Patrick O'Neill, a religion writer, is co-founder of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House, an intentional Christian community that provides hospitality to men, women and children in crisis. He and Mary Rider have eight children.

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Threading the Needle

by Patrick O'Neill 04-25-2018
A worker-owned co-op in North Carolina creates a 'virtuous circle' of opportunity for immigrants.

JUST AFTER LUNCH, Eulalia Francisco shows Molly Hemstreet two pieces of white elastic bands, one of them slated for use as waistbands in a batch of woolen children’s pajamas being cut and sewed by the North Carolina-based, worker-owned cooperative Opportunity Threads.

Francisco, who had just two years of formal schooling in her native Guatemala, has noticed the elastic recommended for the sewing job is not the best choice for these pajamas. She recommends another elastic band.

Francisco is “our master sewer,” says Hemstreet, founder of Opportunity Threads, who agrees with Francisco’s suggestion and immediately orders the correct elastic.

After four years together, Francisco and Hemstreet, both worker-owners of Opportunity Threads, have a strong, trust-based working relationship. Hemstreet, an Episcopalian, earns the same wage as the other worker-owners and sees Opportunity Threads as having a spiritual component. “Before I met my husband, I thought deeply about going into cloistered work,” Hemstreet says. “I think of that whole thing of prayer and work, and that’s how I come here every day. We’re not making icons, but we’re doing work, and we do things in a joyful, prayerful way.”

The co-op grew from humble beginnings. After completing degrees in Spanish and Latin American studies at Duke University, Hemstreet moved with her husband, Francisco Risso, back to her hometown of Morganton, N.C., to open a Catholic Worker House. The local chicken plant hires many Latinos, but the work is hard and tedious, the pay not nearly a livable wage. So Hemstreet, with no formal training in business, explored the world of cooperatives, thinking it might be a good path to more meaningful and dignified employment for the Latino community.

Tales of the Disobedient

by Patrick O'Neill 01-05-2014
"Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace," Cascade Books

SHORTLY AFTER his 1983 appointment as archbishop of San Salvador during the Salvadoran civil war, Arturo Rivera y Damas traveled to the United States. Rivera succeeded Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was martyred for his outspoken condemnation of the war. I asked a Maryknoll sister—who lost three community members, killed by the Salvadoran death squads—to assess Rivera’s comments to the U.S. media. “He does not have the gift of martyrdom,” she said.

That comment gives perspective to the efforts of nonviolent peace activists in the U.S., many of whom have risked their freedom, usually for short stints, as a consequence of civil disobedience. In Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace, Rosalie G. Riegle chronicles the action-to-court-to-jail-and-prison journeys of some of the last century’s most committed pacifists. While a few told harrowing stories, for the vast majority the consequences fell far short of martyrdom. This is not to belittle their efforts, but rather to beg the question: Why do so few Christians resist the violence and war-making of the U.S. government?

Riegle’s well-done compilation of 65 oral histories might prompt more people to step into the fray. To date, hundreds of U.S. pacifists have served hundreds of years, mostly in federal prison, for crossing lines, burning draft cards and draft files, and hammering on the weapons of war. At press time, three Catholic pacifists known as the Transform Now Plowshares—Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed (interviewed in Riegle’s book), and Michael Walli—await a January sentencing for federal felony charges stemming from cutting fences and hammering at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

On Earth As In Heaven

by Patrick O'Neill 03-14-2013

Baldemar Velasquez

Farm labor organizer Baldemar Velasquez on making it real in the here and now.

Come With Me Into the Fields

by Patrick O'Neill 03-14-2013

In today's environment, there's little difference between farm labor organizing and immigration reform.

Where Union Has Gone Before

by Patrick O'Neill 09-01-1998
Baldemar Velasquez settles in for the long haul on behalf of cucumber pickers in the South.