Reviewed by Kathy Kelly. Published in The Catholic Worker; reprinted with permission of the author.
In the early 1980s, a sturdy group of activists from Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood began a soup kitchen in the basement of St. Thomas Canterbury parish, inviting neighborhood people to share a common meal every Tuesday and Thursday. To this day, upward of 150 people gather for a sit-down meal twice a week.
In those early years, I was among the volunteers who lived in an
apartment building near the soup kitchen and regularly took turns
This meant soaking large pots of beans the night before, making sure the soup and rice were cooked, and welcoming volunteer servers. After the meal, there were floors to mop, bathrooms to clean, and many, many dishes, pots and pans to wash.
Once, when it was
my night to cook, I was eager to wrap things up
and get ready for the next day’s classes. In a corner of the basement,
a group of volunteers were leaning on their mops and brooms, dishrags
in hand, paying rapt attention to a young priest who had just moved
into the neighborhood. I glanced at the clock and winced. When would
we ever get out of there? Intending to drop a gentle hint, I approached
the circle of volunteers. The priest flashed me a boyish grin, extended
his hand, and said,
Hi, I’m Roy Bourgeois.
Right, I said, managing
And I’m Kathy Capitalist. Did you want to do the urinals or
the floors? We laughed.
Within days of getting to know Roy, my slight annoyance turned to keen
admiration. It seemed the entire neighborhood simply loved him, and
with good reason. Roy’s genuine charisma touched people in all walks of
life. He had a knack for befriending some of the most difficult people in
the neighborhood. Without fail, on a holiday, he would decline
invitations to join community gatherings. Instead, he’d take
person out to dinner. He never called attention to himself or his
kindness. He was scrupulously modest about good works. But his
charisma shone. I would often ask him to visit with students I taught at
a Jesuit College Prep school. Each semester, students evaluating the
class would write:
Bring that priest back!
People across the United States and in many parts of Central and Latin America shared that enthusiastic endorsement. Bring that priest back! People flocked to his presentations and treasured his preaching. Many joined him in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, lengthy fasts, and delegations to protest human rights abuses in Central and South America. When he and a brilliant crew of activists began protesting the U.S. Army School of the Americas, their collective charisma eventually drew many thousands to Fort Benning, GA, where people demanded closure of the institution. Roy describes these campaigns in his highly readable book, Male Supremacy in the Catholic Church: An Insider’s View.
His life has been so full and productive that he couldn’t include all of the
projects he undertook. I remember Roy walking into our kitchen, one
day, brimming with enthusiasm. He said he was planning to make a
documentary about the evils of nuclear weaponry.
Gods of Metal, he
That would be a good title. When someone at the table
suggested $80,000 as a minimum cost for producing a film, we all
Roy, someone asked,
which bank will you rob?
Less than a year later,
Gods of Metal was nominated for an Academy
Award. I showed it to every class I ever taught, knowing it would move
But, as indicated by the title of his book, Roy now mainly aims to challenge the overwhelming wrongheadedness of patriarchy in the Catholic Church. Roy is honest, direct and challenging as he addresses Pope Francis, leftist and activist priests, gay priests and his Maryknoll religious order which ousted him. He simply will not let them off the hook. Why do they dodge a simple declaration that women are equal to men and that women wishing to become priests have as much right to ordination as men do?
I remember being a graduate student at the Chicago Theological Seminary and taking most of my courses at the Jesuit School of Theology in Hyde Park. Young Jesuit scholastics befriended me and it was a joy to study with them. I would often ask them why they would accept ordination into a church which excluded women. They had no answer.
For me, the Catholic Worker provided an answer. Embracing the
responsibility of all people to engage in the works of mercy and eschew
the works of war, it seemed we were all part of the
believers. But I feel very sorry that Catholicism is saddled with the
backward, hierarchical perspective which insists women are inferior to
men. What a ridiculous notion!
Women religious aren’t being hauled into courts to face charges of raping and abusing vulnerable people. Instead, women religious have shown steadfast dedication to living simply, sharing resources, serving others and refuting militarism. I feel deeply grateful to women religious who’ve taught and mentored me, throughout my life. They never showed even the slightest interest in acquiring personal wealth. They offered many generations of young people an alternative view of prestige and success. It’s unimaginable that the religious women I’ve so admired would ever don expensive costumes, replete with headgear and scepters, to process in celebrations that reinforce notions of inequality.
Roy also confronts the ignorance and cruelty of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
Earliest disciples of Jesus were confounded and frightened by his
insistence on sharing loaves and fishes with those who were deemed
inferiors. Jesus urged his disciples not to be afraid and to resist systems
that excluded and demeaned other people. The two feeding of the
multitude stories in Mark’s gospel rely on time honored symbolism to
convey Jesus’ essential message:
Everybody in, nobody out!
Sadly, Roy has been ousted from the Roman Catholic church and the
Maryknoll religious order because he won’t recant his public support for
the ordination of women.
Throughout forty years as
an insider in the priesthood, Roy
demonstrated what it means to give and not count the cost, all the
while exploring deeper ways to blend courage, wisdom and love.
I wonder if Roy’s companions in the Maryknoll Missionary order can
hear echoes of the evaluations my wise young students once offered:
Bring that priest back!