Saturday, May 13, 2017


Our Father Who art in heaven …”  Is God “Our Father”?  The great Jewish theologian, Moses Maimonides thought that human names weren’t sufficient for God. Let us use another insufficient but perhaps more powerful analogy – God “Our Mother”.

The prophet Isaiah reported:

Zion says, (49:14) / ”The Lord has forsaken me. / My Lord has forgotten me.”/ (15) Can a woman forget her baby, Or disown the child, the child of her womb?
Can immigration law be so absurd as to threaten to separate a mom from her dying child?  It is. – she sent a letter from the jail and described her son as one of God’s angels.

Mater Dolorosa pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Can immigration law be so absurd to deport a man – a grandfather with a family who arrived as a child, then graciously allows him to return to his mom in a casket?  Yes – and she buried him piously in Faith – she knows there is more to the story.

Mater Dolorosa pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
The hope of a Honduran family with several young children, born in Honduras and the U.S., is to work to get enough money in the U.S. to afford to get enough land and tools to own a small farm in Honduras.  The family moves quite often to avoid detection.

Our Lady of Guadalupe pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Can immigration law be so absurd as to depend on the competence of a lawyer to avoid the separation of a family?  Such is the case of a mom whose husband could be deported because their lawyer was late in filing papers. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

“Behold! the angels said, ‘O Mary Allah has chosen you and purified you chosen you above the women of all nations.’ “ (Qur’an,  39:42)

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Working Catholic: Common Good

By Bill Droel

“Your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody else’s health care,” says a former Congressman from Illinois. He has apparently forgotten the definition of insurance (a hedge or cushion against risk), which is normally achieved by spreading the cost of a problem (a car accident, a fire, a surgery) among a more-or-less random pool of people. More importantly, this former legislator (now a radio commentator) and many others like him have forgotten a crucial part of moral philosophy.

Our United States culture prizes liberty. It is a marvel the way our country’s founders and its citizens to this day have woven liberty into our laws, our civic affairs, our business practices, our expressions of faith and more. This is something new in the long history of civilization. We correctly invoke the virtue of liberty or freedom at sports events, in schools, in discussions of military deployment, in TV commercials, in policy debates and more. Frequently, however, we forget that liberty is a social virtue and that it is part of a constellation of other virtues. Instead, we too often equate liberty with ragged individualism.

Individualism is now the default position of our culture. It says that goodness is achieved when at the end of the day (or the end of the financial quarter or fiscal year) the greatest number of people gets the best results possible. The mechanism is individual choice. The maximum number of choices, says individualism, will somehow yield maximum benefits—though not for all people, but for the most people. This is a philosophy for lazy thinkers. It reduces liberty or freedom to choices or options. Should we install a dish or connect with cable? Should we marry or simply live together? Should we help one another with health insurance or allocate for our own family exclusively? 

Individual liberty is an achievement, but individualism, particularly as currently presented by some ideologues in our society, is destructive. Yes to communitarian individuals; no to extreme individualism.

The principle of the common good recognizes that many important things cannot be obtained by individuals. Many good things can only be obtained in common: public safety, effective fire-fighting in urban areas, roads and airports, libraries (including all cyber-research), clean water and access to health care. No matter how wealthy the former Congressman might be, he cannot have all these good things unless he cooperates. In fact, many people never use an airport but their taxes subsidize the airport that the Congressman uses. Many never go to college, but taxpayers underwrote his education. His tuition did not fully cover the costs of running those schools.

The common good, which was always part of the United States experiment in democracy, complements the so-called free market and in fact it makes the market better. The common good is not reducible to the sum total of individual choices. It imposes considerations on those who are expressing an opinion and acting on a calculated choice. If we forget about the common good, we sooner or later lose society.

Of course, the common good does not give wholesale endorsement to the Affordable Care Act. It does not endorse Trump/Ryan Care. Reasonable citizens can reasonably differ about the delivery of health care. In fact, the common good does not even necessitate a health insurance system. Theoretically, normal health care (the requirement of the common good principle) could be inexpensively available to all if pharmaceutical executives, doctors, hospital administrators and others were paid the same wage as their patients.

The former Illinois Congressman, who lists himself as a Catholic, puts the matter of health care delivery under the virtue of compassion. “It is compassion for me to voluntarily help someone else,” he says. It is not a virtue for the government “to forcibly take the money I make.”

Here again, he and many others don’t realize that compassion or love is a commandment or a requirement. It is not merely optional. Likewise, he forgets to put compassion into the constellation of social virtues. For example, distributive justice is the virtue that obligates an authority, like the government, to allocate resources so that all have the common goods.

Extreme individualism is bad for our culture, bad for business, bad for United States image abroad and bad for legitimate debate about government meddling in health care, about tax incentives for domestic job creation, about improvements in education outcomes, about women’s reproductive health, about enforcing the civil rights of gays and lesbians, about reform inside civil service unions, about extraction and use of domestic natural resources. Extreme libertarians on the right and on the left are hurting our society.

