Father Bob Begin is a native Clevelander from a large Catholic family. In this interview, he discusses growing up in Cleveland and the forces that impacted his decision to become a priest. Father Begin discusses the changes that occurred in the Catholic Church as a result of Vatican 2 and how those changes influenced his own ministry. He also discusses his involvement in anti-Vietnam activism. His activism included taking over a midnight mass at St. John's Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio and breaking into the Dow Chemical offices in Washington D.C. as part of the D.C. 9. Father Begin discusses the reasons for getting involved in Vietnam protests and his commitment to reforming the Catholic Church from within. He also describes how his superiors in the Catholic Church, as well as his own family, questioned his decisions and the tension his actions caused.


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Begin, Bob (interviewee)


Randt, Naomi A. (interviewer)


Protest Voices



Document Type

Oral History


103 minutes


Naomi A. Randt [00:00:01] My name is [Naomi A. Randt]. It is the 21st of July, 2016. I’m with Father Bob Begin at St. Colman’s Church. Could you please state your name for the record?

Father Bob Begin [00:00:10] Bob Begin. B-E-G-I-N.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:14] And we’ll just start with some background information on you. When and where were you born?

Father Bob Begin [00:00:21] Born in Cleveland, 1938. I’m almost dead. [laughs]

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:32] What was your childhood life?

Father Bob Begin [00:00:34] It’s a great childhood. I had six brothers and sisters when I was born, and six more followed. We lived in a double house with my grandparents on the second floor, and we had the first floor in the basement, and my uncle was on the third floor with five children. And it was during the war, there was no- During the Second World War, there was no building going on. It was rationed. They didn’t make cars. There’s no cars between ’41 and ’46. And it was a big family and a big yard, and we always had, like 100 chickens or so in the backyard. So on Saturdays, my mother would clean and dress chickens for the neighborhood and sell them as her own little business. [laughs] That was going on. My father joined the fire department the year I was born, because I was born in ’38, from ’34 to ’38. The Depression was horrible, and he was a tool and die maker, but there was less and less work all the time. So with me coming as the seventh child, he decided to get a job that was going to pay all the time, no matter what, and joined the fire department. And my mother stayed at home, and my grandmother and she kind of raised all the kids in the house. We went to Catholic school, and we weren’t- Most of the people around celebrated their nationality a lot. My mother’s side of the family was German, my father’s side was French, and there weren’t that many French people around, so we never celebrated nationality. And you didn’t celebrate German during the Second World War either. So, in fact, I think they even canceled the cousins picnics we used to have with the German side of the family during the war. I think they were forbidden to congregate. So we were really just Catholic. And I guess if we did anything important, it was Catholic and music. We always had music in the family. There was somebody who could play the piano, and we used to sing just for pleasure, sing harmonies, and we didn’t perform or anything, just loved music. And then I had- My father’s brother was a priest who became a bishop. He was an auxiliary bishop here in Cleveland between 1947 and 1962. In 1962, he became the first bishop of Oakland, California. So during my hippie years, I used to kiddingly call him the bishop of Berkeley. His name was Floyd, Floyd Begin, and his sister, my father’s sister, also was a Sister of Notre Dame in the convent. So we were, if we wanted to look for a model for how we would do social work and make a difference for the poor in the world, the Catholic Church was pretty much the obvious way to do that. So I ended up going to the seminary, becoming a priest. And my first assignment was in South Euclid, which is a middle-income, upper middle-income kind of suburb at that time. Half Jewish and half Italian, probably. And I was there until 1969 when we did our first protest. And then I lost my place to live because the place to live goes with your parish, and I lost my job.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:33] What year did you enter the seminary?

Father Bob Begin [00:04:35] I entered the seminary in 1952 when I was 14, high school, and I didn’t get out until I was 26 years old in 1964.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:50] Where did you go for seminary?

Father Bob Begin [00:04:51] We had a seminary right here in Cleveland in Wickliffe.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:59] What was the name of that?

Father Bob Begin [00:05:00] It was called Borromeo. B-O-R-R-O-M-E-O. The first year, actually, I went to, we didn’t have a seminary for high school. The first year, I went to St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, and then in 1953 they started Borromeo.

Naomi A. Randt [00:05:20] What was that experience like for you in my seminary?

