Intellectual Disability

Intellectual Disability

Droel_pictureBill Droel

It all started here in Chicago. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke was once upon a time only 24-years old when, as a gym instructor for the Chicago Park District, she was selected to organize an event for intellectually disabled people. Burke had no expertise with the special needs population. But the Kennedy Foundation awarded the CPD and Burke a small grant. Thus in July 1968 “on the field and in the largely empty stands of Soldier Field,” writes Tim Shriver in his inspiring book, Fully Alive (Farrar, Straus, 2014), Chicago became the site for the first “national athletic competition for people with intellectual disabilities.” The immensely popular Special Olympics is now, of course, well-known. It has international branches and many related programs and competitions.

At the time Burke and others only suspected what is now common sense: That physical activity increases a person’s ability to learn and to function in other settings. This is generally true for all of us, but this insight along with others changed how the disabled are regarded. Read more

Vocation Crisis

Vocation Culture


by Bill Droel

There’s a vocation crisis among physicians. First, a crisis of numbers. Not enough young adults, particularly those from the United States, are applying to medical school and not enough of those who do apply want a general practice. Second, a crisis of meaning. Many doctors, to greater or lesser degree are disillusioned.

Meagan O’Rourke, writing in The Atlantic (11/14), reviews seven recent books by or about physicians. “The very meaning and structure of care” is in crisis, she concludes. It relates to our fee-for-service medical economy, concerns about litigation, the pace of patient encounters, ambivalence about medical technology, doctors’ relationship to hospital administration, complexities of private and public insurance and more. According to one survey, 80% of practicing physicians are “somewhat pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession.” Only 6% describe their morale as positive. Read more

Tips in Restaurants

Tips in Restaurants

Droel_picture Bill Droel

The Wall St. Journal (3/1/15) reports that restaurant spending increased by 11.3% over the past year and that “food-service employment has surged.” The income of restaurant workers has not equaled the uptick in meals served; though employers are starting to pay more—3.1% more over the past year says the Department of Labor. Owners and managers want to adequately serve customer volume, and also want to lower their costly turnover rate (as high as 80% a year in some restaurants).

The restaurant business makes a distinction between front of the house workers (primarily the table servers and often bartenders) and back of the house workers (cooks, dishwashers, some hostesses and others). Technically, diners are not allowed to tip back of the house, though waiters and waitresses usually share a portion of the tip with others. Many diners think of the tip as a token of gratitude to their server. But that common notion is not correct. A 1966 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act introduced a subminimum tip wage for certain occupations. The tip wage is currently $2.13 in Federal law and has been stuck at that amount since 1991. Laws in some states supersede the Federal tip minimum, putting the tip wage at $4 to $4.95. Tips are therefore, at least in a certain sense, a subsidy to restaurant owners and tips certainly are essential to workers, the majority of whom are women. Of course, restaurant pay is better in some states, in some restaurants and on some shifts than others. Here, however, are some numbers in the ballpark: The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median for front of the house workers at $8.94, which includes the tip. Considering back and front workers in the same category, the Labor Department says the average is currently $12.28. By the way, servers pay tax on the presumed tip plus the wage from the restaurant. If a diner doesn’t tip or tips less than the IRS presumes, the server still pays the tax. Read more

Sentiment Part II

Sentiment Part II

Bill Droel

The distinction between private life and public life is eroding to the detriment of both. Private life is spilling over into the public realm on so-called reality TV shows, all over social media and in displays of personal information in inappropriate places. From the other end, public life at work, in the voting booth and in government proceedings succumbs to private feelings of liking and not liking, rather than judgments of competence and respect. Film stars and other performers have always coyly and incrementally leaked pieces of their private life to their fans. But now there is the category of micro-celebrity that includes anyone who blogs, posts or stands in front of a pocket camera. We unthinkingly display ourselves without appreciating how trivial our personal relationships become when they are marketed so widely.

