Posts Tagged ‘Labor Day’

Great Supporters of Our Schools

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Feast of St. Augustine, Year of Faith

The approach of Labor Day means that school starts soon!

As the doors of our Catholic grade and high schools re-open to welcome 75,000 of our children and youth, it’s a good time to praise God for the gift they are, and to thank God for the passionate promoters, leaders, and benefactors who have fought, advocated, cajoled, and begged to keep these schools strong, excellent, affordable, and accessible.

In recent months, we’ve lost three giants in that crusade to sustain our Catholic schools:  Ted Forstmann, Paul Woolard, and Peter Flanigan. I was honored to know them all, and commend them to the Lord for their radiant generosity to our schools.

Ted Forstmann would tell you that it was his brother, Nick, and his then archbishop, John Cardinal O’Connor, who coaxed him into advocating for our schools.  The Inner-City Scholarship Fund for Catholic Schools was established by Cardinal Terence Cooke, and, later, then auxiliary Bishop Edward Egan, and Nick was one of the pioneers over three decades ago, and he eventually lassoed his at first reluctant brother, Ted, into it.

Ted would confess that he came aboard later just to get Nick “off his back,” and because Cardinal O’Connor bluntly asked him at breakfast, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?”  Yes, Ted admired our schools for their splendid academics and emphasis on character, virtue, and faith, but he also admitted that, as a successful businessman, he considered support for our struggling schools to be a shrewd investment, producing competent, reliable leaders for the community, and because private schools served as healthy competitors to the unhealthy monopoly of public education.  This is what lead him to co-found the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to students in Catholic and other private schools throughout the country.

Paul Woolard was there at the start, again with Cardinal Cooke, and Sister Eymard Gallagher, and he felt himself, he told me, a salesman for our schools.  He and Sister would spend all day going from office-to-office, visiting prominent business and civic leaders, Catholic or not, to ask their support.  Much of the credit for the vast network of loyal, ongoing investment into our schools that is characteristic of this community, evident in our sparkling and effective Inner-City Scholarship Fund for Catholic Schools, and, through many of the donors that Paul brought to our schools, the creation of our Partnership for Catholic Schools, all due to Paul’s relentless salesmanship.  With his ever buoyant wife Ruth at his side, he would “not let up.”  Due to his passion for our schools, we now have second and third generation supporters we can count on.

Then last month we buried Peter Flanigan.  The same indefatigable energy he gave to serving his country, to politics, and to business, he showed to his beloved Catholic schools.  He was a man of ideas, of alternatives, of principles, and a “dog with a bone” when it came to our schools.

An intensely loyal and committed Catholic, Peter’s fidelity promoted him to tell the truth, especially to us bishops.  Ever respectful, he was hardly unctious or subservient, and he was most effective in prophetically calling us to protect our schools, to never give up.

I must tell you that, at first, he was suspicious of our Pathways to Excellence, which called for painful closings of some struggling, half-full schools, resulting in fewer, but stronger, regional schools.

“Don’t close any of them!”  was his early refrain.  But, his more dominant mantra was,  “It’s not about buildings, it’s about our kids!”  Once Dr. Tim McNiff, Monsignor Greg Mustaciuolo, and I could show him that, as many, if not more of our children would benefit from our schools, even if in fewer buildings, he was on board.

Never did he let up on the injustice of the government’s refusal to allow parents to designate their tax money for the school of choice for their kids.

True to his own family background, Peter had a big Irish heart for our Catholic school children, and a steely German determination to keep them strong and successful!

Thank God, there are more like them, as the legacy of Forstmann, Woolard, and Flanigan goes on.

I dream that, when they met the Divine Teacher face-to-face, Jesus thanked them for “letting the children come to me!”


A Blessed Labor Day

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Can I relate to you an incident from the history of the Church in our beloved country?  Back in the 1880’s, the labor force in our nation, in our railroads, factories, mills, and mines, was made up mostly of Catholic immigrants.  Many of these hard workers were active in the earliest attempts by laborers to organize, promote their basic human rights for a living wage, safe and humane working conditions, and protection for themselves, their wives, and their children in case of their own death or injury.  These pioneers  — our great grandparents — were encouraged by their parishes, priests, and bishops.

In fact, one of the earliest “unions” in our country, the “Knights of Labor,” was almost two-thirds Catholic, with a president, Terrence Powderly, who was a very prominent and serious Catholic lay leader.  There was trouble, though: to protect themselves, the Knights of Labor had to be a “secret society,” since news of membership could lead to loss of a job.  But, the Catholic Church taught that membership in a secret society was immoral.  Thus, the looming question on everyone’s mind: could a Catholic worker in good faith join the Knights of Labor?  Following the praxis the bishops themselves had agreed upon, that pivotal question was referred to Rome.  What would Rome decide?  The Holy See had already condemned membership for Canadians, so there was some trepidation that this early union would be condemned.

The leader of the American hierarchy at the time was James Gibbons, the archbishop of our premier see, Baltimore.  It just so happened that, at this very time, in February 1887, he was in the Eternal City to be named a cardinal.  While in Rome, Cardinal Gibbons wrote a Memorial to officials of the Holy See who would be considering the question, urging them not to condemn the Knights of Labor.  The cardinal was firm in his belief that workers in the United States had the right to organize, to defend their rights, and to protect themselves and their families.  He observed how the working class in America looked to the Church as a friend, and that laborers took their faith very seriously.  To condemn the Knights of Labor, Cardinal Gibbons warned, could risk alienating them from the Church.  Simply put, the Church needed to be on the side of justice.

The appeal was successful:  Rome did not condemn the Knights of Labor.  The strong alliance between the common working man, and the Church was solidified.  Not only that, but four years later, Pope Leo XIII issued his epochal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which defended the rights of the worker.

About twenty years later, the story goes, the same James Cardinal Gibbons visited Pope Pius X at the Vatican.  The saintly pontiff expressed admiration for the Church in the United States, and then asked the cardinal, “In America, the worker loves the Church, is active in his parish, takes his faith seriously, and considers the Catholic Church a friend.  In Europe, we are losing the working class, and the laborer feels the Church is always on the side of the wealthy.  Why?”  “Because,” the cardinal replied “the Church has been and is on the side of the worker.  And that is where we must be.”

I hold that inspired reply before your eyes as we get ready for Labor Day weekend.  I am so proud that the workers of our county look to the Church as an ally, and realize that the Church has been in the lead from the earliest day in protecting and promoting the legitimate rights of the laborer.

And, lest you think such a stance is a thing of the past, I only remind you of less than thirty years ago, when a devoted Catholic husband, father, electrical repairman and labor leader, Lech Walesa, inspired a revolution, with quotes, not from Marx, but from John Paul II, wearing on his lapel not the hammer and sickle, but a medal of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Today, thank God, Catholics in America are among the best-educated, most prosperous people in the country.  However, as 130 years ago, we still are grateful to number among our people those brave workers struggling for a decent wage, job, security, and elementary justice.  Our great-grandparents will haunt us if we ignore them.

Happy Labor Day!