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Issue Date:  September 3, 2004

Ed Marciniak, citizen of church and world


He was among the last survivors of a generation of activist Chicago Catholics who profoundly influenced the church both locally and nationally during the second half of the 20th century.

Edward Marciniak, who died in late May at the age of 86, stood tall in a group that included, among many others, Pat and Patty Crowley, Msgr. Jack Egan, Msgr. George Higgins, Russell and Bernice (Marciniak) Barta, and Msgr. Dan Cantwell. All were disciples of Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, a charismatic advocate of lay action for social justice.

“With their confident posture toward modernity, their insistence on a lay-centered church, their emphasis on a connection between justice and liturgy and through their boundless energy, Ed Marciniak and the others anticipated the Second Vatican Council,” said Bill Droel, longtime activist and close friend of Marciniak. They created, he noted, a score of organizations like the Christian Family Movement, the Cana Conference, the Catholic Social Action Conference, and Chicago Inter-Student Catholic Action. And they provided a powerful Chicago presence to national initiatives, including the Catholic Worker Movement, the Young Christian Workers, the Young Christian Students, the Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry, and the National Conference on Interracial Justice.

Marciniak’s lifelong emphasis was on the urban poor. During his always visible and outspoken career of some 60 years, he pioneered courses on the papal social encyclicals and on race relations at Rosary College in the Chicago area, fought for the rights of labor union workers, published the Work newspaper, and served as director of the Chicago Commission on Human Rights under Mayor Richard J. Daley. As deputy commissioner of development and planning for the city of Chicago in the late 1960s and early ’70s, he was a constant voice for racial integration and improvements in public housing. In his latter years he headed the Institute of Urban Life at Loyola University. Some 500 of his articles on social issues were published in magazines, including the New Republic, America and Commonweal.

In his book, Tomorrow’s Christian, Marciniak wrote, “My chief concern lies at the rubbing edge of contact between church and world, that no-man’s land of theology through which religious scholars often tiptoe but seldom plow. Here lies the territory of the ordinary Christian, the layman so-called. The secular Christian, citizen of the church and of the world, becomes the man in the middle, the double agent who works for both and serves both by integrating them in his own life and person.”

His style was direct, frank and sometimes unapologetically confrontational. “He believed in the strength of weak links,” said Droel. “That is, he understood that in public life information is shared, creative ideas are surfaced and power for the common good is brokered by people who are sincerely present to one another, but who are comfortable remaining public friends. This is in contrast to some environments where people are constantly getting bent out of shape, always taking things too personally. Marciniak, by contrast, routinely disagreed with someone in the morning, only to call him or her for support in the afternoon.”

In remarks at Marciniak’s funeral, Lawrence Sufferdin, a commissioner of the Cook County Board, said, “Throughout his life, Ed had an interesting interaction with the church, a struggle to get the church to use its institutional power to help people achieve their potential. He always saw the church with a capital ‘C’ being the clerical institution, and the church with a small ‘c’ being all the rest of us -- the people of God. He saw the role of the laity to be the leaders on civil rights, anti-Semitism, education, housing and even liturgy. He fought against misplaced clericalism in the church.”

Sufferdin cited Marciniak’s role as principal drafter of the 1978 “A Chicago Declaration of Christian Concern,” an oft-quoted statement signed by 40 Chicago Catholic leaders, cautioning lay Christians against an exaggerated involvement with “churchy” matters to the neglect of justice needs in the secular world. “In the last analysis,” said the declaration, “the church speaks to us and acts upon the world through her laity. Without a dynamic laity conscious of its personal ministry to the world, the church, in effect does not speak or act.”

A lunch in honor of Ed Marciniak and his achievements is planned in Chicago the first week of October. For information contact the National Center for the Laity, Box 291102, Chicago IL 60629.

Robert McClory, a longtime contributor to NCR, writes from Chicago.

National Catholic Reporter, September 3, 2004

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