Company Man: My Jesuit Life, 1950-1968

Company Man: My Jesuit Life, 1950-1968

by Jim Bowman

ISBN: 9781105782886


Published in Christian Books & Bibles/Church & Church Leadership, Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, Biographies & Memoirs/Leaders & Notable People, Biographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction

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Book Description

Life as a Jesuit, 1950-68. Training in '50s and early '60s in Ignatian spirituality, Latin and Greek classics, philosophy, theology. "Priest at large" in mid-'60s teaching religion-social problems to high school boys, doing community organizing, engaging in civil rights protests, etc.

A good read, by former Chicago Daily News reporter and longtime independent writer of a dozen books, mostly corporate history, and dozens of articles, blogging at Among books, Bending the Rules: What American Priests Tell American Catholics, Crossroad, 1994,

Sample Chapter


The priesthood is a very fulfilling life. But it’s not an ego trip. There are sacrifices in this life.

—Fr. James Cassidy, Ecumenical Officer, Diocese of Northampton, U.K

Leaving tertianship, I asked to spend the summer at a writers' house in Evanston, Canisius House, a block or so from the lake. The man in charge was John Amberg, who headed Loyola U. Press. He welcomed me, hanging my picture on the wall with other writers.

Such a deal it was. I had nothing to do but write. During the previous summer, at the U. of Iowa writers workshop, I'd got a fair amount of fiction written and a "B" from my teacher, novelist Vance Bourjaily. I had a novel to write. But having nothing else to do was not a good formula for me. I found myself lolling on the beach a few steps away and otherwise hanging about. Jack Trahey, a year behind me in the course, was living there as a doctoral student at Northwestern U. in drama. Otherwise, I was in Endsville, with all respect to the five or six older Jesuits who also lived there.

So in a few weeks I was off to Ignatius, where I was to teach in the fall, and my picture was off the wall at Canisius House. It was an omen. In my remaining three years in the Society, I was to move three times.


At Ignatius I settled down to some writing, not of the novel but journalism. A summer enrichment program was in full sway at the school. Jack Arnold and other scholastics had organized a program for neighborhood boys who otherwise would never darken the school's doors. I tagged along with them and wrote that up. It became a cover story later in a national Catholic magazine. Ditto for one I wrote on the summer’s civil rights agitation.

For the latter I tagged along with a Newsweek intern whom bureau chief Hal Bruno introduced me to. I'd got to know Bruno through my brother Paul, who headed the Chicago ad office. Bruno thought a lot of Paul, noting for instance how he treated the black shoeshine boy who came up to the office. Some gave him a hard time, picking on him for laughs, but not Paul, who treated the guy well.

Bruno was a good guy. It was fun sitting in his office talking about the job he was doing. They had done a major story on crime in the cities but had to wait for a cover picture showing a white criminal. It took a while, and the story was put on hold. Bruno did not sympathize with this 1965 correctness, but the news industry was already minding its p's and q's in that matter. Dishonesty was replacing hostility to blacks - then still "colored" or "Negroes," of course.

He had two interns that summer. One was sluffing off his responsibility to learn the city. He was good enough to do what was asked of him -- write reports for filing to New York. But he wouldn't read up on Chicago. The other did. It was with him that I attended a rally in a Winnetka park where Studs Terkel was m.c. and spoke of "waiting for Godot" with reference to waiting for the main speaker, Martin Luther King, who was late.

I ran into Ed Rooney of the Daily News on this occasion. He was friendly but noted that I was not marching or protesting but writing about it, this with a glimmer of criticism, as if a real priest marched. All in all, it was a great time. I wandered around with notepad doing what reporters do. I loved it.


But the time came, in the fall, to go to work full time. I had discussed this with my old teacher, Bob Harvanek, who was province director of studies, going over possibilities with him as to my employment after tertianship. I had my "teaching master's" in English -- no thesis, two extra courses -- which meant I qualified as a high school teacher.