Father Bob Begin [00:05:23] It was pretty horrible. [laughs] It was highly academic. I mean, we had classes, I think, probably for at least six hours a day, and then we had study halls that we, we actually had to be in the study hall and either study or read books. There were intramural sports, which was, I mean, there was everything that you would want to have, but you couldn’t leave the property. [laughs] I think we were allowed to go out once a week on a walk. We had to be back in two hours. And, of course, we didn’t have any vehicles, and we weren’t allowed to go in stores [laughs], so we got to know the neighborhood a little bit with walks. And that was true even through the four years of college, which were on the same property, except I think, once a month you were allowed to go in a store. But we did. We went in stores anyhow. They wouldn’t throw you out for that. You had to figure out what they throw you out for and what they wouldn’t. So it was really very sheltered. In college, we had so many classes and courses. We were taking 17, 18 hours a quarter, a semester. There were semesters. So when the time came to declare a major, I had enough credits to major in philosophy, English, classical languages, and history. [laughs] So I could have picked any majors. I think I picked philosophy and English as a minor, yes. So. And then after that, there were four years of theology, and that was a different seminary. It was called St. Mary’s, and it was on Ansel Road, which is around 90th and Superior. But it was pretty much the same rules. You could go out once a week for a few hours. And we had some experience working with teaching religion and those kinds of things, but very little. And then at the end of that period, you get ordained. So I was ordained in May of ’64, and I began working in June of ’64 at St. Gregory’s Parish in Green Road and Mayfield in South Euclid. It’s now called Sacred Heart, I think. They changed the name when they combined it with some, with another parish. There were four other priests. There were four priests living there. So I was one, the pastor and three assistants, so I was low man on the totem pole. I had very few responsibilities. If somebody else took care of the CYO, the youth group, and somebody else took care of the ladies, I think I was like the convener for the Holy Name Society, which was the men’s group, and the Campfire Girls. [laughs] I was allowed- One year, they allowed me to teach what they called the Inquiry class, which was people who wanted to become Catholic. So I sent a letter. We had all of the people in our card file. This would be like 1967. And if they were in a marriage of mixed religion where one person was Catholic, one was not, they were on a yellow card. So I sent a letter to all the yellow card people and said, I’m not going to try to convert anybody, but if you’d like to become familiar with your Catholic spouse’s religion, feel free to come to this class and bring your spouse with you, whatever. And about six couples came. And the first assignment was for the Catholic party to go to church with the non-Catholic party, which they were kind of shocked at in those days. They thought it was a sin to do that and said, well, if these people are taking the effort to learn what your religion is like, you need to make an effort to learn what their religion is like, get to know the minister, etcetera. So they did that. And then we basically just talked about Christianity in general and the message of Jesus and then how that spells itself out in different religions and in the Catholic religion. And at the end of the course, one man became Catholic who had come alone. He was an older man and had already decided to become a Catholic before he took the course. And no one else became Catholic. And one lady joined the Methodist church across the street, and I wasn’t allowed to teach that anymore. [laughs] That was my first and last attempt at that.

Naomi A. Randt [00:10:32] Did you enjoy teaching that class?

Father Bob Begin [00:10:34] Oh, yeah. It was a great group. I sat them in a circle, and we became friends. They actually continued meeting once a month for years after that because they became best friends with each other. They had shared experiences, and, yeah, it worked out. And they still call me. So sometimes it’s for a funeral, sometimes a wedding in the family or something. So.

Naomi A. Randt [00:10:58] Were you disappointed when they took you off that?

Father Bob Begin [00:11:01] No, it was just a matter of, that’s the way things were in the church. It was pretty, very, very conservative, and it was the time of the Second Vatican Council. So the older priests, not too much in sympathy with what the council was doing, because they were pretty set in their ways, and religion was pretty dogmatic. This is the truth, and we have the truth, and everybody else has some of the truth, but we have all the truth. It was pretty much the way it was taught. So today, I think, and the whole idea of the council, because they actually had people from all different religions at the council besides the bishops of the world, and they actually issued a document on humanism that said to stop calling Protestants heretics and to start calling them our separated brethren, whatever. And we began to start going to each other’s churches and beginning to know. So the idea became implicitly, not explicitly, but implicitly, that we’re all searching for the truth. Nobody really has the truth, and let’s stop being so dogmatic. And eventually, the books that I studied in the seminary, which were like, it was a three-volume set in Latin, our textbooks were in Latin, and it was three volumes of doctrines of the Catholic Church that go all the way back before the Middle Ages and were compiled during the Middle Ages and then added to with each subsequent council of the church. I think those ended up in the basement [laughs] after the Second Vatican Council. So people began to be thinking that the. There was a book called the Primacy of Charity. Okay? So that became- And it’s very much like this Pope. We had Pope John XXIII. Then this Pope is talking about. It’s about love, it’s about mercy. It’s not about dogma. And so, just like he has his people who don’t quite go along with him, this Pope- So did Pope John XXIII, and so did the consul, even though those were unanimous documents that they produced. The last document was probably the most important one, and it wasn’t on the agenda. It was called Gaudium et Spes, which means Joy and Hope. And it was called- Its English title is The Church in the Modern World. One of the cardinals stood up and said, you know, we’ve talked about music and religion. We’ve talked about mass, we’ve talked about sacraments, we’ve talked about priests, we’ve talked about laity, we’ve talked about all these church things. We haven’t said anything about the people and their problems. So this document starts out, if you actually, if you google a sentence like this, the joys and the hopes, the grief and the anxiety of the people of this generation, especially the poor and afflicted, are the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. That’s the first sentence of that document. This is what it’s about. It’s about empathy. Unless we are in an empathetic relationship with people who are suffering in their life experience, then we’re certainly not doing what Jesus did, because he was. And he asked us to love one another the same way he did. So that’s a very important document. And that became like the new Bible for everybody in that generation. And of course, it dealt with peace and war. And the Pope John XXIII had issued a statement on peace himself before that, where he pretty much condemned nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction. So we had a lot of ammunition from Rome, which is very unusual. Okay? But no, nothing from the local bishops, who probably hadn’t even read these documents. And if they did, they had no intention of implementing them. So during the years from 1965 to ’68, I think, there was a group called a committee for a council. We wanted to have a council in Cleveland and take a look at the priorities of our religion, our diocese, and compare those to the needs that we saw in the neighborhood. And so we also wanted to take a look at the way we worship and make it more consistent with the worship guidelines of the Vatican Council. So there were various committees that were. And it was hundreds of people, lay people and priests and nuns, who spent time and put a whole document together, which would have been the basis of a strategic plan for a council in Cleveland. And then they presented the idea to the bishop, and he didn’t like it, so they went out and got petitions signed. So they had thousands of petitions to have a council in Cleveland. And of course, the three main items to do with the people were racism - 1966 were the Hough riots - racism, poverty, and war. What is our position on that, and how is it reflected in our budget? Like nothing. [laughs] And the disenfranchisement of the city as churches moved out of Black neighborhoods, etcetera. Cleveland at that time was probably the second most segregated city in the country. Chicago was first, but it was all Black on the east side, all White on the west side.

