CHAPTER X: Our Ecumenical Destiny
I was always falling in with little men and little movements because I lacked courage and breadth of view. The little thing was all I could do. How could I go with a world movement or a Western or national one? Notre Dame is public in meaning and effects and, although Midwest, is a national university. But how could an independent and lone-wolf farmer rise to a big occasion?
I did, though, keep going with interests and movements that to some extent were bringing me out of isolationism. Long before John XXIII, some of my interests fell within ecumenism, and in the Autumn of 1958 I used in a speech the words "our ecumenical destiny" which now must be the aim of mankind. The Rochdale weavers, the first and still the model co-op, learned in 1844 to work together, one for all, and all for one. A basic rule of co-ops says: No religious or national-background test, no racial or party-line test. This spirit and ideal were well expressed to me by a Norwegian farmer in Minnesota: "We'll do this together." I was encountering co-ops in a second ecumenical sense. Without any planning or propagandizing, I was making friends with some to whom any priest had been a stranger if not the depository of pernicious foreign power: Finnish farmers and miners in Minnesota, Scandanavians in that area, oil and wheat cooperators in Kansas, Negro cooperators in Chicago, Bohemian miners in Ohio, miners, farmers and lumbermen in Cape Breton. "Thy people, my people."
Closest to home of all good co-op developments were the Notre Dame credit unions, the earliest of which was by and for dining hall workers, but with these going into war and war industry, this lapsed. To ease things for families, we tried to launch a co-op for buying coal, but a professor of law, engaged in selling coal, got to our scary President. Since 1942, a wider-based credit union is open to all employees and is an immense success; unless football noses it out, the credit union is the most democratic campus institution, thanks to the nature of credit unions and co-ops and to the courage and sacrifices of many members. Assured by a lay professor that small-loan business is legal and often owned by Catholics, a student doubted because, as he inaccurately reported, Father Ward said it was unethical. I had said that people can set up their own small-loan business. The boy later wrote the professor that the recommended credit union, run by Catholics, was a racket. "Catholics in it," "everybody's doing it," "it's legal" -- these are not premisses for ethical conclusions.
A professor-friend moving to the country liked the promises made by a small-loan company; he borrowed to buy a cow and what a costly heifer she turned out to be. The company's ad in the Notre Dame bus indicated that the minimum interest rate, figured out, was more than twenty per cent; I still have the figures in the book I had in my hand, Guardini's The Church and the Catholic. In Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, these companies can legally charge up to forty-two per cent.
As a definite group, the Decentralists have gone over the dam, but in the hard time thirties they had work to do. They promoted "one foot on the land" and one in industry, a way of life which now makes an appeal not to city people but to farmers needing supplementary income. Famous among Decentralists were persons like Monsignor Luigi Ligutti who founded a decentralist colony in Iowa; Ralph Borsodi, author and philosopher, Willis Nutting, my colleague and friend at Notre Dame, Donald Davidson, poet and literary critic of Vanderbilt, the Reverend Russell Hoy on whose Ohio farm I spent happy days, Northwestern's Professor Baker Brownell, and Roy Hayman of Arkansas. It was a joy to join such people in such a work and help promote Free America, a monthly one of whose interests was decentralism. We got so far as to hold decentralist symposiums; one of them at Notre Dame, convened by me, Dr. Nutting and Julian Pleasants, when we brought too close together persons too dissident who, for all our gregarious spirit, almost came to blows; a professor's wife still recalls how scared she was.
The Friends of the Land. were a cognate group and America's earliest ecologists and environmentalists whose purpose was the conservation of natural and human resources. I don't know what brought me in the 1940's into this non-political, non-profit body among whom were the landman author, Russell Lord, and his artist wife Kate, Dr. Jonathan Forman of Ohio State, farmer and author Louis Bromfield, Paul Sears, ecologist of Oberlin, and experts on soils and nutrition. The "Friends" were glad to include a priest and alleged philosopher, who twice gave papers on their really grand programs, one of them a paper called "A Philosopher Looks at Conservation." Chronologically we were far ahead of the federal government whose Land and Water Conservation Fund was established only in 1964, and of course ahead of the massive environment movement.
The organized farmers of local St. Joseph County for years invited me to their picnic and their annual business meeting, a gala day for farmers and their wives. Whenever possible I also attended the 4-H Fair, dedicated to rural youth. Once I sat in the grandstand with Brother Kenan, an Iowa native. As a hundred baby beeves paraded below to be judged by a Purdue professor, we also judged them. My number one and two came out three and four, Kenan's one and two came out one and two. Farmers, cooperators, Decentralists, and Friends of the Land were natural ecumenists. No color, religious or social-status lines.