I hesitated. But Harv told me that in the last ten years only three priests had gone from tertianship directly to teaching in a high school in the Chicago Province, which had four high schools. In other words, the thriving high school network was understaffed as to young priests, which was a measure of the foolishness then abroad among us. There we were with this proven “apostolate,” as we used the term, our high school work, and greener pastures were beckoning our younger men. I was shocked at that and decided I should go back to high school. How strange that I would have hesitated: when I’d started theology, all I'd wanted was to do just that. Back to Ignatius I would go.

Come September, I was back in the classroom, teaching “religion-slash-social problems” to seniors. It wasn't my idea, though in view of my interest in social problems, I was a natural for it. Rather, the principal, a few years my senior in the Society, assigned me to it, though without any instructions that I recall. Not that I was looking for any. Each section met three days a week. Another young priest taught the marriage course, also for three days. We each had our sections for a semester, three sections each. So by year's end, each had taught six out of seven seniors. The prolific textbook author Mark Link had the 4-A seniors.


I jumped in with both feet, tackling race relations as our first social problem and assigning a 1964 book, Crisis in Black and White, by Charles Silberman. There was no point in being abstract about it, I figured, though even abstractions set my white students’ teeth on edge. For instance, I also assigned a pastoral letter from the U.S. bishops on racial justice which got them even more upset than Silberman.

I had one or two black students per class. In at least one class, I had none. One of the blacks, son of Chicago public school administrators, was a basketballer, a big, good-looking guy, easy-going and his own man, and actually a student fans' favorite. He told me once that there were guys in his section who would do him in if they ever got him in a dark alley, however. He was quite Chicago in his understanding of how things work. He also took a good-looking white girl to the senior prom, sure of himself as ever.

When I took him down the street to meet the local organizer-agitators at the West Side Organization, I was treated by them as God's gift. One of them, known as a tough guy and an ex-con shook my hand warmly. I had delivered a sort of Barack Obama and was justifying the school’s presence in the neighborhood. The young man never went back, however, as far as I know. He was too shrewd to be drawn in by the Roosevelt Road con men, ex-con or otherwise.

Another black student, a son and nephew of Pullman car porters, told me at the start of the term that he would be watching me closely as to how I handled black issues, which was nervy of him. I did not think so at the time, however, and took it as a challenge. Of special concern to him was that I might name successful blacks only in sports and entertainment.

On another occasion, not related to this caveat but still serving to relieve me of stereotypical notions, he noted that his family would drive many blocks into white neighborhoods to get the kind of pastry they liked. He later joined the mostly white junior Catholic Interracial Council, a dozen or so kids for whom I became a sort of chaplain. Much later he wrote for Muhammad Speaks, the black Muslim newspaper - without becoming a Muslim. And he informed me when I ran into him years later on an "L" platform, that the military draft was a "paper tiger" which he had avoided easily.


In the first class meeting for one of my sections, after I announced that we'd be reading Crisis and talking about race, one of the students, Bill Daley, the mayor's youngest son, came up and asked where I'd grown up. I said "in the Austin & Madison area." I didn't say Oak Park, which would have been only half right anyway, because Chicago's Austin was part of our neighborhood, but neither did I want to locate myself in suburbia. He had read the book that summer, I learned later. So had his mother, or at least she knew about its part that told of their Bridgeport neighborhood rising to expel blacks who unwisely moved in there.

The book was "nothing but newspaper stories," she told the principal later in one of her irate phone calls that gave him stomach aches in the coming weeks. "Are they?" he asked me. I told him no, but even then, years before I had joined the newspaper business, I saw no condemnation in that if it were true. I trusted newspapers.

Running out of things to say to my restless students, I got a small budget for speakers. One of them, a black guy from the Mayor's office, was given a hard time by students. Bill, defensive, complained to me in a written report on the session for not interfering. I wrote back in essence that it had been a judgment call, that generally I tried not to interfere with discussion.

Another speaker, a young black guy experienced in teaching Catholic high school boys, was far better at engaging the students. He sent me out of the classroom for his talk, which ended with Bill and him yelling at each other, I heard from other students. The guy was dynamic and knew what he was doing, however. Months later, when I had him back for another appearance, I saw him and Bill talking after class in friendly fashion. But the guy apparently used "hell" or "damn" or both in my classroom, and that gave Mrs. D. her opening for yet another stomach-churning complaint to the principal. The rector, Bob Koch, who was very patient with me amid all this, told me about her complaints, but never with so much as an admonition.


