Father Tony Doesn’t Forget He Is Son of Union Members

Father Tony Doesn’t Forget He Is Son of Union Members

04/10/2011 Berry Craig

Father Tony Shonis includes the  the local central labor council on his pastoral rounds wherever the church sends him. Says Shonis:

“I come from a union family. Both of my parents retired with a pension from the union. My father was in the Bakery and Confectionery [Tobacco] Workers [and Grain Millers] union and my mother was in the old ILGWU [International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, now UNITEHERE!]. From them, I learned what the union means to a working family and how civic minded union members are.”

A Pennsylvania native, Shonis is associate pastor at the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Henderson, Ky., an old Ohio River town in the western end of the Bluegrass State. The Tri-County Labor Council meets in Henderson.

Before he came to Henderson, Shonis was in the pulpit at churches in Paducah–home of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council–and Owensboro, also in western Kentucky, where he teamed up with two union members to start the newspaper, The Rank and File Catholic (connecting the teaching of the church with the struggles of labor), and an electronic newsletter. They are David M. Grief, a retired member of Paducah Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 816, and Todd Johnson of Owensboro, an organizer with Sprinklerfitters Local 669.

Shonis is the newsletter chaplain. Grief is publisher and Johnson is editor. Dave Suetholz, who is the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s general council in Frankfort, the state capital, also writes articles for the newsletter.

Grief says they started the newsletter “in an attempt to raise the awareness of Catholic workers, the general Catholic community, and the Catholic Church itself, about the Church’s role in labor.”

Writes Shonis:

Unions, families and the Catholic Church is a marriage made in heaven. Families are the bread and butter of the union movement in this country and they are also the social foundation of the Church. This is a win-win issue for both unions and the Catholic Church.

Writes Johnson: “As Catholics we are called to respect others. It is our responsibility to be educated and informed and to defend those being exploited.”

Shonis says he has made a point of attending the meetings of the local labor council wherever he has been stationed as a priest. He adds that his support for trade unionism reflects a strong Catholic tradition of promoting social justice that includes support for unions.

The Catholic Church teaches that the right to organize and bargain collectively is a God-given right. In a modern sense, the social justice tradition goes back to the social encyclical of 1891, Rerum Novarum. Protestant and Jewish communities have also supported the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

Shonis calls on union members of all faiths to invite their clergy to their local union or central labor council meetings.

Let them see that union members are decent, hard-working, God-fearing people who simply want a better life not only for themselves and their families but also for all American families.

Click here for the current and back issues of The Rank and File Catholic.



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