Michael True, 1933-2019, RIP

Michael True, Worcester activist, writer, and educator, has died. His intelligence, diligence, generosity, and kindness will not be forgotten by those who knew him.

His funeral and burial will be in Minnesota. There will be a celebration of his life in Worcester June 1 at Mechanics Hall.

The Grand Life of Michael True

by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy

How can we not love this world for what it gives us?
–Stephen Dobyns

April brought a particular sorrow for Scott and myself. On the 28th of the month, Michael True, peace scholar, activist, mentor, and dear friend passed away. He was eighty-five years old. Mike died around sunrise, a fitting time for a man who loved the morning. He loved so many things – his family, friends, teaching, art, poetry, the life and theology of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the unpretentiousness of his native Oklahoma, hilly, provincial Worcester, and all the independent thinkers and rabble-rousers who rejected “the war mentality” gripping social consciousness. That mentality overwhelms our country, he wrote in his book An Energy Field More Intense than War. “. . . it influences and alters the food we eat, the diseases we suffer, the clothes we wear, the educational and political structures we build and tolerate, complain about, and resist.”

An English professor, Mike taught for thirty-two years at Worcester’s Assumption College in a trailer turned classroom. There were teaching stints in China and at numerous US universities. Two Fulbright awards sent him to lecture in India where he fell in love with Gandhi’s homeland. The list of books, essays, articles, and reviews he wrote fill half of his five-page resume. He was a public intellectual possessing a vigorous curiosity and natural affinity for ordinary folk. Elitism irked him. He had a specific fury for academics, especially the Catholic ones, who rationalized mass slaughter. It was Michael who introduced me to the term “military-industrial university complex.” Whenever friends invited Mike to dine at the city’s exclusive Worcester Club, he had to fight the urge to jump on the tables and dance naked “just to shake things up.” Yet he loved Worcester wholeheartedly, celebrated her writers, profiled her peacemakers, and made known her nonviolent histories. He served on the board for a slew of local organizations, co-founded many others, all promoted good and harmonious living, and was among the pioneering academics who established Peace Studies as a discipline in colleges and universities around the world.

Our friendship dates back to 1983. The English professor had come to give his slideshow on the American Tradition of Nonviolence (now available online) at our crowded, rat-infested Catholic Worker houses in Washington, DC. I remember marveling at his down-to-earth manner and indifference to the squalor of the venue. He was there to tell a history we needed to hear. During the visit, he joined our weekly protest at a nuclear weapons plant in Wheaton, Maryland. I can still see him, the suited, middle-aged, professor, sitting in the back seat of our treacherous Ford van, looking downright giddy to be among a band of young, scruffy Catholic Workers.

Mike was the Great Encourager, someone who saw the significance of every small action for peace. “What you are doing is important,” he often said. Here on Mason Street, we ought to name a room after Michael and his wife Mary Pat in honor of the checks sent month after month, year after year. When they moved out of 4 Westland Street, their home of forty years, I felt a keen sadness, as if an era had ended. The comfortable, old house had been the hub of local peacemaking. Anti-imperialist luminaries — poets, writers, and musicians — sat in its living room. Nonviolent campaigns were plotted at its dining room table. Scott remembers Mike once teaching his class from a jail cell in Worcester’s downtown police station.

Somewhere amid the ocean of books Mike once possessed is a grainy, black and white photograph of the American twentieth century poet Muriel Rukeyser. She is standing alone outside a Korean prison that houses dissident poet Chi-ha Kim. Her shoulders pulled back, she is the solitary sentinel embodying her message: I hear the caged man within; his voice cannot be silenced. “Isn’t she great?” Mike said upon showing me the picture. He had a lifelong interest in the language of peace. How to find the words that bring us to life and rouse us from our mute tolerance for so much killing. Poets, he thought, told “the whole truth,” and their words filled his world. Rukeyser’s “Poem” was one of his favorite works and has become one of mine as well. In it she writes of “those men and women/Brave, setting up signals across vast distances/Considering a nameless way of living /of almost unimagined values.”
We consider Michael True to be among “those men and women,” a beloved friend whose “signal” animated and guided us for many years. We thank God for his life and miss him mightily.

Official obituary, Minneapolis Star Tribune

True, Michael Daniel: Lover of life, born in Oklahoma City, OK 11/8/1933 died at 85, on 4/28/2019 in St. Paul, MN. Michael was a prolific writer of books, essays and letters. He was a teacher and activist, loved good conversation, friends, food and music. He grew up in Lawton, OK with his 2 brothers and “Mother and Daddy” whom he cherished. He was a Sooner at Oklahoma University, received his MA in English at the University of Minnesota. Michael met his wife, Mary Pat Delaney, in St. Paul. They married in 1958 at St. Luke’s Parish. Mike went to Duke University for his Ph. D. He spent the majority of his life in his beloved city of Worcester, MA where he taught English, and later Peace Studies at Assumption College (1965-2000).

Worcester Telegram & Gazette: Michael True, activist, poet, educator, mourned

Michael True believed in peace, the power of art and poetry, and the worth of his adopted hometown, the city of Worcester.

“But he didn’t just talk about ideas,” said his son, John True. “He implemented them. He was an activist.”

Mr. True, also a renowned author, poet and historian who taught at Assumption College and in classrooms around the world, passed away last week in Minneapolis at the age of 85. He is survived by his wife, Mary Pat, six children, 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Mr. True was a central figure in Worcester’s nonviolence community, taking part in protests big and small, for causes well-known and unsung. Those who knew him remembered a man committed to what he believed in, willing to risk health and reputation, and who, despite his illustrious resume, never looked down on anyone.

David O’Brien: Remembering Michael True, the heart and soul of Worcester’s peace movement

Michael True, Worcester peacemaker, poet, historian, interfaith organizer, teacher of English and model Worcester citizen is gone. He passed away last week in Minneapolis where he and Mary Pat moved just a few weeks ago to join three of their six children who have settled in Mary Pat’s hometown.

Mike and Mary Pat were among the very first persons my wife Joanne and I met when we arrived in Worcester 50 years ago this fall. Almost before we unpacked Mike had updated us on local peace actions and drawn us into the ecumenical “floating parish.” We learned that this open-ended community had succeeded the legendary “Phoenix” storefront as home to local social activists — and lots of children.

From that period of crisis around the Vietnam War through the Plowshares and nuclear freeze movements to the 21st century resistance to unwise wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mike was consistent and courageous, the heart and soul of Worcester’s peace movement.

2011 “508” interview about the Center for Nonviolent Solutions:

2006 “The American Tradition of Nonviolence”:

2008 “Snow Ghost Community Show” interview about Tom Lewis:

One thought on “Michael True, 1933-2019, RIP”

  1. I have just heard that Michael has died. He was a major inspiration for the Non Violence Commission of IPRA and a long time friend of mine at IPRA and APPRA conferences. He was as all the tributes above say, a scholar and an activist-a realy pracademic. He wasn’t content to just analysethe world he was desperate to change it . I count myself privileged that our paths crosseed . He was an inspiration to me and a spur to greater commitment to peace with justice . With love, thanks and deepest appreciation. Kevin

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