Mid-term came around, and time for parent-teacher conferences. Bob Koch asked if I'd be willing to meet the mayor separately. The mayor and his Mrs. had waited their turn in previous years for such conferences, but this time the discussion would get tense, and so privacy was in order. I said fine.

There was an element here of not bucking City Hall, what with the school being in an urban renewal area where land was being given or sold cheap to worthy institutions. What’s more, the school was somewhat on the bubble financially, or very much on the bubble - I was not on the inside of such matters - and I felt responsible.

So I called up City Hall and left my name and number. That night the Mrs. called from the Lowe Avenue home. I said that with the mayor being so busy and all, maybe he and she could come (with Bill) to their conference at some time of their choosing. "Just a minute," she said, then came back on. "We'll be there in fifteen minutes," she said.

I greeted the three, plus driver, who waited outside the parlor, at the Roosevelt Road front door. We went into the nearby parlor, across from the elevator. For the next half hour, the city might have been sliding into Lake Michigan, for all the mayor seemed to care. I had his whole attention, and needless to say, he had mine.

I opened with "I think I know why you're upset," but the Daleys were having none of it. "You're the one who called the meeting!" said Richard J. Oh. No niceties here: these parents were pissed, I was the enemy of the hour.

Bill had done poorly in some tests, I told them. "What tests?" asked the mayor. Oh. It was challenge time. I excused myself and took the elevator up to my 4th-floor garret, retrieved the tests, and brought them down and showed them.

One was about the California labor organizer Cesar Chavez and the braceros, from an article in America magazine. Both were standard reference points in the circles I was reading in and touch points in a social problems/religion course.

"What's a bracero?" the mayor asked. I told him - a migrant worker in California. Not good enough. He spoke in flat tones, only his mouth moving. None of my explanations satisfied him as we went through other subject matter of the course.

He was out to discredit me, I realized, before the son, who sat saying nothing. It was standard for the son to accompany parents to conferences. I don’t recall being surprised to see him - this in contrast to the dozens, I am tempted to say hundreds, of teacher conferences my wife and I attended for our six kids over 27 years in grade, junior high, and high school, when the son or daughter did not come along.

Neither did Mrs. Daley say anything. She certainly was not embarrassed, as my mother would have been if my father were pressing an issue with some heat. She was wholly in his corner. The mayor spoke for both.

He had one substantive objection. "What does this have to do with religion?" He said it was unlike any religion teaching he had ever heard of. I believed him. So there I was, no good at the half measure and having pretty much decided that social justice was the be-all and end-all of religious practice, and I had the mayor of Chicago challenging the notion. Not bad, when you get down to it, for witnessing to one's belief in a high place.

Not that I made the most of the opportunity. I had no stomach for an argument and gave the soft answer. At one point my gorge rose and I was about to respond in kind. But this would not have done the school any good. Besides, I was presumably trying to be Christian about it, and so I let the gorge deflate.

The mayor turned to Bill at one point, admonishing him to work hard or something like it. And another time, maybe three-quarters through, he said something construable as compliment, "Well, you believe in what you're teaching," he said, conceding to me briefly the courage of my convictions. This remains with me as inexplicable in view of his general instransigence.


One of our disagreements was with what I’d written on something Bill had handed in. He had waxed eloquent with his point of view when the assignment had been to report what had been said or written - a sort of exercise in objectivity. Viewpoints were what we traded in class, which in Bill’s case was all white. I set up certain rules for our discussions, as never to say "nigger." Opinions flew hot and heavy. But in some writing assignments, I ruled them out. "Give me what the man said, not what you think," I had written on Bill's paper.

The mayor missed my point or chose to ignore it; and as they left, he turned to shake hands, and in a burst of sarcasm said, "I'll tell him [Bill] he's to give you back just what's in the book!" Then they were gone, the driver holding the door open.

