Tag Archives: prejudice

Quotations worth sharing from Irish, Irish-American and Catholic life

May 22, 2011

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Overlook Press paperback bursting with quotations that are keepers.

Words put together with craft, with wisdom, with wit scream “Hey, pay attention here” to me, and I end up highlighting clusters of them where ever I find them printed.

Peter Quinn’s “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America” (Overlook) is a rich vein of memorable and I thought share-able quotations – some by writers we know, some by people we never knew, and many from Quinn himself, a former speech writer for New York governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo.

Enjoy.

“Tell us, doctors of philosophy, what are the needs of a man. At least a man needs to be notjailed notafraid nothungry (sic). . . not a worker for a power he has never seen . . . that cares nothing for the uses and needs of a man.”

John Dos Passos, “The Big Money”

“There was no damned romance in our poverty.”

Eugene O’Neill, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

“There are only three types of men: Bullies, lackeys and them who refuse to be either.”

Patrick Francis Quinn

“He’ll be the last man out of purgatory, if, God willing, he was lucky enough to get in.”

Gertie Quinn

“When I consider how my life is spent,

I hardly ever repent.”

Ogden Nash

“Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the submission of the multitude.”

Edward Gibbon

“It is enough to know that children are poor to know that they need help.”

Peter A. Quinn, U.S. Congress, (D-NY)”

“If I thought less of my saliva, I’d expectorate in your face.”

Peter A. Quinn

“No Catholic breaks with Rome easily.”

John O’Hara, “BUtterfield 8”

“He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection.”

John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Bishops come and go. The city continually molts its old self and renews its pursuit of the extravagant. But amid the whirlwind of ambition and celebrity, the need will always be great for institutions and congregations whose mission stays the same: to heal souls as well as bodies, comfort the sick and dying, welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, defend the poor and disenfranchised, and insist on the God-given dignity of every person. to the degree that the Church and its members seek their perfection in this work, the future will never be in doubt.”

Peter Quinn

“Crumble, crumble

Voiceless things;

No faith can last

That never sings.”

Lascelles Abercrombie, “The Stream’s Song”

“For Catholics, sin is ubiquitous. But so is forgiveness. Hell exists. But it might be empty. Evil is real but mingles with good, and no human being is either all good or all evil. We are mixtures of both, and who is saved or damned is beyond our knowing.”

Peter Quinn

“In the end it comes down to the old story that we are sinners, but that this is our hope because sinners are the ones who attract to themselves the infinite compassion of God.”

Thomas Merton

“We feel the water and oil used in the sacraments, taste the bread and wine, not just to enjoy them for what they are, but to plumb our belief that they aren’t just what they seem to be but, in ways that defy the limits of language, signs of God’s real presence among us.”

Peter Quinn

“Although agnostic in spirit, the secular left . . . treats the mystery of divine love as a harmless myth; at worst, as a dangerous delusion that can impede human progress, particularly in the medical sphere. Secularism claims toleration as its central tenet. But it’s a qualified toleration. It says, Go ahead and believe what you will, just as long as it has no effect on any significant part of your public life, is never asserted outside of church, and remains a private eccentricity.”

Peter Quinn

“Christians’ belief in the eternal significance of every human life is a bulwark against a Malthusian ethic of reproductive profligacy that robs the individual of any meaning other than in furthering the survival of the species.”

Peter Quinn, paraphrasing Gabriel Marcel

“A man becomes a saint not by conviction that he is better than sinners but by the realization that he is one of them, and that all together they need the mercy of God.”

Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation”

“The current huffing and puffing over gays in the priesthood can’t negate the fact that there were, are, and will always be homosexual priest whose piety, probity, and loyalty deserve respect and gratitude rather than slanderous distrust and squalid witch hunts.”

Peter Quinn

“Those descended from the Famine Irish have a special responsibility to look past the current evocation of innumerable, anonymous aliens threatening our borders, or the latter-day recycling of theories of ethnic and racial inferiority, and to see in today’s immigrants a reminder of our ancestors: those hungry ghosts who, though dispossessed and despised, passed on to us their faith and their hope.”

Peter Quinn

“Despite our differences, we Americans are hopelessly (and hopefully) entwined with one another, our histories, ancestries, stories, songs, dreams, and lives wrapped around each other like dual strands of DNA.”

Peter Quinn

“What we need most times is not the courage of our convictions but the courage to question our convictions . . . the willingness to see the world afresh, to throw over old presumptions and consider new possibilities, to abandon routine and renew a sense of wonder.”

