An Alley in Chicago

“A Theology of Care for the Public Realm”

As Jack Egan resumed his junkets across Division Street, along Cottage Grove, through the underpass that blocked blacks from Back of the Yards, he tried to take it easy. Slowing down went against his nature. He had this sense that the fate of the city rode on the seat next to him, urging him on. If only he could make people see that they could save their city by working for the common good and uniting for the requisite clout!

Alternatives to generosity and community-building were frightening. The remedy to the impasse in the city, as Jack saw it, was viewing the city’s plight in the light of the Gospel. Neighbors must work through their tension and fears instead of ducking and running.

Jack Egan struggled to formulate a theology of care for the public realm. Ten years earlier, he’d gone to France to find a theology of care in the conjugal realm. Now he worked at gathering a coalition of churches to develop, and then support, structures within which the city’s people could reach out to each other. Could he capitalize on C. T. Vivian’s perception that the country might be repenting of its repression of Negroes? As Martin Luther King, Jr.’s aide would put it some years later, “A person really does have to repent of sins to be saved. And that’s true of a nation, too. What happened in the 1960s was that this entire country took just a few steps toward admitting it had been wrong on race, and the result was an explosion of creativity and humanity in all directions. We moved temporarily toward becoming a more humane society for everyone.”

Trying to take advantage of that explosion of creativity and humanity in his town had brought Jack to Saul Alinsky and Nicholas von Hoffman. Now, could they capitalize on the humanity that was funding the Freedom Riders, pastors like Arthur Brazier and Chuck Leber and John McMahon and Martin Farrell, groups planning interracial functions, churches studying race questions, politicians equally sympathetic to whites and blacks?

Could the Church’s teaching on race call forth the generosity toward the black population that the Church’s teaching on marriage had elicited in Cana people? Large sections of the area facing inevitable change were heavily Catholic. Studies showed much latent good will. In 1990, an astute social commentator would verify Jack Egan’s experience: “An often-ignored message of the 1960s is that many, many white people, under the impact of the African-American movement, really did break with the patterns of four hundred years of history and aligned themselves, four-square, with the movement against racism.”

That subtle change plus the movement of plain people without money, prestige, or power to organize for their own purposes were the hopes of the sixties. Jack Egan preached those hopes as he went from meeting to meeting. He described the power of community organization to a South Shore Leadership Conference in April of 1963 as “strong enough and broad enough to control the panic operations of real estate men—both white and colored. (An organized community) will prevent overcrowding by taking vigilant steps to see that building and housing codes are enforced; will work against the abuses of absentee landlords and of contract selling, and will have a positive program to prevent increasing blight and deterioration.”

Jack doggedly pursued his course. Saul Alinsky wasn’t around; he spent much of his time in California. The brilliant, volatile Nick von Hoffman was a challenging, but not a soothing, colleague. Jack Egan rated von Hoffman the finest organizer he’d ever seen—for his first year on a project. He’d work like hell, Jack says, until the first convention. After that, he’d grow bored with any follow-up. He had no patience for the hack work Jack did, tackling one testy audience after another, night in and night out, from Rogers Park to Beverly. “What I had to do was keep parishes happy,” Jack assesses his role. With von Hoffman and Ed Chambers gone from the Organization for the Southwest Community—a move that troubled Monsignor McMahon—Jack filled in as liaison between the archdiocese and OSC, as well as between the Industrial Areas Foundation and OSC.

Jack was encouraged at how well work at the Interreligious Council on Urban Affairs was going. He characterizes IRCUA efforts as “intelligently active, because we used the best research we could get from urban planners at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. We did our homework well.”

This first permanent interfaith group to work on social questions in Chicago took issue with the city on matters relating to housing, neighborhood development, relocation of families, and the development of community organizations. “Always in concert,” Jack says, “because we realized that never again would the mayor of the city, or any other force, separate us in our endeavor to attack any social problem.

“Within a couple of years,” Jack recalls, “we got enough of a budget to hire H. Kris Ronnow (social welfare consultant for The Church Federation of Greater Chicago at the time) as executive director. IRCUA was doing superb work in community organizing. We (individual churches) did nothing alone.” Jack passes easily over that statement, but Ronnow recalls the situation with respectful amazement. “We had to convince Catholic pastors, who had a high discomfort level with Protestant clergy, that we were not the devil incarnate.” He recalls one especially uncomfortable session in a Northwest Side rectory which lightened up into congeniality only when the pastor opened sliding doors to reveal an excellently stocked liquor cabinet. “I found out what the levelers were!”