From its earliest days, visitors to our country have been impressed with our teamwork, our sense of community, our voluntary associations, our inclusiveness and our collective dedication to the common good. We prosper and pursue our happiness to the extent that we pull together and that we refute mindless comments about “my own health care.”

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Vatican II Pioneers

Pat and Patty Crowley

Hope and anticipation for Vatican II was fostered by the Christian Family Movement which was founded by a Chicago couple, Pat and Patty Crowley.  Essentially a lay movement within the Roman Catholic Church it fostered ecumenism, status for the laity, liturgical reform, and Catholic action with the goal of a better world.  Vatican II was encouraging but Pope Paul VI's Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, prohibiting artificial birth control, restricted progress.  This disappointed the Crowleys, but they continued in their efforts for church reform.  I am confident you will find the following story about the Crowleys moving and insightful.  It is  written by their oldest daughter - Patricia Anne Crowley, O.S.B.                                Bill Lange

Our 103 year old Sister, Vivian Ivantic, has been urging me to write about my parents for a couple of years now.   However, until William Lange invited me to write about my parents for his blog, I kept procrastinating saying to myself,  I am just too close to this topic…..I will try to write next week…I just don’t have time right now, etc.

So let me at least begin.   My father, Patrick F. Crowley, the son of Irish Catholic parents, was a fascinating combination of traditional religious practices and creative avant-garde spirituality.  His lifelong friendships from his early years at St. Mary of the Lake grammar school and Loyola Academy persisted even though those men were of various political persuasions and religious practices. He adored my mother and with her and those friends, formed what was known as “The Poker Club” or, at one point as “The Stork Club”.   He used his professional career as a lawyer to serve both sides of the family as their corporate counsel as well as to provide for his immediate growing family and to help all who came to him for legal advice and / or financial support.   He was a learner par excellence and reached out to emerging voices in our world to come and share with the hundreds of couples who gathered each year at Notre Dame for the annual conventions of the Christian Family Movement.  My impression always was that no one could bring themselves to dislike him and hardly anyone could say “no” to him!  What I suspect that people seldom saw in him was a soul that felt great anguish at other people’s suffering.  His disappointment was particularly evident to me when the encyclical on birth control, Humanae Vitae, was published.  He took that turn of events to heart and felt keenly the pain of couples around the world at that time.

Patty Caron Crowley, my mother, was the daughter of a Jansenist French-Canadian father and a Baptist mother, who converted to Catholicism when Patty was young.  She was often misunderstood by her mother, when as a student of the late Father John A. Ryan at Trinity College in D.C., she learned of Catholic social teaching and began to make decisions based on what she had learned.    Her social and political views were even more radicalized when she connected with the handsome Pat Crowley, who had been formed to think broadly in his years at Notre Dame University.  When they met, Pat was smitten immediately.   Patty, probably to please her mother who did not think a poor Irish law student was good enough for any daughter of hers, went off to Paris for a year and there dated several continental guys.  She apparently always remembered those times and never ever regretted her acceptance of Pat’s proposal for marriage upon her return home.

Pat and Patty were soul mates. Their personalities could not have been more different!  Their relational complementarity was their gift to all of us.  Their roles fit their personalities – he the visionary and she the organizational and practical one.  Together they graciously welcomed people of all faiths and origins into our home.

 In the 31 years between their deaths, I came to know and appreciate my mother’s strength and determination.  She, too, suffered greatly from the Church’s decision to go against the majority opinion of the Birth Control Commission.  It took her 25 years after Humanae Vitae was published, to speak out publicly about their “conversion” experience. They, along with the vast majority of that group, were convinced by letters from couples around the world, by scientists and theologians on the Commission that birth control was not intrinsically evil.  The official Church chose not to follow that advice and, as a drastic result, lost much of its authority among many of its members.

That is the context in which I grew into adulthood.  The family I knew in the first decade of my life was pretty typical of the times – as many children as possible, parochial school for the kids, daily mass at 6:30 a.m., family rosary after the evening meal, regular visits to grandparents, nightly family dinners, summer camp experiences and so much more.  That all changed during the next decade of my life.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Martin Luther King; A Letter from the Birmingham JAIL, April 16, 1963

How does King's letter relate to the current immigration debate?

   Despite the evidence of violence and devastating poverty in Latin American countries and the inadequate and unfair immigration law of the U.S., many U.S. citizens condemn undocumented immigrants for one reason:  immigrants are breaking the law.

   Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, noted that both St. Augustine (Father of the Church, 354-430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (Church Doctor, 1225-1274) stated that a bad law was no law and did not require obedience. Dr. King was referring to the ‘Jim Crow’ laws of the South as bad law, but historically, there are many other examples, such as slavery itself.

Aquinas and Augustine on law

St. Augustine of Hippo, North Africa

In his letter from the Birmingham jail, King quotes St. Augustine: 

“That which is not just seems to be no law at all.”  

Aquinas quoted the above statement by Augustine and added:  

“But if in any point it (human law) departs from the law of nature (reason), it is no longer a law but a perversion. (1.)