Naomi A. Randt [00:17:36] Was it primarily younger people that you saw in this committee or council?

Father Bob Begin [00:17:40] No, it was mostly, I think, people, like, in their thirties and forties who were very interested in doing this. And in those days, people went to church every Sunday. They thought it was a sin if they didn’t. And they were raised that way. And they were a little shocked because their high school kids were learning from their teachers that it’s not a sin [laughs] and you don’t have to go. And that was kind of shocking for people. It was a time of heavy transition, and then you had the whole sexual revolution going on in the sixties and seventies as well. So, anyhow, there was a priest meeting, and the bishop came to the meeting. All the priests were there. And he held up this big document with all these thousands of signatures and said, there are priests’ signatures on here. I can’t believe a priest would sign a petition to me. Priests can come to my back door, and I’ll sit down at the kitchen table with him anytime. And then he just threw it across the stage. [laughs] So we decided that he needed to be confronted. And at St. Gregory’s, we had formed a group. I had, like, probably eight to ten groups of people who were meeting in homes, five or six couples each, going through these documents of the Vatican Council to educate them about, this is where the church wants us to go. This is the direction we should be moving in. It’s pretty exciting. And we would always start those meetings talking about the Gospel we would read the next Sunday. So then I got my best sermon material then, because I saw how that Gospel related to their life experience in that discussion, which took about 20 minutes. And so then I could use that in sermons, which was a little different than the ordinary sermon because it would talk about war and it would talk about the problems that they’re having, facing, and their joys, their celebrations. So with that group, we formed another group for some of them that were interested, especially in racism and war and poverty. And it was called a suburban human relations foundation. And it was, the goal of that group was to bring people to a point of engagement on one of the problems, racism, poverty, or war. So we- They committed themselves to six meetings, okay? Maybe it was five meetings. In the first meeting, we showed a movie, a video of someone named Kitty Genovese. Kitty Genovese was raped and killed on the streets of New York, Manhattan. I think there is a movie about it. Screaming loud. Everyone’s looking out their window and watching. No one even called the police. I mean, nothing happened. It’s just a Black woman. No, I don’t think she was Black. I think she was Italian. But anyhow, it was a movie where nobody was even involved enough to make a phone call to the police. And so then we talked about involvement. And so that was the first meeting. And then we gave people a list of things that they could get involved in that would have to do with racism. It could be housing, it could be employment, it could be schools. Education. In 1964, in May, I think May of 1964, or maybe April, they were building a school in Collinwood, the Lakeview school, and they didn’t need to build a school there. And it was a horrible place to build a school. The door of the school opened onto a street. There was no place for kids. It was horrible. There was just enough room to build. And the only reason it was being built was to keep it for Black kids so the White kids wouldn’t have to go to school with the Black kids. Actually, it was in the St. Clair-Superior area, but like 110th, that’s not called Collinwood. It’s called, I forget what that neighborhood is called. It’s a pretty much what used to be a Jewish neighborhood. And that was where the temple is and everything. But anyhow, there was a minister named Ralph Klunder who just stopped the bulldozer, laid down in front of it. And the bulldozer driver didn’t know he was there and ran over him and killed him. It was a huge event. It became the reason we had busing in Cleveland, because it was so obviously that the racism was intentional, and it had to prove it was intentional to make the busing happen. And that was the case that later on, the busing decision was based on. So they could talk about racism, and we would bring experts in to meet with them for three meetings. They could talk about violence and nonviolence. They could talk about poverty. We would bring experts in on that. And they could talk about war. Vietnam War was going on at the time and was really ramping up. So we had a lot of groups that did that. And then the last meeting, the fifth meeting, was a choice for them of anything they’d like to get involved in, either as a group or husband and wife or pairs or whatever. And we would move them to actually engage in one way or another with the problems that they had chosen to discuss. So that was called a Suburban Human Relationship Foundation. It eventually had a storefront in East Cleveland and continued to develop into the seventies. Toward the end of the seventies, they completely ran out of funding, and it pretty much stayed in existence, but it didn’t have any activity.

