An Alley in Chicago

“He Was the Only Guy to Stand Up to the University and City Hall”

By 1958 Chicago was one hundred and twenty-five years old, a grand old dowager with a proud face, dirt under her nails, and many poor children hidden under her skirts. Much of the inner city housing stock dated from the city’s rebirth after the Great Fire of 1871.

Too many of the old lady’s children lived in that historic area’s substandard dwellings. Others who couldn’t afford downpayments in the city’s substantial neighborhoods were fleeing decaying areas for suburban ranch houses. Those who loved the city remained, those well-off enough to insulate themselves, those comfortable with the city’s faded glories, those with hope for her future, and those too tired and poor to make a change.

The city’s charms were still potent and real. And well worth working to save. This was particularly true of the Hyde Park-Kenwood area settled as a suburb when the Illinois Central Railroad opened its 54th Street/Lake Park station in 1856. By 1890 Hyde Park was the largest suburb in the world with 85,000 inhabitants, a natural candidate for annexation to the metropolis and for the resplendent 1893 Columbian Exposition. Early on, Chicago’s railroad and meat-packing barons built summer homes there, later their primary residences.

The fabled Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park and the first person to call himself a landscape architect, created the park system that girded the neighborhood. Using the Midway Plaisance to link Jackson Park and Washington Park, he attained his aspiration of bringing to the heart of Hyde Park the atmosphere of the smiling and beautiful countryside.

During the early part of the twentieth century, as the University of Chicago grew on the Midway which Frederick Olmsted designed and which John D. Rockefeller paid for, Hyde Park-Kenwood offered a rich life to the cultured. Ringed with parks, close to the Loop, blessed with excellent transportation, clustered around the University of Chicago, chock-a-block with amenities geared to the university population, the area was home to a mix of liberal thinkers, intellectuals, Bohemians and artists, and middle class people who liked the ambience and conveniences. It was at once Chicago’s Greenwich Village and Harvard Square.

North of 47th Street, the natural boundary, however, was the South Side area described in a 1945 publication as “the largest contiguous slum area in the United States.” There was little but “poverty, disorder, dirt and human misery.” Louis Kurtz (quoted in Growth of a Metropolis by Harold M. Mayer and Richard C. Wade) said, “I have seen pitiful, pathetic, deplorable, rotten and damnable shacks, hovels, leantos and hell-holes in my travels, but when you see these Negro families huddled together like cattle in dilapidated wood sheds, garages, make-shift huts made of old lumber, old tin signs, cardboard and whatever could be picked up and fastened together as a shelter, one cannot help but realize that, rotten and deplorable as all slum areas area are, the `Black Belt‘ of Chicago beats them all when it comes to Misery at its worst.”

Mid-century, as Hyde Park-Kenwood began to take on a stronger resemblance to its old dowager mother, poor children began to crawl in under the edge of its skirts, threatening its stability, its very existence. Those who loved the area began to ask each other how they could preserve their part of the city and its amenities. Led by the area’s powerful institutions, they agreed to confront the growing crime rate and the illegal conversion of old houses and apartments. To work together to stabilize the area, there were several organizations in that highly organized neighborhood including the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference founded in 1949; the Hyde Park Planning Association, and the South East Chicago Commission organized in 1952 with a skeleton staff, an office and a telephone number. The University of Chicago put up the $15,000 to set up the SECC’s office in the Hyde Park YWCA. Julian Levi, brother to the dean of the university’s law school, was SECC’s first executive director, exemplifying the university’s leadership role from the beginning as agent of the coming renewal program.

Between 1950 (when the Supreme Court outlawed restrictive covenants and blacks started moving in) and 1956, the number of blacks in the area increased five hundred percent. High-achieving blacks who bought in the lakefront high-rises and quiet side streets pushed out the less successful whites who moved away. At the same time, however, the housing on Hyde Park-Kenwood’s encircling commercial borders was deteriorating in a way that area residents felt threatened by.

