Archive for the ‘Profiles’ Category

Ted Schmidt (“Hector”) turns 100

January 15, 2009

 

sc00031810A special Mozart mass with a Hallelujah chorus was celebrated in heaven today in gratitude for the life of F Hector “Ted” Schmidt. “Hector “ as he was mockingly known by his five sons turned 100 today.

Born on January 15, 1909 to Sarah “Sadie” Downs and Fred Schmidt of 460 Palmerston Blvd, Ted was the eldest of 3 boys, Ted, Goldie and Jack. Goldie succumbed to scarlet fever in 1915 while the other two grew up as great friends to each other.

Hector’s wisest move was his marriage to Eileen Harrison, the belle of OCE as she was known, in 1935.They produced five sons who like their father went to St. Peter’s elementary school and St. Michael’s College  school.

Hector spent 50 years on Bay St as a trader. On his retirement on Dec. 16, 1982 he was presented with a silver tray for his “loyal service.” On this last day on the floor, surrounded by grandchildren, he was asked to sum up his feelings about his illustrious career, he opined, “Nice to be rid of the pimps and whores.”

This bon mot, fairly typical of Hector, aptly summed up his unique take on life, often described as “ahead of his time,” “philosophical” “starkly realistic approaching cynicism”. One wag labeled his worldview “sardonic”.

A university drop out, Hector was an autodidact, widely read and a man with little artifice and less patience for poseurs, ponces, “frauds flacks and phonies”. He exhibited particular scorn for “obsequious prelates” and “professional Catholics”. His greatest gift which he happily bequeathed to his five sons was  his capacity for bull shit detection. In this area he was described as “non pareil”(without equal).

Along with his extraordinary wife, Eileen,  he presided over legendary Sunday  meals where wit and bonhomie were the main servings. Friends and relatives were often present  at these magical meals which resembled in turn intellectual free-for-alls, shouting matches, outrageous jokes and uncontrollable laughter, ripostes, put downs peppered with vulgarisms and lively conversation. In general these evenings were a combination verbal bath and feast. Calling them moments of grace would not be stretching the truth—if one truly understood what incarnation was.

Christmas was always his favourite time. No Yule would pass without a reading of Jonathan Swift’s, On Lawyers:

It is a maxim among these lawyers that whatever has been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice, and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly.

In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the merits of the cause; but are loud, violent, and tedious, in dwelling upon all circumstances which are not to the purpose. For instance, in the case already mentioned; they never desire to know what claim or title my adversary has to my cow; but whether the said cow were red or black; her horns long or short; whether the field I graze her in be round or square; whether she was milked at home or abroad; what diseases she is subject to, and the like; after which they consult precedents, adjourn the cause from time to time, and in ten, twenty, or thirty years, come to an issue.

It is likewise to be observed, that this society has a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong; so that it will take thirty years to decide, whether the field left me by my ancestors for six generations belongs to me, or to a stranger three hundred miles off.”

Only on regaining his breath would he then with the barest encouragement recite his annual hilarious imitation of James C. Cardinal McGuigan’s boiler plate sermon on the birth of Jesus. Holding his nose to approximate the prelate’s high nasal voice, he would begin “2000 years ago in a little stable near Bethlehem…” Then it would be his sons turn to shriek with great delight.

One memorable  evening with wives, friends and needling offspring in attendance, and with a silly party head adorning his florid dome, he wondered aloud why anybody would pay for entertainment when all this family-generated mayhem  came  for free.

Another time he simply looked around the table and coming as close as he could to expressing his bountiful love for his  critical offspring,  he laid out a quote from the Book Of Samuel, “And he gathered unto himself all the malcontents and discontents and repaired to the cave at Adullam.” 1 Sam 22:1

Was he King Saul, the patriarch fearing a royal usurpation by another David a pretender to the throne? Did he see us his children as “malcontents and discontents”? Or as is most probable, was he in fact proffering a benediction on his well-educated sons, all busy tilting at societal windmills?

On his 50th wedding anniversary in 1985, a year before his death, he reveled at being surrounded by his large family and grandchildren. He roared with laughter when his eldest son revealed to all Hector’s favourite poem, a two-liner by Irving Layton.

Give all your days to the study of the Talmud.

By night practice shooting from the hip.”

Hector’s 100th birthday is being celebrated by his children, wives and any grandchilden who can make it.