Naomi A. Randt [00:24:21] What was the reason behind it? Sort of running out of funding?

Father Bob Begin [00:24:25] It was hard to get things funded like that. I mean, it didn’t take much funding. We still had to pay for the storefront and keep that going. And there were fewer groups. It became more of a resource center on peace and justice and a library and a place where people who wanted to learn could come and do things. So it didn’t have enough activity to justify funding, I think, at that point. And strange thing happens to institutions, once you hire a staff person. The volunteers said, well, let that person do it. We’re paying him. [laughs] And the volunteer group kind of disappears. And I became less involved in it because in 1969, when we did that action in the cathedral, a whole group of people who were our suburban human relations group and another group called the Catholic Peace Movement, which was operating out of John Carroll, merged and decided to form a Catholic Worker Community and move to the Near West Side. They were going to move to an inner-city neighborhood general. And then they, they went to different neighborhoods, talked to people, and in those days, Black Power was becoming the thing. So most of the Black neighborhoods on the east side said, we really- This is not a good time for White people to come in here and tell us what to do or even work side by side with us. So we ended up on the Near West Side, which is now called Ohio City and was then called the Near West Side. And it was a great place to live. I mean, people brought a couple of huge houses on Clinton Avenue for, like, I think, seven or $8,000. Four bedrooms, big attics, yards that are now worth about $300,000, $400,000 because they’re in Ohio City, and they fixed them. We bought a house for $3,000 for the adults, the single adults, which eventually started to be called the Hippie House. We had a printing press in the basement, an offset press. But anyhow, as we moved to the Near West Side, then our activity with the suburbs pretty much stopped in the sense of that development. So we took away a good portion of the volunteers because we were now involved in trying to live in and make the problems of the neighborhood our problems. Live in the neighborhood and work as neighbors instead of as outsiders. And primarily so that the parents of children could work out of their homes and wouldn’t be going to meetings all the time, leaving their kids with babysitters and neglecting their first responsibility and bringing the kids, involving the kids in what they were doing. So that was called the Thomas Merton community. Thomas Merton died that year, or died just before that. And he had been like the prophet and the spokesperson for the whole peace movement in terms of coming from a contemplative - he was a monk, so contemplative position. So he talked about the spirituality of the movement.

Naomi A. Randt [00:27:48] You mentioned printing press in the basement. What kind of things were you printing? Newsletters, things like that?

Father Bob Begin [00:27:53] No, there was a draft still, okay? So we were printing- We were helping to print- I think we printed some of the high school underground newspapers for kids. [laughs] We had a couple kids that actually got thrown out of St. Edwards High School who were seniors in the honor society, but talking about protesting against the draft. And so we would stand outside of the schools and hand out alternatives to the draft and how to get conscientious objection, etcetera, or even refusal to go.

Naomi A. Randt [00:28:36] Where students involved that way?

Father Bob Begin [00:28:39] The students were pretty much involved anyhow. And they had a newspaper that was going across the city, so they were pulling themselves together. It was like an underground newspaper. And they were- They eventually did their own printing. We did some of the printing. They did a lot of their own. And in those days, it was- There was like an alcohol mimeograph machine that you could do. [laughs] I mean, it was a horrible copy. Those things faded away, too, as the years went by. But it was either that or cut a stencil or make a plate for the offset. So I wasn’t going to move to the Near West Side with these folks, because this is before the cathedral again. I said, I think if you want to move society, you have to move the middle of society. And we’re in the middle of society. We need to stay here and keep working on it. But the middle of society was kind of treating us as kooks. [laughs] They really weren’t listening. So the other people said, well, we’re going to move, and we’re going to live what we’re talking about, simple lifestyle, and use our resources to see what we can do in a neighborhood. When we did the cathedral thing, I lost my place to live, and I had no place to live, so I ended up on the Near West Side, like most of the people on the Near West Side, because I had no place else to live, and shared an apartment with another priest who was part of the Catholic Peace Movement. His name is Bernie Meyer. He’s still alive. And he was also involved in the Dow Chemical action in Washington with me. The Catholic Peace Movement operated out of John Carroll. It had a group of adults, mostly from Cleveland Heights, east side, but some west siders, and they were bringing speakers in once a month. So they brought, I think, Daniel Berrigan in. They brought a guy named Mike Cullen from the Milwaukee. Fourteen people who had burned draft files, things like that. People to talk basically about peace. Carroll was wide open in those days, was so open to having things like that happen. The bishop in those days had forbidden the Catholic Interracial Council to operate in his diocese, but we arranged to have the national meeting of the Catholic Interracial Council at John Carroll in spite of that. [laughs] And then some of those people became involved with the peace movement. So it was pretty much a time when anti-establishment time was movement time, but it didn’t have any authorities working with it. So you didn’t have a Bernie Sanders. It was really grassroots, and it was involved at the same time with the revolution with drugs and the revolution with the sexual revolution. It followed on the beatniks and went into the hippies and the yippies. Those were the groups of young people that became involved.