Aquinas and Augustine knew that civil law was crucial.  Augustine wrote no matter what government (even the Roman Empire), man must obey the law, 

“…so long as he is not compelled to act against God or his conscience…” (2.)

Augustine and Aquinas represent differing philosophical and theological points of view but agreed that human law must serve all people – the common good.

St. Thomas defined law as:

 “… nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by him who has care of the community.” (3.)

   A law can be a ‘bad law’ on two grounds:  if it is unreasonable and if it does not serve all in the community; it is a matter of forging a proper, peaceful society. 
   Law cannot rule out all possible or perceived evil.  Such a law may cause more harm than good.  In a pluralist society such as the U.S., religious mandates cannot be inflicted on the general public that would damage the common good.  An example would be a law to deny the right of some to health care.    An example is the Roman Catholic hierarchy attempting to impose the unreasonable prohibition of abortion in all circumstances, prohibition of contraceptives, and denial of gay rights.  St. Thomas states:

“…human law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds, since, while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good…” (4.)

The debate in forming the U.S. Constitution resulted in accepting slavery as the only possibility of forming the Republic.  The Constitution legalized slavery, but the horrible Civil War resulted in a change of the Constitution and a modicum of freedom for slaves.

Human Solidarity

   John Courtney Murray, S.J., a key advisor of Vatican II on freedom of conscience quotes English Dominican Thomas Gilby, O.P.:

“Civilization is formed by men locked together in argument.  From this dialogue the community becomes a political community.” (5.)

The dialogue is of existential importance. Timing is a factor.  When do practical politics move the Creator’s ‘self evident truths,’ expressed in the Declaration of Independence, to become the written law of the Nation?  The Letter from the Birmingham Jail gives a resounding cry of – Now!  In a book published in 1968 Doctor King explained:

“We still have a choice today: nonviolent co-existence or violent co-annihilation, this may be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.” (6.)

Dr. King used the term ‘mankind.’  Classic theology and philosophy attempted to be universal and not nationalistic.  St. Augustine wrote:

“The simple truth is that the bond of a common human nature makes all human beings one.” (7.)

Undocumented Immigrants

   U.S. immigration law is flawed, but there is a human bond with immigrants and is recognized by the U.S. Constitution and America’s basic proclamation, the Declaration of Independence.  Paul Rougeau emphasizes the need for International Solidarity advocated by John Paul II in his encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis.   Rougeau calls for a ‘cosmopolitan’ community. John Paul II writes Solidarity is:  

“…a fundamental concept that all humankind and Christians should agree upon and put into practice.  Solidarity should influence the lives of persons, nations and the world in general.” (8. R 78)

 In reference to the U.S. immigration crisis Rougeau states:

“Christians are called in solidarity with these migrants to promote meaningful dialogue about changing this system. (immigration)   “… we must confront the reality that respect for human dignity, human rights and liberal democratic principles excludes the possibility of massive deportations of undocumented immigrants. (8. R152)

Civil disobedience, a part of political dialogue

  Dr. Martin Luther King, a 20th century Baptist minister, in explaining why he broke the law, referred to classic theology and philosophy that predates the Protestant Reformation, capitalism and nationalism. Classic philosophical thought corresponds to the basic proposition of the U.S. founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence.  King quotes Lincoln’s 1858 ‘House Divided Speech,’ “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”  

How do you solve the problem?  Like Lincoln at Gettysburg King refers to the U.S. Declaration of Independence – and the basic American political proposition, ‘All are created equal.’  For the community to survive, “the bond of mankind” - Augustine’s words, must be recognized – “all are created equal” means everyone.  King understood America as did Lincoln at Gettysburg. (9.)  King goes further and re-established an important part of civil dialogue in forming community, non-violent civil disobedience, to overturn unjust law.  The American tradition goes back to writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

   Dr. Martin Luther King is rightly considered an American patriot and a model to follow.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Benziger Brothers, 1947, I – II
(1. Q. 95 – A. 2, p.1014)  (3. Q. 90 – A. 4, p. 995)  (4, Q. 91 – A. 4, p. 998)

St.Augustine, Image Books, City of God, 1958, (2. P.113)  (7, p. 302)

John Courtney Murray, We Hold These Truths, Sheed & Ward, 1960, (5. p. 6)

The Declaration of Independence.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Where do We Go From Here: Chaos or CommunityBantam Books, 1968, (6, p. 223)

Vincent D. Rougeau, Christians in the American Empire, 2008, (8, p. 152)

Gary Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Simon & Schuster, (9.)