Jonathan Franzen, in a collection of essays titled Farther Away (Farrar, Straus, 2012), takes particular exception to the cell phone, as wielded on trains, in restaurants, along college hallways and in medical waiting rooms. Spare “me from the intrusion of other people’s personal lives,” he writes. Especially as they inflict “their banal bedroom lives” over a cell phone in a public space. Read more




Bill Droel

It is hard to get a handle on globalization because it includes nearly instant communication, instant transfers of money, plus trade policies, including tariffs and NAFTA. It is also the IMF, currency rates, immigration policies, large-scale assembly and distribution of goods, speculative trading of complex financial instruments, outsourcing and an international drug market, plus sweatshops, changes in government regulation, changes in the protection of patents, changes in labor relations and fluxionary natural resource markets. It is the education gap and the income gap as well as a new corporate culture of mergers, bankruptcies, short-term bottom lines and so-called scientific management techniques. Yet Chad Broughton helps us understand it all with a compelling “tale of two cities”: Galesburg, Illinois which is off Interstate 74, about 200 miles west of Chicago and Reynosa, Mexico, just across the border from McAllen, Texas. His Boom, Bust, Exodus (Oxford University Press, 2015) weaves around a handful of workers in each place. Read more

Working Catholic – Stories Are True

Stories Are True

Droel_pictureBill Droel

Mike Houlihan is a raconteur of Chicago neighborhoods and a columnist for Irish American News. One column wisely begins: “A good story never really ends. Maybe you’ve heard a few from me before, but like the story of our lives, it continues to unravel in directions we never imagined.” Another column, as found in his collection More Hooliganism Stories (Book Bullet, 2014), advises us that “this story is true, only the names have been changed, as well as the embellishment and complete fabrication of all the actual facts.” Although teasingly phrased, Houlihan’s sentence is worth pondering.

We moderns presume that something is either a phony myth or a verifiable fact. We moderns thus have difficulty appreciating the meaning of life because it really resides somewhere in between fantasy and the scientific. We moderns have trouble with faith because it is supposed to be true but it cannot be proven; so maybe it is false. Or, maybe faith is somehow true if it can be sequestered from tangible daily life in the classroom, the office, the legislature, and the community at large. Read more

Working Catholic – Community Colleges

Community Colleges


Bill Droel

President Barack Obama is a champion of community colleges—not only in his recent State of the Union address, but regularly since the first days of his administration.

Tom Geoghegan, a labor lawyer here in Chicago, is not convinced. College, especially community college, “is not a sure route to the middle class,” he writes in Only One Thing Can Save Us (The New Press, 2014). The context is all wrong. There are hardly enough stateside manufacturing jobs to sustain our service/knowledge economy. The U.S. trade deficit is over the top. Authentic worker participation in decision-making is rare. Plus, students carry too much debt on their credit cards and need education loans. Then, there is the high dropout rate—a topic to be examined in a future Working Catholic column. For these reasons and more, says Geoghegan, a push for more college does not automatically make us better off.

Read more

Too Much Sentiment, Part I

The Working Catholic: Too Much Sentiment, Part I


 By Bill Droel

“A Christian worldview can exist in writing that is not necessarily Christian,” asserts Lisa Ohlen Harris in the February 2015 issue of a terrific evangelical publication, Books and Culture. Meanwhile, she continues, “our own [Christian] literature often lacks the bite and angst our worldview ought to embrace.”

Harris has in mind most of the novels in the “Spiritual” or “Christian Fiction” section of many bookstores—though there are not so many bookstores these days. She doesn’t like all the sweetness and sentimentality. “We do the same with Bible stories, sanitizing and simplifying them,” she says. “The story of Noah becomes a sweet means of counting by twos instead of a story of apocalypse.” Life, she reminds us, is not tidy. Most tensions are not resolved in a moment during which we “receive Christ” and shout “yes and amen.”  Indeed, many tensions are never totally over. Read more

Catholics outnumber other religions in Congress

Catholics outnumber other religions in Congress

CNS photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, kisses Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as he holds the gavel after being re-elected speaker on the House floor at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. Boehner and Pelosi are among the 31 percent of House and Senate members who are Catholic.

By Mark Pattison/Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The numbers don’t lie. Once again, there are more Catholics in Congress than members of any other religious denomination. And the numbers stay strong term after term.

Even though Catholics account for only about 22 percent of the U.S. population — admittedly the largest body of religious belief in the country — they make up 31 percent of the House and the Senate.

