Priest reflects on book that sheds new light on his brother priest

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By Fr. Lou Leonhardt
For The Catholic Messenger

Msgr. Mottet

Father Marvin Mottet’s life and mine were so different and yet they touched each other deeply. Marv from a farm near Ottumwa and me from the south side of Chicago. Marv and I entered St. Ambrose College in Davenport the same year. I was in the seminary department and he was a college freshman. In our third year, he transferred to the seminary and that is when I got to know him.

The biography, “How to Change the World Two Feet at a Time, Lessons from the Life of Fr. Marvin Mottet” by Suzanne Pitz and Dr. Arthur Pitz, PhD, tells me much more of his early life than I knew before. Father Mottet tells of the visit of Father (Michael) Broderick coming to the farm and directing him to St. Ambrose College. Many years later, as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in East Pleasant Plain, I got to know Father Mottet’s sister Lucy and other members of the family.

Fr. Leonhardt

Father Mottet recalls the importance of Father Bill O’Connor, the “worker priest,” and his brother Father Ed O’Connor, in shaping his vision of his life’s work. After the ordination of Father Mottet, Father Bill Stratman and me on June 2, 1956, Marv was assigned to teach at St. Ambrose Academy in Davenport. Our ways parted and I had to follow his work from a bit of distance.

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That is why the biography was so important to me. I knew the outlines of his work with the Young Christian Students movement. I followed his story in starting the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action Department. The biography put flesh and bone on the skeleton of what I knew about Marv and his later work in life.

Marv relates his work in Washington, D.C. He moved there in 1978 to serve as national director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and lived among the poor rather than with the ambassadors. It gave him a far better place to do the work he wanted to do. He tells the story in the book of coming home late one night and having a gun thrust at him during a mugging. He kept calm, which saved his life. Living among the poor gave him great credibility for his work.

The year 1985 moved Marv in a new direction when he became pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Msgr. (Sebastian) Menke, who had taught me Latin and astronomy, was the retiring pastor. He helped Marv initiate many of the things for which the cathedral is known today. It stands at the heart of a renewed neighborhood that was once a blight in the city of Davenport.

Later in life, Marv got into the healing ministry. I was privileged to have him come to St. Joseph Parish in Hills for a service. We had a chance to visit that night and over breakfast the next morning. I wish everyone could have had such a close contact with his life. Reading his biography will help you come closer to him and his life’s work.

Marv’s death on Sept. 16, 2016 at the age of 86 is only mentioned in the preface. However, the funeral Mass at the cathedral he loved, on Sept. 21, is mentioned. Father Ed O’Melia gave the homily and I was privileged to be one of the concelebrants of the Mass.

The biography is filled with names that have been prominent in the news. It is not by way of bragging but shows the influence one person can have on the life of the Church. Read the book and be inspired by a life well lived. As Marv would tell you: “If you want peace, work for justice.” Read his top 10 lessons on page 285. You can order the book through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books a Million, among other online stores.

(Father Lou Leonhardt, a retired priest of the Davenport Diocese, lives in Lone Tree.)


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