Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Working Catholic: Parishes, Part III by Bill Droel

Outreach and mission must set a parish’s goals, not inherited routines or personality quirks of the leaders. Outreach and mission directly inform an enlivened liturgy, especially the music and preaching. Doors are open wide to new arrivals. One Chicago parish, for example, has a sign above the church entrance: Witamy, Welcome, Bienvenidos.

Some new arrivals are immigrants; others come by way of a process called gentrification. Nowadays, in contrast to the bubble years preceding 2007, gentrification is usually a slow process. An observant parish leader understands that today’s gentrification includes more than young professionals remodeling lofts. It embraces teachers and health care workers (nurses, technicians, researchers, graduate students and more). It includes young information and service workers who find walking to work or to groceries and restaurants attractive.

Gentrification is not an unqualifiable good. Any church true to the gospel must be for the poor, including for the elderly. However, a parish’s obligation to give primacy to the poor is not a rationale for dependency on the diocesan welfare system. Gentrification is an opportunity for the parish to add competent leaders and have financial independence. But gentrification is a positive only when parish leaders engage in sophisticated negotiations. How many housing units are designated low to moderate income? How many jobs are given to local residents? What is the procedure for a parish to refer potential new residents (of all income levels) to developments?

Similar to their critical stance toward gentrification, parish leaders must put aside any interest they might have, no matter how unwittingly, in keeping the parish poor. Neighborhood upgrading is not in itself a threat to a parish’s mission. After all, for most of U.S. Catholic history, the parish saw its role as moving the poor and under-educated into the mainstream.

The Code of Canon Law says that a parish “is to embrace all Christ’s faithful.” Thus, entrepreneurial parish leaders systematically develop relationships with the daytime occupants of nearby hospitals, supermarkets, colleges, mental health agencies and government buildings. These leaders also identify and meet with the women religious, brothers, chaplains, priests and lay ministerial professionals who happen to live in or near the parish. They make similar contacts among nearby Orthodox Christian leaders and Protestants.

The Code of Canon Law also instructs parishes to open their facilities to neighborhood groups, presuming the group’s agenda is not hostile to Catholic doctrine and presuming the group’s use of the facility does not conflict with the normal parish schedule. Most parishes are hospitable to 12-Step groups, scout troops and the like. An outreach and mission-centered parish goes further, personally extending the invitation to the local chamber of commerce, to social service agency staff, to public school administrators, book clubs and more. Of course, an aggressively hospitable parish needs an extra part-time janitor.

Parish planning usually means: What must be closed or consolidated? Planning premised on outreach and mission begins with signs of strength: Under what conditions will this parish thrive? The usual planning process amounts to death planning. A better process nourishes life.

Up next: schools, high-rise buildings, daytime workers and changes in suburbia.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Working Catholic: Domestic Workers by Bill Droel

Domestic workers—nannies and eldercare assistants--are a major part of the growing personal service job sector. There are more than 200,000 domestic workers in New York State alone. What is it like?

Rachel Aviv profiles one domestic worker in The New Yorker (4/11/16). Emma is from Bukidnon Province in the Philippines. Even with some college education and a government job, Emma and husband Edmund could not support their nine children. So she comes to New York City; specifically to Woodside, Queens where more than 13,000 Filipinos live within walking distance to the 61st St. & Roosevelt Ave. number 7 subway stop.

The United States exports products: fuel, cinema, semiconductors and more. The Philippines deliberately exports its women. The government there promotes “labor exportation as a strategy for relieving poverty and alleviating the national debt,” Aviv writes. The immigrant women send a substantial part of their earnings home to family members who, in turn, boost consumption in Philippines. A few years ago the Filipino president asked the immigrants to stay abroad. “We are depending on [you],” the president said. “Send money to your relatives here… You should stay there.”

Emma’s first job in the United States was in Hillary Clinton’s Westchester County neighborhood. Other jobs followed. After meeting basic expenses, Emma “sent all her earnings home, except for $20, her weekly allowance.” Her daughters received most of the money, Aviv details. “But she also fulfilled requests from her sisters, colleagues and friends.”

A strain of emotional insecurity weaves in and around Emma’s family. The daughters back home underappreciate their mother’s sacrifice—or so Emma feels. They want money and the latest fashions from the United States. Emma spent $65 per month to ship clothes to the Philippines. Emma, for her part, has doubts about her husband. On occasion she suspects waywardness from the daughters, yet they complete their education. The back-and-forth tugs are strong. However, by the time Emma is introduced to New Yorker readers, she has been in the United States 16 years without a visit home.

