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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 3, 2004 - Issue 110


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The Indian Priest
Father Philip B. Gordon
Chapter 16 - Problems on the Farm

by Paula Delfeld
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

As with every priest, Father Gordon had a long list of regular priestly duties that were a regular routine - "Breviary, Mass, Rosary, Spiritual Reading, Exams, and the constant interest in souls, sick-calls, deaths, births, marriages, debts, collections, sermons, confessions, communions, catechism, vocational schools, retreats, confirmations, devotions, virtue, sin…"

Still he always found time to help where he was needed. When Father O'Hara (later Bishop of Kansas) urged the attention of the Catholic Church to the rural question, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference was formed as a part of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference. Father Gordon soon became involved and attended the third annual meeting in St. Paul, October 12-17, 1925.

The Conference regarded the betterment of rural conditions as the starting point in the regeneration of society. Its objectives were the improvement of the spiritual, religious, social, cultural, and economic status of the rural group.

They stated: "Reconquest of the soil, which has been depleted through improper use and exploitation, is a fundamental consideration, for human erosion is closely related to soil erosion. Reconquest of ownership is another fundamental consideration, inasmuch as ownership is essential for independent, successful, and self-satisfying farm life. The multiplying of family-sized, owner-operated farms is an important safeguard against the exploitation of our greatest natural resource, namely, the land…"

When he was unable to attend a conference because of distance, Father Gordon kept in touch with everything that was going on and read everything about the conferences. He was an avid reader and had an uncanny ability to absorb what he read.

Many important subjects were discussed at the conferences - A Review of the Problem of Land Tenancy; Population Prospects in the South; Religion and Rural Welfare; Catholic Rural Social Planning; Youth Problems in Rural Communities; A Christian Interpretation of the More Abundant Life; -- and many others.

When the national administrator of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), C.B. Baldwin, along with other officials, came to a meeting in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Father Gordon asked, "Why should one of the largest government agencies… send three of the highest ranking men to an abbey in central Minnesota where fewer than one hundred priests and laymen were at school?"

Mr. Baldwin answered, "We are trying to give the low income farmers an outlet for self-expression that they've been lacking. We want to give them dignity, a place in the community… Our experience with disadvantaged citizens has indicated that they are worthy of all the help we can give them. Our legislative fight will be a never-ending fight. We have had a lot of support. I want to pay special tribute to Father Ligutti and to Father O'Grady who have helped us to protect this program that we tried to build so carefully. If it had not been for the assistance that we got from the Farmers Union, from the Catholic Rural Life Conference and from some labor quarters, I doubt if this work, which we are doing could have been saved."

"Mr. Baldwin's tribute also explains why the Church is interested in the FSA. This agency above all the New Deal programs has dealt with the common man." Father Gordon said. "Its object is to protect and promote the family type farm, and in all its divisions it works through the family. It has not simply doled out relief, but in a brilliant, far-sighted program it provides financial and expert guidance over a long period of time so that the families can rehabilitate themselves…"

Father Gordon said the meeting brought out the persistence of the same old farm problems so wisely described by Bishop Vincent J. Ryan, of Bismarck, North Dakota:
"A blight has fallen upon the land, which tend s to destroy everything that is beautiful to behold. At its worst this blight is symbolized by the dispossessed farmer who is now a tenant, dilapidated farm buildings, the hovels of the farm laborers and sharecroppers, the mighty hoards of dispossessed farm families moving across the western sections of the nation in search of the work, and the rural proletariat gathering in the towns and cities of the nation."

He said President Roosevelt spoke of this same picture when he proclaimed that one-third of our people are underfed, poorly clothed, and without proper housing.

He also quoted Pope Pius XI who had said a long time ago, "Economic life has become hard, cruel and relentless in a ghastly manner. Not alone is wealth accumulated, but immense power and despotic domination is concentrated in the hands of the few."

Father Gordon added his comment, "I trust this description of present day history will bear fruit in making one or the other farmer devote some thought to his situation and then join into cooperate in the execution of the plans suggested by his friends and in this case by his friend the Catholic Church."

Previous to this time it had been true that the farmer was an isolationist by necessity. His neighbors were far away and there was little contact because of poor roads, no phone and not much group action.

Father Gordon said, "This bred a sort of exclusive regard for one's own personal interest - nothing else that selfishness. So here we have perhaps another reason for the farmer's lack of appreciation and cooperation…"

He worked zealously to promote the Farmer's Union and preached adult education. He was in demand as a speaker at meetings, picnics, school commencements, etc., where he urged farmers to join the union and also took the occasion to speak on the rising juvenile delinquency. In June 1942, he prepared broadcasts in German and Italian of Station KSTP, St. Paul, for the Office of Strategic Services.

He had his own philosophy in regard to the state of the world, in disagreement with the economists, socialist, and capitalists. Their theories, he said, were "examples of modern man looking outside of himself to explain the chaos that is gradually forming in the world. If only he would look inside himself and examine his conscience, he would find the real answer - it is the almost universal rejection of mankind of Christian principles."

An article in the Christian Farmer, December 1940 stated, "The same jungle law we also find prevailing in agriculture, which makes agriculture as bad off as the rest of the modern economic system. Despite policies and programs, good intentions and organizations, the lot of the farmer today is not better than it was years ago; if anything worse."

"What is almost a surprise to me," Father Gordon said, "Is that most of the suggestions and plans of actions offered by the National CRLS(Catholic Rural Life Conference) were offered to us fifteen years ago. To indicate what progress has been made or should I say, lack of progress, I would only have to list the number of farm foreclosures that has taken place in my little flock…"

He also berated the clergy for lack of interest - "I am still waiting to see my brothers of the cloth (this is an expression used to designate clergymen) become indignant over the woes of the farmers. Some are interested in foreign missions and take collections for the heathen in far off China. Others are interested in Madagascar or Manchuria, but Polk County counts many farmers living in absolute insecurity, and few seem interested … Preaches preach 'Love they neighbor' and promptly forget the neighbor, apparently…"

When 1,000 indignant farmers in four counties met in Sparta to begin a determined fight against the Federal Security Administration's ruling which permitted the use of synthetic vitamins in manufacturing oleomargarine, he asked, "Where in Polk County is an organization to join in the battle?"

The St. Cloud Daily Times, Thursday, August 8, 1942, quoted Father Gordon, after the meeting there, "I live in Polk County, and it is the most cooperative-minded county in the whole United States. My parish includes five county villages and in one, Milltown, cooperative promoters from all over the United States and Canada come to hold their annual meetings…"

Eighty percent of the people in the county are of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian extraction. Hence they brought their cooperative ideas and plans from Europe. We have the oldest cooperative newspaper establishment. The county is filled with cooperative creameries, cheese factories and milk drying establishments…" But the farmers were reluctant to unite.

After World War II began, the economy vastly changes, "but certainly not for the better," Father Gordon said, "particularly when we look ahead say five years from now."

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