Remembering Fintan on the solstice

December 22, 2008

Fintan the Unforgettablefintan1

On the morning of the winter solstice , the darkest night of the year,Fintan Kilbride slipped peacefully away in the palliative unit of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. The quiet man who had brought so much light and hope into the lives of the young here and abroad left behind a legacy of such overwhelming goodness that its bountiful overflow will be felt for decades to come.

Raised in Tipperary with his seven siblings two of whom joined him in the priesthood, Fintan joined the Holy Ghost Fathers where he spent the next twenty-nine years teaching in Trinidad and building schools and hospitals in eastern Nigeria. Expelled  in 1970 he worked in New York where he met  and married Kenise Murphy in 1973. Moving to Toronto Fintan began his teaching career at Neil McNeil High school in 1975. It was here that many of us came to know and love the quiet Irishman with the sly and gentle  humour and the passionate love for the poor which burned like a white incandescent flame beneath the unflappable exterior.

It was during these years that we saw another side of Fintan. simply stated he was one of the greatest athletes any of us had ever encountered. As Fr. Mick Doyle said in his eulogy,”Any sport that required a bat and a small moving object, Fintan mastered.” An outstanding hurler in Ireland, an incredible tennis player and golfer, Fintan was world class at racquet sports, squash and racket ball. 

His wife Kenise used to tell the story of two friends who were at the 19th hole of a golf course in Ireland, talking to the bartender.

“No one ever beats par on the 16th hole,” he said, “except the pro here. Well, there was, once, one man who did, a young priest from Nigeria.”

Choosing to concentrate on racket ball, several times he won the North American Seniors’  championship defeating men years younger than himself. Finding little competition at his own age level, he would drop down and  defeat those in the next age bracket-until the Kilbride rule, still in tact, was invoked. You can only compete in one division. Inevitably coming home with the silver trophy, we would have to pry it out of him that he had indeed won again. “I did OK,” was all he would say.

While at Neil McNeil  Fintan started Students Crossing Borders an international cooperative education program which  introduce students to the realities of the Third world  and their responsibilities as privileged brothers and sisters. It was in this context that Fintan touched the lives of the Kielberger brothers,Mark and Craig who counted him as a direct inspiration in their own work in Free the Children.

As well Fintan was active in Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ), a group of teachers in the then Separate School Board whose very creation (1978) and existence proved how comfortable teachers had become in their middle class lives. TSJ had been formed to remind  colleagues that teaching under the banner of the Cross was a vocation and not a job; that it entailed consistent risks for those on the margins here and elsewhere. Fin was not only an enthusiastic member but he embodied for us what the world’s’ bishops had stated in 1971, that “justice was constitutive element of the gospel.In 1979, Fintan was one of the founders of the (Now) Ecumenical Stations of the Cross, Toronto’s ongoing attempt to insist that Good Friday is not sentimental nostalgia but a continuous fact in our city and our world.

In the 80s Fin became an active and enthusiastic member of Catholic reform groups recognizing that the Church under the John Paul ll pontificate had  begun to default on the promises of Vatican ll. The restoration severely disappointed him particularly in its failure to come to grips with the decline of priests all over the world. He was a very forceful spokesman for Corpus, the organization of resigned priests who challenged the mandatory celibacy role  and wanted the priesthood open to women.

Retirement was not a word in the Kilbride lexicon. Forced to leave teaching in 1992, Fintan took his passion for the Third World into supply teaching , exposing countless students to  the hopes and dreams of the poor in Jamaica and Haiti. He was always on the road driving medicines and hospital supplies from Detroit to Miami where they would be shipped to Central America. At 78 and thirteen years officially retired, he was named the top Catholic teacher in Ontario and received the Marion Tyrrrel award for his social justice work. Shortly after receiving the award in 2005,Fin fell ill with a then undiagnosed illness With his well known iron will he continued to attend his Saturday morning Craic (Irish,good conversation) sessions with like-minded cronies in a coffee house in the the Beach.

Inevitably as the cancer drained him he was taken to the palliative unit at Princess Margaret. Sitting by his bedside a week before he died, his tremendously supportive wife Kenise remarked to me what a privilege it had been to spend the last thirty 33 years with this good man. We who knew him as a close and loving  friend can only utter our silent amens. The quote from Francis of Assisi on Fintan’s mass card perfectly summed up his rich life.” Go teach all nations-if necessary use words.”