 Thankfully nothing horrendous happens to Emma on the job, or at least Aviv does not report any instances. Wage theft, harassment, or other workplace evils are nonetheless common for domestic workers. Labor statutes on wages, sick days, overtime and more sometimes do not apply to domestic workers. Federal laws do not cover companions; that is babysitters and those caregivers for the elderly who do not perform medical tasks or run errands, though companions who sleep overnight are covered on wages, but not on other matters. Fifteen states have domestic worker laws that at least in some provisions exceed Federal standards.

Domestic workers, let’s face it, are vulnerable because they are isolated. If a dispute arises, their testimony will likely carry less weight than the employer’s.

Some organizations strive to improve the situation for domestic workers. For example, the Diocese of Brooklyn ( has a Catholic Migrant Office in the neighborhood where Emma and many other domestic workers reside. It provides some services and engages in advocacy.

Since 2000 the National Domestic Workers Alliance (, headquartered in New York and with 43 affiliates in 26 cities, has successfully defended some mistreated workers and has lobbied for legal protections. Its thorough report on domestic workers is titled Home Economics. NDWA’s founder Ai Jen Poo is not only concerned about domestic workers but also about care for our elderly. Her book, The Age of Dignity (The New Press, 2015), is a resource for grown children who now care for their parents.

Damayan (, to mention a third group, is a New York-based advocacy center for domestic workers. It claims 8,000 dues-paying members in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, mostly Filipino.

Droel edits a free, printed newsletter about faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Father Jerome – War and Its Legacy

World War I, 1914-1918 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. 

JOHNNY, I HARDLY KNEW YE (Irish traditional)

With your guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With your guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With your guns and drums and drums and guns
The enemy nearly slew ye.’
Oh my darling, dear ye look so queer, Johnny I hardly knew ye.

According to several sources the song, ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’ dates from the early 1800s.  Irish troops were heavily recruited by England to serve in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).  During the American Civil War, the song was re-framed as a celebratory one, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’  A side note: ‘Johnny we hardly knew ye’ was a comment by Cardinal Cushing at John Kennedy’s funeral.

          Jan Maher, Most Dangerous Women – Script, Dog Hollow Press,      Plattsburg, NY, 2015, p. 3 & 95.

 I remember my mother talking about her uncle, Father Jerome (religious name; Timothy was his baptismal name).  He stayed with the family in Chicago for a short time before being established as a priest in Sioux City, Iowa.  My mother said that she thought he was strange.  Father Jerome insisted that she and her younger brother go over to the church and go to confession even before their scheduled First Communion and First Confession.  They went to the Catholic school, had religion classes, and were surprised by their uncle-priest’s insistence that they move ahead of the school’s timetable.  Mom explained that Father Jerome suffered from ‘shell shock,’ now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Father Jerome had served as a chaplain in the British Army during WWI. 

   Timothy Walsh (Fr. Jerome) was born in Coolaclarig, Ireland in 1878, a time of rebellion over land domination by the British.  My grandmother told me that the family was evicted from their farm, but forced the sheriff and his men to carry them out of their home.

   At 16 years old, Timothy joined the Franciscan Order and was sent to England for studies.  He was given the Latin name Hieronymus – Jerome in English.  ‘Jerome’ was ordained a priest in 1901 and assigned as a chaplain in the British Army in 1915 and served in France.  Father Jerome was discharged in 1919.  He left the Franciscans, emigrated to the U.S. and joined the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa as a parish priest.  He died in Keokuk, Iowa in 1928 and was buried in Chicago’s Calvary Cemetery.  My grandmother traveled from Chicago to Keokuk when his health became critical.  The hospital report said he died of ‘Septic exhaustion neurosis, (shell shock)’ now called post traumatic stress disorder.  My brother and my uncle’s middle name is Jerome and I have a first cousin named Timothy.  They are all named after my grandmother’s brother, Father Timothy, Jerome Walsh.

   Other possible influences on the family: An uncle refused bombing runs in WW II and transferred to the Medical Corps.  My brother and a first cousin were rejected for conscientious objector status during the Viet Nam war.  Did Fr. Jerome stories have anything to do with my vocation to the priesthood?

   A docent at the Imperial War Museum in London told me that in WWI Roman Catholic chaplains were on the front lines in contrast to the Church of England chaplains who stayed back.

