By Deacon Dan Huber
Several years ago a newly retired Msgr. Marvin Mottet shared with me an obituary that had as its headline “Activist Priest Dies” and he shared with me that was how he would like to be remembered when he died. It was important for him, and many priests of his generation, to live out the fullness of their ordination until they took their last breath. They took seriously the psalm they heard in their ordination, “You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizadek.” (Ps 110:4) Msgr. Mottet breathed his last breath Sept. 16. Those who knew him best knew that he was given the grace to live his vocation until the end.
As with all vocations, Fr. Mottet (as he liked to be called) went through several twists and turns he wasn’t always prepared for. Growing up at the cathedral, I saw him from a distance in the seventies when the activist priest was best known for his work on building racial equality in a broken city, state and country. I met him personally in 1979 when I stayed with him in Washington, D.C., at the Catholic Worker house. The activist priest was working in the polarizing field of politics to change the systemic sinful social structures within our country. Influenced by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, Fr. Mottet sincerely believed in simple living. His bed was a mattress on the floor. He had one change of clerical clothes, and his overalls for doing physical labor. His only furniture was for guests. He was surrounded by the poor, addicts and prostitutes who worked the block. He ministered to all of them, sharing the hope of the Gospel and the genuine belief that faith in Jesus Christ could transform their lives.
Fr. Mottet received an assignment to parish ministry at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport in 1985. The activist priest struggled with the transition from national politics to parish life. Like most pastors, Fr. Mottet soon found out how difficult it was to transform a community of faith. He rarely took any time away, choosing to fill those days by spiritually reviving his soul to ready himself for the many tasks that awaited him upon his return to the parish.
In the final years as pastor his focus changed from large societal ills to personal weakness within all human souls. The activist priest found himself picketing less and praying more. The man once known for carrying signs began to emphasize more the signs and devotions of the faith. Many parishioners can attest to the hours Fr. Mottet spent before the Blessed Sacrament. His work in the healing ministry convinced him that most physical healings first began by spiritual healings through the sacrament of reconciliation. Like many of our priests who have had to endure dialysis, he found his ministry of presence was greatly appreciated by his fellow patients.
In his “retirement” years, Fr. Mottet kept busy, always believing that he could and should be doing more. In his final months at the Kahl Home he kept active in prayer, visiting others and anointing them. On my final visit last week, he was still blessing and praying for those who ministered to him, believing that he could always be doing more for the Lord.
An activist priest died this week, but God continues to bless us by the presence of many other blessed, humble and imperfect souls who have been chosen to lead us to experience and receive a little more of the Kingdom. May God continue to bless all our priests and may the soul of Fr. Mottet and all the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
(Deacon Huber serves at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.)