Paul G. Compton (1944-2021)

“Mr. Paul” Compton (photo by Heidi Thompson, 2018)

Paul Gene Compton, 76, of Washington, D.C., passed away on 7 May 2021 while visiting the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C. A rosary was held on 10 May 2021 at The Dorchester in Washington, D.C., by various members of the community and women from Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Cremation arrangements were made by Mr. Darryl Salley at Capitol Mortuary in Washington, D.C.

Paul Gene Compton was born in the Riverside section of Morgantown, Monongalia County, W.V., along the Monongahela River and close to the Pennsylvania border in the north-central part of West Virginia to Roy Compton and Xantippe Corley on August 30, 1944.

His parents were both from Philippi (Barbour County), WV, on the Tygart Valley River and married when Roy was 22 and Xantippe was 16. When they got married Roy was living in Paris, WV, and Xantippe in Weaver, WV, an unincorporated coal mining community in Randolph County. They were married by Rev. Joseph Day at the bride’s residence in Weaver, on Nov. 21, 1914.

Paul left school in the 9th grade. He moved up to New Galilee (Beaver County), PA, in “Pensatucky” where he had family in the Beaver River watershed along Jordan Run. He was living and working in that area when his military draft number came up in 1963. At age 19, Paul was drafted into the U.S. Army on Sept. 17, 1963. He was a “Vietnam-era” veteran who, “luckily” as Paul said, was sent to the Pusan Perimeter in Korea as part of the Army’s 5th Battalion, 82nd Artillery, the “Black Dragons.” He served as an expert rifleman in the general infantry Army for two years in Korea. On Aug. 8, 1965, he was given an honorable discharge. He left the Army as Private First Class (E-3). Between 1963 when Paul was drafted and 1973 when the Paris Peace Accords were signed, 65 young men from rural Beaver County, PA were killed in that war. It was not a time that he liked to talk about.

Upon returning stateside, Paul returned to Beaver County, PA, to the New Galilee-Darlington areas to work in the steel mills and factories. Jones and Laughlin, Babcock and Wilcox, and Crucible all had steel mills in Beaver County. The glass factories, such as Flint Glass, Phoenix Glass, and Fry Glass, were also major employers in Beaver County. More than 35,000 Beaver County residents made their living from steel from the 1950s-1970s. That trend reached its plateau in the late 1970s, when more than 60 percent of the total local workforce was tied to the industry. Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. in Aliquippa, American Bridge Co. in Ambridge, Crucible Steel in Midland, and Babcock & Wilcox Steel in Beaver Falls, Koppel and Ambridge made up the majority of those jobs.

When the bottom fell out of big steel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it hit Beaver County like a cannonball to the stomach. Paul was forced to find work elsewhere and came to Washington, D.C., where he worked a variety of jobs. Paul lived and worked around the Columbia Heights-Adams Morgan area. He lived at Cliffbourne Place NW, then 18th and Calvert NW, and eventually in 1999 Paul moved to 2724 11th Street NW, a small apartment building with 20 other families. Paul worked at the famous Millie & Al’s pizza joint in Adams Morgan. Then, in 2004, started his own business, Compton’s Painting & Plastering, until 2020. He was a known face in the neighborhood with his white van always waving to neighbors as he drove around.

Velbeth, Paul, and Michael

In 2003, he met Velbeth Ivan Cruz at 2724 11th Street NW and her son Miguel “Michael” Ivan Aguilera, who was four at the time. As Velbeth says, “In the afternoons, Paul was always at the window of his apartment waiting for the children to come from school to give them sweets. I would pick up Michael at the building where he was watched over while I was at work and Paul and I would talk. On an April afternoon with the air smelling of flowers, Paul asked me about always seeing me alone with my son. I told him yes, Mr. Compton. He said, ‘I’m alone and I’m looking for a wife.’ I smiled and was startled! God was allowing me to have a family again.”

Paul and Velbeth were married on April 17, 2003, in Arlington, Va. When they married, Paul told Velbeth that in the mountains of West Virginia there were bears and they ate people. One day, Paul took Velbeth and Miguel to meet his family in Morgantown, WV. On an afternoon with spectacular weather he drove Velbeth and Mike up to the mountains near the house of Paul’s sister NuNu. Velbeth, fearing getting lost, was thinking about what Paul had told her about the bear. So she took kernels of corn with her. While Paul drove them up a path through the forest, Velbeth threw kernels of corn, in case something happened to them, they could find their way back. This day was Velbeth’s first trip to the mountains. She was scared to death and her young son did not know much about the dangers in the mountains. Both Velbeth and Miguel are very grateful to God for Paul. He was a loving, respectful man. He was always there for them. He always called Velbeth ‘Mami.’