IRCUA staff worked with eleven city agencies. When Jack addressed neighborhood associations, he could assure them that a) they were legitimate, and b) the churches were behind them. With that back-up, it was up to them to “work out their own destiny.” Looking back, Jack assesses IRCUA’s presence as making “a significant difference in community organizing and civil rights in the city.”

That support made a difference to The Woodlawn Organization. By the spring of 1963, many blacks were agitating for their civil rights in the country, and many whites were resisting their advances. Birmingham’s Public Safety Commissioner, in his straw hat and shirtsleeves, was sending his police dogs against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his colleagues in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Along with King and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, fifty SCLC marchers went to jail. In May, Birmingham police arrested 959 children marching in a children’s crusade for freedom.

Blacks were enraged by the arrest of the children. Birmingham’s white leaders, frightened by the threat of violence, agreed to desegregate all facilities. Segregationists retaliated by bombing the black protest headquarters and the home of Dr. King’s brother. At the University of Alabama, Governor George Wallace blocked the entrance to black students. Threatened by an open accommodations act, Wallace accused President John Kennedy of inflaming Negroes and encouraging street demonstrations. He suggested a president “who sponsors legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1963 should be retired from public life.” Wallace went on to describe his resentment over “the fawning and pawing over such people as Martin Luther King and his pro-Communist friends and associates.” That same year, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.

The issue in Chicago was still the University of Chicago’s intention to move into Woodlawn, tear down houses, and proceed with what Arthur Brazier calls “Negro removal.” The university was adamant about its plans, moving ahead as if the blacks were mice in the way of a bulldozer—as would have been the case if TWO had not existed. But The Woodlawn Organization had used busses to good effect once. They organized to do it again.

TWO organizers disdained Mayor Richard Daley’s offer to arrange a meeting on the University of Chicago’s South Campus plan. Instead, they brought ten busloads of people from Woodlawn to City Hall. Six hundred people were a reminder to the mayor that 2,500 had ridden similar busses to register to vote. Six hundred people were less likely to be overwhelmed by any opposition than a small contingent in a packed meeting. Some of those bus-riding TWO people picketed outside City Hall. Others sat-in inside City Hall.

It was only at a second meeting that Brazier, increasingly less intimidated, got fired up enough to demand concessions from the mayor. And he got them. The mayor agreed that TWO would have input in any decision concerning urban renewal in the Woodlawn area. In an interview almost thirty years later, Reverend Arthur Brazier relishes that memory. He leans his long, lanky body back into a comfortable position as he re-experiences the sense of power the TWO people felt “because we blocked the (university’s) expansion program.” Then he leans forward to emphasize the significance of credits from the federal government in the amount of some $13-15 million. “These credits could be taken over by the University of Chicago to do whatever the city wanted to do. We protested against the university’s movement into Woodlawn because there was no conservation committee set-up.”

Bishop Brazier is sketching out the decline of plantation politics. Here was a group of citizens once voiceless in the disposition of any city funds suddenly having “a big row with Mayor Daley on how the Woodlawn conservation committee would be formulated,” Brazier recalls. Savoring the recollection, he describes exacting an “agreement that we could build 500 units of subsidized housing.” In return, TWO agreed to end opposition to the university’s expansion, “an expansion we weren’t against per se.” What the representatives of TWO wanted was respect and fairness. “We did not feel the university could expand, move black people out, the city get $13-15 million to do whatever they wanted with it, and the community just be sitting there looking at the expansion,” Brazier says.

The city took some of the money, cleared out dilapidated business structures on both sides of Cottage Grove from Sixtieth to Sixty-third, and sold the land back to a development corporation the blacks formed to “build 540 units of 221(d)3 housing.”

“This was a winner,” the former TWO president says with impressive satisfaction. “Tremendous. A great victory because we knew there was no way we could stop the university. By the time we worked out the agreement, they owned three-quarters of the land anyway.” According to the Chicago Tribune, the university owned more than thirty acres south of the Midway, but they agreed that this area which had provided recreational space, including playing fields, for Woodlawn’s residents would continue to be available for such recreation—a stipulation that Nicholas von Hoffman had asked Saul Alinsky to engineer in his first recommendations.