Naomi A. Randt [00:32:08] Can you describe a little bit this event that happened at St. John’s Cathedral?

Father Bob Begin [00:32:13] Yeah. What was happening, Catholic wise, with the peace movement was people were standing up in church and reading statements just when the priest is ready to give his sermon, saying, you need to talk about the Vietnam War. Did you know that? [laughs] And disturbing the whole service. And it was happening in big suburban churches, and people were getting arrested for doing that. So we had a group. It was part of the Catholic Peace Movement and part of us who had met with Mike Cullen and a guy named George Mische from the Catonsville Nine. And then some of us went on a retreat with Phil Berrigan for a week and said we wanted to do some kind of an action in Cleveland to confront the diocese with the fact that we’re Catholic and we’re part of a church that’s saying nothing about this war. And I was interested in the war. I mean, why would I do that? I wasn’t that good in history. Never got as far as Vietnam. When you studied it in school. We were lucky to get to the Second World War. But there was a young man in our parish that I taught religion to. He went to the public high school and he had to come to religion classes. And after high school, he went to the Vietnam War. And when he came home two years later, he was just a mess. He was a real- They didn’t have a name for it then, but it was the PTSD. He was just nervous. He couldn’t sit still. He couldn’t stay on the same subject. He couldn’t get a job, couldn’t do anything. He was, no, I wouldn’t have hired him. So I said, frank, what did you do over there? He said, I was a gunner on a helicopter, and we flew low over the floor forests after they dropped the napalm or the defoliants, whatever they were dropping on the forests. And as we flew low over the forest, around the perimeter of the forest, my job was to shoot anything that moved that came out of the forest. So he said, I shot rabbits, I shot deer, I shot women, I shot children, and I shot men. I shot everything that moved. And I could see who I was shooting, and I’m still shooting them every night in my sleep, and I can’t get it out of my head. So I said to myself, even if this is a just war, you can’t do that. This is just immoral. And the bishop has to say something about this. They should be knowing what’s going on. We actually knew more about what was happening in Vietnam than the congressmen. It was amazing. When they started writing books and talking about what they knew, they had no idea what was going on in Vietnam. They were listening to reports from generals, and they were manufactured reports, body counts, whatever was going on. But there was no censorship like there was with Iraq and Afghanistan. So we actually saw pictures on the TV. People were watching in their living room, the bodies coming home. They don’t allow you to have to see pictures of that anymore. People were watching what was going on over there. We had reporters over there, and they weren’t embedded to just see what you want them to see. They could see whatever they wanted. They were very careful not to let that happen with Afghanistan and Iraq. So there was a lot of feeling about it. There was a lot of horrible feeling between college kids and their parents. They had some kind of a deferment, I guess, if they could go to college that they could keep. But then at the end of college, they were going to have to go to this war, and they knew more about it, because now they had friends that had come back, their high school classmates would come back and knew what was going on over there. So that’s one of the reasons we went to Dow Chemical, because every campus in the country had pretty much barred them from coming on the campus and protested when they did come, and they still didn’t change. So anyhow, we decided that we had to confront the bishop, but we didn’t want to interrupt the mass once it was going on and actually didn’t know this, but there’s an ordinance in the city of Cleveland that says you shall not interrupt the church service. It’s a misdemeanor. [laughs] So we said, well, we have two priests we don’t have to do that. And Cleveland, because of the Plain Dealer newsroom, had a mass at midnight every Saturday at the cathedral. So we thought, let’s go to the printer’s mass and we’ll start the mass ahead of time. And the priests who are supposed to say the mass certainly wouldn’t interrupt the mass once you started it, you wouldn’t think they would. So we had a group, and so we got a chalice and we got some hosts and some wine and we had some vestments, and we announced to people, Father Groppi was in town. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, but he was from Milwaukee and he was working primarily against racism. Got arrested a lot with people, and he gave a talk. So most of the Catholic liberals, the old committee for a council, all those people from all over the diocese came to this big talk. And at the talk, we said, come to the cathedral next Saturday. There’s going to be an action. So we didn’t make a secret of the fact that we were going to do this, do something. They didn’t know what we were going to do. So a lot of people came to the cathedral and we came with a group of probably about 30 people in cars, and we were going to start this mass. And then after the gospel, we were going to read a statement that said it was called Christians Who Care. We need to do something about shared responsibility and decision making in the church. That was the first point. And if you would do that and have this committee for a council, then we could treat these issues of racism, poverty and war. And it was just a one-page, pretty much that simple. I don’t think we still have a copy of it anywhere, but we might. So we wanted to read that statement. So as we were driving down St. Clair, no it was Prospect, coming in on Prospect Avenue, passing the, what was then the police station, I think the police station is still there. 