Urban renewal, untried and unprecedented in 1958, looked like a useful mechanism to control the borders. The federal government would provide money to help local communities buy up substandard properties like the old stores along Cottage Grove Avenue. Because the governmental machinery was primitive at that time, local planners could seize the initiative in claiming those funds coming into existence through the federal government, according to Peter Rossi and Robert Dentler in The Politics of Urban Renewal. Chicago, the first city to experiment with federally funded urban renewal, had a relatively free hand.

The Hyde Park-Kenwood planners were directly under the bidding of the South East Chicago Commission which meant they were controlled by the University of Chicago which funded the commission. According to Rossi and Dentler, Hyde Park-Kenwood was the only neighborhood in Chicago with an ambience of liberal intellectualism. “Few neighborhoods could be found in the urban North in which significant portions of the population were willing to achieve interracial or biracial neighborhood living. Of all upper-middle-class neighborhoods in the country, Hyde Park-Kenwood (was) perhaps the best equipped to tolerate and in some instances to encourage interracialism.”

The problem rose not with the middle class blacks, but with the poor residents, black and white. Where were they to go when their substandard dwellings were pulled down? When the university published its Urban Renewal Plan in the spring of 1958 (which they had contracted with the city in 1955 to produce), a group of Jack Egan’s friends in Hyde Park-Kenwood “and some city planners were so upset with the domineering and vicious tactics of the group that was engineering this project for the University of Chicago” (Jack Egan’s assessment) that they came to him. They pointed out how many poor would be dehoused. According to Rossi and Dentler, by the time that group got a look at the university’s urban renewal plan it had already passed its first test. In 1957 it was approved by the federal government, the funding source under the Federal Housing Act of 1954. Opponents’ only chance to speak up publicly for the displaced would be at the Chicago City Council hearings.

Jack Egan took the story to Monsignors Burke and Casey who gave him their immediate and unwavering support. They took Jack’s concern to Cardinal Stritch. “I had the total backing of the chancellor throughout the whole fight,” Egan says today.

In his training days with Saul Alinsky when he had canvassed the area south of Chicago’s Loop, Father Egan had seen the “pitiful, pathetic, and deplorable” dwellings cited in the 1945 report on housing in the Black Belt. He had a clear notion of what housing for blacks in Chicago was like. Were the University of Chicago’s urban planners going to concern themselves sufficiently with the residents who would be uprooted as the people in the Grand Boulevard area had been for the Dan Ryan Expressway?

When he’d brought the report on his first Saul Alinsky project to the cardinal, the cardinal had reacted by appointing Jack Egan to the Archdiocesan Conservation Council. That position—and his symbolic Roman collar—gave Jack a warrant to raise the tough questions about relocation after the Hyde Park-Kenwood Urban Renewal Plan was published. When Jack Egan had testified earlier for the 1956 Housing Code, he had drawn a picture of families living in death traps—and dying in them.

Two years later in 1958, back testifying before the City Council, Jack Egan was still decrying appalling conditions. The housing code had worked marginally. Available homes were safer, some were less overcrowded. But the city’s black population was growing, reducing housing opportunities for people in the middle as well as the lower income groups. Jack and his group looked past the plan worked out to benefit the University of Chicago to see how their plan would affect the whole city. They figured it might well function as a seed for the “consequent creation of new or worse slums” in other areas of the city.

As the spokesperson for the Archdiocesan Conservation Council, Father Egan used the New World, the archdiocesan weekly, to bring his views to the public—and to the Hyde Park-Kenwood urban renewal planners. As early as May, 1958, he called for adequate, nonsegregated housing in articles written by organizer Nicholas von Hoffman and signed by Jack. They pointed out that sorely needed urban renewal would encounter “increasingly fierce opposition” unless a vast number of new homes were built.

Father Egan called the segregation of the bulk of the Negro population into nightmarish shanty towns “the major moral problem of our generation.” Bad as many of those “pitiable, pathetic, and deplorable dwellings” in Hyde Park-Kenwood were, however, Father Egan did not want to see them pulled down until other housing was available for those who would be displaced. As far as he could see, everyone involved was passing the buck. “There is no open housing market for Negroes. We all know very well that one-fifth of the population of Chicago and a tenth of the population of the whole United States is the victim of a gigantic silent conspiracy.”

