Faith and Works
Religious congregations have always formed the nucleus of the broad based community organizations that Alinsky spawned. His focus on faith based institutions, however, was not drawn from the thin air of intellectual speculation but from the rich tradition of congregational engagement dating all the way back to the early settlements that became the 13 colonies.
Back then, as Alinsky fully understood, congregations were the teaching institutions as well as the values base of these first settlements. They were the social glue that undergirded emergent democratic practice and the confraternity of leaders conspiring together to build communities of robust faith and entrepreneurial vision.
Breathing the stale air of political opportunism, detractors like Gingrich, have sought to tag Alinsky and the many organizations that learned from his experience as "socialistic", "communistic", "anti -American" and worse. The community renewal - real, concrete, verifiable - that has flowed from the work of IAF itself is living contradiction of these characterizations.
Alinsky's was a democratic faith steeped in the moral claims of Hebrew Scripture. It was this mix of traditions - democratic and Judeo-Christian - that grounded his world view.
Cardinal Mundelein and Bishop Sheil
Pictured here is Alinsky with Bishop Bernard Sheil. Bishop Sheil joined the board of the Industrial Areas Foundation as a founding member in 1940. He was the longest serving Auxiliary Bishop under Cardinal Mundelein, Archdiocese of Chicago. In addition to supporting Alinsky's groundbreaking community organizing, he founded CYO - the Catholic Youth Organization. Bishop Sheil backed by Cardinal Mundelein saw in Alinsky someone who put Catholic Social Teaching into actual practice. The three were scandalized by the horrific conditions in which families lived and worked in the densely populated neighborhoods behind Chicago's stockyards. The stench, animal waste, and constant threats to child safety endured by poorly paid workers in the meat packing plants provoked their spirited and effective response.