office. Due to the protest, Cornell was detained and imprisoned for six months in a federal facility.
The older of Thomas and Ann Caruso Cornell’s two children, Thomas Charles Cornell was born on April 11, 1934. His children Thomas and Deirdre, who run the Catholic Worker Farm in Marlboro, his grandchildren Rachel, Thomas, Seamus, Rebecca, and Rosa, as well as his sister Ann Marie Tomasiello, survive him in addition to his wife.
Deirdre Cornell, along with her brother, were present at their father’s bedside when he passed away in the middle of the night. “You recognise that no one is going to live forever and that our parents do have to leave, but you’re unprepared somehow,” she said. “There is that deep sense of loss that usually catches you off surprise, I guess.”
She has worked with immigrants from Latin America for many years, as has her husband Kenney Gould, whom she met while serving as lay missionaries in Mexico.
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Her father “really wanted(ed) to know what Kenney feels about Gandhi’s view on civil disobedience and how it should be carried out”) when she first brought her then-new boyfriend and eventual husband home to see him.
The grilling didn’t destroy their friendship. According to Deirdre Cornell, “I know that my parents were clearly trying to open us up to individuals who are in need, to people who are in various struggles for justice and peace, and to identify intimately with them. I believe my dad had this incredible talent.
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