Jack Egan was serving notice that the archdiocese he represented refused to be part of that silent conspiracy. He described for New World readers how white flight was catalyzed by the success of one Negro family in buying a house in a white neighborhood. Jack Egan was against panic buying and panic flight. But he denied any opposition to urban renewal as a tool. “Is the answer to the dilemma to stop urban renewal? Certainly not. The houses we need must be built and our urban renewal program must keep pace.” As Jack Egan saw the situation, the university had the right to protect itself. What was unhealthy for the community was the university’s effort to encapsulate itself.

Jack Egan also objected to the university’s appropriating all the city’s chits for urban renewal to improve the University of Chicago neighborhood at the expense of others. The university had hired Julian Levi, whose brother would later be president of the University of Chicago, and Jack Meltzer as activists to preserve the university from any blight surrounding it. “They were going to have the first urban renewal program in the United States, and, of course, not only the first but also one of the largest. They got $20 million in federal funds, but they also ate up the $10 million in local bond money meant to be used for all the neighborhoods in the city of Chicago,” Jack recalls.

To Jack the government was funding a moat to protect the great university. Where was their concern for the people presently residing in the pathway of the moat? “The overriding disaster of the plan,” Father Egan says, “was that twenty thousand people were removed from that area—black and white—without any appropriate relocation housing for them.” To him, that was intolerable.

To the university planners, Jack Egan represented pastors afraid that those displaced in Hyde Park-Kenwood would inundate parish neighborhoods presently white. Weren’t Catholic parishes protecting their turf just as the university was? To Father Egan who had walked Thirty-first Street and Thirty-second Street and State Street between them, the issue was decent, affordable housing for everyone. That’s what he’d testified for in 1956. That’s what he was testifying for now.

Obviously, the university wielded more power. They had money to spend. What seemed to Egan as ominous as the urban renewal plan was the university’s practice of buying up every single piece of property in the Hyde Park-Kenwood area. “Nobody could sell or buy property without going through their office. They were using all these federal funds and all this local bond money and their plans published finally in 1957 indicated no money for housing for the poor.” This was not the way the federal funds were supposed to be spent.

It was fortunate that Cardinal Stritch and his chancellor and vicar general were in Jack Egan’s corner. The crowd on the other side of the ring was soon heard from. Jack knew the articles were hitting pay dirt, as he says, when James Downs (a member of the University Board of Trustees, also a trusted advisor of Mayor Daley) called him for lunch. About the same time, Herman Dunlop Smith (also a trustee) called Saul Alinsky who’d recently returned from a European visit with Jacques Maritain and a meeting with Cardinal Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. Smith brought Alinsky to the University Club in the Loop where he pilloried the Church’s stand on urban renewal in Hyde Park-Kenwood, and Egan’s part in it. Meanwhile, Jerome Kerwin, the ranking Catholic intellectual on the university faculty, was contacting Pat Crowley, head of the Christian Family Movement, to get the help of Monsignor Hillenbrand, national CFM chaplain, in stopping the Church’s attack on the university plan.

One of the persons who called Monsignor Burke was the popular, gregarious Monsignor Daniel Cunningham. He had heard from Mayor Richard J. Daley who wanted to know what this young priest was doing interfering with the urban renewal plans of the University of Chicago relative to the city. Monsignor Burke was curt with Monsignor Cunningham: “Diggy,” he said, “I think it would be better if you minded your own business because he (Jack Egan) is operating with our approval. He is keeping us informed on everything he does. We are backing him. The cardinal is backing him.” Jack Egan heard him say that.

People who might have been expected to support Egan’s testimony saw the fight as futile. Saul Alinsky did not believe in entering a contest you couldn’t win. The odds were enormous in Hyde Park-Kenwood. Saul Alinsky’s criticism particularly stung Father Egan. “He really raised hell because he said we were going about it in the wrong way.”

Unrepentant thirty years later, Jack Egan insists, “we weren’t going about it in the wrong way.” He suspects Saul was influenced by his friends in the Hyde Park-Kenwood area. “The basic thing was that they did not want their area around the University of Chicago to become a slum area. They didn’t want their professors and students not to have adequate housing in the area. Well, that’s all well and good, and I supported that. But that is not the way they approached the whole thing. They truly wanted—it seemed to me—to build a moat around it.”