Friday, March 31, 2017


  The annual May 1, Labor Day March is preceded by a program called, “PREDICATORES DE JUSTICIA.” (Preachers of Justice)

  In April preachers will be sent to various congregations in Milwaukee, Racine, Beloit, and Sheboygan to advocate for immigrant rights. There will be homilies, discussions, announcements or simply a distribution of flyers regarding the May 1st March at various faith communities.  
   Common sense demands immigration reform and immigrant rights; for example, an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel states: “Programs that foster integration (of immigrants) are crucial in the industrial Midwest … to fill vacancies as waves of baby boomers retire. (M.J.S. 3-30-17)  But there is more to it than that.  Some look for more illumination and inspiration from a fundamental understanding of their Faith.  A basic text for “People of the Book” is - all are created in the image and likeness of God. (Gen. 1)

The special dignity of the person is clear – all are created in the image of God – none are left out such as the stranger: – “If a stranger lives in your land, do not molest him.  You must count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself.” (Lev 19: 33-34).   Jesus explained that if you have neglected the stranger you have neglected Jesus himself. (Matt. 24). The Koran states, “Do good to parents, kinfolk orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the Companion by your side, the wayfarer you meet …” (4;36)

   If your congregation is interested in participating in Predicatores de Justicia or you would like to be a messenger – a Preacher of Justice contact Nayeli Rondin-Valle at Voces de la Frontera.  (; 414-643-1620)  The voice of Faith needs to be heard.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Working Catholic: Lent Reading by Bill Droel

      St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday this year. Thus, several Illinois bishops (though not all) and other bishops elsewhere “granted a dispensation” so that the faithful could thereby have corned beef on the feast. (Is there any evidence that workaday Catholics are incapable of making such decisions on their own? I met no such person during my evening out.)

      By way of two bishops, here is an alternative to fretting about shamrocks and dispensations. Pope Francis suggests we read On Naboth by St. Ambrose (340-397), bishop of Milan. It is a 32-page commentary on a parable recounted in First Kings 21. St. Ambrose invites us to consider fasting in a more substantial manner than foregoing meat on seven days each spring—only six days if St. Patrick or St. Joseph intercedes. 

     St. Ambrose does not have to search far in Scripture to conclude that God is not interested in superficial fasting. “The fast that I have chosen,” as St. Ambrose paraphrases God, is to “undo every tie of injustice, loose the bonds of contracts made under duress, set free the broken and break every unjust obligation. Break your bread for the hungry and bring the needy and homeless into your house.”

St. Ambrose continues with a saying that is often reprinted: “Nature, then, knows no distinction when we are born, and it knows none when we die. It creates all alike, and all alike it encloses in the bowels of the tomb.” Go to any cemetery. “Open up the earth and [see] if you are able [to] discern who is rich. Then clear away the rubbish and [see] if you [can] recognize the poor person.”

As for the Old Testament story in First Kings, St. Ambrose cuts no slack for King Ahab, who perhaps had an advance copy of The Art of the Deal. Ahab seems to offer Naboth a deal for his vineyard. I’ll give you either a different vineyard or cash, says Ahab.

St. Ambrose is not fooled. It is arrogance, writes St. Ambrose. Give me, Ahab says. For what purpose? “All this madness, all this uproar, then, was in order to find space for paltry herbs. It is not, therefore, that you [Ahab] desire to possess something useful for yourself so much as it is that you want to exclude others... The rich man cries out that he does not have.” 

The First Kings story, St. Ambrose concludes, “is repeated everyday” as we in our dissatisfaction covet other people’s goods.

 It is not too late to adopt a Lent discipline. We can try to fast from envy and greed. We can try to be rich in contentment; not only between now and April 16, 2017. But we can practice contentment every day until that day when our last mortal possession is taken to a cemetery to join all the other look-a-likes.  

It wouldn’t hurt these Lent days and in the coming months to also give something away. Here St. Ambrose has a final piece of advice. “You are commonly in the habit of saying: We ought not to give to someone whom God has cursed by desiring him to be poor.” Or as this is expressed in the United States: We should refrain from helping the undeserving poor. There are no cursed poor, St. Ambrose concludes. There is no divine distinction between the deserving and undeserving. Read the Scripture: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a printed newsletter.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Paul Robeson artist, scholar and human rights activist lived in Milwaukee in 1922.  He played football for the Milwaukee Badgers and studied law with a Marquette University law professor. The Badgers were one of the early NFL teams but folded in 1926.  Robeson was working on a law degree at Columbia in New York and played football to help meet expenses. Robeson graduate from the Columbia Law School in 1923. (1)

   Robeson was one of the most famous African Americans of the twentieth century.  He was an all American football player at Rutgers in 1917 & 1918; it could be argued that no one has ever performed a better Othello, and also he was an outstanding film actor.  However, most of his fame came from his advocating with passion for working people especially blacks through his rendition of Labor Songs and African American spirituals. 

“My purpose in life was to fight for my people, that they shall walk this earth as free as any man.” (2, p. x)

Robeson’s struggle generated fierce opposition from those defending the ‘status quo.’