During the depression, two of our then recent alumni, aware of suffering on all sides and keen for God's kingdom among men, set up a "house of hospitality" in South Bend inspired by the Catholic Worker movement launched in 1932 in New York by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. Father Mathis and I were confidants for the local House of Hospitality, and Bishop Noll, keen to bring God's word to people, blessed the ramshackle building. This House and family of fifty lived on alms, and it was a pleasure to see that among others Professor O'Grady, a brilliant and witty man, used to climb their stairs, cash in hand. The boys asked me to be chaplain; some one had given them a car picked out of a boneyard for fifteen dollars, and when they got it started toward Corby Hall, all could hear it coming. Once when one of them came for me, a Corby Hall priest said: "I have some men watching that fellow." I could have thrown the idler through the wall, that wall with the names of a thousand students engraved on it. What the hell was he doing for the poor? Two of my priest friends had occasion to visit the House: Father John J. Cavanaugh, afterwards President of Notre Dame, a man radically with the people, and Father Art Hope, a man with a big heart. Their report: "Those boys are saints! Why didn't you tell us about them?" The house finger-printed no one, asked no man his faith, ordered no one to go to work and quit bumming. The spirit was freedom, pluralism, integration, ecumenism. The one thing I could scarcely take was the Sunday breakfast, the food left-overs from the Notre Dame kitchen, which otherwise would go to Brother Nilus's fattening pigs.
Precommitted to the affluent side, Father John F. O'Hara fought shy of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. But, a big heart in him, Father J. Hugh O'Donnell received Dorothy (so she told me) and gave her a check, and when a millionaire student gave her an off-campus birthday dinner, she asked quietly: "I wonder what will become of that boy?"
For some years we have had locally the Women's Council on Human Relations composed of the three faiths and first inspired by Jewish women. The three unite to achieve understanding and to act on common problems. By some happy misreading, I landed at the first annual session, and now they could scarcely meet without me. I meet friends, among whom I am happy to mention the late Norma Levy and also Marie Kleinkoff; one year our main speaker was a black, her appearing an ecumenical event that could not have been a few years earlier.
The Religious Education Association announces that it is "of the United States and Canada." For many years this body was heavily Protestant, but became ecumenist. I was a sort of non-com member of the editorial board. I served in that capacity also for Current Religious Thought published at Oberlin, Ohio whose aim was ecumenical, and have from the first, due to Russell Kirk's invitation, been on the board of Modern Age, a distinguished and high-level conservative magazine.
Four or five local professors and one priest attempted to launch a farmer-labor group, and this had some success in a neighboring county where indigenous leadership was discovered. When a labor family was escorting me home at night from a Santa Claus party at Studebaker Hall, their little girl asked: "Why are we going to Notre Dame? Is there a football game?" It was a tremendous scandal altogether when those farmer-laborers, abetted by me, brought Walter Reuther to address them at Notre Dame. It was pre-Johannine ecumenism gone wild. A priest friend, liberal in views though cautious in action, often said: "It's a wonder you weren't shipped, over that Walter Reuther deal!"
A choice pre- and post-Johannine development has been our local inter-faith clergymen's dialogue. A branch of the National Council of Christians and Jews, this had got going before I caught hold of its coattails. Our dialogue has been a happy experience. Ten to fifteen meet once a month to discuss anything of common interest; at some recent sessions we reviewed what a rabbi does, what a priest does and what a Protestant clergyman does. The main thing is that we meet to discuss anything at all, that we have coffee together, that we become friends, are happy to greet each other. The recipe is: to meet, to listen, to learn, to be patient, and not act as reformers, dictators or propagandists. Why should I feel mean, cold or indifferent toward a man of God who leads his people in the Jewish, Quaker, Baptist or Buddhist way? When President Truman appointed a man to represent him at the Vatican, two of our men preached vitriolically the next morning and our assigned meeting had to suffer a cooling-off period. When we did meet again, a Protestant minister, who in his day had lost his job in a skirmish with the Klan, was so nervous I feared he'd fall dead. But I spoke to him about the weather and about golfing, and the result was an annual inter-faith clergymen's golf match.