“Señor Paul,” as he was known to many of his neighbors, was an avid sports fan. He loved watching the LSU Tigers play football (“Hold that tiger!”) and was a card-carrying member of the Steelers Nation. He loved watching old Western movies, telling jokes, and playing cards. He loved ice cream! He was “Tio Pablo” to several generations of children at 2724 11th Street NW and a strong member of the 2724 11th Street NW Tenants Association. “Mr. Paul” minced no words when it came to the slumlord who owns that building and he fought every day to get the money he and his neighbors deserved.

He was preceded in death by his parents Roy Compton and Zantippie Corley Compton; his sisters Evelyn “Nunu” Compton Sweetnich (Nunu died at age 95 on Jan. 6, 2020, and was a seamstress for Morgan Shirt Factory for 30 years), Ercelene Compton Newhouse, and Betty Compton Pieri; and his brothers Albert Compton, James “Red” Compton, and Larry Compton.

Paul Gene Compton is survived by his wife Velbeth Ivan Cruz Compton, his son Miguel “Michael” Ivan Aguilera, and extended family around Morgantown, WV, and Darlington, PA, as well as many friends and neighbors in Washington, D.C. who miss him dearly. Now God has called Paul to be at God’s side and Paul will be an Angel in heaven. Rest in peace Paul Compton, you will always be in the heart of your wife and your son Miguel.–Rose Marie Berger

‘Advancing Nonviolence’ now available in U.S.

Original book available for purchase in the United States. Click here.

NEW! The Advancing Nonviolence STUDY GUIDE is now available here.

The new study guide is developed by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative education committee and includes video clips, study questions, and other resources. It’s available as a free, downloadable PDF. Perfect for the classroom or adult learning!

Learn more about the original book below.

Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World is the fruit of a global, participatory process facilitated from 2017-2018 by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI), a project of Pax Christi International, to deepen Catholic understanding of and commitment to Gospel nonviolence.

Edited by: Rose Marie Berger, Ken Butigan, Judy Coode, Marie Dennis

This book includes biblical, theological, ethical, pastoral and strategic resources that might serve as a contribution to Catholic thought on nonviolence.


It details how:

  • Nonviolence is a core Gospel value, constitutive of the life of faith.
  • Nonviolence is essential to transforming violence and injustice 
  • Nonviolence is a universal ethic
  • Nonviolence is a necessary foundation for culture of peace.

Published by: Pax Christi International

Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and World is now available from a U.S. distributor. Place your order!

Video: The Power of Nonviolence – Action and Resistance

Rose Marie Berger, Jean Stokan, and Scott Wright join Pax Christi USA director Johnny Zokovich to discuss “The Power of Nonviolence – Action and Resistance.”

Rose Marie Berger is senior editor of Sojourners magazine and a co-editor of Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace; Jean Stokan is a member of the Institute Justice Team for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and former Pax Christi USA Policy Director; and Scott Wright is director of the Columban Center for Outreach and Advocacy.

This 1:17 hour video is a great primer on active nonviolence today–and includes the 11-minute Pax Christi video on nonviolence that played at the Vatican in December 2020.

14 April: The Power of Nonviolence – Action and Resistance

You are invited to “The Power of Nonviolence – Action and Resistance” webinar on Wednesday, 14 April 2021, from 3:00-4:00 p.m. (EST). This Zoom event is part four of Pax Christi USA’s study circles on the book Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World. Register here or watch the watch the livestream on Pax Christi USA’s YouTube page. 

In preparation for this session, read Advancing Nonviolence Part III: The Practice and Power of Nonviolence. Panelists will include Rose Marie Berger, senior editor of Sojourners magazine and one of the co-editors of Advancing Nonviolence; Jean Stokan, a member of the Institute Justice Team for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; and Scott Wright, director of the Columban Center for Outreach and Advocacy. The panel discussion with Rose, Jean, and Scott will be followed by breakout sessions for small group discussion.

If you purchase Advancing Nonviolence here, you can use PCM15 to receive a 15% discount.

Good Friday in Myanmar

With gratitude to the students of Bellerive FCJ Catholic College in Liverpool, UK for this presentation. And with gratitude for the youth and religious leading Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement for dignity and freedom.

Celebration of Life of Sr. Dianna Ortiz, OSU

Sister Dianna M. Ortiz, OSU (Sept. 2, 1958 – Feb. 19, 2021)

Vigil service. Funeral Mass. (More from the Ursuline sisters.)

I knew Sr. Dianna through her advocacy work and through regular gatherings for Mass at the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., where she lived for 25 years. I came to know her more closely during her fast for justice in the mid-1990s when I wrote an article with Julie Polter for Sojourners out of that experience.

