I love the statue that I call “Fr. Hulk” outside the DePaul student center on Sheffield. Anyone walking through Lincoln Park can not miss the statue of Fr. John J. Egan. Due to how the statute was made, it looks like Fr. Egan’s hands are twice the size of his head. The unfortunate effect is that he looks like everyone’s favorite green Avenger! In many ways Fr. Egan was a true superhero and an activist for the poorest in Chicago.
The 20th century saw the emergence of activist priests who tackled a multitude of social issues. You might have heard of the Barrigan brothers; Jesuits who burned draft cards to protest American involvement in Vietnam. There are also some names less known like Fr. John Ryan who helped president Franklin Delano Roosevelt craft the New Deal that created many programs that we rely on like Medicare and Medicaid. While the number of activist priests have fallen in the 21st century, there are still a few out there working. Chicago is home to Fr. Michael Pflaeger whose anti-violence and anti-racism activism is known throughout the nation. There are many activist priests at work in different countries like Fr. Stan Swamy who died of COVID a few months ago while in prison. He was jailed by India’s nationalist government for “terrorism,” but is widely seen as being imprisioned for fighting for the rights of indiginous people against powerful mining companies.
Fr. Egan echoed many of these heroic virtues and worked in many different contexts. Egan was ordained to the priesthood in 1943 and spent the first 15 years of his priesthood developing what is now known as Pre-Cana; a program that Catholic couples go through before the sacrament of marriage. Following his success in sacramental development, he was the director of the Archdiocese of Chicago office of urban affairs. Through his work in the city, he became connected to Martin Luther King Jr. and joined his march in Selma. He spent the latter half of his career organizing in Chicago where he fought against gentrification; the process where poorer and predominantly people of color are pushed out of neighborhoods due to rising rent typically brought on by white professionals moving in. This is the very process that happened to Lincoln Park in the 1990s.
So why talk about Fr. Egan in 2021? His ministry helped to inspire the creation of Arise Chicago. Arise Chicago is a religious based organization that fights for labor protections in the United States. I have been told by members of Arise that Fr. Egan helped found the organization! St. Teresa of Avila is excited to host Arise Chicago during all our masses on September 12th. Representatives of the organization will speak about their work and its relationship with Catholic teaching. The following Wednesday night, September 15th at 7 PM they will host a virtual event with us where they will go into more detail about their work and some specific issues they are working on. This is an amazing opportunity and I highly encourage you to check the event out. Please fill out the form below to sign up for the virtual event.