Pax Christi (Latin for Peace of Christ), an internationally esteemed Catholic peace organization, originated with a small group of French Catholics who congregated in supplication for reconciliation following World War II. Horrified at the enormity of Christians killing fellow Christians by the millions during the war, these devout followers of Christ commenced convening regularly in 1945 under the leadership of Marthe Dortel Claudot. Bishop Pierre Marie Théas, bishop of Montauban and bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, France, soon partnered as the inaugural bishop president of the nascent movement that became Pax Christi.

In the aftermath of the war, Pax Christi centers materialized in France and Germany; the movement proliferated across Western Europe during the 1950s. Pax Christi expanded globally in the 1970s with new national divisions such as Pax Christi USA, instituted in 1972. According to historian Patricia McNeal, Pax Christi USA emerged from Catholic opposition to the Vietnam War, pioneered by luminaries like Eileen Egan and Gordon Zahn. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit from 1968 to 2006, served as the fledgling organization’s first bishop-moderator.

McNeal explains that Pax Christi USA’s early priorities included educating Catholics on issues of war, peace, and social justice through conferences, publications, and local chapters with a focus on nuclear disarmament, conscientious objection, and the United Nations. The organization played an influential role in the U.S. bishops’ 1983 peace pastoral condemning nuclear war and affirming nonviolence.

In the 1980s, Pax Christi increasingly protested U.S. intervention in Central America. The organization long emphasized nuclear disarmament but expanded its efforts over time to encompass economic justice, anti-racism, and other causes.

One example of Pax Christi’s decentralization was the 1981 founding of a Burlington chapter by Catholic activist Marguerite “Marmete” Corliss Hayes (1924-2012) — a parishioner of St. Mark Church in Burlington — and others including Vermont Sister of Mercy Miriam Ward (1926-2014). Inspired by Dorothy Day and the Berrigan brothers, Hayes helped establish this local chapter to address violence, nuclear weapons, and injustice in Central America and Iraq.

The Pax Christi Burlington chapter, founded at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, aimed to promote peace and justice by addressing issues like violence, nuclear weapons, oppression in Central America, and the Iraq War. Hayes stood for years in silent vigil against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her work created a lasting community for peacemaking in Vermont, fueled in part by encyclicals like Pope John Paul II’s “Centesimus Annus” (1991) which called for an end to war, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum,” the basis for modern Catholic social teaching.  Her pivotal role in launching this chapter provided an outlet for Hayes and other local Catholics to live out their faith through peace work.

Today, Pax Christi International encompasses more than 120 constituent groups in more than 60 countries laboring for “peace for all humanity.” Having marked its 50th year in 2022, Pax Christi USA maintains activism on disarmament, demilitarization, racial justice, migration, and care for creation. Younger members are increasingly engaged, though the organization commenced diminutively. United with Pax Christi globally, the movement persists, devoted to Gospel nonviolence and reconciliation.


Coode, J. (2022). Pax Christi USA, 1972–2022: The Evolving Catholic Peace Movement in the United States. American Catholic Studies 133(4), 95-13.‌Jennings, John (Oct. 13, 1991). Local Pax Christi Members Celebrate Ten Years of Working for A World of Peace. The Vermont Catholic Tribune.

—Kathleen Messier is the assistant archivist for the Diocese of Burlington.  For more information, email

—Editor’s note: Pax Christi Burlington is no longer meeting.

—Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.