Studs,the dignity man

November 3, 2008

“Community organizers like Obama know what’s going on. If they remember. The important thing is memory. You know in this country, we all have Alzheimer’s. Obama has got to remember his days as an organizer. It all comes back to the neighborhood. Well I hope the election is a landslide for Obama.” – Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel  is gone at 96; he died on Oct,.30, a legendary democrat in the best sense of that word—a questioner, a no nonsense purveyor of the right question. at the right time.He called this,”the impertinent question.” You know the ones never asked to gurus like Alan Greenspan, the ones which used to be asked by real newspaper people.

His books were oral histories respectful paeans of praise to ordinary people whose experience he respected. Studs was a true democrat, plumbing the lives of those who built America asking each democracy—asking each  what it was like—whether it was the Depression (Hard Times), The  war (The Last Good War) , The Great Divide-Second Thoughts on the American Dream and  my favourite: Working .

Studs had a fine ear himself, witness his reflection on Working: It is a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than boredom. in short for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality is part of the quest.

Studs had a great religious sense though he called himself an atheist, of honouring the human. He was seldom let down by the poetry, dignity and insight that ordinary folks had. To Studs there were no ‘ordinary’ people.

Listen To Robert Acuna, a farm worker whom he interviewed for Working:

“Working in the fields is not in itself a degrading job. It’s hard, but if you’re given regular hours, better pay, decent housing, unemployment and medical compensation, pension plans–we have a very relaxed way of living. But the growers don’t recognize us as persons. That’s the worst thing, the way they treat you. Like we have no brains. They have only a wallet in their head. The more you squeeze it, the more they cry out” .

Ken Loach: director “from below.”

April 15, 2007

Land and FreedomLand and FreedomIf Jesus were here today he would be a film maker and unlike Fox news he would not be “fair and balanced.” Messiah Productions would be unambiguous by beginning with a perspective “from below.” What does the world look like from the vantage point of the poor and voiceless? Somewhere and everywhere lurking below the surface of his cinematic efforts one would find his omnipresent theme of “the kingdom” or “the reign of God.” What forces were conspiring with , aiding and abetting, giving birth or downright foreclosing on the reign of peace and justice in this world.

The Birchcliff Craic Club (Craic is Irish for stimulating conversation or as our late member Des Rainey would have said, “immersion in a verbal bath”) is sponsoring in its weekly conversations the filmic efforts of Britain’s Ken Loach. One of the advantages in living in a metropolis is the chance to catch up on great film makers like Loach, like Jesus, a brother who begins his modern parables from below.

Loach seemingly has finally hit respectability with his current Cannes Winner, The Wind that Shakes the Barley the epic struggle for Irish Independence in 1920. When he accepted the Palme d’Or Loach said, “If we can tell the truth about the past, perhaps we might dare tell it about the present.” A direct swipe at the Blair spin doctors.

Ken Loach has had a long, distinguished career in England where his class perspective is much more appreciated than in Hollywood. Whether it was battling Thatcherism or simply telling working class stories like Raining Stones (1993) where Bob an unemployed father in Manchester, juggles one odd job after another in order to scrape together enough money to buy his daughter’s first communion dress, Loach brilliantly captures the gritty lives of the poor, often using local actors whose regional dialects make them absolutely believable.

Loach is no fan of Hollywood eye candy.

Bread and Roses (2000) found him in LA documenting the struggle of non-unionized janitors. Land and Freedom (1995) is the powerful retelling of the Spanish Civil War from the perspective of a young unemployed worker and British Communist Party member, as he sets off for Spain and joins the fighting.

All of these films are being shown at the Cinematheque in Toronto for the next few months. Next Saturday we will see his political thriller “The entry from the IRA” as critics called Hidden Agenda (1988). Check the Cinematheque website for the listings.

Fintan the Unforgettable

January 5, 2007

On the morning of the winter solstice , the darkest night of the year,Fintan Kilbride slipped peacefully away in the palliative unit of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. The quiet man who had brought so much light and hope into the lives of the young here and abroad left behind a legacy of such overwhelming goodness that its bountiful overflow will be felt for decades to come.

Raised in Tipperary with his seven siblings two of whom joined him in the priesthood, Fintan joined the Holy Ghost Fathers where he spent the next twenty-nine years teaching in Trinidad and building schools and hospitals in eastern Nigeria. Expelled in 1970, he worked in New York where he met and married Kenise Murphy in 1973. Moving to Toronto Fintan began his teaching career at Neil McNeil High school in 1975. It was here that many of us came to know and love the quiet Irishman with the sly and gentle humour and the passionate love for the poor which burned like a white incandescent flame beneath the unflappable exterior.