Tailgunner Joe McCarthy, 
Photo from the 
Department of Special Collections and University Archives 
Marquette University Libraries 
Marquette Hilltop 1934 Yearbook

  In 1951 the U.S. government issued a travel ban against Robeson because of his relentless rhetoric abroad denouncing ‘Jim Crow’ laws in the U.S. and his positive estimate of Soviet Russia. The anti-communist movement that persecuted Robeson was led by Wisconsin Senator ‘Tail-gunner Joe’ McCarthy, a graduate of Marquette’s law school.  The anti-communist movement distorted Robeson’s legacy which can be refocused with a clear and realistic view of history.  Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote:

“The persecution of Paul Robeson by the government …has been one of the most contemptible happenings in modern history.”  (3, p. xxx)

The travel ban was rescinded by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958.  The Court stated:

“The right to travel, the court concluded, ‘is a part of the liberty of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the 5th Amendment.’” (4, p. 255)

Paul Robeson said he believed in the principles of scientific socialism, but testified under oath that he was not a member of the communist party or part of any organized conspiracy. (5, p. 38-39)


   In 1922 Milwaukee was headed by a Socialist Mayor Daniel Hoan, and it hosted the National Socialist Convention.  Did Milwaukee have a role in Robeson’s formation as a socialist intellectual and activist?  Perhaps, but Milwaukee socialists were adamantly opposed to communism.  There was no sympathy for Soviet Russia.  Socialist congressman Victor Berger from Milwaukee wrote:

“The Milwaukee Socialists are not Communists and never were. And from the first day of the Bolshevist revolution we looked upon communism as a dubious experiment.” (6. p. 211)

Berger, who was of Jewish decent and an immigrant from Austriawas Milwaukee’s Congressman from 1910 –12, 1919-21, and 1923-1929.  He died in 1929, and his widow Meta Berger switched to the communist party in 1934.

   Robeson’s formation as an intellectual and political activist is explained in his book, Here I Stand.  At his base – in his heart – Paul Robeson was a man of faith.  His father was a runaway slave and became a Presbyterian minister with a classic education. His mother was a woman of mixed races and a Quaker from Philadelphia. The Robeson family had an ecumenical world view which was expressed in Paul’s gifted voice and spirit.  Milwaukee Socialist Carl Sandberg stated:

When Paul Robeson sings spirituals… ‘That is the real thing - he has kept the best of himself and not allowed the schools to take it away from him!’ (7. P.5)    
   Time in England expanded Robeson’s understanding of faith.  Love of neighbor meant love of stranger. (Lev. 19)  He identified with Welsh miners. He learned to sing the songs of the oppressed workers in their own languages including Yiddish.


In testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee Robeson exposed the racism of interrogator congressman Francis Walter. Robeson stated that Walter’s  immigration law, the Walter – McCarron Act of 1952  restricting people of color from entering the U.S., indicated  that Walter did not want any people of color in the U.S. Walter admitted as much.  (8. p. 238) The law also restricted eastern and southern Europeans. 

Robeson wrote:

“Under the Walter – McCarron law, with all its provisions to reduce ‘non-Nordic’ immigration the number of Negroes who can come from the Caribbean or anywhere else has been drastically cut down.” (9. p. 83)


   As the son of a former slave and activist minister, Robeson knew that faith was not enough; action was needed.  He praised the work of African American Churches.

…the Negro church is still the strongest base of our power of organization. (10. p. 96)

He saw labor as an important ally, both black and white “to battle for the liberation of our people.”  (11, p. 97)

   Paul Robeson was well aware before his death in 1976 that we had not yet reached the ‘promised land.’ Racial equality was still in the dream stage. He was fearful of nuclear war and promoted the politics of peace.  At a 67th birthday party in 1965 he expressed the desire for peace between socialism and communism.  Robeson said understanding among people was possible through art especially through music.  However instead of singing to finish his talk he read a translated version of a Yiddish resistance song from the Warsaw ghetto.  

Never say that you have reached the very end,
When leaden skies a bitter end portend:
For surely the hour for which we yearn for will yet arrive
And our marching steps will thunder ‘We survive!’” (12, p.290)

Bibliography:  Marquette Law Faculty Blog, Paul Robeson and the Marquette Law School, J. Gordon Hylton, 2010/06/04 (note 1)
Here I Stand, Paul Robeson, 1958, Preface L.L. Brown 1971 (notes 3, 5, 9, 10, 11).  Paul Robeson a Watched Man, Jordan Goodman, 2013 (notes 2, 4, 7, 8, 12)  The Sewer Socialists, Elmer A. Beck, 1982 (

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Working Catholic: Stop Trafficking by Bill Droel

Our office of county sheriff has an animal welfare unit. It received a tip about dog fighting as promoted by a small betting ring. The police rescued nearly all of the animals. Sheriff Tom Dart then held a press conference, warning the public about this illegal activity. The department’s website was immediately flooded with praise from rightly appalled animal lovers and responsible citizens.

Later that week the department got a tip about a motel where prostitution was suspected. The police went there and caught several people. Again, Dart held a press conference. This time the website received only a few reactions, most of which were against the police. This is a matter of free will between consenting adults, people told the police.

“No it isn’t,” Dart explained at a meeting on “Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation,” held at Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills, Illinois. First, “one of the girls was 14, another 15.” Second, it is “not consensual.” Girls and women are systematically lured into prostitution with psychological and physical coercion, Dart said.

The contrast between the reactions to the two police raids says to Dart that, in a sense, “society allows trafficking.” The public, Dart continued, has to be more aware that trafficking “is wrong.” It is not confined to Thailand. It can gain hold within a local high school, it can grow within a nearby mall and it is routinely facilitated through the internet.

