PRIEST AT LARGE: CHICAGO AND CINCINNATI, 1965-1967
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.
SUMMER AT ST. IGNATIUS
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.
BLACK AND WHITE
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
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.
MRS. DALEY REACTS
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
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.
A MAYORAL CONFERENCE
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
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
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
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
MIKE ROYKO GETS THE STORY
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
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.