In the name of the archdiocese, Jack Egan was asking “for some public housing in there since they were using $30 million in taxpayers’ money. But it is very interesting,” he says. “Now it is October and the hearings for the Hyde Park-Kenwood program come up before the City Council—and we lose.”

Jack’s objections foundered before the power of the university and its trustees. “Just never underestimate it,” he says of that power. “In those days it was frightening. The power of the Tribune, too.” The only power Father Egan could commandeer was a united front among clerics, Church leaders, and lay people. Or solid support from the cardinal. Jack Egan had had the cardinal’s support. However, Cardinal Stritch died in Rome before the vote in the City Council, tragically for the archdiocese which had blossomed under his permissive, supportive authority. Grassroots support for Jack’s stand was not forthcoming. Too many Catholics were afraid of the growing black population.

Peter Rossi and Robert Dentler don’t minimize the Church’s objections in their analysis of The Politics of Urban Renewal. They characterize the archdiocese’s opposition to the plan as formidable. “Final City Council approval of the plan was delayed for five months while the meaning and determination of the cardinal’s committee was measured and tested.” Yet the City Council’s approval was assured once Cardinal Stritch had died. Without his buttress, Jack had only minimal support within the Church or without.

Actually, looking back, it is apparent that the recommendations of the cardinal’s committee were hardly Draconian. They asked:

l) That land be cleared only as it was needed.

2) That every effort be made to insure that some of the new housing be within financial reach of families with small or intermediate income.

3) Provisions on rehabilitation be clear and precise.

4) The city’s housing supply be jealously guarded by a close scrutiny of the demolition proposals.

With these considerations in place, the committee was ready to support the Hyde Park-Kenwood plan unreservedly. That statement was issued in July, 1958, months before the City Council vote.

When Father Egan came back to testify before the Housing and Planning committee of the City Council in September, his plea was general and pastoral. Every element of society has a vested interest, he assured the aldermen, “and the vested interest of the Archdiocese of Chicago is human beings.”

Testifying on their behalf, he pointed out that the poorly housed he’d testified for in 1956 were still poorly housed. “Everything remains the same. The faces in this room are the same, Chicago’s hundreds of thousands of ill-housed, under-housed, and de-housed people are also practically the same.”

What he couldn’t bring himself to do was condemn the plan outright. He stayed up all the night before the hearing with Hyde Park activist Lou Silverman wrestling with an expression of the archdiocesan position. In the end he conceded overall support of the plan in spite of his caveats. At dawn, he sent Silverman off in a cab to drop the statement at all the newspapers. Meanwhile, Jack Egan took a copy to the chancellor. “He blew his cork,” Jack remembers. “I’ve seen Monsignor Burke mad, but I’d never seen him as mad as he was that day.” After all they’d been through, Monsignor Burke’s Irish temper was not going to suffer a mealy-mouth statement. He forced Egan to force the sleepless Silverman to retrace his rounds, picking up the statements he had so recently delivered so the archdiocesan position could be strengthened.

Looking back, Jack Egan sees he was naive in his expectations that the mayor of Chicago would fight for the people, that he would guarantee a relocation program and some public housing in the area. “There was none. I should have said the archdiocese opposed the plan.”

Chicago attorney Tom Foran had used the power of eminent domain to clear land for the city’s Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways, also for the completion of the Congress Street Expressway. Now he was offered a contract with the city to clear the “dope hutches, Blackstone Ranger places and that sort of thing” (Foran’s description) out of Hyde Park-Kenwood using the power of eminent domain. He, too, thought Father Egan was naive. Foran would run into Egan at public hearings in Hyde Park-Kenwood. “I used to fight with Jack. When he’d say we were driving blacks out, I’d tell him, `You don’t know your (ass) from your elbow. What we’re trying to do is save the place. What’s there? Terrible stuff like Bombay or Calcutta, filthy rotten terrible buildings without interior plumbing, filthy drug addicts, rats—if you think that’s helping the Blacks . . .’ Whatever was done was better than what was there.”