It was during these years that we saw another side of Fintan. simply stated he was one of the greatest athletes any of us had ever encountered. As Fr. Mick Doyle said in his eulogy,”Any sport that required a bat and a small moving object, Fintan mastered.” An outstanding hurler in Ireland, an incredible tennis player and golfer, Fintan was world class at racquet sports, squash and racket ball. His wife Kenise would often the story of two friends who were at the 19th hole of a golf course in Ireland, talking to the bartender.

“No one ever beats par on the 16th hole,” he said, “except the pro here. Well, there was, once, one man who did, a young priest from Nigeria.”

Choosing to concentrate on racquet ball, several times he won the North American Seniors championship defeating men years younger than himself. Finding little competition at his own age level, he would drop down and defeat those in the next age bracket-until the Kilbride rule, still in tact, was invoked. You can only compete in one division. Inevitably Fin would come home with the gold and we would have to pry it out of him that he had indeed won again. “I did OK,” was all he would say.Look in the dictionary under “humble” and you’ll still see his warm grin.

While at Neil McNeil, Fintan started Students Crossing Borders an international cooperative education program which introduce students to the realities of the Third world and their responsibilities as privileged brothers and sisters. It was in this context that Fintan touched the lives of the Kielberger brothers,Mark and Craig who counted him as a direct inspiration in their own work in Free the Children.

Also at Neil,Fintan was active in Teachers for Social Justice(TSJ), an activist group in the then Separate School Board whose very creation (1978) and existence proved how comfortable teachers had become in their middle class lives.TSJ had been formed to remind teacher colleagues that teaching under the banner of the Cross was a vocation and not a job; that it entailed consistent risks for those on the margins here and elsewhere. Fin was not only an enthusiastic member but he embodied for us what the world’s’ bishops had stated in 1971, that “justice was constitutive element of the gospel.” In 1979, Fintan was one of the founders of the (now) Ecumenical Stations of the Cross, Toronto’s ongoing attempt to insist that Good Friday is not sentimental nostalgia but a continuous fact in our city and our world.

In the 80s Fin became an active and enthusiastic member of Catholic reform groups, recognizing that the Church under the John Paul ll pontificate had begun to default on the promises of Vatican ll.The restoration severely disappointed him particularly in its failure to come to grips with the decline of priests all over the world. He was a very forceful spokesman for Corpus, the organization of resigned priests who challenged the mandatory celibacy role and wanted the priesthood open to women.

Retirement was not a word in the Kilbride lexicon. Forced to leave teaching at age 65 in 1992, Fintan took his passion for the Third World into supply teaching , exposing countless students to the hopes and dreams of the poor in Jamaica and Haiti. He was always on the road driving medicines and hospital supplies from Detroit to Miami where they would be shipped to Central America. At 78 and thirteen years officially retired, he was named the top Catholic teacher in Ontario and received the Marion Tyrrrel award for his social justice work.Shortly after receiving the award in 2005,Fin fell ill with a then undiagnosed illness. With his well known iron will he continued to attend his Saturday morning Craic (Irish,good conversation) sessions with like-minded cronies in a coffee house in the the Beach.

Inevitably as the cancer drained him, he was taken to the palliative unit at Princess Margaret Hospital. Sitting by his bedside a week before he died, his tremendously supportive wife Kenise remarked to me what a privilege it had been to spend the last thirty 33 years with this good man. We who knew him as a close and loving friend can only utter our silent amens. The quote from Francis of Assisi on Fintan’s mass card perfectly summed up his rich life.” Go teach all nations-if necessary use words.”

Overthrow: the Chilean disaster

December 14, 2006

Tis the season, if you can’t be jolly, try a little truth-telling.And that’s exactly what Stephen Kinzer has done in his elegantly written popular history Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change. The veteran New York Times reporter, a former Bureau chief in Turkey Guatemala and Berlin prepares us for what lies ahead:

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political, and economic reasons.

Though the book has been out since April, I just got around to it now and avidly promote it as a nice gift for American friends and relatives for whom much of this will, lamentabile dictu, be surprising news. This is not recently declassified material but it is simply written and timely, coming as it does after the catastrophic debacle of GW Bush’s folly in Iraq. Kinzer deals with this in his last chapters. It is however his work in the four classic coups-Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam and Chile which makes this book a first rate primer on the follies and arrogance of empire. Kinzer has produced two fuller length books on Iran and Guatemala, so what you have here is the best Vietnam and Chile for Dummies that you are likely to find.

