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A Man Called Peter

A Man Called Peter(1955)

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As a boy in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1915, Peter Marshall makes several attempts to run away to sea from the docks in nearby Glasgow. Peter's stepfather, Mr. Findlay, tells him that he will have to find a job, and he goes to work in the tube mills, but continues his education at night school. Seven years later, while returning from school one night, Peter finds himself on a foggy patch of land. He thinks he hears a voice, then trips and narrowly misses falling into a quarry. Peter feels that it was God's voice and tells his mother that he intends to become a minister and that God is sending him to America. After three years of working double shifts at the mill, Peter saves enough to buy passage to America. With faith and trust in his heart, he arrives and awaits further "orders from the Chief." Peter works in a variety of jobs before he is led by God, he believes, to the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He graduates summa cum laude and is offered two positions, one at a large church in Atlanta, the other in a little town, Covington. Peter asks the Lord for advice and selects Covington, but later moves to the Atlanta church where he encounters an indifferent congregation, encumbered by debt. Peter's stimulating sermons draw large crowds, however, and many young people from nearby colleges attend, among them Catherine Wood, a senior at Agnes Scott College. Catherine attends Sunday service for two years without summoning up the courage to talk with Peter, with whom she has fallen in love. When her college receives an invitation from Peter to send a student to speak at a temperance youth rally, Catherine is selected. The audience is mostly composed of rowdy young people, but Catherine talks about the role of women in religious and social history, quoting from Peter's sermons, and wins the crowd over. After the rally, Peter drives her back to the college and tells her that he fully expects that the Lord will select his wife for him, but asks if he might see her again. A week later, their date ends with Peter realizing that Catherine is to be his wife and he proposes. That fall, they marry and, during their honeymoon in Cape Cod, Peter tells Catherine that he has accepted a call to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., the church of the presidents. On their arrival, they are invited to a dinner party, given by Col. Evanston Whiting, president of the church's board of trustees, at which they learn that the church's first minister, in the early 1800s, was also a Scot. Peter's first sermon to a half-filled church is not received well, particularly by Miss Laura Fowler, an elderly member of Washington society, who feels that Peter, as an immigrant, has no right to invite "just anybody" to attend the church. However, Peter's blunt, populist approach attracts many young people to the church and his sermons become very well-attended. Four years pass, and Senator Willis K. Harvey, an early supporter of Peter, comes to him with the moral dilemma of being forced by the political machine back home to vote against his conscience on a land bill; however, after talking with Peter, he casts the deciding defeating vote. On 7 December 1941, Catherine gives birth to a son, Peter John. Later that day, after preaching at the Annapolis Naval Academy, Peter hears the news on his car radio of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war years, Peter, with Catherine's and the congregation's help, operates a canteen for the Armed Forces in the church's basement. However, when Miss Fowler discovers a sailor and a girl embracing in Lincoln's parlor, she initiates a campaign to have the canteen closed, as she abhors Peter's apparent disregard for her church's traditions and history. Peter explains that the couple were on their two-hour honeymoon; he had married them earlier that day and the sailor was shipping out that evening. Peter threatens to leave unless the canteen stays open, and he prevails. Later, Catherine learns that she has contracted non-communicable tuberculosis and will have to remain in bed for three or four months. When Catherine does not improve after many months, Peter feels that his relationship with God is failing. He wonders if he has become egotistical, and Catherine feels equally lost and abandoned by God. However, during a radio broadcast of one of Peter's sermons, both become revitalized and Catherine experiences a partial recovery. The doctors recommend continued rest and a change of scenery, so Peter buys a small house on Cape Cod for the summer months. Peter and Peter John build a boat together and the family adopts a puppy, Jeff. Back in Washington, as Peter is delivering a sermon, he collapses, suffering a coronary thrombosis, and is given less than a fighting chance of survival. Many pray for his recovery and the crisis passes. Although the doctors tell him not to preach for at least a year, Peter returns to work immediately. Over the years, Peter has won over Miss Fowler, and after his first service back, she presents him with a family heirloom: a button from the jacket of a another Scottish immigrant, John Paul Jones. On the tenth anniversary of his becoming an American citizen, Peter is invited to become Chaplain to the United States Senate. Catherine and Senator Harvey, fearing the additional strain on him, try to dissuade him from accepting but have to relent. One night, Peter experiences great pain and as he is taken to hospital tells Catherine, "See you darling, see you in the morning." In the morning, Catherine learns that Peter has died. Senator Harvey reads Peter's last prayer to the Senate. In the summer, Catherine, Peter John and Jeff return to Cape Cod where they find solace on the boat Peter John and his father built.