To Foran it seemed that “Jack was absolutely sincere in what he was saying, and I was absolutely sincere in what I was saying.” At base, Tom Foran objected to the Alinsky technique of community organization which Jack advocated. To Foran, Alinsky’s “concept of getting people with problems brought on by their own limitations to try to correct them by attacking people who are more successful than they were was absolutely awful. I didn’t need Saul Alinsky to tell me how to care about people, and I didn’t think Jack Egan needed him either. And I used to tell him that.”

In spite of their differing views on Hyde Park, Egan and Foran forged a close friendship. “He was a regular visitor to our house. Marvelous to our children.” Foran, later U.S. attorney for Northern Illinois, was to be deeply troubled by the Second Vatican Council. Egan, on the other hand, felt vindicated. Foran describes their diversity of views as “a totally open and honest dichotomy between us. I think there was a tendency in the Church to act as a social agency, and they really are not. The people who have obligations to treat their fellow human beings well secularly are secular people. I have that obligation more than Jack Egan and, I think, have more talent for doing it.”

Foran would tell Father Egan, “The best thing you can do for me, Jack, is shrive me for my sins and stick God in my mouth. I don’t need your advice on social issues.” He imitates Jack Egan’s laughing retort, “I know you need your sins shriven.” Foran remembers trying to persuade Mayor Richard J. Daley that Richard Daley and John Egan, both great guys, had a lot in common. Daley would demur, having been “fed things,” information, Foran surmises. “Mr. Mayor,” Foran would plead, “he’s a terrific priest. For Chrissake . . .”

“Don’t swear,” the daily Mass-going Mayor would interrupt.

Later on, Tom Foran came up against Father Egan once again. Foran had cleared land on the city’s near West Side, again by the power of eminent domain. From the point of view of the community organization directed by West Side activist Florence Scala, Foran “took” eleven hundred pieces of property. “And they still say I took it like Attila the Hun,” Foran confides. While he considers Florence Scala “a great gal,” and gets a big hug when he takes his family to her Taylor Street restaurant, Foran never doubts that he did the right thing in clearing the area.

Foran shrugs off the neighborhood perception that he was the personification of evil. With no rancor, he describes climbing over Florence’s adherents lying prone on the courthouse corridors and the ketchuped cloth figure with a dagger in the heart left on the front lawn of his Sauganash home. He tells how he used infant mortality, tuberculosis, and syphilis figures to prove the need for land clearance when the case reached the Supreme Court. At that time to employ eminent domain one had to prove the property deleterious to the health, morals, and welfare of the community. When one of the judges showed interest, asking whether the figures for syphilis were really two hundred and eighty-three percent over other areas of the city, Foran answered confidently, “That’s right, judge. That’s what the statistics show.”

One of Florence Scala’s lieutenants, a large, dominating figure, leaped up in the court, overcome with anger at the presentation. Furious at this turn in the evidence, she pointed fiercely at Tom Foran and yelled for all to hear, “That man is anti-Semitic against Italians.”

According to Father Egan, when the University of Illinois at Chicago saw the cleared land, they wanted it and so did the city of Chicago. Jack’s position was that the city as a body politic had a right to change its mind and exercise eminent domain. “The community organizations were mad at me because I did not give them wholehearted support.”

In the end, Tom Foran prevailed in Hyde Park-Kenwood and on the West Side. “I take considerable pride. I think we saved Hyde Park. It’s a great location now, and I think we did it.” He believes that if Jack looked at Hyde Park now, he’d have to agree that the area would be a shambles without the urban renewal. As for the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, “I think he knew we were right,” Foran says, “but he felt an obligation to support community organizations.” Once again, Foran’s views are at variance with Jack Egan’s.

Tom Foran saw Father Egan as an innocent. When Jack got together with Saul Alinsky for the obligatory post-mortem after the Hyde Park-Kenwood action, Alinsky assessed Jack’s evenhandedness as innocence, too. He accused Jack of seeing too many greys. “It’s very hard for you to see black and white,” he told Jack. “In a fight like this you have to go for the jugular, to let people believe that you are trying to kill the plan.”