21st and Prospect. There were a lot of police cars there. And we said, maybe they’re lining up to come and arrest us, jokingly, because it’s Saturday night in Cleveland, they need a lot of people. So then we went to the back of the church and at ten minutes to twelve, we walked up the aisle, vested, starting singing, and started saying the mass. And pretty soon priests started coming out of the back, came in, and they took their chalice away. But we had our own chalice. And they turned the lights out, turned the lights back on. Somebody went to the pulpit and said, this is not a real mass. These are not real people. Your lives are in danger. We advise you all to leave the church. And we just kept on with the mass and the readings. Then when it got to the- We read the statement, and after we read the statement, a lot of people, most of the people stayed in church. They were kind of interested in what’s going on here. [laughs] And a lot of them came because we had invited them at that Father Groppi event. And Father Groppi said something interesting, by the way, at his talk. He said, you know, if I was doing in Milwaukee, if I was doing in Chile as a missionary what I’m doing in Milwaukee now, my parents and everyone would be so proud of me. But because I’m doing it in Milwaukee, my parents are embarrassed. [laughs] It’s very interesting. And this is how the church controls priests, because they don’t want their families to be embarrassed, and they want to lose their reputation, etcetera. That was a perfect talk for us at the time. So after they read the statement, we started singing. We used to sing these prayers of the faithful. Are you Catholic? If you go to mass after the sermon, there’s a whole list of things you pray for. So today we would pray for refugees, we would pray for the police and things that are going on out there. Pray for the dead, pray for the sick. And we used to sing the prayers. Actually, once at St. Gregory’s, I was a little mischievous. The pastor would get so mad at me. But the Gospel was about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. So I preached on that. And Ho Chi Minh was sick. Ho Chi Minh was the president of North Vietnam, the communist leader. And so I thought, well, I should pray for him. [laughs] And we used to sing those prayers. So I sang, [chanting voice] “For Ho Chi Minh, who is seriously ill, we pray to the Lord.” And the people were supposed to sing, [chanting voice] “Lord, hear our prayer.” And they sang. [makes a gasping sound] It was just a collective gasp. [laughs] People got up and started walking out of the church. I’m sure the collection was down, because the collection followed immediately. So anyhow, I started singing those prayers, and as I was singing them, the whole back of the church started filling up with cops. There had to be at least 30 policemen back there. I don’t know what they told them, that they had to come or what they were prepared to do. I think what they told them was, when they leave the altar, arrest them. The priest from the back. And so it came time for communion, and I left the altar to go down to give communion with Father Meyer, the two of us, and they decided to arrest us there. As a result, they. They spilled all of the host on the floor. And then there was a scuffle, because laypeople were coming in and trying to pick up the hosts, and priests from the sacrament came back. Don’t you do that. Don’t you touch that. It’s a sacrilege. [laughs] A huge scuffle. Bernie Meyer just sat down, which is what you’re supposed to do at nonviolence. I didn’t know it must do that, but he did. So then we finished the mass. We put the rest of the hosts back in the tabernacle, and then they arrested us. And on the cathedral steps, the picture. Oh, and we invited the press to come, the Cleveland Press and Plain Dealer to come. So the front page of the Plain Dealer Sunday morning was us getting arrested in vestments with snowflakes. It was January, so it was cold. And we went to jail in drag with these vestments on [laughs], Saturday night, with everybody else that got picked up on Saturday night. And somebody, a young lawyer named Jerry Messerman, who became a very important lawyer in Cleveland later, one of the best. He worked with Gold, Rotatori, & Messerman firm. But he had just come from, as a professor from Ohio State, where he had done a lot of work with prisoners and trying to get them their cases reheard. And he represented us and got us out of jail. And then we went back. We went to court the next day for a hearing, either Monday or Tuesday morning. And we were charged with interrupting a church service. Well, we didn’t interrupt a church service. We started one. [laughs] So it was pretty iffy. And Jerry was real cool about how to use the newspapers to talk about what was going on. And then people were very upset that the bishop was taking us to a civil court. So there were people walking outside the cathedral with a sign, “Forgive us our trespasses,” or something like this. It was kind of huge for Cleveland. Actually, that picture that was on the front page of our paper was on the front page of a paper in Sydney, Australia, of priests getting arrested in Cleveland. They made a huge deal out of something. If they would have ignored it, it wouldn’t have been anything. And I’ve learned later that that’s what you do with demonstration, if you try to get an overreaction, because it’s the overreaction that makes it newsworthy. The other thing that makes it newsworthy is if people who are willing to risk their reputation and their career to make a statement. So we were all willing to do that. But they only arrested the two priests. They didn’t arrest the people, but there was a whole group of people standing around the altar with us. One of them kind of hung onto my arm while I was holding the Eucharist. After we picked communion, after we picked it all up, and she said, I’m not leaving my priest until Jesus is back in the tabernacle. She hung on to my arm. We finally got. They carried Bernie out because he sat down. So, at the hearing, they referred it to court. And we still had to work with an attorney. We had to raise some money, follow him. We started giving talks. First people who were wonderful to us were the Westside Unitarian Church invited us to come and talk about what was going on. They were pioneers in terms of churches being involved in social issues, probably the only ones who were doing anything in those days. And then we were scheduled to give a talk at St. Edwards High School, but I think the principal heard that or heard from the bishop that we weren’t allowed to do this. So we ended up. People came to the high school for the talk, but we got the church across the street, so we were able to use that. It was a lutheran church, I think, and basically began organizing in Cleveland around the war.

