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)