Jack demurred. “That would be dishonest. I’m not trying to kill the plan, but I do want them to make some adjustments.”

Saul shot back, “I said you have to give the impression that you’re trying to kill the plan. Because you are working in grey areas, you are going to destroy all your work.”

Three decades later, Jack Egan reckons Alinsky “was absolutely right.” He feels compelled to add, “It was a vicious attempt on the part of the University of Chicago (which I respect very much). I want them to exist, but they could have done it far more unselfishly than they did.”

Taking a stand on this issue was as important a course modulation within the Church as it was without. Chicago’s politicians from the Mayor down were surprised and displeased by this seeming disaffection of an otherwise charming, ingratiating, intelligent priest of Irish extraction. The city thought it knew what to expect of such men. In this case it didn’t. What were they to make of one of their own who didn’t stay within his caste, who said, as Father Egan did, “From 1956 I became prominent in terms of social action in relationship to political action in the city and that was never to stop—even up to today.”

Jack’s public stance divided somewhat the unique liberal communities that were building within the Church at that time. One of these communities had formed in a tired old walk-up at Twenty-one West Superior where various groups reared on Catholic Action principles headquartered. There was nothing tired about the people who gathered there. They were, for the most part, young, vigorous, informed, idealistic, energetic, and unremittingly dedicated to action for justice in whatever area they specialized. To Jack Egan, Twenty-one West Superior, as the center for most of the comprehensive work of the archdiocese, “contained the dreams of some fantastic people who moved through the Archdiocese of Chicago during the fifties and well into the sixties. It functioned as the mission control center for most of the good things that happened here.”

Egan’s Cana people on the first floor (before they moved to Seven-twenty North Rush) clubbed daily, mentally and spiritually, with the Catholic Labor Alliance people, the Christian Family Movement people, the Catholic Interracial Council, and the Catholic Guild for the Blind people on the upper floors. The unified spirit of this charged community was tested by Jack Egan’s public testimony against the University of Chicago’s urban renewal plan. Ed Marciniak, editor of Work, the monthly publication of the liberal Catholic Council on Working Life, wrote an editorial suggesting that responsibility for the relocation of Hyde Park’s poor rested with the entire city population. He didn’t disagree with Jack Egan’s contention that families should be moved only for just cause, and then to decent homes. What he challenged was Jack Egan’s intervention at the eleventh hour into a community-planned negotiation agreed upon by “major institutions of the community, local priests, ministers and rabbis, urban renewal officials and the leader of the community organization, a Catholic layman with a keen social conscience and a deep commitment as a Christian.”

Was the authority of the secular Christian being undermined? After all, Jim Cunningham, chairman of the Hyde Park Conservation Council which voted to support the urban renewal plan, had been a longtime Catholic Action adherent, a member of Father Louis Putz’ first YCS group at the University of Notre Dame. Here began a running disagreement that would continue for years on the role of the priest in political action.

That disagreement sundered the Sunday night community that gathered at Annunciation. For Jack Egan this was a painful blow. While it was true that his self-confidence had been sharply boosted by the therapeutic sessions with Charles Curran, he harbored a residual need for support and approval he could never entirely shake. Monsignor Hillenbrand’s approval meant everything to him. The Sunday night group were his closest allies in the Church. Usually, they provided comfort for one another and convivial exchange.

Their last meeting was not that comfortable. The air rippled with uneasiness and inquietude at Seven-twenty North Rush Street, a once-handsome old mansion which housed the staff of several Catholic agencies. University of Chicago professor Jerome Kerwin, the pride of Chicago Catholics, had called Patrick Crowley, Christian Family Movement co-founder, about Jack’s testimony. Crowley contacted Monsignor Hillenbrand about his former student making trouble for the University of Chicago. Monsignor Hillenbrand, in turn, called Father Bill Quinn and asked him to get a group together. “To kick the hell out of Jack Egan,” Jack described the agenda later. About twenty priests and lay people took the fine old staircase up to the high-ceilinged meeting rooms that alternately pleased with their stateliness and frustrated by their inconvenience. Monsignor Hillenbrand immediately took the floor for what Father Andrew Greeley would call the “Egan Heresy Trial.”