Peter Quinn, paraphrasing Nietzsche

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When Catholics, Irish (or any other immigrant group) were ‘real Americans’ greatest fear

May 18, 2011

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Along with the oppressed immigrant angle, I really liked the history Peter Quinn’s captured of the anti-Catholicism the Irish faced in “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America.”
Here’s a line to remember from this work of non-fiction: “If I thought less of my saliva, I’d expectorate in your face.”
It’s a quote from the author’s father, who was a member of Congress. A Republican heard Quinn’s Democrat father quote Shakespeare and remarked that he was “unusually cultured for an Irishman.”

And then there was the description of a Quinn’s grandfather by an aunt: “He’ll be the last man out of Purgatory, if, God willing, he was lucky enough to get in.”

The connection I made is that the immigrant experience of the Irish translates pretty well for other ethnic groups who came to this country. It’s American history at gut level.

I was impressed with the quality of research Quinn did. His connecting historical fact with fictional writing on those facts is an interesting tool. It reinforced for me the concept that in some ways fiction can tell history better than non-fiction.

As an active Catholic — one who works for a Catholic diocesan newspaper — and as a “hypenated-American” although non-Irish — I connected with Quinn’s understanding of the cultural value of Catholicism.

I’ll need to think a bit more about this, but my first thought is that he crossed the line when he included his opinions about a celibate clergy, for example. Not that that opinion shouldn’t have been expressed — I’m not saying that at all — but it seemed as though that subject matter belonged in a whole other book, not one about the Irish-American immigrant experience.

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Catholics ought to be up in arms about anti-Catholic ‘humor’ on National Public Radio

December 19, 2010

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“This American Life” is one of the very best radio programs in the country, but the past week the producers of the show from Chicago’s public radio outlet let down a good portion of their audience by allowing a “comedian” to make fun of Catholics and the practice of their faith.

I frankly couldn’t believe what was coming out of my car radio as I drove from store to store doing Christmas shopping. I’m posting the link here because I think others need to know what this is all about:  http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/422/comedians-of-christmas-comedy-special. It’s Act Three: The Little Altar Boy” by Mike Birbiglia that triggered my calling Minnesota Public Radio to express my indignation that it would allow such bias on its station.

I kept asking myself, doesn’t anyone at “This American Life” have the brains — or the sensitivity — to know how offensive Birbiglia’s piece was to Catholics? 

I expect so much better from public radio. I expect public radio will be the standardbearer against prejudice of all kinds. And then it allowed someone to use its very valuable, “public” air time to make fun of the faith and the religious practices of millions? Intellectually, how does that make sense? I wondered, was the crew laughing along with Mr. Birbiglia, or did anyone in authority anywhere along the way ask themselves, “Are Catholics going to find this not only distasteful but an attack on their beliefs?” They should have.

 As soon as Birbiglia uttered the words, “Christ has lied …,” the little bell should have gone off in the heads of someone, if not at “This American Life,” if not at WBEZ, then certainly at MPR. If someone in any of those public radio offices had the ethics that I equate with public radio they would have pulled the plug on Birbiglia’s mic or on the syndicated feed and apologized to the 70 million Catholics in this country.

 Frankly, Birbiglia’s stuff wasn’t even funny. The jokes by the third graders that were aired early in that show were better than the childish garbage Mr. Birbiglia presented as humor. It’s really too bad he didn’t have the creativity of the third graders.

 Here’s to hoping everyone at public radio rises above the anti-religion, anti-Catholic gutter in the future. If you agree, why not let them know. — Bob Zyskowski

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What’s in a name? A lot, if it’s yours!

November 24, 2009

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“My Name is Sangoel,”
written by Karen Lynn Williams
and Khadra Mohammed,
illustrated by Catherine Stock

Shaquille O’Neal was the name that broke the ice.

Across the United States a great angst was fomenting as families with non-traditional ethnic backgrounds named their children what to many “American” ears were strange sounding names.

Remember hearing folks ask “Why can’t they give their kids a ‘normal’ name?”

Recall being stymied in trying to pronounce unique names, those with unique spellings, and especially names from other cultures?

Then came the personable, photogenic and talented basketball player named Shaquille. Our ears started to get used to the sound of a name that wasn’t Tom or Dave, Jennifer or Jane.

The need for open-mindedness about unique names multiplies as refugees from around the world continue to flee war, hunger and oppression in lands where many names offer a test to American ears.

Authors Williams and Mohammed give us a different perspective on the phenomenon. In this colorful children’s book, readers learn what it’s like to be the African boy from Sudan who finds no one in his new country can pronounce his name.

Too different to even try

After his father is killed in war, Sangoel lives in a refugee camp until the day he and his mother and sister can emigrate to the United States.

Everything is new in this new land, and although he is only eight Sangoel is the man of the family, he takes responsibility to help his mother and sister make their way.