   What was it like for Father Jerome on the front lines?  Consider an excerpt of a letter of a Finnish officer defending Finland from invading Russians, a letter written to his brother in winter of 1940:

Dear Brother,

…If there had not been that frightful, tearing artillery fire with its rending explosions, one would almost have pity for the grey Russian masses.  … Obediently and silently, they came … against the death spitting mouths of our machine guns… Murderous fire swept the field time after time leaving only twisting heaps of bodies, which soon became immobile.  …

One would have felt sorry for these grey hordes marching to the slaughter, but the incessant artillery fire aroused merciless hate in us who were subjected to it.

    I am not ashamed to confess that artillery fire to me, as well as to most others, is simply revolting.  I have not yet suffered from ‘artillery sickness,’ although I feel like pressing my hands against my ears and crying out in pain.  The explosion of six inch shells on an average of every fourth second during nine consecutive hours, the incessant detonations, screaming splinters and blinding bursts of flame create in our bodies unspeakable terror, which can be overcome only by exercising one’s entire psychic courage…
Yours, Lassie

 Virginia Cowles, Looking for Trouble, Harper Brothers, New York & London, 1941, p. 323.

So many questions remain; I would appreciate your comments.  Consider and respond to one, some, or all of the following:

What would Sir Roger Casement say?                                                                 

Sir Roger Casement, a knighted subject of the King, was hanged as a traitor for his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising for Irish independence.  Seumas MacManus, in his book Ireland’s Case,  (Irish Publishing Co., N.Y. 1917, pp. 208-9,) argues that Casement did nothing more than Sir Edward Carson of Northern Ireland who appealed for help from Germany’s Kaiser in trying to prevent Home Rule for Ireland.  Carson became a Cabinet member.              

For the full story see:  Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt, Picador, New York, 2010.

Why would an Irish - Franciscan priest volunteer as a chaplain in the British Army?

Why would Roman Catholic priests be on the front line while Church of England chaplains stay in the rear?

Did Father Jerome’s religion fail him?     

What is the evolution of this term, PTSD?    

Is there ever an end to war?  Why protest – what good does it do?

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Working Catholic: Rules in Church by Bill Droel

High school students need clear rules applied fairly. Chaos reigns in classrooms and hallways when rules are too vague or are unevenly applied. Teachers in a well-ordered school automatically dismiss a misbehaving student’s plea: “I didn’t know there was a rule.” Of course, the student really means: “I didn’t know I would get caught.”

 Moral formation occurs in high school. It is impossible, however, in a high school classroom to teach the difference between private morality and public morality or the difference between rules and pastoral guidance.

Some years after graduation many students do though draw upon their high school experience to appreciate these differences. For example, three or four students, now a year or two out of college, meet. They note that a former teacher, maybe a religious brother or nun, has recently married and has disclosed—for whatever reason—a decade long dating relationship. “The private hypocrisy is irrelevant to the competence the teacher displayed in the classroom,” the former students conclude.

“Well, what about abuse,” one of them asks? “That’s not private morality,” one of them correctly asserts. “Abuse by a teacher is misusing public authority.”

These same former students can always recall an incident from high school where they got caught misbehaving and yet where a strict teacher or dean “let us off the hook” or “said a couple words and let us go.” Why? The incident was just before an important football game or because a student was already reeling from some sad news.

Some adults, it seems, have a low tolerance for ambiguity. Some of the low ambiguity types want church officials to clearly declare and consistently enforce rules. Others among the low ambiguity types want to make their way without any rules, without as it were any second guessing. All of the low ambiguity types are unable to hold onto the creative tension between private morality and public morality or the tension between rules and pastoral guidance. One type says: If any rule is loosened, the moral threads of society will eventually all pull away. The other type says: If there are any rules at all, there is no freedom.

A proper tension between rules and pastoral practice is not relativism. It is adult maturity. It is a tension. Habitually drifting into pastoral practice quickly leads to a life of making exception, to soft relativism. Habitually drifting into rules is soon associated with hypocrisy and righteous judgment of others and often with scrupulosity.

Both of the low ambiguity types are currently having their say over Pope Francis’ letter about marriage and family life—commenting almost exclusively on its passages about divorce and the Eucharist. One type thinks any change in “the rule” about Eucharist and divorce will lead to a wholesale forfeit of morality. The other type thinks “any rule” about lifestyles or the definition of marriage is a violation of rights.

A handful of major themes emerge from Jesus’ life and teaching. Number one is probably: Repent and be saved. Number two is: Never allow the rules to inhibit compassion.