If you’re looking for differences between the two major parties, there’s indeed some — but Catholics are still overrepresented in both the Democratic and Republican parties. There are 83 Catholics among the 234 Democrats in the House or Senate, good for 35 percent of the Democrats’ total, and 81 Catholics among the 301 Republicans in Congress, or 27 percent of the GOP’s total, according to figures issued in a Pew Research Center study issued shortly before the 114th Congress was sworn in Jan. 6.

What makes Catholics so eager to want to serve in electoral office, and what makes them so electable?

Daniel Philpott, director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame, speculated there is a “strong tradition of social thought in the Catholic Church, more developed than in the mainline Protestant churches.”

Philpott pointed to the issuance of Pope Leo XII’s 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum” as the starting point “where the church decided to engage the modern nation-state.” Philpott said the Second Vatican Council also did much — even more than the election of John F. Kennedy as the first, and so far only, Catholic U.S. president — to advance the notion of politics as a noble vocation. Vatican II’s endorsements of religious freedom, human rights and democracy left an imprint in the minds of Catholic laity at that time.

Closer to home, “the American Catholic bishops have for decades touted and advocated social justice as part of the mission of the church, it may be in part because of the immigrant character of the church” that led bishops to go to bat on such issues as workers’ rights and welfare benefits,

Frank Orlando, a political science instructor at St. Leo University in Florida, told Catholic News Service that Catholics benefit from voters’ strong preference for their elected officials to profess religious faith. He cited a 2013 Pew study that showed that 53 percent of those responding said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who was an atheist. By the same token, according to Orlando, only 8 percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a Catholic candidate; that number more than doubles to 17 percent for evangelical candidates.

Pew statistics reveal that 20 percent of Americans now profess no religious belief or are atheists. But only one self-proclaimed atheist serves in the House, and she was only first elected in 2013.

The traditions of Catholic moral teaching and Catholic social teaching can appeal to Catholic office-seekers and voters across the political spectrum. “In a bad year for Catholic Democrats, they get replaced by Catholic Republicans,” Orlando said. “And in a bad year for Catholic Republicans, they get replaced by Catholic Democrats.”

Catholics have such appeal, Orlando added, that they can get elected in districts in the Deep South where the Catholic population registers in the single digits.

“John Calvin said the highest civil calling was good government,” said the Rev. Dale Kuehne, a political science professor at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. “It’s one of the highest civil goods you could have, and I believe that.”

Rev. Kuehne, ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church of America — “If there’s another minister with a degree in politics, I’d like to meet him,” he said — recalled when he taught political science for five years at a Baptist college in the Midwest. “The students would come to me and say how can we win and still be Christians,” he noted. “At St. Anselm, students would come up to me and say, ‘How can we win?’ It wasn’t that Catholic students were less committed to their faith. But there was a recognition that to get something done, you had to win.”

“I don’t’ think it’s unique to (people with) faith perspectives to want to make the world a better place. If you have a faith perspective, you should want that. I think a lot of people get into it for that reason,” Rev. Kuehne said. “I think some people lose their way.”

The Pew tally of Catholics in Congress included Rep. Michael Grimm, R-New York. who won re-election despite a 20-count federal indictment on charges of tax evasion, tax fraud and perjury. One week after he pleaded guilty to a single count of tax fraud and admitting to perjury, wire fraud and hiring undocumented immigrants in December, he said he would resign from Congress before the new Congress was sworn in. And, on the day the new Congress was seated, the former Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, a Catholic, was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty on 11 felony corruption charges.

“Original sin is an equal employer,” Philpott chuckled. “Nobody’s exempt from original sin.”

– See more at:

Time to Renew Your Membership!

Dear Friends on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord,

In one month, we will be gathering for our annual Catholic Labor Network Gathering as part of the USCCB’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. I hope that you will be able to join us. If you have not registered yet, you can do so at:

I would like to invite you to renew your membership in the CLN, or if you are not a member, join for the first time. For the very reasonable dues of $25.00 for an individual member, you can help support the regular newsletters, the advocacy, and the ongoing evangelization of our Catholic Social Teachings as they relate to work.

Attached is the 2015 Membership Form. You can also go to: for an online copy of the application.

Fr. Sinclair
CLN-Spiritual Moderator