In the first days of May, the Catholic Labor Network teamed up with the Archdiocese of Washington and the AFL-CIO to mark 20 years since the passing of legendary “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins. Higgins, who hailed from Chicago, came to Washington DC to serve as Social Action Director for the nation’s bishops in the late 20th century and became a fixture on picket lines and at union halls. He was the living link between the American Church and the American labor movement in those years, regularly instructing the faithful in Catholic Social Teaching through his “Yardstick” columns in the Catholic press.
The first event was a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wilton Gregory. Higgins passed away on May 1, 2002 – 20 years ago on the international labor holiday recognized by the Church as the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. On Sunday May 1, 2022 Cardinal Gregory recalled Higgins’ memory and greeted California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, leading a delegation representing the labor movement. Fr. Evelio Menjivar, a DC-area “labor priest”, served as homilist, noting Jesus’ ministry to workers and how this informed more than a century of Catholic Social Teaching. CLICK HERE to view the video of the Mass.
The next day AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and CLN Board member Patti Devlin welcomed a panel that explored Monsignor Higgins’ legacy at the AFL-CIO. Fr. Clete Kiley, as moderator, introduced the topic with reflections on Higgins and the Chicago environment that produced him and other “labor priests” of his era. He then introduced the three panelists: Fr. Evelio, Dr. Meghan Clark of St. John’s University, and Chuck Hendricks of UNITE HERE. Fr. Menjivar spoke of the pastoral role that priests play in accompanying workers in their pursuit of justice, while Dr. Clark pointed out how unions protected the dignity of all workers and fostered their participation in the workplace. And in a moving testimony, Hendricks related how his organizing career informed his faith journey to lead him into the Catholic Church. (Ingrid Delgado of the USCCB was scheduled to participate – although she had to stay home due to illness, but shared her prepared remarks.) CLICK HERE to view the video of the panel presentation.