Assessing the forces that made their triumph possible in 1963, Bishop Brazier carefully analyzes Monsignor Egan’s role. “There are a lot of people like Jack Egan, but they are not Jack Egan.” Brazier understands that true leaders know when to negotiate and when to keep struggling. “The sixties and seventies were times of cataclysmic change and we needed people who understood strategy and who had the courage to keep going when they were told to quit.” Brazier recalls that there were people who stood to benefit from the University of Chicago plan, even people in Jack Egan’s community, who “were not happy with what he was doing.

“Now you’re talking to someone on the outside,” Brazier cautions, “but a lot of people on the outside, outside the power structure, felt that Jack got punished for standing with the poor people. I know his department was abolished. I know Jack was shoveled off into a parish. I know eventually he was gone from Chicago.” Rev. Brazier shrugs and dismisses the subject with a wry smile. “Maybe these were all promotions.”

Jack Egan had admitted that the University of Chicago “creamed” him when he suggested in 1958 that their urban renewal should include new housing for the people evacuated by their plan. He’d pointed out then that the Chicago City Planning Department estimated that 25,000 units, housing 100,000 people, had been razed by government action in the past eight years. Now, five years later, TWO had won concessions that specified that “the demolition for the South Campus should be delayed . . . until new units of low-cost . . . housing have been built so that the people can be relocated out of the old housing on South Campus into the new.” It was TWO’s victory, not Jack Egan’s. But he wouldn’t have been human if he hadn’t enjoyed it.

The TWO action was only one of the shifts shaking the city of Chicago, and the country. As Arthur Brazier’s group brought pressure on the city, other demonstrators were sitting in at school board offices at 228 N. La Salle Street. In a pushing, shoving, and kicking melee, the Chicago Tribune reported, four policemen and a girl of ten were hurt outside the entrance, and three persons arrested. Concurrently, Alderman Leon Despres was defending an open occupancy proposal that sparked a furor in the city council, according to the Trib. And the mayor, responding to pressure, was promising equality in the building trades as Governor Otto Kerner was making his promise that public accommodations in Illinois should be open to all races.

With all that going on, the TWO action still stood out as unique, according to Sanford Horwitt’s assessment. “The seven-point agreement . . . was extraordinary—almost certainly the first time that a black community in Chicago had, through sheer political power, won a major role in shaping an important urban-renewal program.”

Even as he was forced to deal with them, Mayor Daley could never understand why community organizations were necessary. Weren’t the people in city government elected by the people? Didn’t they serve as the people’s representatives? “Mayor Daley and I talked about that,” Jack reflects mildly. “I explained that community organizations don’t substitute for a political system. They help keep the political system honest. They help (elected officials) do their work.”

Whether Mayor Daley felt that community organizations were any help to him in his work, Jack Egan had been persuaded by Saul Alinsky that the evaluation and accountability they provided were necessary to the body politic. (And all other bodies, including the Church of which Jack was a member.)

“It wasn’t until I met Saul Alinsky that he helped me see that unless people are organized, they’re not going to accomplish the social justice that should be a part of our lives. He used to say that Gandhi brought down the British Empire when he saw the Indians sitting on the ground all over India, and said to them, `Let’s all get together and sit on the ground.’” Jack chuckles at the picture that story evokes, no matter how many times he tells it. “In the neighborhood, it’s the same thing.” Jack continues to quote his mentor. “In the neighborhoods of great cities, particularly where poor people are living, there must be organization according to certain rules. It must be mass-based. It must be responsible and responsive to needs of people. It must be a continuation of the finest tradition of democracy.” He could be referring to TWO.

He tried to explain to the mayor. “Those who represent the people sought office. It is the right of the people to demand that they do their job well, and their job is one of service. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used to say, `You could give me the Nobel prize, or any prize, but they are not as important as my trying to be a drum major for justice.’”

Jack himself had been evaluated and held accountable by the master during the summers of 1956 and 1957 when he underwent “the most rigorous training of my life” under Saul Alinsky. He’d learned that evaluation and accountability were “two of the most Christian words I’ve ever encountered.” For Jack Egan, as for Parker Palmer in The Company of Strangers, “public life is the area of spiritual experience, a setting in which God speaks to us and forms our hearts with words we cannot hear in the private realm . . . without public experience we cannot experience the fullness of God’s word for our lives.”