This is not to say that his earliest chapters when the empire was just warming up in Hawaii, Porto Rico and Cuba are not interesting. They are, as are the minor take downs of Grenada and Panama. A pathetic case of Ronald Reagan making America feel good about itself after the slaughter of 252 marines in Lebanon. A hammer swatting mosquitoes but it sure makes us feel good.Undoubtedly, the heart of this book is the beautifully concise evisceration of American stupidity and stunning exceptionalism which the latest debacle is finally forcing the empire to come to terms with.

The recent death of the arch thug and sycophant, Pinochet directs us to Kinzer’s excellent summary of the U S. involvement in the destruction of Chilean democracy. Again it is the brain child of another war wimp, Richard Nixon who attended the Quaker college Whittier. As some wag said years ago about one of the most reviled (pre Bush) presidents in U.S. history,”If only he had made the football team.”

Salvador Allende, A socialist had won the presidency of Chile on September 4,1970. Agustin Edwards one of Chile’s richest men and owner of the largest paper El Mercurio, could not stomach the possibility and went directly to Edward Korry the US ambassador to ask for his help. Korry told him the US would do nothing. Edwards would not take no for an answer and flew to New York to go over Korry’s head. Edwards went to Donald Kendall the head of Pepsi Cola and told Kendal Chile was about to fall under communist rule.Richard Nixon had prior to the Oval Office, been a lawyer for Kendal.On September 14, Kendal met Nixon and Chile’s fate was sealed.Richard Helms the head of the CIA at that time took notes of that meeting and one command of Nixon’s stood out: “Make Chile’s economy scream.”

Prior to this destabilization campaign, from 1950-1969 4,000 Chilean officers had already been schooled at the notorious School of the Americas, then located in the Panama Canal zone. This is the same school which largely catholic activists have been trying to close for years because of its nefarious role in teaching counterinsurgency t and torture techniques to its many graduates, one of whom was Augusto Pinochet. This rabid anticommunist and anti-Marxist indoctrination was aimed at domestic control of local populations who might be so stupid as to vote for the eradication of poverty and more social justice in their countries.

Nixon had made a stark choice.Instead of building up Latin America’s democratic left as both Johnson and Kennedy had opted for, he cast his lot with the business elite and the military because of his close corporate connections. After all as one former president so honestly said, “the business of America is business.”

It was here that the oleagenous Henry Kissinger, a man bereft of any scruples, truly made his Machiavellian mark. As one of his longtime associates Lawrence Eagleburger said about him,”Americans tend to want to pursue a set of moral principles. Henry does not have an intrinsic feel for the American political system and he does not start with the same values.”

Nixon’s orders were to the point.To the US ambassador Korry Nixon raged, “That son of a bitch,Allende.We’re going to smash him.” Economic levers were primed-the cutting of loans and credit; opposition parties funded;ITT,Kennecott and Anaconda (Copper was Chile’s number one export),Firestone,Pfizer and a host of others radically slowed the economy down.On July 11,1971 the Chilean Congress authorized the nationalization of Kennecott and Anaconda, both of whom were accused by Allende of making immorally high profits.He paid them 12% per year and to Allende’s reckoning they had made $774 million in excess profits.On the other side, radical supporters of Allende pressured the president to move even faster. And then there was Kissinger’s famous quip” “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”

Nixon and Kissinger found their traitor Augusto Pinochet and Chile descended into a country ruled by fear; over 3,000 were killed, thousands tortured and economic ruin, the failed nostrums of the Chicago Boys, Milton Friedman’s disciples descended on what had been a model democracy. When Pinochet seized the government, Chile’s unemployment rate was 4.3%. after ten years of free-market castor oil, unemployment reached 22%. In 1970, 20% of Chile’s population lived in poverty. By 1990 when Pinochet left office, the number of poor had doubled to 40%.

Now the survivors of the nightmare have been denied their day of court. An old Latin expression says, De mortuis, nisi bonum.(About the dead, say nothing but good.”) A more fitting aphorism might be that of the Bard’s: “ The evil which men do lives after them ; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Kinzer’s book is an excellent primer about the ongoing hubris of empire, an evil ripping apart the lives of Iraqis and the American cannon fodder so cruelly plucked from poverty and ignorance to further the delusional dream of the underdeveloped frat boy and his cynical advisors.

