Devoted to the cause of peace
Devoted to the cause of peace
After spending much of his life promoting nonviolent principles, priest recognized for efforts
The Rev. Peter Dougherty
Photo: Rod Sanford/Lansing State Journal
The Rev. Peter Dougherty has traveled to hotspots all over the world.
Dougherty even was arrested last summer while trying to defuse any potential violence at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
The 75-year-old Catholic priest from
But on a recent, chilly fall afternoon, Dougherty was sweating the details of his latest trip - a trek to
Packing and planning? No problem. Traveler's checks? Dougherty had until 6 p.m. to pick some up.
But a visa to allow travel to
The last time he tried to go to
"I was not given a visa," he said. "I found out about a month ago that was why."
A travel agent's call at mid-afternoon brought Dougherty the good news: the Indian government had OK'd the trip.
Dougherty collected his $10,000 award - given annually to someone outside of
"He is a loving, caring, challenging prophetic spirit, and I think that is what is being recognized," said Joan Tirak, co-founder of Loaves and Fishes ministry and a friend of Dougherty's since the 1970s. "He is an embodiment of who Gandhi would be today."
Reaching out to others
Dougherty grew up in
"I saw myself as a parish priest," he said.
By 1970, he'd been moved to Holy Trinity Student Parish in
"That's where I got turned on my head, at Eastern," he said. "I said, 'Well, I'm going to advise young men and women on this war, I'd better learn what it is about.' "
As Dougherty studied, read and talked with students, his passion for peace grew. In 1975, Bishop Kenneth Povish relieved Dougherty of parish duties so he could devote himself to the cause of peace.
"Jesus was about loving, which means you heal people, you protect people," Dougherty said. "You challenge people who are wrong when they are abusing others."
He co-founded the Abrahamic Peace Community in
Connecting with people
Dougherty founded the Michigan Peace Team in 1993. His base of operations now is an underheated, third-floor office piled with folders, papers and books such as Jimmy Carter's "We Can Have Peace in the
Dougherty lives, by choice, at the poverty level, so he doesn't have to pay taxes that fund wars. A couple of ties hang in the corner of his office, but he cannot recall the last time he wore one.
With the peace team or not, he is instantly recognizable. His daily uniform consists of T-shirts, cargo pants and brightly striped hooded cotton jackets from
Mayurika Poddar said she appreciates Dougherty's sense of humor, but also his ability to connect with people.
"There's joy he gives to everybody when he meets them," said Poddar of Okemos, who has known Dougherty for years. "No matter who you are, he makes you most welcome in his heart."
That ability has served Dougherty well with the Peace Team. Its members, trained in nonviolent negotiation techniques, put on bright-colored vests identifying them as peacemakers and go wherever conflicts may arise.
"It was not easy to get that off the ground," Tirak said. "But he has been faithful to what it means to go and stand with people in places of conflict, and he linked up with people who were doing that around the world."
Michigan Peace Team members attended the execution of
There, they say, the mere presence of international observers keeps armed troops from firing on civilians, and may help keep civilians negotiating with the government instead of resorting to violence.
Spreading the message
Joe Droste of
The men lived with local families, worked beside them and mingled with Palestinians and Israelis alike.
"There isn't any question in my mind that the peacekeeping message that Peter teaches does work," said Droste, a retired GM worker whose regular activities include protesting the
Shrikumar Poddar of Okemos lives part-time in his native
"The money is badly needed by the Michigan Peace Team," he said.
No plans to retire
Dougherty celebrated his 75th birthday in August with a birthday bash that served as a fundraiser for the Michigan Peace Team. Despite his age, he has no plans to retire from peace work anytime soon.
In fact, some members of the team recently left for an exploratory trip to
He takes heart in some things: the nonviolent end of dictatorships in the former Soviet Union and former
He understands that his dangerous work is not for everyone, but says there are plenty of other opportunities to make peace: volunteer at local shelters, chapters of groups such as Amnesty International, or take up neighborhood issues.
"There are hundreds or organizations doing all kinds of good in all kinds of communities," he said. "Seek them out."
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs