I have not had anything to say about Rev. Michael Pfleger - not my rice bowl. That is until today, when Michael Pfleger's biographer, one of hundreds of talented journalists in Pfleger's PR quiver, told America to shut up. I have much to say about Leo High School, which was impugned by and concerning Rev. Pfleger's most recent and public Via Dolorosa ( March 15- May 11 2011).
Leo High School was founded by Msgr. Peter Shewbridge in 1921 at the direct order of George Cardinal Mundelein - build a central Catholic high school for boys. St. Leo the Great Parish leading the newer surrounding parishes of St. Sabina, St. Kilian and Little Flower raised the funds for the school designed by Daniel Burnham's right-hand man, architect Joseph McCarthy. Cardinal Mundelein staffed the school with Irish Christian Brothers and laymen. The school opened in 1926 and Francis O'Neill was the first student to register. Mr. O'Neill turned 100 in February and more than seventy young men including a couple of white kids from Canaryville enrolled as freshman 2012.
Leo High School immediately developed a reputation for tough discipline, exacting scholarship and an athletic reputation that continues into this new century.
Thousands of Leo graduates came from St. Sabina Parish. Hundreds of St. Sabina bred Leo Men pour precious dollars in support of the school. They do that because of Robert W. Foster who single-handedly kept the doors of Leo High School open from 1991 until his retirement in 2009. Principal/President CEO Bob Foster had taught history, government, served as guidance counsellor, athletic director, football coach and school leader beginning in 1962, with brief absence from 1965-1970, returning in that year and continually serving the Leo students and our neighbors along 79th Street. Bob Foster was one heroic man serving a much larger mission. Leo High School continues thanks to Bob Foster, but without his physical presence. Bob Foster always taught, 'the individual is nothing; the mission is everything.'
The mission continues as it had after Leo High School was no longer directed by the pastor of St. Leo Parish, the racial demographics changed from white Catholic to African American, received no further subsidy from the Archdiocese per Cardinal Bernardin's directive, the departure of the Irish Christian Brothers in 1991 and the retirement of the legendary Bob Foster. There has been a huge bump in the mission's road, through no fault or participation of the school whatsoever. In fact Leo High School was never privy to any conversation about Leo High School's serving as a component in a hot-button personnel matter.
Leo High School has suffered the collateral damage from the Father Phleger flap. Leo High School was tagged with a narrative spun by ABC 7's Jay Levine and picked up by too many news persons who never bothered to contact Leo Leadership, let alone pay this great school a visit.
This morning I read a guest article for US Catholic by Robert McClory. I have never seen Mr. McClory here at Leo, let alone around 79th Street from Peoria west to Father Phleger's Throop Street. McClory is Pfleger's biographer and has a book out on sale - this current personal journey for Michael Pfleger can not hurt sales.
That same personal journey has caused an unnecessary bump for Leo High School. In fact the very words of Father Pfleger on the NPR chat-fest with Tavis Smiley and Cornell West, Leo High School was impugned as "literally failing."
The fact of the matter Father Pfleger has not been to Leo High School - like his biographer. He would have known that even in a lousy economy an inner city Catholic High School for young men with a student population of African Americans and a trio of Mexican Americans, raised many, many, many dollars, partnered with an NFL legend, raised ACT scores by 2 percentage points across the board, tested and enrolled the largest in-coming freshman class in 12 years, expanded its advisory board, netted new Non-Alumni support, place graduating seniors in the best colleges around the country, and announce Eder Cruz as a Gates Millennium Scholar for 2011.
Why Father Pfleger would say that Leo High School was literally failing? He has his reasons I suppose.
Back to Mr. McClory. Mr. McClory has a dog in this fight and it certainly is not the young men of Leo High School. Mr. McClory has a book out and a subject-client in Father Pfleger; yet, Mr. McClory demands everyone else to "shut up."
The context is this- Mr. McClory wants a total victory for Father Pfleger - that means making Cardinal George look weak by rescinding his suspension for Father Pfleger. McClory tells his national readers what he believes to be his straight dope on the conflict and also demands that Cardinal George mistrust his lying ears.
Hopefully, reason and hope will prevail when George, now back from John Paul II's beatification, and Pfleger meet again. George's suspension of Pfleger was based on what the cardinal thought Pfleger had said on a radio show. In fact, Pfleger said something quite different. Regardless, Pfleger's crime was that he did say that under certain circumstances, he might leave the priesthood and seek ministry in another (non-Catholic) church. And that is what really rankled George.
Like Cardinal George, thosands of Leo Alumni, all of Leo's staff, many of our parents, our students and evn the Associated Press, I heard exactly what Father Pfleger said to Tavis, Cornell and all of us out in radioland. Robert McClory is pretty bold there, but he is out of line in this summation:
Meanwhile, it would be especially helpful if the hordes of Catholics and bloggers who have never visited St. Sabina or driven around the neighborhood, never talked to Pfleger or listened to one of his sermons, never met or conversed with Sabina parishioners would just shut up and stop bloviating on a subject they know nothing about.
That did not stop Robert McClory. Speak up, folks! This is still America.
Robert McClory is author of Radical Disciple: Father Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina Church and the Fight for Social Justice (Lawrence Hill, 2010). He is also professor emeritus at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a regular contributor to U.S. Catholic.