The two-year old Sacred Heart Domestic Violence Outreach committee sponsored the January 2017 meeting with the sheriff. (As an aside, one of the young committee leaders happens to have the same unusual last name as your blogger: Elizabeth Droel.) The anti-trafficking movement will likely spread because representatives from a half-dozen nearby churches joined Sacred Heart parishioners for this January 2017 meeting.

The challenge is difficult and because of the internet it has become more so. In particular Dart faulted Craig’s List (which recently changed its policies) and Backpage (which has not). Dart also admitted that with happy exceptions the legal system can further demean girls and women. And, as Dart sadly learned, not all so-called safe houses are perfectly safe. He did, however, express approval for one recovery house not far from Sacred Heart.

Dart thinks “it is ridiculous” for responsible parents to accede when children assert a so-called right to privacy about their use of the internet. All children deserve wise care from good parents, he concluded.

The Sacred Heart committee distributed a prayer to St. Josephine Bakhita, FDCC (1869-1947). She was abducted into slavery and toiled in rich people’s homes until, with help from women religious and others, she escaped in Italy. “O St. Josephine, assist all those who are trapped [and] help all survivors find healing. Those whom people enslave, let God set free… We ask for your prayer through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

 Next month this blog will report on an anti-trafficking awareness campaign among hotel workers, spearheaded by women religious.

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Working Catholic: Private and Public by Bill Droel

The best-selling Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Harper Collins, 2016) is about fierce loyalty within Appalachian families, including those displaced to Ohio, Indiana and Michigan for lack of jobs in Appalachia proper. These close-knit families are a source of love and fidelity. In support of this pro-family theme Vance says, for example: My grandparents “were, without question or qualification, the best things that ever happened to me”

Hillbilly Elegy would not, however, be a bestseller without its companion theme, as anticipated in its subtitle: A Family and Culture in Crisis. It doesn’t take too many pages to conclude that Appalachian families are plagued by physical and psychological violence, by lethargy, by habitual avoidance of reality, by addiction, by low education attainment, by a high cancer death rate and more. An over-reliance on family closeness, one can conclude, actually inhibits stability and progress. One might further conclude that a clannish subculture abets poverty.

Each immigrant group to our country struggled with balancing the protective strengths of family closeness with the necessity to launch children into the wider society.

Herbert Gans lived Boston’s West End neighborhood (around the Bruins hockey arena) in the late 1950s. In The Urban Villagers (The Free Press, 1962) he writes about what happened to its Italian-American residents when so-called urban renewal was declared. He sets the scene with observations about the younger parents there. The “vital center” of adult life for these Italian-Americans, Gans says, was “a routine gathering of relatively unchanging peer group” that met even “several times a week.” This get-together, which often included dinner, was the purpose “for which other everyday activities are a means.” There is no formal invitation; people, including children, implicitly know when to arrive. The conversation is not really “give-and-take of discussion,” Gans continues. “There is little concern with politics.” The content is almost entirely gossip. Strong connection to an extended family is a resource, Gans concludes. But it is not enough to successfully negotiate with bigger forces, like non-Italian employers when seeking a job, much less with urban developers.

Joseph Luzzi makes the same point in his affectionate memoir, My Two Italies (Farrar, Straus, 2014), particularly in a chapter titled “No Society.” A slogan like “family comes first” sounds OK. But to presume that the family is an exclusive form of socialization actually erodes its strength. Unless an ethnic group moves beyond the family as an end in itself, harmful influences and bureaucracy will actually have greater and more direct access to family members, particularly to children. That is because too much family, as it were, leaves no competency for the good outside of family, for civic life, for the common good.

Peter Skerry, in Mexican-Americans: the Ambivalent Minority (Harvard University Press, 1993), says the same: Strong family ties are the greatest “resource of Mexican-Americans,” yet those ties can also be the “greatest liability.” During the initial phase, Mexican-Americans tend to think of their extended family and close friends as their political agent. But that is asking too much. Such an expectation, says Skerry, causes extended family “relationships [to become] unstable, subject to arguments and bickering.” Effective entry into the wider society occurs only when Mexican-Americans and other groups actively “distinguish private and public roles.” 

At their best, local institutions—the parish, labor local, school assembly, precinct and the like—act as a halfway house. They provide a dress rehearsal. They have a balance of informality (everyone needs a feeling of belonging, a sense of community) and formality (everyone wants to move up in the wider world and make a difference). These buffer organizations are a unique mix of the familiar and the challenging.

Unfortunately, our society’s mediating structures have withered. Most young adults assume they can make it without the obligatory, five-course Sunday dinner at grandma’s home and certainly without participating in parish groups, union meetings and precinct events. Consequently, most young adults are equipped only with ragged individualism as they move through an economy of global competition, in and around a health care system of changeable specialties, and deeper into an impersonal cyber-world where, for example, customer service means waiting for the next available recorded message. 