A Catholic achievement of twentieth century America is the awaking of Catholics, by no means all, to the racial problem. Even suppose that the awaking is, up to now, inadequate. Still, I have seen it arise from a relative nothing. Think of what the saintly Father LaFarge and his disciples accomplished, and of what the Jesuit Claude Heithaus did with one sermon in St. Louis University chapel: the students rising and applauding him; Catholic education could never again after that 1944 sermon be so unchristian. In many cities, there are Catholic Interracial Councils, and I must cite Chicago where the interracial leadership of Matthew Ahmann and Monsignor Cantwell and the general social leadership of Monsignor John Egan were for years extraordinary. I did not want to miss any monthly meeting of our local Catholic Interracial Council, now defunct. Perhaps nearly all I did there was to be present, but I had an opportunity to witness, to be one with integrated discussion. Since 1940, Notre Dame has had colored students; because of financial and academic qualifications, it is not easy to secure many. But I do not forgive Notre Dame students, priests and professors and professors' wives for standing aloof, from this central and major struggle of our times; and for their viewing with less than applause Father Hesburgh's courage in fighting President Nixon's opposition to the Court's orders on school busing.
For Catholics in America, interracial study and action are automatically ecumenical, since most of our black brothers and sisters are ex professo outside the Catholic Church. A superb interracial center in Chicago has worked with all men, whatever their faith or color. To visit Friendship House and discuss with all who come there has been one of my privileges. This House is one of the real interracial educational centers in America, and again I would scold especially social scientists at Notre Dame or elsewhere for failing to team with this House.
Pat and Patty Crowley had been wanting me to visit them, and Pat, thinking me a hold-out, phoned to say that Ann Harrigan, first director of Friendship House, was to be their guest. It was less difficult than he thought to get me to come. As I am not writing the story of that wonderful House, I will merely mention the remarks of two old students. When I was setting out for an interracial discussion at a Chicago black's house, an old student said it was easy for me, but not for him or for parish priests, because (he said) my action was of the hit and run variety. The other old student, submerged in liquor for a few years, had, at the Holy Week words "I thirst," sobered up once for all and resolved to help at Friendship House. "I made up my mind to volunteer to wash their windows."
Our neighborhood had the distinction of organizing and operating for some years an extremely interesting Catholic Action cell. Any unit of C.A. works on the basis of "observe, judge, act": see what is the situation, judge your conduct in face of it and then act; and "you" means a group with like problems. Make your conduct Gospel-true. That is what a group of interracial women did, and they all say the good of the "Blessed Martins" group was that it taught them to judge a woman by what she was and not by her color.
United now for several years are the Citizens for Educational Freedom to which I am happy to belong. My Federal Aid to Private Schools is down the CEF alley, also Educational Freedom edited by me and Dr. McGarry. CEF wants the educational tax dollar to follow the child and the child free to ride the school bus. On at least the latter issue, CEF has had some effect in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin; journals and men of influence have swung to the children's side since President Kennedy's first speech to Congress against aid; it is sufficient to mention The New Republic and Walter Lippmann who by the way knew nothing about the subject when he first wrote on it in 1961.
It did me good to visit with a Legion of Mary unit in South Bend, an integrated one in St. Louis, a flabby one in Minneapolis, and I visited the Dublin headquarters of this world movement, but unhappily missed meeting Frank Duff, the founder.
But why join credit unions and co-ops, the House of Hospitality, interracial movements and Friendship House, inter-faith clergy dialogues, Decentralists and Friends of the Land, and the Legion and CA and CFM and CCD and CEF? I am like the New York woman who by actual count belonged to fifty-seven clubs. If it was possible for me to be inspired, I was inspired by Father Virgil Michel who associated himself with every living dynamic movement, and also by men like Jerry Voorhis, Monsignor Ligutti and Father LaFarge. I got a lift out of seeing Father Clem Kern's work in Detroit; his casual remark will do as axiom: "We cannot despise any good thing." At the moment of writing these words, I have received a letter from an alumnus who graduated in '47: "I am also grateful for having had your course, 'Philosophy of the Mind' and being made aware of your humanitarian outlook on life." Perhaps there were connections between the outlook I expressed in class and the social interests that took up so much of my time.
Still there are yet the unsolved questions whether I was like Hobbes dodging troubles at home, and whether taking part in those hubbubs was a way to avoid difficult philosophical work. In any event, I do not regret or retract my involvement in any of these movements. Aspiring and suffering man is good enough for me.
Well, then, I admit it was a mistake
not to be a specialist
not to concentrate on an iota subscript of some one discipline
not to have narrowed down even to so wide a field as philosophy
to have remained independent, aloof from "the world"
to have gone my own crooked and idling ways
to have scribbled at so terrific a pace
I do not repent of
having shunned or missed the "Big Bugs"
having a friendship claim on many people
never having revised any of my trashy books
being happy and enjoying life
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