In 2007, poet Joseph Ross and I organized a poetry reading and poetry anthology to accompany an exhibit of paintings by Colombian artist Botero in D.C. We were so grateful to Sr. Dianna for writing the forward to Cut Loose the Body: Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib paintings. She wrote:

“To our feelings of betrayal, fear and isolation, must we also carry the insistent sense of hopelessness our torturers would force up on us? No, we need not. Oh no, we will not. We who have survived this crime against humanity have, indeed, learned to speak for ourselves and to be understood …”

As I reflect on Sr. Dianna’s life and death I keep thinking: Dianna is what resurrection looks like in public. She came out of the belly of death in Guatemala with her scars intact, and she dealt with her wounds every single day. Somehow, she turned her experiences of death into the power of resurrection that saved the lives of thousands of people. And through that slow process of resurrection she came to know a God called Mercy.

Forgive me and us Dianna for all the ways we hurt you and didn’t understand. We in turn “forgive” you for making us uncomfortable when you were bold enough to claim your healing in public. You are our saint of nonviolent witness. Presente!–Rose Marie Berger

Joe Nangle: Falling Into the Arms of A Loving God

Sojourners Magazine July-August 1996
Sr. Dianna Ortiz, OSU

Dianna Ortiz (Sept. 2, 1958 – Feb. 19, 2021) died early this morning on 19 February 2021, after a brief recurrence of cancer. She was a member of the Catholic Ursuline order who lived for 25 years at the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C. She was was 62.

I knew Dianna from her early days to bring justice around her own kidnapping and torture in Guatemala (see Death’s Dance Broken). And celebrated Thanksgiving and Easter Mass with her at Assisi Community whenever I could. She continually clawed her way back into life. Dianna rose with her scars intact as her book The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth (2004) attests–and went on to conquer death for others, especially through her work on international human rights law and the founding of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Network International and more recently with Pax Christi USA. She was tender and astonishingly strong. Dianna is what resurrection looks like. Her Assisi community member, friend, and priest, Joe Nangle writes about Dianna’s last days. I’m so grateful she was not alone. (Read The Washington Post obituary for Dianna Ortiz. And a timeline of Dianna’s life.)–Rose

FROM JOE NANGLE: Falling Into the Arms of a Loving God–Remembering the Last Days of Dianna Ortiz, OSU

To write about the final days of Sister Dianna Ortiz’s life is beyond sad. For those who have not heard, Dianna passed away early this morning after a short illness; my apologies for conveying word of it in such an impersonal way.

Actually, her illness and devastating diagnosis of an inoperable cancer has taken place almost too quickly to comprehend at this moment. Three weeks ago a member of our Assisi Community – of which Dianna has been a part for 25 years – insisted that she go to an emergency room for persistent and increasingly painful stomach pain. In rapid succession, Dianna was hospitalized, discovered to have a serious abdominal blockage and biopsied, revealing the cancer. She was designated for chemotherapy to reduce the tumor but when her symptoms continued to increase, she underwent surgery and the inoperable status of the cancer was discovered. All in less than three weeks!

It is said that our parents’ final legacy is their acceptance of death. Surely this can be said of anyone close to us who walks bravely through the dying process. It is most certainly true in the case of our dear sister – friend – community member – and exemplar. After the initial shock of this rapid series of events, Dianna seemed to call on a deep well of faith, acceptance and resignation as she faced the inevitability of her situation.

Continue reading “Joe Nangle: Falling Into the Arms of A Loving God”

Review: Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace

Andrew Bolton writes in Peace News (UK): “I abandoned Catholicism 50 years ago. Imagine my surprise to learn about a new, fresh wind of hope blowing in the Catholic church called the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI). The CNI is an astonishing story of visionary, vibrant, and faithful Catholics embracing and promoting a repentant, progressive and fully inclusive form of Christianity. …

Advancing Nonviolence is both inspiring and frustrating.

Let me start with the frustrations. It feels this was a rushed job. It is written for Catholics, but it could have helpfully thought about sympathetic non-Catholic readers because its message can serve and encourage all Christians. Woefully it has no index and not all key assertions are foot noted. It helped me to understand that this is a resource book to support engagement of Catholics in the CNI, recalling Catholics to abandon the just war position for gospel nonviolence as a new default position, and advocating for Just Peace.

Once I got into it, I found it truly inspiring. For instance, I forgot I was holding a Catholic text as I read sections on the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures. Its treatment of the nonviolent Jesus is beautiful and very moving. Theological themes like creation, who is Jesus, Holy Spirit, and the nature of the church are very well done. There is a very good and comprehensive review of peace studies research – creative nonviolence works and leads to much better outcomes!” Read the rest.

Remembering Cicely Tyson

Photograph by SUZANNE VLAMIS

I grew up under the leadership and presence of Cicely Tyson as a force in movies and theater. Her roles in Sounder (1972) and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman (1974) particularly shaped my childhood. More recently I marveled at her role as Ophelia Harkness in How To Get Away With Murder with the stunningly brave Viola Davis.

In particular, I remember Ms. Tyson’s speech at the memorial service for Mrs. Rosa Parks in Washington, D.C. (see 8-minute video clip above). Her faith was on full display and she spoke with a voice that channeled the powerful spirit of the “old folks.”

Read more about Cicely Tyson.