There is loyalty and pride in Appalachian families. They have not gained traction, however, because those families often don’t act together for the common good. Even religion’s window to the world is absent. “Despite its reputation,” Vance reports, “Appalachia has far lower church attendance than the Midwest” and elsewhere. Appalachians, Vance implies, are not disposed to aggregate, agitate and then negotiate for any purpose beyond the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family.

Nowadays many of us in the Midwest, the Plains, the Great Lakes areas and elsewhere likewise experience powerlessness. We have an immediate circle of family and friends. Then we come up against a big world, with no effective society in between. Demagoguery only perpetuates our isolation. A march here and a rally there is not the way. We need to arduously build our own launching pads. These likely will not be exact copies of 1950s-style institutions (parish clubs, precinct groups and the like). But with discipline and a creative mix of the private and the public we can craft ways of participating in the wider world without forsaking our compassionate roots.

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


A recent trip to Phoenix with a visit to the White Sox Spring training camp stirred up some memories. Being a White Sox fan and dreaming of someday being a Sox third baseman was a big part of my life as a child.

   I remember my dad taking me to my first game in 1943.  It was war time but President Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought baseball should continue; it would be a valuable diversion in a difficult era.  The Allies were moving on Italy.  The Germans occupied the “boot” and in October Italy deported over 1000 Jews from Rome to Auschwitz without a complaint by Pius XII.  

    My younger brother and I were not entirely shielded from the horrors happening in Europe and the Far East.  We had uncles in the military and prayed for them every night.  My uncle Harold survived the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.  After the war he made sure I understood what had happened in the concentration camps.  He showed me concentration camps photos which are burned in my memory.

Uncle Harold with Johnny(left) and me(right).

    I was eight; Dad told me he would take me to a game if I could recite to him the White Sox starting line-up.  I passed the test and the date was set during Dad’s vacation time.  He was a switchman on the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad.  Dad often said there would be no vacation if it were not for F.D.R.  

   My mother told me not to tell my younger brother Johnny that Dad was taking me to a ballgame.  But I did anyway.  Why would a 4 year old care?  John, who through the years was a much more loyal White Sox fan than me, remembered the incident all his life.  We talked about it and laughed, but it was painful for both of us.   

   Mom drove us to the ‘El’ station in Oak Park.  For me riding the El was a drama in itself.  Speeding along - above the traffic was exciting.  I wore shorts and remember the wicker-covered El seats.

   We arrived at Comiskey Park early for the game against the Philadelphia A’s. 
 As we walked to our 3rd base box seats we encountered an old man with a straw hat.  It was Connie Mack, manager of the A’s and one of the founders of the American League.  My dad was called ‘Bud’ by friends and relatives.  Dad greeted Mr. Mack – “Hi Connie,” and he responded, “Hi Bud, how are you?”  I was more than somewhat impressed. 

Luke Appling

To see the field and sense the magic was overwhelming.  I saw Luke Appling, not drafted in the Army yet, won the American League batting title with a 328 average that season.  Other stars like Williams, DiMaggio and Bob Feller were in the military.   Heroes such as Hard Luck Eddie Smith, The Blue Island Bird Dog – Don Kolloway and Bill Bullfrog (he had bulging eyes) Dietrich were right in front of me.  Dad went down to the field to talk to White Sox coach Muddy Ruel.  I never found out how he knew Muddy Ruel.  We saw seventeen year old Casmir Kwietniewtski who played several games that year.  He changed his name to Cass Michaels and was an outstanding post war player. 

   Late in the game the White Sox got to Don Black, the A’s pitcher. During the rally I shouted, “Come on Lu-u-uke,” when Appling was up.  It was a hot night and I could see Black was exhausted.  The A’s called in a relief pitcher and as Black walked off the mound to the dugout the Sox fans clapped for him.  It took a couple of days and some discussion before I accepted my dad’s explanation of sportsmanship and why you would give a hand to an opposing pitcher.  

   The excitement wore me out, and despite the wicker seat, I fell asleep on the El on the trip home.

   A wonderful White Sox team won the World Series in 2005, but I still remember the line–up of the 4th place White Sox of 1943.

   Visiting the White Sox Spring Training Complex in Phoenix was loads of fun and it brought back precious memories.  Carson Fulmer, a top pitching prospect, generously shared a few minutes with my youngest brother Jim and me; we are grateful.  My advice to Carson:  look to Ted Lyons, the Baylor Bear Cat, for inspiration.  