Parker could have been describing Woodlawn in 1960 when he wrote: “In a society which lacks a healthy public life, both private and political life will suffer. In the absence of a public which knows and cares about itself, private life tends to become obsessive and fearful, while political institutions become centralized, overweening, and even totalitarian. If we want authentic privacy and authentic politics, we must cultivate the public life on which both depend.”

Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early nineteenth century that the success of democracy depended on the health of voluntary organizations. Saul Alinsky taught Tocqueville’s principles to Jack Egan in 1956. Together with Saul Alinsky and Nick von Hoffman and their other organizers, Jack Egan tried to teach the people of Woodlawn in the early 1960s. Why couldn’t everyone see how basic this concept was for the health of the city?

Chicago tossing in the slipstream of forward movement made the 1960s “the most exciting possible years” to Jack. The TWO triumph was major excitement. There were breakthroughs in ecumenism. After 400 years of distrust and bad feeling, the beginnings of rapprochement between churches and synagogues amazed and unsettled all believers. Suddenly, it was no longer a sin for a Catholic to enter a Protestant church. The euphoria released by interfaith and interracial action was intensified by the totally unexpected gesture of Pope John XXIII in convening the Vatican Council that began in Rome, October 11, 1962. It produced, according to Robert Blair Kaiser, correspondent in Rome for Time magazine that year, “the most accelerated change in the history of the church.

“I watched two popes, more than 2,000 bishops and almost as many theologians begin to rethink everything that generations of Catholics had taken for granted, then work out, after four years of debate in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, a new chapter that would return the people of God to a more primitive Christianity and get them ready as well for the new kind of world that obviously lay ahead,” he wrote in The Politics of Sex and Religion.

For Jack, home in Chicago, the changes he read about in The New York Times “were so positive, so healthy. For the first time it was the total Church gathered in Rome.” In councils called before the advent of jet travel, foreigners had represented the Church of deep Africa and the Far East. Now the Church had the benefit of bishops from widely different cultures.

People from whom Jack had gained extraordinary insights into the theology of marriage and the dignity of the human person were now council periti (experts). They were instructing his archbishop, Cardinal Meyer, and bishops from the farthest reaches of earth, that the Church couldn’t stand still, that it must take advantage of the window Pope John XXIII—an amazing phenomenon himself after the autocratic, stiff Pius XII—had opened. To the amazement of much of the world—especially the Catholic world—the bishops were not so straitlaced as might have been expected. “We can no longer say that the church is afraid to admit her narrowness, her shortcomings, or even her Manicheanism,” a French reporter wrote for Le Monde. “To recognize one’s errors is to grow; thus, the church grew on Thursday at Vatican II . . . Christianity, the religion of love, carried the day over the Catholicism which catalogued prohibitions like a counting machine.”

Jack Egan craved an opportunity to observe the action. “This was the most important thing that was going to happen in my life and I was not going to miss it. I saved my money.” He spent his three-week vacations in 1963, 1964, and 1965 at a small pensione in Rome where his friends, Monsignor George Higgins, Monsignor John Quinn, and Bishop Ernest Primeau kept a room available for him.

The best minds in the Roman Catholic Church were in Rome for the Vatican Council, Jack remembers, “and a number of periti including Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray” lived in the pensione where Jack was staying. “A marvelous, marvelous group of brilliant individuals.” Jack was the little mouse under the chair, “polite enough to keep my mouth shut and listen” when around eight o’clock each night they would assemble in the common room for a drink and then a conversation that would go on to midnight. Gregory Baum “would come over, Hans Kung would come over, Malachy Martin—God forgive him—always politicking about a million things, knew the inside of what was happening, what the German bishops were doing, what kind of vote was coming up.”

John Courtney Murray, a quiet and reflective man, would “sit there with his very, very dry martini, listening, until someone, turning, would ask him, `What do you think?’” He was only one of the many official periti who had had trouble with the Curia or the Holy Office, men like Hans Kung, Godfrey Diekmann, and Gustave Weigel. Only the year before the council started, this trio (together with Murray) had been denied permission to speak at the Catholic University campus in Washington, D.C. Now they were teaching the bishops, mirabile dictu.