Naomi A. Randt [00:47:15] Was there a lot of involvement from people inside Cleveland, like you mentioned Phil Berrigan?

Father Bob Begin [00:47:22] No. They were very helpful in terms of helping us get organized, form some community, some bonding, so that we were working together. And even though everybody wasn’t going to be part of the action, everybody wasn’t going to get arrested. There was still some sort of community involved in this group. By that time, they had done- The Catonsville action had taken place in Maryland, and the Milwaukee Action had taken place in Milwaukee 14. I think there might have been one more, but there were a lot of these little misdemeanors type actions. Those were actions that were directly with draft boards. So then we actually did go on a retreat with people nationally, because what happened was all the phone calls we were getting and everything that was going on that was building support, were steering towards fighting with the Catholic Church and its authoritarianism rather than the war. So the war was becoming a lost issue, and that was the main. That was the main issue. So in order to turn that focus back to the war, we decided we needed to do something nationally outside of Cleveland. And so we went on a retreat with a lot of folks and some of people who had done actions, like Milwaukee 14 and Catonsville Nine, were there, there. And talking about that. There’s a lot of roles. Not everybody needs to get arrested. Not everybody needs to do anything, but somebody’s got to print things. Somebody’s got to be there to bail you out. Somebody’s got a legal team, and there’s a lot of things that have to happen, and you need to form a group and get it focused, decide what you’re going to do. And we went on a second retreat and decided that we wanted to do a joint action. And this action would be to build on what President Eisenhower had warned about when he left office, the development of the, what did he call it? The military- I forgot he had a term for. It was the military, a corporate, working together, military industrial complex, he called it that. That’s the greatest danger facing the nation today. And he was absolutely right on target. And he created it and also created the beginning of the interstate system so that we would be able to defend the country without the railroads if we had to, and then warned what a terrible thing it was. So we wanted to do something with the Dow Chemical Company, primarily because we had tried everything nationally with them, and they were just so arrogant. And going back in history into the 1940s, they were still selling materials. They were selling stuff to Germany, magnesium to make their airplanes, even though the war is already going on with Britain, and with Vietnam, they were making money on the Napalm. They were making money on all the defaultians, which have still done huge damage in Vietnam. And they were making money on the body bags to bring people home in. I mean, everything that they needed was coming from Dow Chemical company. And Dow had a lobbying office in Washington right across from the Washington Post. [laughs] So we thought that will be our target, and we’ll try to get some of their files. So the idea is we would go in there and, on a Saturday when nobody’s around, and break in and break a window, and they were on the 10th floor, I think, drop the files down in the street and have people down there picking them up and gathering them, and some of those are in here, actually, and then bash the Xerox machine and spread blood around and just do some damage, but just to bring some real blood into the office so they can see what they’re making money on, and then wait to get arrested. So nine of us decided to do that. And there was another group of, I think, eleven people who, Saturday night were going to go into the draft board and take out the draft files and burn them. One of the group that was supposed to go into the draft files was an agent. So that group planned separately from us, so they didn’t really know what we were doing. But there was a joint statement. So we had a statement what we were doing with now chemical. And they had a statement what they were doing with the draft board. And then there was a joint statement that just a few people worked on that said, we are doing this together and we are conspirators. We are conspiring to show that the military industrial complex is responsible for what’s going on. And when they got to the draft board, the Department of the Navy was there moving the files, so they never did. So we’re in jail sitting there waiting to hear about the second action, the second shoe to drop and the second shoe never dropped. [laughs] And it was a comedy of errors. And we had no- We were very bad burglars. My job was- My job was to go in and sign in at the desk and say, I’m going to the Dow Chemical Company, 11th floor, and then go down the fire escape stairs and let the other people in. So the biggest drugstore, I think, in Washington at the time was People’s Drugstore. So the guy who’s giving us all of our burglary tools and our blood and all those other things got a bunch of People’s drugstore bags. And so people were waiting for me to come down and open the door, okay? And they’re all walking around the neighborhood with these people. It looked like a picket line. [laughs] When I went outside with People’s drugstore bags. So anyhow, we were assured by the guy who had cased the place earlier that there were no alarms. But as soon as I opened the fire escape door, the alarm went off. So I rushed down the stairs, eleven floors, and opened the door, and people came up. And then my job up there was to take- Is it Sanitex wallpaper that she uses? What was it