John Dear, Disarmed and Dangerous

November 3, 2006

John Dear does not quit easily.

After being arrested more than 75 times, his Jesuit superiors were getting fed up with him, so in 2002 he was given an option: go back to teaching high-school religion or go to the poorest part of the U.S. and minister there. Undeterred, he found himself in a tiny, impoverished, three- block-long town in the northeastern part of New Mexico. From there he ministers to five — make that four — very poor communities.

Dear describes his reception at his fifth small parish, an enclave of wealthy retired military from Texas. After preaching at Mass one Sunday, the community rose up and, to a person, told him to never come back.

The 4-year-old Jesuit has been rabble- rousing for peace for two decades now. This time in a place he describes as “the poorest part of America,” he brings the unwelcome message of “the holy troublemaker, Jesus of Nazareth.” Describing his latest “home,” Dear says: “It is number one in military spending and number one in nuclear weapons. It is the most militarized, the most in need of disarmament, the most in need of nonviolence. It is the first place the Pentagon goes to recruit poor youth into the empire’s army.”

In a widely reported incident in 2004 Dear, having organized peace groups, was denounced by the Catholics of Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atom bomb. In December 2003 a platoon of young recruits about to be shipped off to Iraq appeared at the rectory of St. Joseph’s church and began chanting “Swing to the left, swing to the right, we’re gonna kill all through the night,” and “Kill, kill, kill.”

“Imagine these young kids, desperately poor who have never even been to Albuquerque, chanting stuff like ‘One bullet, one kill.’ I walked out in my winter coat and ordered them not to kill, to quit the military and refuse all orders to kill. I told them to practise the nonviolence of Jesus. They thought I was crazy.”

One would have thought that such peacemaking would be welcomed by the official Church.Wrong. “The archbishop forbade me to pray publicly for peace … even when the pope was blasting against war! He said I brought only division … reminds me of another guy.”

On peacemaking

“It really is a blessing to do this. If we want to follow Jesus, we are going to have to live out the Sermon on the Mount. If you do, you’ll get into trouble but that’s our call. Luke’s gospel puts it starkly; we are going out like sheep among wolves. Did we think because we’re Roman Catholics we can do peacemaking without getting into trouble? No, he got in trouble, he suffered and died. You should expect trouble as well. This is the meaning of the Cross. At a minimum our lives will be disrupted.”

Dear gives us an interesting interpretation of Mark 3:1-6 — the man with the withered hand whom Jesus cured on the Sabbath. “Jesus refused to be passive. He disobeyed the law. He was a one-man crime wave when it came to the law over people. Given the chance to be pious, law-abiding and holy, a deadly follower of ritual, obligation and the institution, he said “No.” Compassion is the right response. Saving life is the meaning of the Gospel.

“It is legal to kill life in Iraq right now. We declared the starvation of Iraqi children legal in our 10-year embargo. We made people homeless and killed thousands — all legal. How would Jesus answer the question today? Clearly we are an empire. And we Christians need to disobey this empire, to betray it. Iraq is an ongoing crucifixion. Here we need to choose discipleship instead of murder. The church cannot remain good, law- abiding, comfortable citizens of an empire; we need to follow the holy troublemaker and recognize that there have been other troublemakers before us like Gandhi, Merton, Dorothy Day, Dan and Phil Berrigan. War is never the answer. In fact it is the ultimate mortal sin. And the church is going along with it.”

We need to be “holy troublemakers for Jesus, the poor man. There may be problems with our church for the young, but they have no problem with Jesus … listen to him and don’t be discouraged. We need to learn what Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us — to go deep into our hearts to discover the non-violent Jesus. Gandhi prayed deeply for 40 years for this gift. Remember the great tools our church has given us, the gospels, the sacraments, Ignatian and other spiritualities; all of these help us to get rid of bitterness and revenge. Take these to your prayer and let God disarm you. We can then enter into the great public movement for peace.”

John Dear in Canada

Dear often expresses amazement at the difference in cultures. “The students in Canada are remarkable. I am not allowed to speak to high schools in the United States, especially Catholic schools and that includes the faculty.!”

When I questioned John Dear about the church silence over the staggering news of the number of dead Iraqi civilians since the american invasion (650,000 according to the October, 2006 Lancet study) he responded that he was not shocked or surprised by the response of the American Catholic hierarchy. “No, nothing shocks me anymore. I’ve seen so much, travelled so far. When you have been in America’s prisons, it all comes home. Many of us now understand that we are in full-fledged empire mode.”

