Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Before PC Killed History, There Was Fighting Bishop Bernard Sheil

"You should know, that I wasn't ordained a Catholic priest in order to become an archbishop." Bernard Sheil to a banker who tried to threaten Sheil for speaking out on American Labor

Bishop Sheil was instrumental in the development of Leo High School in 1921. He was Cardinal Mundelein's eyes on the street. The Cardinal's tough guy athlete got things done by doing. He brought people into the ring with him to mix it up for a better world and the school dedicated to the Pope of the Working Man -Pope Leo XIII was his baby.

Yesterday, three college football coaches visited Leo - Yale, North Dakota and Eastern Michigan - in order to recruit some of our guys. The coach from Eastern Michigan was a huge young guy who played for the Phoenix Cardinals and now coached. Three fourths of his time is spent finding the righ student athletes for his program. All three coaches visited Mount Carmel, St. Rita, Loyola and Fenwick because young men from Catholic schools bring more to the table - they belong.

Athletes and Scholars are very similar in their drive and commitment. Catholic grammar schools and high schools, more than any other visible aspect of the Roman Catholic Church in America, reflect what is most enduring - that sense of belonging. It is wonderful to watch thirty fifth graders parade from Kennedy Park in their St. Cajetan Warrior jerseys. You do not join a team; you belong to it. You do not attend a school; you belong to the Lions, The Mustangs, the Caravan and the Meteors.

I had an interesting talk with the coach from Eastern Michigan* - no longer the Hurons - the Eagles. PC killed the sense of belonging to a school situated on the Huron River in Michigan. So, since 1991, history has been buried. Catholics bury important links to history as well. We had better quit doing that. Bishop Sheil would want us to keep our memories sharp - keep the guard up.

Bishop Sheil was an athlete who pitched a no-hitter for St. Viator College, a Roman Catholic Seminary in Bourbonnais, Illinois ( alma mater of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen), which is now Olivet Nazarene University. Shiel pitched a no-hitter against the University of Illinois and later sparred with capitalists and Communists to achieve a just wage and human working conditions.

The Catholic Church gave up St. Viator's to a small Protestant dnomination from Texas. The Nazarene Church flourished and their college in Bourbonnais is that denomination's Notre Dame. Bernard Shiel became a Catholic priest, when being a Catholic meant putting own's money where one's mouth was. I grew up at the end of that era - post Vatican II. The Mass went from universal Latin to English and lost the beauty, majesty and mystery that should be fundamental to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Liturgy was now vernacular - conducted in English, Spanish, Polish, Croatian and even Tagalog. Priests faced the congregation and Consecration of the Eucharist took a backseat to Father's lecture on Social Justice.

Social Justice had been taught in Catholic Schools and it was hands-on - CISCA -Catholic Intra Student Catholic Action. Catholic Action meant getting involved in the Faith. Helping the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the imprisoned, the sick, the disabled and the disenfranchised.

Officially founded in 1930, the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) built upon previously initiated Holy Name Societies in parishes throughout the Chicago Archdiocese. Centralized in a downtown office and led by the legendary and controversial Bishop Bernard J. Sheil, the CYO sought to combat delinquency, Americanize ethnic Catholics, and bridge social divisions during the Great Depression. Whereas previous Americanization efforts of Cardinal George Mundelein had met with meager success, the CYO fostered widespread Catholic unity even as it furthered the Church's inclusion in the mainstream culture. The CYO offered a wide-ranging system of social services, community centers, and vacation schools; but its greatest publicity resulted from an extensive and comprehensive sports program that claimed the world's largest basketball league (430 teams) and an international boxing team. Such CYO ventures included American Indians, African Americans, Asians, and Jews, which catapulted Bishop Sheil to national prominence as a social activist and labor leader.

Gerald R. Gems

From grammar school through parenthood, Catholics belonged to the Church - they did not only attend Mass on Sunday. Whether it was a sport, a fine arts initiative, a novena, or a dance, Chicago Catholics belonged in and to every aspect of community life. Little guys and girls who played on CYO teams also joined devotional sodalities and later brought that commitment to their studies and careers.

Like St. Viator College, that sense of belonging seems to have been the price of new relevancies of Vatican II. Words not Deeds trumped everything.

The CYO became irrelevant to universal social change. CYO like too much of the Catholic Church in America was co-opted.

