By Fr. Ray Doherty, Society of Saint Edmund's
Now in my 87th year, as age overtakes me, I find it difficult to sit and write as my vision is now not the best, but as I was asked to write a reflection, I thought it as an opportunity to break the silence on an issue important to so many.
As a young man, I met many Marines attending Saint Michael’s College. When I was a student at SMC (1947-1951), probably half of our enrollments were World War II veterans and they were a tremendously positive influence on me and other young fellow students. They were mentors, friends, and left such an impression on me that I decided to enroll to serve as they did. Being a Marine to serve my country was the right thing to do. A few months ago, I heard from a fellow Marine condemning our student athletes for taking a knee as a statement against injustice. As a Marine, certainly one of the reasons I wore that uniform with pride was because, among other things, I was defending human rights. Many of my fellow Marines who were African-Americans, as well as other non-white members. I also know that some of them, probably many, were involved in combat, wounded, and killed in Vietnam, not to mention the many other wars our country has fought before and since. A saying at the time of the Vietnam War about those of different racial backgrounds fighting and dying together was, “Same mud, same blood.” I personally served with and was friends with African-Americans and Puerto-Rican Americans. Their return to civilian life was not always a welcoming return (as the African-American veteran returning home to the Boston area who could not get a taxi driver to drive him to his home, as seen in Ken Burns’ recent documentary film on the Vietnam War). It is not far-fetched to assert that not being able to take a cab, though a sad statement of our society, has been the least of their experiences.
Racism is an ugly evil, condemned by the Catholic Church and recently referred to by Pope Francis as a sin. I expect that we all should be opposed to evil and sins whatever forms they may take and try our best to eliminate them. We at Saint Michael’s are proud of our military heritage as well as our commitment to social justice, civil rights, and human rights. Those things have never been mutually exclusive to me. They are the very fiber of the place I love and the faith and vocation I hold. As a Marine and an Edmundite, I surely do not believe that our student athletes and the many activists “Taking a knee” intend any disrespect to the flag, to our nation, or to our God. I know a couple of the coaches personally and they are fine young men leading a group of young adults whom we have taught that acting according to their conscience is good. We have taught them that they count and can make a difference. We have taught them as a community that it is right to take stand for justice, and those young men have. These are difficult times, not easily understood – looking like reversals for far too many.
I do appreciate the struggles African-Americans have had (after all, the SSEs have been ministering to them for many years), as well as our Native Americans and other people of color. I understand the adversity they face. Yet, they have contributed heroically to our war efforts over the years despite the way their country continues to treat them. The “taking a knee” is symbolic, done peacefully within one’s constitutional rights, and I would hesitate to judge that the intention of anyone using this symbol is to disrespect. To demand their silence undermines the values I hold dear. Surely, my Irish grandparents, immigrants from Ireland, as well as my own native-born parents, were subject to racism and discrimination because they were Irish and Catholic, so I can sympathize with any person or persons who experience discrimination and any form of injustice. These are evils we Americans must continually face and try, as best we can, to overcome for the benefit of all races. As a Marine and a priest, I cannot remain silent in the face of injustice.
May God bless you and yours. Semper Fi.