Living Our Patriotism


Happy Fourth of July!

This week’s issue of Time magazine contains an essay titled “Patriot Games” by Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, which articulates a view of patriotism that is worth our consideration:

Patriotism should be proud but not blind, critical yet loving.  And liberals and conservatives should agree that if patriotism entails no sacrifice, if it is all faith and no works, then something has gone wrong.  The American who volunteers to fight in Iraq and the American who protests the war both express a truer patriotism than the American who treats it as a distant spectacle with no claim on his talents or conscience.

Why not give some consideration this Independence Day to doing a bit more to live your patriotism?  Think about getting involved in our local government, where you don’t need to drop a hundred thousand dollar contribution to get somebody’s ear. 

Start by simply paying attention.  Read what our local governmental bodies – the City Council, the District 64 and District 207 school boards, and the Park District board – are doing, and start thinking critically about it.  Does it make sense?  Does it sound like the best practice or procedure?  Does it sound like a wise use of our tax dollars?  Is it good for our community?

Then get to know at least one or two of your elected representatives, starting with your alderman.  Call them up, send them an e-mail, let them know what you think about the issues confronting them. Give up the occasional Cubs or Sox game on TV and go to a meeting to see exactly how the process really works…or doesn’t.

Because if enough of us start doing this and doing it often enough, maybe…just maybe…we’ll start getting the government we want and deserve.

Father Doesn’t Always Know Best


Tuesday night a minor miracle occurred at Park Ridge City Hall.  No, Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark didn’t turn some lead balloon idea into gold for one of his campaign contributors.  No, Taste of Park Ridge NFP (the corporation) didn’t book Bruce Springsteen to headline at Taste of Park Ridge (the event).  This was much more significant, perhaps even profound.

A number of St. Paul of the Cross parishioners mustered the courage to publicly challenge their pastor, Fr. Carl Morello, on a local government matter: his decision to put a PADS homeless shelter in St. Paul School. 

Approximately 60 of them showed up at the City Council’s Procedures and Regulation (“P&R”) Committee meeting for the discussion of whether St. Paul needed a special use permit under the city’s zoning code in order to host a PADS shelter there.  And to anybody who loves our form of government – the way our Founding Fathers intended it to work, not the crass and corrupt way it often operates here in Illinois – it was an inspiring sight.

The discussion opened with Fr. Morello reiterating the Park Ridge Ministerial Association (“PRMA”) party line that a PADS shelter is part of their religious ministry and, consequently, they aren’t bound by city zoning laws.  If Morello expected the kind of reception he gets when preaching from his pulpit, however, he must have been sorely disappointed. 

One after another, his parishioners – many wearing “Protect Our Children” buttons – repudiated the notion that “Father Knows Best” as they asked P&R committee members Ald. Jim Allegretti, Ald. Tom Carey and Ald. Dave Schmidt to do what Morello would not do: put the safety of their children ahead of whatever “right” the card-carrying PADS-certified homeless might have to a Sunday night flophouse in Park Ridge. 

Several spoke timidly, occasionally glancing back nervously at Morello as he sat in the audience for what most Council watchers believe was his first time since the PADS shelter became an active topic on the City Council’s agenda.  Some even choked back tears while questioning how Morello could put their children at risk from PADS “clients” who suffer from alcohol, drug and mental illness. 

Some were defiant, reminding Morello that it was the parishioners who raised the millions of dollars needed to build the very gym that he, without even consulting them, has decided to turn over to the homeless every Sunday night from October through April.  They pointed out that PADS is a business instead of a ministry, they questioned the motives of PADS and the PRMA in bringing non-Park Ridge homeless to Park Ridge, and they suggested alternatives such as putting the homeless up at nearby motels or in the Park Ridge Senior Center.

One of the most courageous appearances was by St. Paul school board member Jan Whitelaw, who reportedly has been pressured by St. Paul parishioners for her “disloyalty” in publicly expressing her disagreement with Morello.  She recited the health and safety risks presented by the homeless shelter and noted that many St. Paul parishioners are afraid to even question Morello about these and other matters. 

As best as we can tell, only one speaker offered a half-hearted defense of a PADS shelter in Park Ridge: Zoning Board of Appeals member Gary Zimmerman, who warned the Committee that the Archdiocese would fight the City in court if the City required a Special Use Permit for the shelter.  That brought a pointed response from Schmidt, who noted that this is a governmental rather than a religious issue and that the Archdiocese cannot be allowed to dictate whether and how the City will enforce its laws.

Unfortunately, Morello didn’t hear most of these comments.  Shortly after being admonished by Chairman Allegretti for trying to turn the hearing into a debate by speaking a second time before others had a chance to speak once, Morello walked out of the Council chambers with his Social Service Ministry Director, Adrienne Timm, in tow – followed moments later by his legal counsel, Jack “Mr. Insider” Owens.  They huddled outside City Hall for awhile before Morello reportedly adjourned to Hay Caramba.  The consensus among a number of the parishioners present?  Morello’s departure was nothing less than disrespect for their views and for the Council. 

Mayor Frimark, on the other hand, stayed until that discussion was over.  As he was leaving, he was politely confronted on the City Hall steps by several of the parishioners who asked for his commitment to support the special use permit requirement.  Frimark did his politician’s best to dodge those questions as long as he could, finally suggesting all the other people they should be lobbying before taking his leave.  Don’t expect to find a Harry Truman-style “The buck stops here” sign on his desk.

But the night belonged to the St. Paul parishioners and to Fr. Morello.  The former showed what paying attention and becoming politically active can do.  And the latter showed what happens when a clergyman gets confused about what gets rendered to God and what must be rendered to “Caesar.”