Slight though he was, Monsignor Hillenbrand had a fiercely commanding aura. Now, as he charged his protege with a critical blunder, anger made his ordinarily powerful delivery devastating. He snapped rhetorical questions at Jack without giving him any chance to reply. Who was Jack Egan to take a stand on urban renewal in defiance of the University of Chicago? Why hadn’t he left the matter to the wisdom of local lay Catholics like Jim Cunningham and Jerome Kerwin? Weren’t they the experts on the scene?

Monsignor Hillenbrand had been revered by so many people, including for years Jack Egan, that he never thought to question his own omniscience. Nor did he expect anyone else to question it. It never occurred to him that he could be unfair. He saw his condemnation as a mechanism for pulling Jack back into line. Jack, who didn’t intend to fall back in line, tried to defend his stand. Monsignor Hillenbrand would hear none of it, insistently excoriating Jack Egan for getting mixed up in the University of Chicago imbroglio.

“You had no business there because you are a priest,” Hillenbrand flared. “This is not your role, the role of the priest, to question the university. You are just plain wrong, you who had the privilege of the best possible training on the role of the laity.”

Next he disparaged Jack’s competence. “And not only that, what do you know about urban renewal? You’re a disgrace to the Roman Catholic Church and the priesthood. You should be in favor of that plan just because the University of Chicago is there.”

Father Egan had supporters in the room, Fathers Bill Quinn, Jake Killgallon, Andrew Greeley and Walter Imbiorski, layman Peter Foote. “Maybe half the twenty or so there were with me. But it was Rynie’s show even though a lot of people stuck up for me.” What wounded Jack most deeply was the source of the accusations.

“Criticism hurts more when it comes from a mentor. Monsignor Hillenbrand’s approval meant everything to me. It was so hurtful to attack me before my peers without letting me give my case. I was overwhelmed.” Jack felt cut loose. He left Seven-twenty North Rush Street that night a man of sorrows. The bonds so carefully nurtured at the seminary to sustain priests cut off from family life were ruptured. Monsignor Hillenbrand was split off from “Rynie’s boys,” his boys. Their relationship changed, too.

Jack lay in bed that night rerunning the evening in his mind. He couldn’t sleep for hearing Monsignor Hillenbrand’s accusations. He tried to put the evening in perspective. He knew that you have to learn how to fail in life, that you have to accept being kicked around a little bit. Yet this was of another order, he told himself, as he tried to fit this evening into the pattern of other evenings with his old teacher. He was still wide-eyed when the first phone call signaled the beginning of a new day. The caller was Monsignor Hillenbrand who had had coffee and second thoughts. The hard edge of his voice was softened. His overture was friendly. “I was a little rough with you last night, Johnny,” he admitted carefully. “I want to apologize for what I said.”

Jack had had the night to assimilate his new status. “Rynie,” he answered quietly, “you can’t apologize to me. There were twenty-five people in that room. Do you want to call them all together and tell them you were wrong? Or to modify your opinion? Or your words? It is just too late to say I apologize.”

Monsignor Hillenbrand was not willing to retract his criticism. His voice dropped as he finished lamely. “I just wanted to let you know I was sorry.”

Remembering, Jack Egan says sadly, “He was just speaking to me. Of course, I idolized him. Those were the strongest words I ever spoke to him. You just don’t want to push a friend to whom you owe so much.” That was the breaking point. The Sunday night group had gathered for mutual support with the rector who had taught them how to be priests. They’d advanced to a place where he could no longer support them. The trial was the end of the group. Jack Egan saw Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand only once again before he contacted his exemplar two weeks before his death.

The groups were diverging, in a sense, because Jack Egan and the others were diverging as persons. They were “following their bliss,” in the Joseph Campbell parlance, their experiences having propelled them out ahead of their mentors. Jack Egan was entering a time of life when he would be known as an outsider inside the Church and an insider in the wider ecumenical society outside the Church. The elements that took him to their heart in society felt embraced by the Catholic Church itself when Jack took them to his bosom. As for his fellow priests, there were those who would have gladly thrown him out of their rectories. Some of them did. He claims to have been thrown out of some of the best rectories in the city.

