Friday, September 17, 2010

Labor Priests

Now, there used to be a breed of priests that were heavily involved in social issues. They would be marching for civil rights, peace, and other social issues. There were also 'labor priests'. The drama of their parishioners lives would draw them into activism in order to care pastorally for their flock. We need more of them. To-day's America forgets that many jobs involving physical labor are dirty and dangerous, because few deaths and physical hardships happen in offices. In many of these jobs there are present dangers, that, could be alleviated, and the wages and benefits improved. Some priests realised.

Father James Renshaw Cox *1886, †1951, was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, In January 1932 Fr. Cox came with 25,000 jobless Pennsylvanians to Washington, D.C. It was the largest such demonstration, up to that time, in the capital. President Herbert Hoover was not pleased, and had Cox investigated to see if it was a Catholic plot on the government.

Msgr. Charles Owen Rice *1908, †2005, also from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for many years wrote for the diocesan newspaper, and presented a radio programme on two local stations. Msgr. Rice gave the invocation at the founding of the C.I.O (Congress of Industrial Organizations) in 1938.

Msgr. George Gilmary Higgins *1916, †2002 from Chicago, for many years wrote the bishops' annual Labor Day message. From 1945 to 2001 he wrote "The Yardstick," a column, often on labor and other issues of justice. From 1951 he wrote about farm workers; and he became a friend of the UFW and Cesar Chavez. He considered his labor work as a 'ministry of presence'.

Msgr. Higgins was a peritus (expert) during Vatican II, and worked with Father John Courtney Murray on the Declaration on Religious Freedom. He worked with the UAW. He became a friend of Lech Wałesa as he was a liaison between Solidarność and american unions.

There were others: Fr. Martin B. Mangan *1929, †2001 of Decatur, Illinois; Edward F. Boyle S.J. *1931, †2007 the Executive Secretary of the Labor Guild of the Boston Archdiocese, Msgr. John J. Egan *1916,2001 of Chicago.

The only one to be fictionalised was Father John “Pete” Corridan, S.J. *1911, †1984. The Jesuits of Manhattan were involved on the docks of New York City, and New Jersey. This was two generations before. Before the large steel trailers, when much more physical, manual labor needed to be done. The cargo had to be unloaded, broken down, and loaded again, from trains and ships to ships and barges. The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), in NYC in the '30s, '40s and '50s was a crooked union. The incest between company officials (sometimes mobsters) and their agents, union officers, and politicians was rife. Any union and that cut deals that does not benefit their members is run by Judases. An alternative clean democratic union was needed, even with Corridan's well known efforts, such a union was not to be certified by the rank and file.

Father Corridan spoke to Malcolm Johnson, a reporter for the New York Sun. The articles won a Pulitzer in 1949. Corridan said, "Men are hired as if they were beasts of burden, part of the slave market of a pagan era."

Budd Shulberg wrote the screenplay, On the Waterfront, which won Academy Awards in 1954. The 'Waterfront Priest' that Karl Malden †2009 would play in the movie as Fr. Pete Barry was Fr. Corridan. Malden would give the lines, "Christ is on the waterfront" over a dead longshoreman.
...It's forgetting that every fellow down here is your brother in Christ. But remember, Christ is always with you - Christ is in the shape up*. He's in the hatch. He's in the union hall. ...
*shape up is the line up and selection of men out of a group for that day's work

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