Monday, October 15, 2012


Michigan Sugar "North Camp" license {was located about 4 miles NW of Capac, MI}

My history and that of the Port Huron area League of Catholic Women are interconnected.  Their support {a $1000/month scholarship for three summers, 1966-68}, with Fr. Hogan, and priests of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Emmet, MI, and Cardinal Dearden’s early emphasis on Hispanic ministry at the turn of the 1960’s, helped me take first steps as peacemaker, in migrant farm labor [and paid most college expenses my years at MSU].
Justice and peace shall kiss--Psalm 85--art by John Austin Swanson
There was a spirit moving in our church--of serving the poor, of justice for the outcast, learning from and listening to those in need.  In this way the disadvantaged would gain the tools for a better life, and those with plenty, could find the shared faith that helps us save our own souls.  A growing belief in our common calling as children of God was breaking down barriers of culture, class, language, religions, and factions within churches. 
Cesar Chavez, organizer of farmworkers, breaks bread of his 40 day fast, with his wife and Robert Kennedy in 1968
Pillars of the Capac, MI church, St. Nicholas, the Glombowski’s and Staniloiu’s, with area farmers, were coming together with the Betancourt family from Immoklee, FL, and the Alvarez family from Carrizo Springs TX, in migrant ministry, with hope to form a real lasting preferential option for the poor.  A Christian service that could change the system so that all are welcome.
Adopt a Liberal {in prayer} is a new website--the helping hands and prayer should go both ways
See scripture below
The conservative right hand of the Catholic Church knew what the liberal left hand was doing, and vice versa.  Both were enkindling a faith on the move.  Evangelization was the natural outcome of the devotional side of the church offering its prayerfulness to lift up the social Gospel advocates’ work for justice.  In today’s dichotomous political terms, the church’s “reds and blues” weren’t at odds, but worshipping in the same pew, depending on each other for inspiration.  At least these were the signs of hope—a wonderful outcome of Vatican II.

Holy Spirit window--St Peter's Basilica, Rome 
Descent of the Holy Spirit--on the People of God
The first summer I was a border at the home of an elderly widow in Emmett, as our young church team organized youth faith discussion groups in the migrant camps of the area.  The second year, seeing that in a couple summer months a city boy from Jackson, MI had to learn more about the small town community, or the one in the migrant camps, I decided on North camp, a couple miles from Capac.
Mike with Angie, migrant worker from south Texas, at St. Nicholas Church, Capac MI 1966
There for the next two summers the obreros del campo, taught me a great deal about their living on the move, the 5 am to 6 pm work down the rows of pickle harvest, and hospitality with buttered tortillas and cafecito on entering any labor camp shack any time of day.  My small risk living a few months with a people I barely knew, in barebones conditions, was richly rewarded by their acceptance, and a small increased ability in Spanish.  They invited me to visit their other places of harvest also, and I did—cherries in Traverse City and strawberries Bear Lake {both western Michigan} tomatoes in Toledo OH, sugar beet trucking in Colorado, and the marijuana side-business when visiting their simple homes off-season in Texas {did not directly participate, but saw a bit more of the side effects of living on the spare fringe of the economy}.

Junior [aka Lune, el Ojon, Crescencio], one of those I got to know best, and father of five when I met him, {esposa Paulina still only 19, pregnant with 6th } was extremely sharp, clever and a leader at whatever he tried--knew all the words to corridos and Bob Dylan songs, 6th grade education, bi-lingual to the max.   He died in a gun battle about 10 years later.

e and his brothers had made a gift to me, after the first summer, of a Sears’s 1901 8” long sawed-off 10 gauge shotgun with a whittled musket-like handle—hinge pin pulled, it made a small package that could be carried under a trench coat.  They thought this present would be appropriate since I was partial to disarmament.  Later on a friend of mine’s gunsmith dad removed the firing pin. Thrown in were two scimitar-like pocket knives that opened out to an S shape, each 9 inches end-to-end.  The metal blade homemade, painstakingly hammered and sharpened, and handle from a cow’s horn.
Theirs was a hard life very different from mine, but they welcomed me in, because I showed some live-in interest, and we shared the same faith.  Pedro [an informally adopted Alvarez] and Homar [Betancourt, son of the not-always-beneficent labor contractor in charge of North camp], two other young men I came close to, because of joint efforts and their initiative, went on to job training experiences that opened up some doors for them to exit the migrant labor stream.

Junior and Paulina, with some of their six kids present, were married in the church at St. Nicholas the second summer--a rarity in the common-law farm laborers’ life.   Fr. Joe Melton’s pastoral care helped bring this about.  And it had been his invitation at the beginning, and mentoring throughout, that made my learning and working in this rural migrant ministry possible.

Fr. Joe [one of Cardinal Dearden’s Spanish language priests] had facilitated the financing of my project from the League of Catholic Women, and others, and welcomed my presence at daily mass.  When I read my reports of those summers’ activities, it’s amazing how full of myself I was—so certain of my perspectives and ability to figure anything out.  Humility has never been one of my native virtues.
"Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled" applies to all in the political spectrum [see Lk 18:9-14, the Pharisee and the Publican]
In the years since, I’ve made many mistakes and realized plenty of personal limitations, but do wonder still at the power of God’s grace to bless our small efforts a hundredfold.  My hope, in the years that remain, is to make the opportunity that was given me, available in new ways for others.  Thank you to those who made stretching cultural boundaries, this grace-filled experience, part of my life. 


Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men and women, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.
            1 Timothy 2:1-3

Illumination by Kathy Brahney


1 comment:

  1. do you have photos or stories from 1968ish era in traverse city MI? Northwest Michigan Health Services is celebrating our 50th anniversary of serving farmworkers and would love some old photos or stories! This is a great article you wrote!