By Benjamin J. Urmston, S.J.
It has been 20 years since Peace and Justice Programs began at Xavier, and in those two decades we have accomplished much. Here are only brief samples of the many activities of Dorothy Day House over the years. It doesn't include the dark graced story: the struggles, the conflicts, the mistakes, the wrong decisions, the misunderstandings, being hyperactive and overextended. But we were honest enough to acknowledge we do have a dark graced story that, with God’s help, we can move to the light.
I have always felt that despite my own weaknesses and mistakes, by some miracle Dorothy Day House not only survived but flourished. With God’s help and presence, I hope Peace and Justice Programs will approach the new millennium with courage and enthusiasm. One of the strengths of Dorothy Day House has been the community that has been created and which endures despite enormous challenges.
In 1981, I proposed through the vice president for student affairs to then-Xavier President Robert Mulligan, S.J., that the University have a department dedicated to faith and justice. I chose the name Peace and Justice Programs following the Pontifical Commission, the many diocesan departments of the same name—including the Cincinnati Archdiocesan Commission of Social Justice and World Peace, of which I was a member—and from one of my theology classes, The Gospel of Peace and Justice, Catholic Social Teaching Since Pope John presented by Joseph Gremillion. Fr. Mulligan approved of the department and appointed me as its director.
At the request of Xavier students, in 1983 Xavier President Charles Currie designated Dorothy Day House as the home of Peace and Justice Programs and the student clubs. I convened an ad hoc committee to study the feasibility of a peace studies minor. The board of undergraduate studies approved our proposal for an introductory course, three electives from different disciplines and a concluding course.
In 1984, the Peace and Justice Programs initiated the Way of the Cross, Way of Justice, a public prayer, drama and song through the streets of Cincinnati on Good Friday. The walk is to commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus 2,000 years ago, as well as Jesus’ suffering today in the poor and the oppressed. As many as 2,000 pilgrims have participated in this event, now coordinated by an ecumenical religious coalition. Despite at times virulent verbal assaults, the Jesuit poet-priest, Daniel Berrigan, S.J., spoke gently but firmly of nonviolence, disarmament, and peace.
Also in 1984, the Peace and Justice Programs hosted the annual national convention of the Campaign for United Nations Reform and the Midwest Regional World Federalist Assembly. Robert Drinan, S.J., John Logue, and Ronald Glossop stressed the absolute necessity of effective international law and order freely chosen but with decentralized decision-making and sufficient checks and balances against any domination by a few.
The highlight of 1985 was pursuing the theme of economic security from various angles. Could we have full production, full employment and price stability in necessities? The author of Rebuilding America, Gar Alperovitz, said yes. The laws of economics are not like the laws of physics or chemistry. Economics is a man-made system. If our values respect the basic human rights of each human person in a healthy environment, then we can choose economic structures that give everyone economic security.
In 1986, students began to go on weekend Rural Plunges in various parts of Ohio and Kentucky, to visit farmland, agribusinesses and landfills, and to listen to farmers, environmentalists and social activists.
In 1987, Cesar Chavez told Xavier audiences how pesticides were endangering the farm workers in California. Baldemar Valasquez described the plight of farm workers in Ohio.
In 1989, students began Shantytown programs on the Xavier mall. One hundred and fifty students constructed ramshackle housing made of cardboard and plywood, fasted, lived in the shanties for 72 hours, had a soup kitchen-style meal and invited local politicians and dignitaries to hear their proposals to end homelessness. Students then attended a national Housing Now rally in Washington, D.C.
In 1990, Xavier faculty journeyed to Nicaragua and El Salvador to see first-hand the military, economic and human rights situation there. Upon their return, they joined James Gamble, great-great-grandson of the Procter & Gamble co-founder, as well as his father, Walter, his brother, Robert, and other Procter & Gamble shareholders to support a stockholder resolution asking P&G not to buy coffee beans from El Salvador. Procter & Gamble took out a full page ad in Salvadoran newspapers urging all to respect basic human rights. The peace accords followed soon after.
There were a number of significant activities in 1994. Amnesty International locked up faculty members in a mock jail to encourage urgent action letters that pleaded for the release of political prisoners. Peace and Justice Programs supported making Xavier a smoke-free campus. Dorothy Day House opposed the ending of general assistance in Ohio as a continuance of a cold war in our hearts. Scott Jackson received the highest award in Reserve Officer Training Corps as well as a Peace Studies scholarship to Songang Jesuit University in Seoul, South Korea. Dr. Irene Hodgson went to El Salvador with six Xavier students to help monitor elections. Sally Gladwell, recipient of the Dorothy Day Medal, was featured in the National Catholic Reporter for her work on environmental issues.
In 1995, Students for Life decided to follow the consistent ethic of life of the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and became an integral part of Dorothy Day House. In 1997, a recent Xavier graduate, Matthew Eisen, fasted 45 days to urge the U.S. to release the information it has about the disappearance of Fr. James Carney and thousands of others in Honduras.
This year, Gar Alperovitz discussed a new economic order which respected basic economic rights and Robert Gervasi sketched ways in which we could be free of the threat of war.