As the first-born son who as Dinka tradition has it is named after his father, his grandfather, and his ancestors through the ages, young Sangoel heeds his grandfather’s parting words: “You will be Sangoel. Even in America.”

That proves to be quite the challenge.

Hanging on to his name with pride, the boy despairs that no one in the United States — not the social worker helping his family resettle, not doctors, not teachers, classmates, coaches or soccer teammates — can rightly say his name.

Some don’t even try — an experience with which many an American with an ethnic last name can surely identify and empathize. People see an “ski,” a “wicz,” an accent mark or an apostrophe in a name and they don’t even attempt to sound out a pronunciation.

In this beautifully illustrated work from the collection of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Sangoel’s creativity enables him to teach others to say his name correctly — and to be accepted in his new environment without leaving behind the heritage of his native homeland.

Reading “My Name is Sangoel” — pronounced “Sun-Goal” — makes for a teachable moment, an opportunity to address at least one prejudice our nation of immigrants can live without. — bz

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How Protestants — and Nixon — tried to keep JFK out of the White House

April 29, 2009

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“The Making of a Catholic President:
Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960″
by Shaun A. Casey

Protestants and Republicans failed, but they did their damnedest to try to keep a Catholic from becoming president of the United States.

This incredibly detailed account proves — with the hard evidence of preserved letters and memoirs — that under the guise of fighting to preserve the principle of separation of church and state, large Protestant denominations and influential Protestant leaders teamed with the Republican Party and its nominee in the 1960 election — Richard M. Nixon — to feed anti-Catholic prejudice among the large Protestant voting majority.

Famous names like the Rev. Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale are uncovered as joining in, nay, leading the charge, in order to keep the Catholic Kennedy from the White House.

Casey’s research shows how Protestant ministers and church leaders used their pulpits and their printing presses to blatantly state that no Catholic could ever be trusted to uphold the U.S. Constitution as president.

The anti-Catholic bias came out via the preaching sermons that attacked JFK, airing radio and television programs that did the same, running lengthy articles against Kennedy in Protestant magazines like Christian Century and Christianity and Crisis, and printing and distributing hundreds of thousands of pamphlets in an attempt to sway the election Nixon’s way. Leading the chorus of anti-Catholicism was the Republican National Committee.

Nixon involvement uncovered
If only the American public had known about the duplicitous ways of Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign, the country may never have heard of a bungled burglary at the Watergate complex because Nixon’s credibility would never have allowed him to even run for the presidency later, no less be elected or approve of criminal activity to try to win re-election.

While publicly vowing not to raise the issue of a candidate’s faith, Nixon surreptitiously had former Missouri congressman O.K. Armstrong working the anti-Catholic bias angle across the country with Protestant church leaders and especially the anti-Catholic group Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Armstrong recruited organizations like Citizens for Religious Freedom, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God and the National Council of Churches to use speeches and printed material to show how a Catholic president would undermine the country.

Armstrong worked under the guidance of Albert Hermann of the Republican National Committee, who was the organizer of anti-Catholic forces for Nixon.
Bias clouded issues
Casey points out that the issues of the day in 1960 were public funding for Catholic schools, the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, a supposed threat to separation of church and state, and especially the fear that the Vatican would direct a Catholic president in how to govern the country. What comes through the historical evidence is first the fear by Protestant elites that the United States would no longer be a “Protestant nation,” and second that both Protestants and Republican leaders feared Catholic voting power.

Interestingly, President Dwight Eisenhower had won the majority of Catholics in both the 1952 and 1956 elections.

In going after the anti-Catholic vote, Nixon took up a suggestion from Rev. Billy Graham, who wrote in a letter to the then vice president, “when the chips are down I think the religious issue would be very strong and might conceivable work in your behalf.” Graham in fact shared his mailing list with the anti-Kennedy efforts.

Nixon, however, had a problem of his own: Civil rights. In order to gain Protestant votes, he had to win a large percentage of conservative white southern voters, so he could not be seen as progressive on race and have any chance at the southern vote. In hindsight, that foretold the Republicans’ “Southern Strategy” that took electoral voters from the formerly Democratic “Solid South” camp for election after election in the later part of the 20th Century.
Kennedy and his faith
“The Making of a Catholic President” shows how the Kennedy camp came to realize the serious threat that JFK faced from anti-Catholic bigotry and how he and his strategists determined to confront the issue directly.

Kennedy sought out and listened to Protestant leaders and then addressed their fears.

Over and over during the primaries and the general election campaign JFK voiced his opposition to tax dollars for Catholic education, his opposition to an ambassador to the Vatican, and his commitment to the constitution of the country over the dogma of his faith.

