“Interfaith is profitable.” Or, misadventures in the nonprofit industrial complex.

One requirement of my graduate program was that I take an internship. Somehow, through means that remain mysterious to me even now, I landed an internship that described itself as “highly competitive.”

The organization was in downtown Chicago. Among other civic activities, it promoted interfaith understanding. The organization was funded, or so I understood, by a group of businesspeople from the founder’s home country. To finalize our arrangements, they requested I come in for a chat.

I rode the Metra into the Loop. Upon disembarking, I sought out the unfamiliar address among a cluster of gunmetal-gray skyscrapers. I entered one that, as I saw, was home to a local television station. The security guard waved me through a metal detector. He then affixed a paper bracelet with a time stamp to my wrist.  Continue reading

From the archives: Lapsed Catholic

Two nights later, we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. He insisted we’d sit in the front row, which was still empty, even though this was St. Pat’s and Mass was in less than five minutes. We then endured a wooden Sunday liturgy. The homilist, a fresh-faced young priest with very precise hair, compared holy matrimony to the sport of rock climbing, and this with the aid of several bad bullet points.

But what was remarkable, shocking, was that I felt at home again. Here is my house.

The foregoing was published at CatholicMajority.com on February 1, 2014. I no longer agree with every sentiment expressed therein. Specifically, I’m no longer part of, nor do I endorse, the progressive Catholic movement. But this piece is part of my published record, it’s an honest autobiographical account with some value (the message that you are what you are and that you should claim it, come what may, still rings true to me), and the writing isn’t bad, if I may say so. (Also see this PDF.)

From the Archives: Images of America: Chicago Heights

In 1833, the same year two hundred settlers organized the town of Chicago, another nucleus of settlers began gathering about thirty miles south. Their community grew into a miniature, parallel version of its northern neighbor: a Rust Belt boomtown with its own Louis Sullivan architecture and the nickname “Crossroads of America.”

This book review was originally published on the Read/Writer blog of Read/Write Library Chicago on September 6, 2014. See also PDF.

From the archives: Straight talk

It’s a mini-zine. It measures about 2 x 4 inches. It consists entirely of dictionary entries, fourteen of them, one per page in plain text. The presentation is understated and deadpan. And it packs a considerable punch.

Straight Talk, by H. Melt, is a poetic dictionary that ponders the social identity of straightness.

This review was originally published on the Read/Writer blog of Read/Write Library Chicago on July 30, 2014. See also PDF.

First things first

Some weeks ago, I attended a talk by a priest who works at the Vatican. After his talk, there was a Q & A session. The priest requested that we shut off all our recording devices. He said he wanted to be able to speak more freely. So I will describe some of what he said, but I will refrain from identifying details.

This priest had worked with the bishops during the most recent Synod on the Family. The bishops were sorted into language groups. Members of the English-language group included bishops from places like the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia. They also came from places like India.

The priest described how some bishops in the English-language group wanted certain issues brought to the forefront. That way these issues would receive special consideration from the whole Synod. And then, of course, the Pope.

Father was careful to say nothing he did not have to say. But from what he did say, I gathered that the bishops in question were from the United States. Moreover, I gathered that what they desired was a harder stance than they perceived Francis was taking on issues like divorce and gay marriage.  Continue reading

“Move along”

gatsby-cugat-originalWhen I was a junior in high school, and I had to begin my college application process, I only wanted two things: Catholic and Chicago. Or, at least, Chicago-ish.

For me, this meant applying to the University of St. Francis in Joliet, and to Loyola University Chicago. I got into both. I chose Loyola, because Chicago.

Some of my high school counselors and teachers were visibly disappointed with my choice. With my GPA, I could “aspire to more.” I could have done Notre Dame’s Great Books program. I could have gone to Harvard. I couldah been a contendah.

Instead–as I was told by a friend whose uncle worked at Loyola, and who therefore claimed to be in a position to know–I had chosen an athenaeum whose last entering class had an average ACT of 19. I wasn’t a 19. I was a 32. A 32 should act like a 32. This meant giving at least a nominal flail in the direction of the Ivies.

If I wanted to stay in the area, I should have picked Northwestern. So went some of the muttering. Or, perhaps, the University of Chicago. Such places were like the Ivy League. They’d help move you along in life. Nobody much knew where they’d move you to. But “moving along” was considered important.

Around the same time, my congressman came to my high school to give a speech. A bunch of local pols joined him onstage, gazing down at us teenagers. Hizzoner’s speech concerned a new south suburban airport.  Continue reading

The rule of Benedict

Via TotallyCatholic.com.

Via TotallyCatholic.com.

I found my confirmation saint eighteen years and one month ago, on a hazy hot day full of cicada song, at a Polish shrine about forty minutes west of St. Louis, Missouri.

I was twelve and on vacation with my parents. We had traipsed through caves full of stalagmites and stalactites. My father had jumped up and down atop the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and caused it to shake, much to the laughing horror of our fellow tourists. And now we were at the Black Madonna Shrine and Grottoes outside of Eureka, not because of any pilgrimage motive, but because my mother is Polish and likes to look at Polish things.

We landed in the gift shop. We purchased an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa as a present for my grandparents, who subsequently displayed it in their bedroom. And I, for my part, pawed through the saints’ medals. I wanted one because I’d never had one.

None of the medals drew me. They were indistinguishable from one another and they struck me as sticky-sweet. Sacred Heart this. Immaculate Heart that. And St. Francis, with happy squirrels and birds. The order that runs the place is Franciscan.

Then I stumbled over a St. Benedict medal. The name was unusual, Latin and crisp. The medal was stamped with weird, seemingly occult abbreviations (“C S S M L – N D S M D”) and words like “PAX.” I made Mom and Dad buy it.  Continue reading

From the archives: Radical Disciple

Author’s note: Between July 2010 and February 2011, I wrote a series of posts for the old Underblog of the Chicago Underground Library, now the Read/Write Library.“From the CUL Stacks: Radical Disciple” was published February 21, 2011.

Kathleen Whalen FitzGerald observed that “Chicago priests are like no other priests in the world.” If so, Father Michael Pfleger is truly in a class by himself. He is like no other priest in Chicago.

Pfleger is probably the only white man to be the undisputed leader of an African-American religious community. His legendary preaching style, often jarring to outsiders, is black Pentecostal far more than traditional Catholic. A tireless neighborhood activist, he is never far from the public eye. And there has never been a book about him…until now.  Continue reading