A Tribute to Peter W. Culman

Dr. Christopher M. Leighton

Peter W. Culman died on August 18, and the world will be a dimmer place without him. Peter was best known for his thirty-three years of distinguished leadership as the managing director of Center Stage. His passion for theater spilled into all aspects of his life, and his zest for creative encounters was magnetic and irresistible. We will long remember his kind and generous manner, his ready laugh, his keen curiosity, and his uncommon ability to connect with anyone who came within his orbit. Less well known were the depth of his spiritual hunger and his mystical proclivities. Although firmly anchored within his Roman Catholic heritage, he did not hesitate to ask unsettling questions of his tradition. He held fast to the conviction that his community was capable of a gracious and expansive hospitality, and he relished any opportunity for searching conversations, most especially those that involved story-telling and poetry. He had little patience with convoluted abstractions, and he was constantly directing our attention to the wonders of the creation that we so easily overlook. A leaf. A stone. The earthy aroma of the garden in the aftermath of a rainstorm.

Peter was my unruly roommate on two separate expeditions to Israel, and he would not go to sleep until we had reviewed the major events of each day and identified the most unsettling questions that arose. He insisted that we could rest when we returned to the States. As exhausting as this arrangement proved, this discipline meant that experiences sank more deeply into my heart and mind. When the next day arrived, Peter would station himself in the back of the bus where he could most effectively make his wondrous mischief and generate new topics for late-night conversation.

Peter served faithfully on the board of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies for twenty-three years, and he was thrilled by the prospect of a dynamic relationship with Muslims. He was utterly fascinated with the religious desires that animate others, and he embraced new opportunities to forge friendships with people from all kinds of backgrounds. His memory will remain a blessing to all those who knew and loved Peter, and his example will inspire us to keep our feet planted on solid ground and to be ever open to the delight that comes from a surprise discovery.