CB064038To read previous posts about Saul Alinsky, the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CHD), click here.

In 1968, the United States was in a socio-political state of flux.  American Catholics, in particular, were bemused and dismayed at how their highly-respected clergy could seemingly change overnight.  Not only that, but many Catholics were living in what were known as ‘changing neighbourhoods’ which were making the transition, rather painfully, from European-influenced middle-class enclaves to minority-dominated areas.  It was a difficult time during which many families who had lived in the same area for generations — from the time their ancestors had arrived in the United States — moved to the growing suburbs.  It was hard for Catholics even in medium-sized cities to fully comprehend what was happening.  Change happened quickly — within a couple of years — and you didn’t need to live in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, to witness it first-hand.

The Church seemed to be adding to the confusion.  Locally, there was still the neighbourhood parish, still offering Mass but with a new Vatican II liturgy and outlook.  Nationally, guest newspaper columns and television interviews featured young clergy and religious talking about peace, social justice and the poor.  This was set against a backdrop of campus protests, riots and anger, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the early part of the century, when the struggle was for workers’ rights. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968.  Democratic Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy met his brutal death two months later. There was little to no guidance for the faithful to be found in the Church. 

I know: I lived it.  I don’t know what was worse: being a Catholic school pupil seduced by all the change because the nuns said it was good or being an adult trying to make sense of it all and wondering where your hard-earned church donations were really going.  The Church no longer seemed to be speaking for the man in the pew.  

So, when Cardinal Cody became head of the Archdiocese of Chicago and dumped Msgr Jack Egan’s Alinsky-influenced Office of Urban Affairs, it seemed to Catholics that the Church was nipping radicalism in the bud.  Hopes were soon dashed when the then illustrious president of the University of Notre Dame, the Revd Theodore ‘Ted’ Hesburgh, CSC, invited Msgr Egan for a ‘sabbatical’ there, one which would last 14 years!  Egan’s work under Alinsky’s tutelage established him as the ‘unchallenged leading Catholic priest in the urban ministry’.  It must have delighted Father Hesburgh to have Egan on board.  Notre Dame was undergoing its own transformation both as a Catholic institution of higher learning and experiencing its own campus unrest during the anti-Vietnam War years. 

From his new base at Notre Dame, Egan expanded the year-old Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry.  His chief acolytes were

  • Msgr Geno Baroni of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Urban Office
  • The Revd Eugene Boyle of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, active with Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers of America
  • The Revd Patrick Flood of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and trained by Alinsky, was active in race relations
  • The Alinsky protege, the Revd P. David Finks of the Diocese of Rochester (New York), who was active in Alinsky’s FIGHT organization.  Finks had written the 1969 Labor Day message which Msgr Higgins of the Archdiocese of Chicago gave to launch the CHD
  • The Revd John McCarthy who was assistant to the labour activist, the Revd George Higgins
  • The Revd Phil Murnion of New York who was to direct the National Institute on Pastoral Life
  • The Revd Marvin Mottet of Davenport (Iowa) who was to become the director of the Campaign for Human Development 

Together, Egan and his men expanded their activism nationally.  The Committee on Urban Ministry:

  • put two members on the U.S. Catholic Conference social-action staff in Washington
  • built a lobby to work on church social programming (Network)
  • developed urban-ministry offices in dioceses nationwide
  • implemented social-action projects in seminary education
  • created the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs
  • organised a theological conference that brought together priest activists, theologians, and bishops
  • developed the CHD itself, although it should be noted that Egan only influenced its development — Baroni and Finks were the founders

In the summer of 1968, when America was building up towards a socio-political explosion of events, the Right Revd John J Wright, Bishop of Pittsburgh and chair of the USCCB Social Action Department announced a 45-member urban task force to work on race relations.  Egan, Finks, Flood, Baroni, McCarthy and Boyle were part of it.  By late autumn, 101 American dioceses each had their own task force along with a co-ordinator.  In June 1969, Baroni would discuss the formation of the CHD, saying vaguely:

A national response by the U.S. Church would be a concrete initiative in leading the nation by way of example to develop new priorities and new efforts in meeting human needs in our society. This would be expended mainly at a diocesan level for practical programmes aimed at self-determination of all our citizens.

In August of that year, the group met in Canada to discuss an agenda. Egan did not attend.  The priests and bishops knew the Black Manifesto was asking for $3 billion in reparations for slavery.  Protestant churches were quick to respond: the United Church of Christ was allocating $1.1 million for racial justice programmes and the United Methodist Church would give $1.8 million.  The Catholics hadn’t yet committed any funds. This was how and when they decided the CHD would raise $50m for urban causes.  It was a staggering sum for the time, unmatched by their Protestant brethren.  The money would go toward all the usual ‘community organiser’ causes with which they were familiar:

projects as voter registration, community organisations, seed money to develop non-profit housing corporations, community-run schools, minority-owned co-operatives and credit unions, capital for industrial development and job training programs, and setting up of rural cooperatives.

Compare that goal with Alinsky’s own words on transferring power from the Haves to the Have-Nots (emphasis mine):

we are concerned with how to create mass organisations to seize power and give it to the people, to realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation … the creation of those circumstances in which man can have the chance to live by values that give meaning to life.

After the meeting in Canada, Finks and Baroni started working through details with then-Bishop Bernardin, General Secretary of the National Catholic Council of Bishops, in advance of the CHD launch.  We saw in an earlier post that Bishop Sheil was the Catholic who lent credibility to Alinsky’s Back of the Yards campaign.  The Alinsky-trained Finks would now assume the limelight with the CHD.   He crafted the language and discussion of the CHD resolution as well as its agenda. Bernardin gave his approval and the CHD was born. Finks credited his mentor, not Christ or the Church:

I was convinced that Alinsky’s approach was the best there was. I didn’t see anything else on the horizon.      

Tomorrow: The CHD agenda 

You can read more here: ‘The Influence of Saul Alinsky on the Campaign for Human Development’, Lawrence J Engel, December 1998

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