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Father Jack O’Malley, SFC pt. guard extraordinaire, epitomized Jesus’ commitment to working people

Labor Day, 2018

Father Jack O’Malley with now President Joe Biden at Labor Day Mass,

September 3, 2018

St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church: Photo thanks to Joseph Delale

We consider it our duty to reaffirm that the remuneration of work is not something that can be left to the laws of the marketplace; nor should it be a decision left to the will of the more powerful. It must be determined in accordance with justice and equity; which means that workers must be paid a wage which allows them to live a truly human life and to fulfill their family obligations in a worthy manner.

Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher) #71

Pope John XXIII, 1961

… passed away almost a year ago

On this Labor Day, 2021, we should remember a special priest who endlessly toiled in the trenches for the working men and women of Western Pennsylvania. He was a man who believed strongly in the words of Jesus Christ about social justice, particularly for those who worked hard and battled to earn some respect and rights for themselves.

As I wrote at the time of his passing last year, Father Jack O’Malley held “a deep, resonant belief in social justice.” At the time that Pope John XXIII wrote the words about about the “remuneration of work,” Jack was enrolled at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Latrobe.

By that time, Father Jack had much of that philosophy of social justice that the Catholic Church at that time espoused. He believed that the church should follow the example of Jesus Christ, who recruited working fishermen to lead him in his quest to lead them to God.

Spiritus Paenitentiae

St. Francis University honored him in 2017 with the Spiritus Paenitentiae Award. In its release, the school said,

This award is based on the Roman Catholic and Franciscan tenet of forgiveness. As written in the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” St. Francis, St. Clare and Dorothy Day imitated Christ in the ability to forgive others and to seek mercy. Through the Spiritus Paenitentiae Award, the University recognizes individuals or organizations whose acts of love, charity and care of all creation exemplify the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.

St. Francis press release, 2017

He worked during his ministry to help the working man, and a friend who knew him during that time remembered what he meant to all of those workers throughout Pennsylvania.

As a St. Francis player in the 1950s

Father Jack even spent time in prison for his principles

Joseph Delale was a vice-president of his union when Father Jack was named as pastor of his church in Lawrenceville in the 1980s. They became close collaborators in the quest to help those who were toiling for some human dignity in their work, toiling together on the Labor and Religion Coalition of Western Pa.

Fr. Jack was involved with all unions across the state of Pennsylvania. He attended rallies, marched with strikers. One time I remember he chased down owners of a large office cleaning firm to help its workers to organize.

Fr. Jack went to Chicago to learn about a program that the Interfaith Worker Justice developed. The program was called Labor in the Pulpits. This program puts Union members in churches to talk about the connection between Labor and Church.

In 2001 we launched Labor in the Pulpits in Pittsburgh. We were able to get in 50 churches . Some churches had Union members speak, some priest or ministers spoke about Labor . We also developed talking points which were distributed to all the Catholic churches in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh.

Joseph Delale, E-mail, September 2021

Parishioners had reservations about him — at first

However, when he was named the pastor, some parishioners expressed concerns about him because he had served nights in prison in his quest for labor equality,

Jack was the Pastor at St. Mary’s 46th (Lawrenceville) in the mid-eighties. Prior to his arrival at our parish, the rumor mill began to turn. I helped out at our parish Monday night bingo. I remember people talking about the NEW Priest.

One woman was concerned about the number of times he was arrested and the type of people that would show up at his previous parish …

Fr, Jack was our parish priest, and after a few weeks, the parishioners fell in love with him. Fr. Jack learned about the abandoned school building and decided that there surely was a good use for it. The parish, because of Jack’s leadership, decided to convert it to a senior citizens residents.

Joseph Delale, E-mail, September 2021

A very kind man, just like Jesus

In addition to working for the rights of workers, Jack O’Malley always remembered the downtrodden,

One day I came over to sign some papers and was greeted by Jack and was immediately told by him that I was going to city Council with him to help save jobs at our Nabisco plant that was stated to close. I learn early that it not east to say no to this man.

While walking to his car, a man approached us, calling out Fr. Jack. I backed off, giving them space to talk, But, I could see Fr. Jack reaching into his pocket and giving the man a 50-dollar bill. We continued our walk and Jack told me that the man needed money to feed his family.

He also told me that the money was not his, and it belonged to a secretary and was meant to pay a bill. We walked a few more steps, and then another man approached, handing Jack a 50-dollar bill. Jack told me that this man put Fr. Jack’s name on a football pool and his block won.

Jack looked up at me with that Irish smile and said,”You know, Joe. GOD works in mysterious ways.”

We made our way to city council, and the rest was magic. Jack insisted on talking to council, and wow, they sure listened to him.

Joseph Delale, E-mail, September 2021

Also believed in peace

Father Jack also remembered that Jesus Christ was the Prince of Peace. As a newspaper obituary noted last year,

The Roman Catholic priest’s friends and colleagues would describe him as someone who never strayed from his moral values and wasn’t afraid to call out injustice. Throughout his life as a pastor, Father O’Malley often would picket with labor unions, even getting arrested several times while protesting.

Father O’Malley, 83, who died on Friday at a residence in the West End, would refer to these acts of civil disobedience as “divine obedience,” his friends said, recalling one of many arrests during the Grape Boycott in the Strip District in the 1970s protesting workers’ low wages.

Joyce Rothermel, a friend and member of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests, recalled getting arrested alongside Father O’Malley at the White House for civil disobedience in protest of then-President Ronald Reagan’s administration’s decision to expand the military budget, among other issues.

Lauren Lee, “The Rev. John ‘Jack’ O’Malley, a champion of labor

and civil rights,” Post-Gazette, September 14, 2020

And today, the Catholic Church — and working men and women — need someone like Father Jack O’Malley. Not sure if many priests are out there with his commitment to social justice.

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