Adrenalin pumping, I left the building by the back door and headed into the yard for some walking around. Next day I filled Bob Koch in on it. He didn't say much, but I think he appreciated my holding back and in general putting up with the situation as it developed.

A few years later, I told Mike Royko about the whole business, and he put it in Boss, his book about Daley, in the part about Daley's attitudes towards blacks. Mrs. Daley tried to get a Bridgeport supermarket not to stock it, which Royko duly publicized in his column. But a few years after that, doing a story about Ignatius, I talked to a student carrying his paperback copy of Boss, which he was reading as a class assignment.

Bill and most of his classmates, realizing I meant business with my assignments, did all right the rest of the semester. There were no more meetings with the Daleys. But at year's end, when I was up on the altar with other priests at a baccalaureate mass, the mayor came down the aisle for communion, our eyes met, and in his was no benevolence. I had crossed him, and he hadn't forgot. Years later, Royko wrote in the copy of Boss he autographed for me, "He knows it was you [who told about the parlor conference]. Beware!"


Meanwhile, before the year was out, 1965-66, I had done my best to swing my white students around. The only sign I had that I did so was the comment in a semester-end paper by one of them that before the class he had joined others of his neighborhood in driving into nearby black neighborhoods to find a black and beat him up. Now he wouldn't be doing that any more.

From my colleagues I got various reactions, mostly along lines of age. A Jesuit religion teacher who emphasized the inner life for his students, vs. my emphasis on behavior, told me he was doing more for the race problem than I was. I did not argue with him, at a loss as to how either of us would know. A lay teacher whom I knew better than most from his years in the Jesuits, cut me off one day as an extremist for some position I had taken in class. I had gotten defensive, at that, falling into the old loss-of-perspective trap, as in not conceding that there was no justification for the black kid flashing a knife at whites on an "L" train, for which indeed there was none.

The principal was in general not happy with how things went, on one occasion demonstrating his disapproval in another context by breaking into my classroom one afternoon - while I was there - to tell my students to be quiet. The door to the classroom, down the hall from his office, was open, and I was reading from Catcher in the Rye for a once-weekly Creative Writing class, and the boys were roaring.

The students reacted well, reading the interference as uncalled for. I told Bob Koch about it. I considered him on my side, or at least sympathetic with my position. He was certainly one I could level with, even when he boiled over at me, as he did once. I was eating my steak in the two-story fourth-and-fifth-floor grand library turned rec room on a feast day. My various neighborhood activities were in his craw, and he crossed the room, which was full of Jesuits, to upbraid me, I forget about what in particular. But he was a straight guy whom I could put off in relaxed fashion with "Now's not the time I want to argue about that, Bob," at which he went back to his steak. This was an aberration.

We had barbecued on the fire escape, by the way, a stone's throw from the projects. It was probably July 31, St. Ignatius Day, and all in all, the kind of nice experience, sitting and chewing the fat with the brethren, that endured as a nice memory, even with the rector pissed off at me. He wasn't someone I could hold a grudge against anyhow. In fact, I’d have to class him with Mike English of Loyola Academy and John McGrail of the juniorate and Bob Harvanek of West Baden as men I had as superiors or teachers whom it is a pleasure to remember after these many years - each a man in whom bullshit had no place.


Excerpted from "Company Man: My Jesuit Life, 1950-1968" by Jim Bowman. Copyright © 2012 by Jim Bowman. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Jim Bowman

Jim Bowman

Jim Bowman was religion editor for the Chicago Daily News from 1968 to its closing in 1978, covering all faiths and denominations. This was after his 18 years in the Jesuits which are the subject of Company Man: My Jesuit Life, 1950-1968. Since the News closed, he has worked indpendently, writing a dozen books in all about religion and business history, including Bending the Rules: What American Priests Tell American Catholics (1994) and Good Medicine: The First 150 Years of Rush-Presbyterian- St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago Review Press, Chicago, 1987. He blogs at and elsewhere, including He and his wife Winnie live in Oak Park IL, where they raised their six children.

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