Tuesday, April 28, 2020
In these days, I am sure all of us are active in more prayer, reflection, and reminiscing; thinking about where we have come from and where we are going.
Also in these days, there has been a spotlight on what we are calling “The Essential Workers.”
This has been a real wake-up call about who is important in our world and how all workers need to be respected, and how essential the “little guy and the little gal” are.
In recent years, we have forgotten about them, but this pandemic has placed the “spotlight” on them and rightly so.
I have been reflecting a lot about my family, and especially reminiscing about my father, Herman. He was one of the “little guys.”
In 2005, I was recognized by the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (ICWJ) for my activity on behalf of workers’ rights.
It was at the recognition ceremony that I got a chance to talk about my Dad, Herman.
I share that talk with you in my Reflection for today.
Hopefully it will help all of us remember today’s “little guy and little gal” who we now are calling “The Essential Workers.”
As I was preparing for today, my thoughts have centered on my father. His name was Herman and I would like to tell you about him, because I know that he is my motivation for my involvement in the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and I believe that Herman is a symbol for the people to whom we minister today.
Herman was born in 1902 in a small, very self-contained farming village about 100 miles north of Detroit, Michigan. He was one of 13 children, and was allowed to attend school only until the second grade. He was needed, along with his brothers and sisters, to work the farm.
When he was 21, he left the family and the farm and went to Detroit. It was only then that he began to learn English.
For his first 21 years, everything in his world was spoken in Polish. He was born in the United States, but with a 2
grade education and with English picked up along the way on his own, he was always mistaken for a recent immigrant.
He came to Detroit to seek a better way of life. He got a job at a car factory in Hamtramck, Michigan. He worked on the line at Dodge Main, one of the big factories owned by Chrysler Corporation.
He worked there for 40 years. It was not a job he enjoyed, but a job he found necessary in order to support his wife and growing family that would ultimately number 6 children.
During those 40 years his salary became decent, and then there was also the creation of benefits – health insurance, a retirement plan, paid vacations, sick day benefits. This happened because of unions, because of people who cared about low wage earners, who cared about the poor people who were making the rich people richer.
I do not believe that it is a coincidence that along with the unionization of the factory in which Herman worked that we saw the betterment of our family.
The first three of my siblings attended public high schools. None of them graduated.
The fourth sibling attended Catholic High School, but did not graduate. But his presence in a Catholic School marks the first time that our family had the ability to pay for tuition to a parochial school.
The fifth sibling went to a Catholic High School. And he was the first in our family to get a High School diploma.
I too went to a Catholic High School, Catholic College, and then went on to the Seminary. I was the first in our family to get a college degree and then received two Master’s Degrees.
My mother was able to get necessary heart surgery because we had health insurance. It prolonged her life by 20 years.
My father had a number of surgeries that helped him not just live, but thrive until 87, able to enjoy 22 years of retirement. Those years were the first time, since he was about 7 years old, that he was able to enjoy life on his own terms. He had a grand time!
All of this would never have happened if there were not people and organizations like unions, like the ICWJ who care for the little guy.
My father, Herman, was one of the little guys.
I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist. I am a realist and I believe that the head honchos at Chrysler would never have woken up one day and said, “Let’s spend money on the workers. Let’s help them to be fulfilled and happy, so that they will want to work for us.”
It took people who were willing to be “pains in the butt,” to make it happen…to insist that the little person is an important piece of the puzzle to create and maintain a healthy community and society.
I am the son of one the little guys in our society. I am very grateful for the people who came before me who cared about my father, and, thus, cared about my family and cared about me.
The little guy and the little gal come in all colors and religions here in San Diego, but in them, I see my family.
For example, many families may speak Spanish instead of Polish.
They may pray to our Lady of Guadalupe instead of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
They may eat burritos instead of pierogis.
But we are no different; we are the same. What was needed then, is still needed today. We need people and organizations that care about the little guy and the little gal. That is what ICWJ is all about. That is why I am involved.
What has been given to me, I desire to pass on to others.
Michael Moore, the filmmaker, and a real “pain in the butt,” is a practicing Catholic, I am proud to say. But more than that he is a compassionate individual who cares about the little guy and the little gal.
He was raised in St. John Parish in Davison, Michigan, a suburb of Flint. He recently returned to Davison to receive an award.
In his acceptance speech, he quoted the Gospel of the Day proclaimed during the Mass he attended at his home Parish. He referred to Matthew 25: 31-46. In those verses, Jesus describes the judgment scene and how we will be judged: “Whatever you did for the least ones, (Jesus says), you did to me. Whatever you neglected to do to the least ones, (Jesus says again), you neglected to do to me.”
Moore ended his speech reminding everyone that if we want to get into heaven, we need a permission slip from the poor!
Recently the logo “America’s Finest City” has been placed back on the city website. Credit goes to our new mayor, Jerry Sanders. He should be saluted for reclaiming the vision and accepting the challenge to make it a reality once again.
We will turn that vision into reality if we properly set our priorities. The main priority is helping the least ones in our midst. If we do that, everything else will fall into place.
ICWJ has lots of permission slips for heaven that you can use. Rabbi Laurie Coskey has tons of them, and she will be happy to issue you one. See her and tell her you want to get involved in ICWJ, because you want to spend eternity with God in heaven, and you need a permission slip from the poor to get in! Make sure you pick one up before you leave today!
Thank you for being here and recognizing and remembering the little guy and the little gal. They are the least ones who are the foundation on which is built America’s finest city!
--Fr. Mike (2005)