Conversation was the soul of the council, in some sense. As Protestant observer Robert McAfee Brown put it, “one can sometimes learn more in the coffee bar than by listening to the speeches.” At his pensione, Jack heard, he recalls, “magnificent discussions and fights over all the questions raised during the day in the aula at St. Peter’s.” Then his friends got him a pass so he could walk through the bronze doors of St. Peter’s Basilica that had been scraped of five centuries of silt and mounted on ball bearings for the council. Perched in the aula on one of the lateral platforms erected for the three thousand participants, including 2,500 Council Fathers, he was positioned so he could watch Chicago artist Franklin McMahon draw the extraordinary churchscape of cardinals, bishops, periti, and separated brethren intent on a simultaneous translation of “a Syrian bishop speaking Latin through his beard.”

For Jack Egan the atmosphere was an intoxicating magnification of the “Chicago moment.” He felt a part of history. Not bashful at being a learner, he inhaled the breath of scholarship and the aspiration of holy men as he sat at the feet of the great in St. Peter’s. “I was willing to learn from anyone.” And everyone. And everyone was there. In Rome, in the early sixties, all the great minds of the Church, many of them Jack Egan’s friends, those people he had sought out to teach his Cana people or his CCUM people or his YCW people, were doing their thinking in Latin in the aula during the day, and then in English over Scotch at night in the pensione. Monsignor George Higgins from Jack’s seminary days who’d urged him to fight injustice wherever he found it. Father Stanislaus de Lestapis, the French Jesuit theologian whom Jack had sought out in France in the fifties, here on the birth control commission. His beloved Albert Cardinal Meyer, who’d had faith in Jack from the start, a hero of the council fight for religious liberty. Cardinal Dearden, who’d make a valiant try to bring the council insights to bear on the American church.

Vatican II was a moving—and movable—feast for all those who cared as much as Jack did. It was hard to believe, there on the scene, caught in the updraft of aggiornamento, that the bishops’ determination to go from a church of rules to a church of service would not prevail. Anyone who read the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (happily called Gaudium et Spes) would expect that the Chicago moment, catalyzed by this world-wide affirmation of its rightness, would grow from pockets of renewal to a whole new habit for the U.S. Church. And for the world Church, as well. The schema was a new charter for the Church aimed at turning it from a church of laws, looking inward, as Robert Kaiser wrote, “to a church of love, looking out.” In the document, marriage was defined not as a remedy for concupiscence, an outdated notion, but as a “community of life and love,” a Cana notion.

As the council progressed, the bishops battened against a rising conservative pressure from the Curia, the Church’s administrative arm. Jack Egan was at dinner the night that Cardinal Meyer, one of the four presidents of the council, was instructed by John Courtney Murray on the fine points of the doctrine of religious liberty. This was a groundbreaking document with many enemies. For the cardinal to defend it, he needed expert instruction because the document ran directly counter to an 1864 papal encyclical Quanta Cura which called religious liberty, even in the civil arena, a delirium.

No one ducked out early for the coffee bars the day Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston introduced the document on religious liberty. As Bishop Robert E. Tracy put it, cappuccinos went untasted and tired joints went unlimbered as most of the Fathers held to their seats to hear the mighty Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani sum up the position of the Curia, “Religious truth, this I can understand. But religious liberty, this I cannot understand at all.”

The minority managed to have the vote postponed into the fourth session. As French journalist Henri Fesquet condensed the action: “Once again the Church of yesterday plotted against the Church of today.” The conservative forces in Spain and Western Europe had managed to delay the vote. According to Jack Egan, “They incurred the ire of Cardinal Meyer and it was very difficult to incur. He then led the fight to see that it was kept on the agenda. That’s the only time I ever saw the cardinal exercised.” Despite the extraordinary fury of its enemies, the Declaration on Religious Liberty passed in the fourth session with only 249 negative votes out of 2,216 votes. It followed up on Pope John XXIII’s ratification of liberty in Pacem in Terris, when he affirmed that “the dignity of the human person demands that man enjoy freedom of action.” Its passage removed one of the principal obstacles to ecumenism.

With the bishops busy at committee meetings in the afternoon, Jack Egan was alone in the common room reading the Herald Tribune on the afternoon the committee voted on the final draft of the document on religious liberty. He was having a hard time concentrating. He knew how much the future of the Church coasted on the outcome of this vote. He looked up as he heard footsteps. Then the door pushed open, and the large ascetic form of Father John Courtney Murray burst into the room.