Jim Lange(left), with me and Carson Fulmer

Monday, February 6, 2017


   St. Benedict the Moor parish has its roots in Bronzeville, a name given to the African America neighborhood where the church is located. Marquette University had its beginnings at the location, but after M.U. moved, the property became the home of St. Benedict the Moor Parish and boarding school. Bronzeville no longer exists as it was because of its destruction by urban renewal projects and the construction of a freeway through the area. A renewal is well underway.  The boundaries of Bronzeville were: North Avenue, State Street on the South, Third Street on the East and 12th Street to the West.  (Ivory Abena Black, p. 11)  In his promotion of urban renewal, Mayor Frank Zeidler in 1959 decried the wretched living conditions of the inner city of which Bronzeville was a part. (Gurda, p. 365)

    The Parish sponsored boarding school for African American children boasts of famous students such as Lionel Hampton, Red Foxx, Harold Washington (the first and only Black Mayor of Chicago), and N.B.A. basketball star -“Downtown” Brown.  A hospital, St. Anthony, was built next to the church to service the community.  (1930 ).  Twins were born to baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron  and his wife Barbara at St. Anthony’s but only one of the twins survived. (1957) (Bryant, p. 224)

  Aaron lived in Bronzeville with other black ball players because of Milwaukee’s very rigid unwritten discrimination code which still exists.  A 1955 Milwaukee Human Rights Commission reported on Milwaukee housing:

All those restricted within the arbitrary confines of the racial ghetto must find shelter as best they can within its circumscribed bounds. (Bryant, p .94)

A St. Benedict the Moor parishioner remembered Marquette Olympic champion of the 30’s, Ralph Metcalf, jogging from Bronzeville to the Marquette campus.

   A generous white woman who volunteered to teach sewing at St. Benedict the Moor school is remembered commenting on Aaron’s move to an adjoining suburb – “They are where they are supposed to be.  Just because he is rich and famous doesn’t mean he can live in Mequon.”  White ballplayers lived and were idolized in the suburbs.  Warren Spahn lived in Wauwatosa.    

   The legacy of racism in Milwaukee appears in many forms. The dirtiest jobs were given to blacks and immigrants.  Immigrants were able to advance from these positions but not blacks.  (W. Ozzane, p.162)   
   During the Great Depression there was competition for jobs.  A 1934 strike at Wehr Steel Foundry involved white workers insisting that blacks not be hired. Blacks trying to cross the picket line were met with violence with the police supporting the white pickets.  Wehr sponsored a black baseball team. (Trotter, Jr. p. 162, photo of the team p. 147)  A parishioner’s father worked at Wehr and was told to expect a long strike.

   Historian John Gurda reports that Milwaukee reached its pinnacle of prosperity and population in 1960 and the years just before and after. (Gurda, p. 354 )  The success story is memorable because of Big League  Baseball.  The Braves won the World Series in ’57, the National League Pennant in 58, and tied for the National League championship in ‘59.

   But there is more to the story.  In 1958 a young black man, Daniel Bell, was shot by a Milwaukee police officer at the outside edge of the Bronzeville neighborhood. Despite protests the officer was exonerated; he and his partner claimed that the young man threatened the officers with a knife.   In 1979 one of the officers involved confessed that a knife was planted on the victim.  The young man’s family received some monetary compensation from the city.  We continue to suffer similar tragedies as the movement of history is not guaranteed to be progressive.


   A group of 40 parishioners attended the play presented by First Stage Theater – Welcome to Bronzeville.  After the play we went to a central city restaurant for dinner. The venue for the play was the Todd Wehr Theater provided by the Wehr Foundation from surplus profits from the blood, sweat and tears of blacks at the Wehr Foundry.

   Reaction to the play was positive.  Bronzeville was depicted as a loving hard working family community gifted with a taste for music and camaraderie

  Survival in a racist city was and is heroic, but the play emphasized family – and kids growing up.  The lovable child actors were superb.  Famous jazz singer Billie Holiday was shown to have been required to live in a private home because of the segregation at Milwaukee hotels. The play depicts the positive influence of police sergeant Felmers Chaney.  A St. Benedict the Moor parishioner agrees.  He was black and was trusted by the community as were other black policemen.  The white policemen were not trusted. Chaney later became an official of the NAACP and a civil rights leader.

DINNER AT THE TANDEM (1848 W. Fond du Lac, Milwaukee)

After the play we went to dinner and discussed our experience.
As in the Bronzeville of the past, we connected with each other, blacks and whites, over good food and music.  We remembered Bronzeville, the tragedies and the joy, parishioners who have passed – Club owner Bonnie and Pedro her husband, the Alumni of St. Benedict the Moor.  We gave thanks for the memories of Bronzeville; the spark of the divine in a racist city.  We gave thanks for the jazz, the good food and camaraderie hosted by Kokomos, Thelma’s Backdoor, Moon Glo, and the Flame.  Bronzeville wasn’t the Harlem Renaissance, but that’s OK.  Bronzeville’s Hank Aaron batted 393, and hit three home runs in leading Milwaukee to victory over the New York Bronx Bombers in the 1957 World Series.   

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This article is the view of a longtime St. Benedict the Moor parishioner based on interviews with other parishioners, on published material and on parish members attending the play – Welcome to Bronzeville – performed by First Stage Milwaukee.

Black, Ivory Abena, Bronzeville A Miwaukee Lifestyle, Publishers Group, Milwaukee, 2005

Bryant, Howard, The Last Hero – A Life of Henry Aaron, Pantheon Books, N.Y. 2010

Gurda, John, The Making of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Historical Society, 1999

Ozanne, Robert W. The Labor Movement in Wisconsin, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1984

Trotter, Jr. Joe William, Black Milwaukee, University of Illinois, 1988