In 1968, as a junior at Muskegon Catholic Central High School, the priest I had for religion class changed my life. I discovered yesterday he is ill, so I drafted the following to send to him today.
Dear Father LaGoe,
Philosopher and educator, Neil Postman once wrote “Children are the living messages we send to a future we will not see.” I want you to know of the messages you have sent, and continue to send, into our uncertain and oft frightening future.
At the request of my daughter, I have been writing my racial autobiography—a retelling of my personal relationship to race. Just the other day, I wrote the following:
The high school experience that changed my life was my junior-year religion class taught by Fr. John P. LaGoe. Fr. LaGoe had a reputation for strident and unorthodox views. Of all the views considered controversial, Fr. LaGoe was as close to being radically antiracist as anyone I could imagine. In our classes, we spent a great deal of time talking about racial issues, significant people of the time (Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.), and the events taking place around the country. I can still hear the sadness in his voice, and the painful look on his face during those discussions. I was in his class the day Dr. King was assassinated. Fr. LaGoe, accurately predicted the massive demonstrations and violence that would occur as a result. It was Fr. LaGoe’s influence that encouraged me to read books about racial issues. He started me on a learning journey, that included books such as Autobiography of Malcolm X, Black Boy by Richard Wright, nigger, an autobiography by Dick Gregory, Soul on Ice by Eldrige Cleaver, and others.
My journey into the inequities of race never abated. I cannot say I have acted in the truly antiracist ways you modeled for us, but my learning journey continues. I write a column in a local magazine. My last essay was entitled “Clawing and the Foundations of Racism,” and can be found on my blog at https://rebreisch.com/rebproject/2020/06/04/clawing-at-the-foundations-of-racism/.
In addition, my daughter is developing and strengthening her voice. She taught in a disadvantaged school on the south side of Baltimore, and currently teaches for DC Public Schools. She is the one encouraging me, my wife, and our son to write our racial autobiographies, and find time to discuss them and use our experiences to move into a vastly different future. There is little doubt your influence on me—the sensitivities you raised in me—were passed on to her.
Because of you—your passion, your joy, and your sorrow—the world is moving in new directions. And, because I have such deep faith in my daughter, she will bring messages from both of us into a future we will not see.
I am grateful beyond words.
8 thoughts on “Dear Father LaGoe”
I believe your letter will touch him deeply. Great letter!
A lovely letter, Roger. I have read many of your “writings” and understood most and some I worried over. I only hope that there is a “future” for our children and those we leave behind; a future that includes a beautiful America that will exist on a level plane for all who wish to make it so. Many say our Constitution is outdated. I say read our Constitution and see how brilliant our forefathers were in writing it. It stands the test of time and I believe it always will.
GOD BLESS AMERICA
Roger I know Father LaGoe will enjoy getting your letter. Every time I would go home I always attended his mass. A couple years ago he stopped saying mass (even though Dave Habetler would help him get through it all) he was becoming very forgetful. He always loved when we would talk about what an influence he made in my life. He is an amazing man and always stood up for what he believed! I remember once when I was in my teens he was in a picket line at the grocery by my house. It made me feel proud to see him in action. He will always hold a special place in my heart.
Thank you for continuing to share your story. I am struck by two themes in your writings, time and empathetic love. It is telling that the time the Good Lord gives us together, all he asks of us is to love. Our journeys are well down the road, I do see the hope in your and my children. Thank you for using your time to impact our lives. Fr. LaGoe bless you for touching Roger so profoundly. He is the gift you gave in the past to be opened for our future.
May blessings to you.
There is indeed a future that none of us will see, — but what kind of future? In a real sense we are the messages of past generations to our present, as will be the case with our children in their future. BLM has raised the consciousness of many of us white folks. That matters.
Your letter to your teacher was a moving testimony to a person whose life matters in a positive, redemptive way. Is it possible to even entertain the possibility of following Christ, — unless one is radical and anti-racist? I don’t think so. The unorthodox and strident notes are a stark contrast to what we all have learned and experienced as normal.
Such a beautiful message and gentle challenge to face our own racial autobiographies, whatever level of growth we may be in. Knowing that God is leading us, all we need to do is follow.
Roger, I just saw this yesterday and was moved and reminded why I love Jack. I am his friend and PDA these days, and he is in a long term care facility in TC but accepting his changes with grace and dignity. I’d enjoy sharing more with you if you contact me privately. Peace, Jan Schuler