Looking back at the urban renewal flap, however, Jack Egan doesn’t recant, insisting that he was representing the interests of the whole city while the university represented only its self-interest as an institution. He was willing to hang there in the wind on behalf of the whole city, even if he must remember the episode to this day as a “terrifying experience.”

To Tom Gaudette, a premier community organizer trained by Saul Alinsky, Father John Egan was a voice crying in the wilderness in the Hyde Park-Kenwood urban renewal fight. “He was the only guy willing to stand up to the university and to City Hall.” In Gaudette’s view, the purpose of the “program known as urban renewal was to move blacks out of Hyde Park and the federal government was going to pay for it. What we tried to do was organize support (for changes in the urban renewal plan) and we found damn little of it. The thing I remember most was not the politicians. Their reasons were understandable. But where in hell were the clergy in something like this?

“They were accusing Jack of wanting to be cardinal. Or saying the only reason he did it was because Cardinal Stritch wasn’t here. Jack Egan?” Gaudette asks in disbelief, his blue eyes piercing his audience, his words coming out in short, sharp, spurts. “Some priests said he was creating scandal with our Jewish brothers. Some complained he was preventing the lay people from getting involved. Who? What lay people? In 1957? Hell, there they were, fat and sassy, talking about the prophetic role of priests. But they never brought out that blacks were being kicked out.”

Nor did they think about Jack Egan, how vulnerable he felt testifying against the heavyweights the university had assembled to impress the City Council with the validity of their position. “I have never felt more alone,” Jack Egan told author Sanford Horwitt. The cardinal was all the clout Jack Egan could possibly have carried into that chamber. His small group couldn’t sustain him. With the cardinal gone, there was a vacuum where there should have been a retaining wall.

Yet when his fellow priests scolded him, Jack Egan, cool and respectful, answered their protests evenly, measuring his words, admitting his frailty, saying, “I do struggle with this. I do. I must admit that I’ve had sleepless nights. But I’ve got to do something.” There was his only rationale. He’d seen that black man tossed from a streetcar. He’d talked to all those impoverished along Thirty-fifth Street. He’d gone with the fire inspectors into firetraps. He knew about cockroaches and rats. That was all he could say to defend his action, “But I’ve got to do something.” What he meant was that he couldn’t see the poor kicked out of Hyde Park-Kenwood without getting out on the road, a slight, beseeching, hopeful suppliant, in front of the bulldozer that would roll over him as easily as it would roll over the homes and people he was trying to save.

For once, Jack’s natural ebullience failed him. Berenice O’Brien, who served with her husband as Cana Board chaircouple in the early 1950s, remembers picking up Father Egan and Father Walter Imbiorski on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on an October Saturday after the hearing. They had plans for a Notre Dame game at South Bend. “I never knew the particulars of the urban renewal fight. Jack was careful to keep each area of his life compartmentalized. And we were in the Cana slot.

“Yet, when Father Egan got in the car, it was obvious that he was terribly bruised. Walter Imbiorski treated him so very tenderly—as only Walter could do—that we knew that any further contact would be too painful. `Kid gloves’ wouldn’t have expressed the care Walter bestowed as he ushered Jack into the back seat. He acted as a screen between Jack and anything that might further pain him.” Jack seemed to shrink into the upholstery.

On their return, the four Notre Dame fans met two Dominican priest friends for dinner. Pope Pius XII had died on Jack Egan’s forty-fifth birthday. The election of the next pope being the news of the day, the six dinner companions put the names of the leading candidates in a bowl and Bob O’Brien drew Angelo Roncalli’s name. That week the cardinals in Rome picked the same man. He took the name of John XXIII. That could have been taken as a healing sign for Jack Egan, for the Second Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII would ratify many of Jack’s initiatives.

“When we dropped Jack off after the game, the dinner, and the drawing,” Berenice O’Brien remembers, “he was obviously feeling much better. The day Walter had planned had done its work.”

Next Chapter . . .