As a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, by my training and lived experience I have embraced our shared values for Education in Christian Faith. In thirty years of ordained ministry with immigrant workers, parishioners, and many types of students and learners I have realized that there is quite a bit of faith-based Christian that takes place outside of a classroom as within one. In sharing a few words on my background I hope that we can together enhance our valuable peer education of the Labor Guild and further develop our resources to serve the local labor community.
Following Master of Divinity studies with Canadian colleagues in Toronto, Ontario, I worked with the parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY, a wonderfully multi-cultural and –lingual community. Many truly forgiving Latino-a members shared their faith and lives with a priest who was new to their language, beginning to preach the Gospel for them with maybe two or three tenses, if that. I had my teaching experience with history and theology students at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. As much as I enjoyed my many campus commitments, l met the area’s agricultural worker hospitality collaborative and spent time visiting migrant camps in the Pocono region. While some might have considered this pastoral outreach to be a distraction for me, this actually proved to be a time of discernment following the traditions of Catholic Christianity. It indirectly led to my participation in another agricultural worker outreach program with the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, in the late 1990s. While a pastor might readily appreciate the importance of itinerate farmworkers to our national economy, it was most troubling to realize the many growers who treat workers as little more than a line item on a spreadsheet.
In 2004 I accepted an invitation from Catholic Social Services of the Fall River Diocese to develop community programs for Central American fish-processing workers in New Bedford. A key moment in this work came when Prof. Peter Beisheim of Stonehill College introduced me to Fr. Ed Boyle, S.J., and the Labor Guild. With many challenges and moments of grace in the context of the Paschal Mystery ensuing in the most definitely non-union New Bedford waterfront, the wise guidance and compassionate support of the Guild sustained me and our ministry in many ways. After a large-scale immigration raid disrupted the lives of many U.S. citizen families and children in 2007, Catholic Social Services joined with MassCOSH and other Guild allies to begin the CCT Workers Center (Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores) in New Bedford. Ten years later, women CCT members at a fish-processor in Fall River gained a $600,000 EEOC award when courts decided that management had tolerated sexual harassment in their workplace. The women relied on their labor justice knowledge gained at CCT, the support of the community, and all who worked toward justice in the workplace. These are moral and ethical values familiar to all in the Labor Guild.
I join the Guild administration following five years as a Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplain with the Veterans Health Administration in West Roxbury and Brockton. I will forever value the trust that these Veteran servants of our nation placed in me. I look forward to meeting present Labor Guild members, re-connecting with immigrant worker allies in southern New England, and accompanying the members of immigrant communities who will be entering the rank-and-file membership of organized labor in our area and yearn for the invaluable peer education provided by the Guild’s top-flight faculty. While I have spent 25 years outside of the formal classroom setting, we need not look far to realize that justice education for the workplace is part of ethical and moral advocacy that is sadly lacking in our present world. The workplace is the center of far too many dehumanizing social structures and practices. While I will not be in touch with every Guild member on our mailing list over the next few months, those who I reach will hear me ask, “How can the Labor Guild best serve your local or community?” and “Where in the labor community is our Labor Guild education needed most?” Please join me and our faculty, in-person or virtually, as we continue this important conversation.
While I was raised in Ohio and Pennsylvania, my grandfather’s original pharmacies remain standing in Charlestown and Hampton Beach, NH. I am the sibling of five, the uncle of ten, and the great-uncle of nine delightful cherubs. In October a fellow VA Chaplain and I observed 18 months of Covid pastoral care with a 75-mile fund-raising bicycle ride from Horseneck Beach to Woods Hole.