He continued: “Historically, the empire always tries to instruct the church on what it means to be the church. They are now telling us what is sin. Gays and lesbians sharing love is a huge sin, according to Bush and company, who are now instructing us on morality. The bombing and killing and civil war in Iraq apparently is not sinful or immoral. So, whenever they instruct you on what is moral, the truth is usually the opposite. It is blasphemy, heresy and idolatry rolled into one. The church is going right along with it. Bishops and priests want to make it in the culture. I am afraid most church people, including most so-called liberals, just do not care.”

When asked about whether the just war theory was outmoded, Dear replied, “No, it was never ‘moded.’ It’s just got nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus, not in the Sermon on the Mount.”

John Dear is far from being an apocalyptic doomsayer who spreads despair. He encourages people to see the long view of history, to see the seeds of hope there. “I stake my whole life on God’s activity here. The abolitionists triumphed. We are the new abolitionists. When Rosa Parks sat down on that bus in Montgomery in 1955, that was the end of segregation, when Daniel and Philip Berrigan in total fearlessness, hammered on the nose cones of those missiles in King of Prussia, Pa., in 1980, the disarmament to come had begun. The Berlin Wall has fallen, apartheid is history. When Gandhi picked up the salt, the British Empire had fallen. “All of those who struggled could not see liberation at the time. That’s the long-haul view of history. It can only bear good fruit. Those 14 million peacemakers who stood against the empire on Feb. 25, 2002, the largest gathering for peace in history. My message is simple: please join the hope-bringers.”

John Dear is the author and editor of 20 books, including:
Living Peace, Disarming the Heart, Jesus the Rebel, Mohandas Gandhi, The God of Peace, Peace Behind Bars and most recently, The Questions of Jesus (Doubleday). For more information, see http://www.johndear.org

Tom McKillop: Order of Jesus

September 12, 2006

Previous writing from Catolic New Times will be posted on weekends.

Tom McKillop: Order of Canada, ‘father’ of families, friend of Jesus
By Ted Schmidt

One day in the summer of 1960, I came down to the old ramshackle club which stood at 121 Bellwoods Avenue in Toronto’s Little Italy. I was there to ask for advice from my baseball coach Carmen Bush, already an inner city legend. As I walked in I noticed the simply framed motto of the club, “The Other Guy.” Underneath was a picture of a man autographed with a note of thanks to Carmen. I asked him who he was. He told me his name was Tom McKillop and that he was the living embodiment of the club’s motto.

Later we drove up to a west end park where McKillop was working as a playground supervisor during his summer vacation from the seminary. This was my introduction to the man known simply as “Tommy” or “Big T.”

Forty five years later I found myself among the hundreds who flocked into Holy Name Catholic Church in Toronto’s east end recently to hug and say thanks to a man who had such a profound impact on the youth of Toronto and who had just been invested with the Order of Canada.

Over the years “Big T” and I would meet with our common mentor and when he died at age 89, we eulogized our former baseball coach, one of the first men inducted into the Canadian baseball Hall of Fame. We were in many ways still a couple of baseball-mad downtown teenagers who knew that this son of illiterate Italian immigrants had taught us valuable lessons which transcended the ball field. Big T had described Carmen as “the voice with the message.”

As tribute after tribute flowed from the stage in the Holy Name Church basement, I insisted that we not be too quick to canonize McKillop; that like all of us, he had feet of clay as well as being one of the slowest runners on Bush’s teams in the 1940s. Carmen had often related the story to me, each time chuckling as he retold it. It seems that in the Juvenile city final in 1947, Tommy was up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, when umpire Joe Murphy called him out on a third strike. Ever the intense competitor, Tommy turned around and bellowed, “You son of a bitch.” It was so shocking — so unexpected — that it was if time had stood still. Nobody could believe it. Tom’s dad, Tom senior, sitting behind the plate, soon let his son have it. Murphy and Bush were in shock. It was the last time anybody heard McKillop swear.

A passion for sports

Tom McKillop was born in 1928 of working class parents in Toronto’s west end. Like all depression era kids he channeled much of his youthful energy into sports, and in particular baseball. He was so nuts about the summer pastime that to the chagrin of his parents, he took off before his final exams at university to try his hand at professional baseball. Tommy was one of the many who “had a cup of coffee” with the ‘pros.’ He lasted but three weeks with a Philadelphia Phillies farm team.