Adult life is hard. A parent, a teacher, a union steward, a judge, a pastor and others have to continually keep seeming contradictions in creative tension. It’s hard, but real life is lots of fun for those who keep tensions afloat.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629) a print newsletter about faith and work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Working Catholic: Words Matter by Bill Droel

In 1984 Msgr. Jack Egan (1916-2001), who at that time was director of Human Relations and Ecumenism at the Archdiocese of Chicago, sent a memo about race relations to clergy and lay leaders involved with Chicago’s Northwest Neighborhood Federation and with Southwest Parish and Neighborhood Federation. Egan was reacting to A Declaration of Neighborhood Independence, issued by the two community organizations.

“The language contained in this Declaration is inappropriate, irresponsible and divisive,” Egan wrote. His memo objected to the Declaration’s “name-calling and vituperation” and more particularly to its “race-baiting” and its “tone of violence.”

A newly published book, Vanishing Eden: White Construction of Memory, Meaning and Identity in a Racially Changing City by Michael Maly and Heather Dalmage (Temple University Press), looks back at those days. The authors also report on interviews they conducted among those who were children in those neighborhoods at the time.

Southwest Parish and Neighborhood Federation (which is the main case study for Maly and Dalmage) began with fanfare in 1971 to “halt white flight and neighborhood deterioration.” The Federation quietly closed in the mid-1990s, following a long period of ineffectiveness and irrelevance to neighborhood needs. In its prime, the Federation used astute analysis and sophisticated research to make some positive contributions. It demonstrated that rapid demographic changes on Chicago’s south side during the late 1960s and 1970s were not natural occurrences. Several external actors caused south side neighborhoods to decline, the Federation leaders said. Realtors, mortgage bankers, Federal entities and even city agencies all contributed to instability—either out of benign neglect or for a financial motive. Thus the Federation campaigned against what it called “unscrupulous” entities, especially around housing. For example, in order to stop panic-peddling the Federation obtained 50 non-solicitation agreements from area realtors. That is, “Don’t call us; if we want to sell our house, we will call you.”

Maly and Dalmage, like Egan, look closely at the Federation’s language. From the start it was a “language of grievance,” “a language of loss and victimization.” The Federation constantly told “stories of innocence, virtue, loss and abandonment.” The Federation was correct in identifying problems. But a constituency that identifies itself as an innocent victim only stores up ineffective resentment; an ironic outcome for a power organization like the Federation.

A significant step occurred when the Federation referred to neighborhood residents as white ethnics. This term, Maly and Dalmage explain, “allowed whites to assert a racialized group identity while still making public claims that their neighborhood battles were not racially-based.”

The cognitive dissonance persists among a fair number of the children—now near retirement age and now living in a first ring suburb. When talking about social issues, the two sociologists found, those whites frequently use the pronoun we or us, often without a conscious understanding that the pronoun implies a them. They innocently believe that we are morally respectable, that we earned our place and that we treat everyone fairly. They don’t think about structures of unjust exclusion.

For the most part these whites are not overt haters, though some presumably voted for Donald Trump in the primaries. They do, however, resent the system for undermining their parents’ idyllic community, just as they fault the system today for its bias against the white working-class.

In this blog and in Vanishing Eden, the Federation represents many similar groups back then and today. The tragic flaw, say Maly and Dalmage, is resistance to words like integration, racial harmony or healing. At no point did the Federation reach out to any black group that was also dealing with improper housing policies. Neither the clergy, nor the local politicians, nor the Federation staff, nor leaders of other groups give people a language and forums with which to grapple with economics, race, culture and more.

Maly and Dalmage moralize a tad too much. It is not easy to live the virtue of solidarity on the ground.  Yet some community organizations on Chicago’s south side gave integration a try back in the day and some are effectively doing so today. For example, the nearby Organization of the Southwest Community was formed in 1959 to deal with the same situation faced by the Federation: a white neighborhood with unusual real estate turnover and some deterioration. OSC, to the displeasure of some of its white leaders, went out of its way to include black churches at its founding convention. The longstanding Southwest Community Congress tackled bad housing practices in the Federation neighborhood. It pledged “to work toward peaceful integration.” The local clergy never embraced SCC however. Not far away the Beverley Area Planning Association successfully integrated a once precarious but now desirable neighborhood. And, to give one more example, the Oak Park Housing Center brought together bankers, city officials and neighbors to build a thriving integrated community. 