Jack was taken aback. He had been in groups with Father Murray, but they were by no means close friends. What did it mean that he was returning to the pensione alone at such an hour? Had something gone amiss? John Courtney Murray’s grinning face belied any such interpretation. He stood before Jack Egan, arms thrown out, as if to embrace the whole world, the whole future. He looked happy, expansive, gratified, welcoming.

At that moment he also looked immense to Jack who stood almost a foot under Courtney Murray’s six and a half feet of exulting jubilation. Jack hesitated momentarily. John Courtney Murray grinned at this friend of Chicago’s Cardinal Meyer, this quiet priest who’d been spending his days listening intently to the periti’s analyses of every document. Finally, Father Murray gave his triumph voice. “Jack,” he exulted, “we won. We won.”

Jack bounded across the room, dropping the Herald Tribune, and embraced this priest who had endured so much suffering to bring to his beloved Church a truth that his beloved country lived. The two men sat down to rehash the final hours of the committee meeting. Courtney Murray told Jack how respectful Cardinal Ottaviani had been, and how difficult Cardinal Browne was, who had spoken up for the document, who feared it. They sat in silence a minute, respecting the unlikeliness of the whole episode. Religious liberty in the Church! The integrity of religious conviction! “If I am not mistaken,” Jack recalls, “the vote was eighteen to five in committee, or thirteen to five. Then later, of course, when it was presented to the whole council, it passed.” Jack Egan will never forget that afternoon. “It was one of the great moments of my life.”

On another night, Jack Egan found himself in the common room with Fathers Courtney Murray, Hans Kung, and Gregory Baum after everyone else had gone to bed. “Their whole life was the Church,” he says of the theologians who were on this evening deep into discourse about the birth control issue. “Obviously,” Jack clarifies, “this was before 1968 and the publication of Humanae Vitae. I listened very, very, carefully to these fine, fine theological minds and here they were giving a probable opinion.” (In theology, a probable opinion is one that a person can act on.)

“Gentlemen,” he asked when there was a pause, “I want to understand what you are saying. Are you saying the practice of birth control is to be determined by the prayer and the conscience of the individual couple and in doing so that they are living under the canons of the best of traditional theology?” They turned as one and said to Jack, “That’s absolutely right.”

Jack read the questioning looks on their faces to mean, “Haven’t you been listening to us?” They pointed out that they’d gone through all the theological developments from St. Thomas on, and “it’s certainly right that the couple is the final determinant in their own conscience, with prayer, and if necessary, consultation, to make the decision to practice birth control.”

Jack was startled at what was, for him, an absolutely new concept. When he’d been ordained, no less a nabob than the vicar general of the archdiocese had instructed the seminarians that “we were to ask any person who was coming to Confession and had been away from Confession for more than six months, whether they were practicing birth control.” And now it was the couples’ business, not the priest’s? What wonders this council had wrought! (Twenty-five years later, Jack still saw the birth control question as not fully resolved even though Pope John Paul II was holding fast to the position of Pope Paul VI.)

Jack Egan is a great believer in expressing gratitude. He’s forever listing the “funders” who have made his life what it is. Before he left Rome on one of his council forays, he had a chance to thank a benefactor who’d exerted himself at a particularly sensitive time in Jack’s life. When Monsignor George Higgins first invited Jack to a reception for the Protestant observers, Jack demurred. “George, I don’t belong there.” Monsignor Higgins importuned, insisting that it was an open affair. So Jack went. As soon as he saw Francis Cardinal Spellman across the room, Jack was glad of his decision.

Going up to the cardinal, Jack introduced himself as a priest of the archdiocese of Chicago. Then he delivered a message he’d been saving in his “when-I-get-the-opportunity-pouch” since 1958. “Your Eminence,” he said, “I was a priest living at Our Lady of Angels in Chicago at the time of the fire. I was in the sacristy when you came in and embraced Cardinal Meyer. We were all practically in tears.

“This was a time of unbelievable grief for Cardinal Meyer. He had been in the diocese only two weeks. I will never forget your kindness to all of us in coming out, and being with us, and sharing our sorrow. I just wanted to thank you.” Cardinal Spellman had done what Jack Egan would have done had the circumstances been reversed. Jack Egan wanted him to know that he appreciated the gesture—and its cost. No other American bishop had come to share that unforgettably tragic moment.

Next Chapter . . .