Back to Toronto, his ‘pro’ dreams dashed, he wrote his university exams and embarked on a teaching career that included a heavy dose of athletics. Slowly the idea of priesthood emerged and impressed by the Paulist Fathers of St. Peter’s parish, Tommy entered the novitiate in New Jersey, then on to Washington for more study. Considered a little too intense and with a small speech impediment, he was cut again. Not easily dissuaded, McKillop entered Toronto’s St. Augustine’s seminary and was ordained at the mature age of 36 in 1964.

Assigned to St. Mark’s parish and veteran pastor Gerry Cochran, the energetic McKillop immersed himself in parish work which naturally included youth ministry. With his sports background, he was then drafted by Archbishop Philip Pocock to head up the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). “Big T” was ready, mature through his life experience and fired by the vision of Vatican II to take youth ministry in another direction. His long experience in sports convinced McKillop that young people were hardwired for a much deeper immersion in life. He had grown past the rink and the diamond. Youth Corps (YC) was born in 1966. Its founding vision was based on the communal vision of Jesus in Luke 9 and 10. “Then Jesus called the twelve together … and he sent them out to proclaim the reign of God … After this the Lord appointed seventy others …”

The original team, comprised of three men and three women moved into the community to serve, at first in hostels and poor parishes, then in prison visitations, poverty issues, Latin American solidarity and peace work. McKillop, radically centred in Jesus, listened deeply to the inchoate passions of his younger cohorts. Together, the YC team learned to discern the evolving signs of the times.

Big T’s impact

Joe Mihevc, (YC 1979-83) now a dynamic Toronto city councilor commented on the team approach. “Tom could flow with the agenda and take everything in stride. He recognized the passionate energy of all of us and was always open to supporting good ideas other than his own. Tom inspired a kind of Canadian liberation theology and the host of young people who were touched by Youth Corps. And then there were those 85 weekends over 20 years, when Christian families were strengthened in Sharon, Ont — absolutely amazing.” Ellie Kaas who later worked with Tom as an associate at Holy Name said, “Tom is a visionary. He sees young people with their gifts of energy and passion creating small communities of justice and compassion in the church.”

Sil Silvaterra (YC 1977-79), now who works in the Legal Aid Programme at Osgoode Hall said, ”“Big T” was bent on shaping young people in Cardinal Cardin’s model of see, judge and act. He used the yearly “Events” to energize and train young Catholics, to organize evenings with Dorothy Day, Viktor Frankl, Jean Vanier, Henri Nouwen, Mother Theresa, John Howard Griffin and many others. Years later, I came across management consultants who charged outrageous fees for the very organizing methods Tommy taught gratis with grace. In many ways he was a prophet, helping to found Christian family weekends and even CNT. And like most prophets, he was barely acknowledged by the local hierarchy.”

Bob Carty, (YC, 1969-72), the award-winning documentary maker on CBC’s Sunday Edition, reflected on YC’s goals. “Youth Corps’ goal was never to change a generation but to work with smaller groups in depth. The benefits inevitably showed up in 10 or 20 years, where those people were in society.
Rosana Pellizzari (YC, 1978-80) now Medical Officer of Health at the Perth District Health Unit said, “Tom simply walked the walk when it came to witness, activism, spirituality and leadership. He taught me everything I know about teamwork and steadfastness.”

Perhaps the greatest accolade for McKillop’s creation was that of the reigning expert on youth ministry in North America, professor Michael Warren (St. John’s, NYC). “I have examined youth ministry in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada. It exemplifies the thought of Vatican II. I know of no youth efforts as theoretically sound as Youth Corps.”

The late bishop Tom Fulton, a former auxiliary in Toronto was a great supporter of YC, wrote “Big T” after World Youth Day that “your founding of YC was rooted in the vision of Vatican II. It was Christocentic and designed for community building. It remains valid to this day. It is the answer to the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’”

McKillop left YC in 1984 to take up pastorates in east Toronto and Newmarket. Youth Corps soldiered on for a few years, but fell out of favour with the current archbishop who closed it down in the early 1990s. Youth ministry in Toronto has never recovered from its regrettable demise. Nonetheless, the serene McKillop (retired since 1997) carries on counseling and helping in quieter ways — always the companion in the order of Jesus. Catholic New Times Jan 15,2006
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