Louie DeBenedette: A Lifetime of Resisting Militarism and Materialism

An obituary from the Ithaca Catholic Worker for longtime peace activist Louis (Louie) De Benedette, who passed away on October 22, 2022.

The following obituary was recently released by the Ithaca Catholic Worker community:

Louis (Louie) De Benedette passed away Saturday, October 22 at the VA hospital in Syracuse after a week in intensive care and the end-of-life ward. He was 79 years old.

Louie grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey. His father was an auto mechanic who died when he was seven, his mother was a factory worker at General Electric. Louie was a graduate of Seton Hall University with a master’s in counselling. After joining the Army in 1966, Louie quickly came to see the war in Viet Nam as contrary to his beliefs as a Catholic. Soon after, he told his commanding officer that, “the war was immoral and that God did not want us to fight in it.” He was eventually discharged from the military and returned to his home in Newark where he became a County Welfare Caseworker.

While in New York City for an anti-war demonstration, Louie witnessed a small group of Viet Nam veterans under the banner Viet Nam Veterans Against the War. This movement spread across the country and Louie joined VVAW. On occasion, he wrote an article for their newspaper, The Veteran. He was a committed member of the group and passed out copies of The Veteran for years to come. This community was very important to him. “My VVAW brothers and sisters have stood by me during some very difficult times.”

Following a lifelong path of Christian commitment, Louie joined a Benedictine monastery in Michigan. He stayed a number of years, but before making final vows to the community, he was again called to anti-war activism. He was inspired by Phillip Berrigan and moved back to the East Coast. There he participated in many of the Catholic Worker and Atlantic Life Community anti-nuclear actions. He was arrested and jailed on a number of occasions during this time period.  

Louie made a number of trips to Central and South America to witness against U.S. war-making there, first in Nicaragua to support the Sandinista revolution and then to Peru. In Peru, he befriended and supported a woman, Guadalupe Callocunto-Olano, who lost her husband to a government death squad. She, too, disappeared as a result of her human rights work. Louie became the godfather of their four children and supported them financially until recently when they all became adults.

He moved to Ithaca in the 1990s, to be closer to anti-war friends, in particular Peter De Mott. He was one of the supporters when Peter commandeered a van and rammed a Trident nuclear weapons capable submarine in the second of the Ploughshares actions in December 1980. In the 2000s when the American wars were unleashed in Afghanistan and against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, Louie helped initiate a peace vigil on a busy Ithaca street corner. This witness continues on a weekly basis and is a testament to Louie’s instinct that we must speak out against a military solution to every human conflict.

A lifelong and, at times, debilitating mental illness surfaced for Louie at the time of his turmoil with the U.S. Army. Despite the significance of his illness, Louie’s commitment to resisting militarism and the connected evils of racism, extreme materialism, and the climate emergency was highly valued by the peace and justice community he worked within. What defined Louie in the end was his passion for justice and his deep spiritual awareness and Gospel inspiration.

Louie is survived by his sister, Marlene Mascera, her husband Michael and his four godchildren. We invite friends to take inspiration from Louie’s witness, anti-war passion and Gospel calling to continue their own activism in his memory.

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