He entered the West Virgina primary, winning the votes of that overwhelmingly Protestant populace, then into the lions’ den of the Houston Ministerial Association, where he gave a speech and answered questions from that hostile Protestant audience.

That event may be the most often recalled remarks by Kennedy about the impact of his religion on his actions in office.

“Whenever an issue may come before me as President . . . I will make my decision . . . in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

Kennedy’s statement echoed a quote that appeared in a Look magazine feature on him Feb. 16, 1959: “Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution in all parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.”

At the time, Kennedy was chided by writers in Catholic magazines like the Jesuit’s America and lay-run Commonweal “for yielding too much ground to the Protestant worriers,” as
author Casey put it.

What is more interesting, and which deserves similar book-length treatment, are thoughts Casey brings up in his epilogue.

For further reflection
JFK carried 83% of the Catholic vote in 1960, 34% of the white Protestant vote, and 50% of the regular-attending black churchgoers, but won the electoral votes of hugely Protestant Texas, perhaps in part thanks to running mate Lyndon Johnson.

But Casey asks: “What was the nature of Kennedy’s Catholicism?”

The answer according to one priest who knew him well was that he was a conventional Catholic of his day who understood the structures and traditions that were the church of 1950s Boston.(That priest was a certain Father John Wright, a confidant of then-Senator Kennedy who offered extremely valuable advice about how to handle the issue of his faith. The priest later became the Bishop of Pittsburgh and a John Cardinal Wright.)

Even is one disavows some of the alleged moral failings that have come to light about JFK in the years since his assassination, considering the current climate of pressure on Catholic candidates from some of the American hierarchy and other corners of the church, one has to wonder if today JFK would be able to pull 83% of the Catholic vote, or if the fact that we now have had a Catholic president would take the cachet off electing a Catholic for Catholic voters.

Still more to think about
Casey’s epilogue offers cause for reflection for other, more important issues for today’s Catholic.

In pointing out how JFK sought understanding from Protestants, not endorsement, Casey says:

“As religion has increasingly become connected to the political divide in this country, it has reinforced a gulf among faith communities such that members of the religious Right and the religious Left routinely demonize one another and, in doing so, ape the worst aspects of American political culture.”

He adds two more thoughts:

First, the political independence of faith communities is good for both the faith communities and the nation. Second, endorsements of politicians by faith communities are usually misguided.

“The Making of a Catholic President” should be read by every Catholic — and every Protestant — eligible to vote. — bz
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Irish humor lives in the global village

July 28, 2008

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“THE DEPORTEES AND OTHER STORIES,”
by Roddy Doyle

Ireland has changed.

The Ireland that for so many years forced its native population to leave has in recent times, seen a booming economy, so people struggling in other parts of the world are flocking to this new land of opportunity, Ireland.

Thank God Roddy Doyle is alive and well and writing to capture the turn around, and doing it in the manner that causes laugh-out-loud reading.

As always with Doyle, the humor percolates from human nature. His fiction takes advantage of the typically funny way the Irish have of dealing with life. He celebrates the joys in understated ways, but more often Doyle taps the embarrassing moments, exposing those insecurities that anyone human might laugh at, getting the largest chuckles from the instances when bigotry is revealed for what it is, when his characters realize the foot they’ve put into their own mouths, when David bests Goliath because of the big oaf’s self-righteousness.

“The Deportees” is the longest of the eight short stories, and arguably the richest. Doyle revives Jimmy Rabbitte, the main character of “The Commitments,” his story about a young Irish lad who loves soul music and puts together a soul band.

Rabbitte is grown up now, but he still loves music enough to name his children — besides Jimmy Two — Mahalia and Marvin, and wants to name the one his wife is carrying Aretha if its a girl, Smokey if it’s a boy.

He gets the idea for a band composed of members from around the globe who have come to call Ireland home, and the fun gets going big time as Jimmy opens auditions.

In all the stories, “The Deportees” included, the hard edge of dealing with racial and national prejudice rides right along side the humor.

In “57% Irish,” Doyle takes on the idea of how Irish you have to be considered one, and in “Black Hoodie” he’s crafted a combination of “Black Like Me” and “Ferris Bueler’s Day Off” that points a finger at many of our biases — and you don’t have to live on the Emerald Isle to see them in our own society and in ourselves.

He also has the wonderful ability to put himself into his characters and let them speak about their situation. And, if we learn a little bit about what a refugee to Ireland sees and feels, maybe — just maybe — we’ll be a bit more sympathetic to the immigrants who’ve come to our own land and our own communities in search of work, safety and freedom.

Fair warning: Some of the human is earthy and sexual; this is a book for mature audiences. — bz

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