Language matters. There are, as Jeremy Engels explains in The Politics of Resentment (Penn State Press, 2015), always people with a microphone who artificially construct two opposing sides, thus deflecting attention from upper-tier decision makers who truly control local situations.  Sarah Palin, for example, is a master at using lots of violent metaphors and terms while simultaneously painting herself and her people as innocent victims. The strategy of blaming others does not lead to effective social change. In fact, it eventually further impoverishes those who employ it. And though Palin denies it, resentment can easily spill into violence.

Droel is a board member of National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a faith in daily life organization 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Yellow Golf Balls

Travelogue IV:  the Canary Islands

A week in the Canary Islands with our London son, daughter in law and grand kids – great – what could be more exciting and fun.  Even better – our son said we could play golf.

   I prepared.  I bought some yellow golf balls and dug out my yellow golf shirt with the hope of bagging a few birdies.

   It was an all inclusive resort with a clientele from England and Germany; the abundance of food and drink was amazing.  A large swimming pool in the middle of the complex was a fun place for all.   I stayed on the balcony where I had an overview of the fun and did some reading and reflecting.

   What about all this food just off the Moroccan coast of North Africa?  We weren’t far from where people are starving – from where people risk their lives to escape to Europe.  Decorative minarets on the resort buildings called for prayer. 

   The golf was wonderful.  We played well on the lush green golf course placed on the volcanic island not far from the Sahara Desert.  Our scores were good but my yellow golf ball strategy didn’t help much.  We never saw a canary in the Canary Islands. A brochure explained: the ancient Romans named the Islands using the Latin word ‘canis’ which means dog – the Romans found lots of dogs in the place.  The all inclusive included - ‘hot dogs,’ but I advised the family to abstain.

   Night prayers with the children was a wonderful experience and challenging – “Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at  the hour of our death - God bless us and all the kids - Amen.”  Five year old Mathew commented and had a question, “that’s funny – why ALL the kids?” “We don’t even know the French kids.”  I tried to explain – “You see Matthew, all humanity has the same essence - uh – wait a minute, Grandma - Matthew has a question – I’ll be right back.”  

   Life with family is participation in the joy of the Kingdom of God and so is concern and political action  for the human family.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Working Catholic: Parishes, Part II by Bill Droel

(Part I appeared on February 23rd )

It is a formula for decline to run a parish, indeed to run any enterprise, for the benefit of insiders rather than outsiders. People move away from a parish for normal reasons: a job relocation, downsizing or upscaling their residence, retirement or illness, and eventually death. Attracting new members always has to outpace the exodus. This no longer can happen by passively waiting for new arrivals to register with a parish. Growth parishes have to be comfortable with a variety of pastoral styles; they have to be proactive with programs that undergo regular evaluation; they have to systematically reach out to new residents and to others who spend time in or around the parish/neighborhood. Growth parishes have to sometimes tailor liturgies for, let’s say, an arriving ethnic group or for young adults. In a growth parish the regular visits to nursing homes and hospitals must be augmented by an effort—no matter how rudimentary—to meet health care workers. The disposition for growth means, for example, that the parish CEO (who may or may not be their pastor) and/or the school’s principal participate in the local chamber of commerce and have regular contact with nearby social service agencies and with administrators in the public schools or the community college and with local government entities. Likewise the leaders of a growth parish (its staff and its members) will schedule dialogue sessions with members from nearby churches (including Catholic parishes) and with those from any nearby synagogue or mosque.

Why don’t parishes adopt the option for growth?

Most chancery leaders act in good will. They think about parish planning, however, almost exclusively in terms of the relative shortage of ordained personnel and the budget for parish buildings and perhaps for its staff. Only thereafter might Chancery-types think about the needs and opportunities presented by the neighborhood or town and its people. In this they are like private planning experts or even like those who converse at a neighborhood bar or barbershop. They comment on a parish/neighborhood by naming its problems.

Growth parishes should not look over the shoulder to the Chancery. They should not follow along with the problem approach to planning. The starting point for a growth analysis is an identification of assets; the current parish assets, the positives of the neighborhood and the potential resources that at the moment are a half-step beyond reach.

A parish, to express this point differently, is not either member-centered or mission-centered. But it seems parishes do better when they lead with the mission of the church and allow the needs of members to follow. Be church and then become church. To build the base, go to the peripheries.

Some parishes do not adopt the option for growth because they like things as they are or, to be accurate, as they seemingly are. These parishes are ambivalent about change. In particular, they have low anxiety-tolerance regarding either race, or immigration, or gentrification. Often these feelings are unexpressed. In one example, however, parish leadership distributed lawn signs reading Save Our Parish. Guess what happened?

To be continued…

Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work titled INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)