Social Justice was youth oriented and found outlets in athletics that brought blacks and white, better-off and destitute kids together for boxing, football, basketball, swimming and track and field. This was the CYO the Catholic Youth Organization developed by Father and later Bishop Bernard Sheil, who pitched a no-hitter against University of Illinois for St. Viator College.

Bernard James Sheil is almost forgotten today. History has burned in the Orwellian memory-hole over the last thirty years. America is seriously dumbed down. Bishop Sheil's Wikipedia passage is such thin gruel it is not worth a glance. Bishop Sheil's life is in the dusty covers of old books and the files of the Archdiocese of Chicago Archieves.

Sheil was ecumenical and catholic long before Pope John XXIII called all of the red hats and mitres to Rome. He was a priest in tradition of stockyard pastors like Monsignor Dorney who walked up and down Halsted and physically threatened pimps and saloon keepers, as well as read them off from the pulpit. Sheil, like Father Dorney who was called the King of the Stockyards, respected and obeyed by labor leaders, packing house owners and parishioners of St. Gabriel Parish, took the Gospel outdoors. Not only that, Sheil made things happen. He worked both sides of the ideological street, while working with Saul Alinskey he balanced things with Joe Meegan of the Back of the Yards Council. While fighting for social justice, Bishop Sheil confounded Communism for the snake oil that its is. The Lefties hated Sheil and they helped bury his deeds during the triumph of political correctness.

For a Progressive there is no forgive and forget. There is only forget and damned such that everyone forgets what happened ten minutes ago.

Sheil was so effective that Franklin Delano Roosevelt kept in touch with Bishop Sheil all through his Presidencies.

Most of all, unlike later day priest-prophets, Sheil used the media and did not become its tool. Sheil dug into his cassock pockets and showed up early to set-up chairs.

With his (Sheil's) own inheritance from his father and $10,000 from Utility Man Budd, Sheil set out to lure off the streets young potential gangsters—white and Negro, Protestant, Catholic and Jew—with a social and athletic program that kept moralizing to a minimum. Boxing was the major attraction. When some high-minded people clucked at the stress on boxing, Bishop Sheil's reply was: "Show me how you can inspire boys away from the brothels and saloons with a checker tournament and I'll put on the biggest checker tournament you ever saw."

Today the bishop has a staff of 500 to help him run the C.Y.O.. which spent $1,500,000 last year in Chicago alone on such projects as two large community centers in Italian and Negro neighborhoods, medical, psychiatric, child-guidance and remedial-reading clinics, a radio station, and an orientation program for Puerto Ricans. There are hundreds of other C.Y.O. centers throughout the U.S. and abroad. . . .
Bishop Sheil made himself just as unpopular with fringers on the right as with those on the left. At one forum on Christian-Jewish relations he was viciously heckled by a delegation of Christian Fronters, and a virago pushed her way towards him as he was leaving. "I'm a Catholic!" she screamed. "You're not a Catholic—you're a nigger-lover and a Jew-lover. You call yourself a bishop. You're not a bishop, you're a rabbi." And she spat in his face.

Bishop Sheil did not move a muscle. "I thank you. madam, for the compliment of your action and your words." he said calmly. "Rabbi? That is what they called our Lord."
Time Magazine 1953.

Words matter to ninnies. Action and Deeds mark a human being's impact.

Bishop Sheil took action. He was an athlete who understood balance - the Gospel must be accepted and put into action in the same way that a boxer mixes the doctrine of assault and defemse in its proper prroportion. There are no Bishop Sheil's in the ring these days. However, there are three Catholic priests who act like Bishop Sheil - Father Dan Mallette, Father George Clements and Father John Smyth - like Sheil they are too real to get promoted.

*The controversy over the nickname continues to this day, as many former students and faculty were angered that a unique name like Hurons was replaced by a common name like Eagles, especially for reasons of political correctness. Some alumni have even refused to donate money to the school until the name Hurons is restored. An official chapter of the EMU Alumni Association, the Huron Restoration Chapter, seeks to bring back the name and claims to have the support of Chief Leaford Bearskin of the Wyandot Tribe of Oklahoma and former Grand Chief Max Gros-Louis of the Huron-Wendat Nation of Quebec.[6]



1 comment:

Elias Crim said...

One o' your best posts, Patrick. And very timely--there are some folks in Chicago talking now about bringing back Bsp Sheil's approach to Catholic Action--and it ain't gonna be community organizing as usual!