called Sanitex? I think the glue is already on it. So to unroll this, take the back off of it and put it on the window. So when we banged the window and broke it, we could pull the glass in and it wouldn’t fall down and hurt anyone. But. Well, I had never worked with this. Well, it turned into this twisted, glued thing together that you could put on the window. [laughs] This other guy is waiting to break the window with his monkey wrench. And finally we looked down, and there was nobody there. So he just broke the window, and the glass went down, and it was safe. We didn’t want to hurt anybody that was. We wanted to stay nonviolent in terms of people at least. And then we sprinkled the blood around and dropped as many files out the window as we could. People started collecting them, and it took a long time for the police to come. We had to wait for them because evidently the alarm sounded, made it sound like something was happening in the basement. So the police went to the basement first, and then they didn’t know what floor we were on, so they had to go floor to floor to floor until they could find out what was going on. Meanwhile, the Washington Post got there and took lots of pictures. So they had video, they had evidence, plenty of evidence for the trial. So in that group, there were- They’re pretty well-described in this book here you can take, but there were- There was a Maryknoll priest, Art Melville, and his wife, Kathy Melville, who had been a Maryknoll nun who had worked in Guatemala and began to sympathize with the guerrillas and the whole guerrilla movement in Guatemala because the army and the paramilitaries were just slaughtering, massacring Indians. It was just terrible what was going on there. And they’d both written books about that since. So they had both got thrown out of Guatemala and out of Mario, and both the two brothers decided to marry. The other brother was part of the Catonsville Nine. His name was Tom Melville, and this guy’s name was Arthur Melville. Tom Melville’s still living. Art died last year, this year, early this year, there was a priest from Detroit named Denny Maloney, and there was a Sister of Loretto, L-O-R-E-T-T-O, from St. Louis. That’s an order. It was kind of comical because as they were booking us, she gave her name as a sister and says she was a Sister of Loretto. And then Art Melville was the next person in line. And the policeman said, and are you Loretto? [laughs] And he said, no. Lots of funny things. But anyhow, the police came and, oh, and Bernie Meyer was with, from Cleveland. So there are two of us from Cleveland. There was a young guy named Mike Slaski who had dropped out of school to protest the war. And that’s where you’ll see a difference. Remember I said it says something when somebody’s willing to risk their reputation and career. He didn’t have a reputation and career, and so he got a longer sentence than everybody else. He was the long-haired, and the whole system was balanced against him, and he did the same thing we did. It was very interesting. So that was pretty much what it was. We came out singing “Glory, glory, hallelujah,” and we stayed in jail, and we decided to fast from solid food. We drank water, coffee, sugar. I put sugar in my coffee. And they gave us cigarettes. They actually gave us tobacco and papers, and it was RJ Reynolds Tobacco, was Camels. Camel cigarettes. They were good. I actually learned to roll pretty good [laughs] while I was in jail. We were in jail, I think, nine days, but I’m not sure some of that should be in here. And then the Sisters of Loretto had been good friends with the Teamsters in St. Louis, and so they. The head of the Teamsters in Washington bailed us all out, paid our bail. So we left jail that day and broke our fast. Actually, it might have been the following Saturday, some might have been just seven days. And that night, Judy Collins was in Washington. So we were guests backstage for the Judy Collins performance, and she dedicated a song to us in Washington. It was pretty powerful. It was big news in Washington and Sunday paper. And one of the reasons we. We’re happy it was Washington, because the federal prison system is a little more sophisticated than the state prison systems, at least in those days. So we thought it would be better. But the lockup that we were in was just terrible. I mean, there were- There were- There were roaches as big as little mice crawling around- I didn’t know they made roaches that big. [laughs] And it was smelly. And there were, like, two steel shelves in each, four steel shelves in each thing to lay on, and a toilet at the other end of the cell. And then there were probably ten cells on each side and a hallway in the middle. And that was all wet. I don’t know why. And everybody had cigarettes, but nobody had a lighter. One of our parishioners from St. Gregory’s, who was studying at Georgetown, heard what was going on, so he came over to the jail. He was in law school over there. He came over to the jail to visit me, and he had a lighter, a really nice lighter. He said, could I do anything for you? I said, if you could give me a lighter, I could be the most famous people in this jail. [laughs] So he gave me his lighter, and his name was Joe Diemert. He’s still a lawyer here in Cleveland. And then we threw that back and forth through the night. But it was so hot in there because there were no blankets or anything, so it was probably 80 degrees, and it was really pretty miserable. But that ended, and they took us to a bigger place, which was huge dormitories, and almost everybody in the jail was Black. I don’t think I remember any White people. It was the constant noise. It was- I don’t think I’d like to be in jail for very long because of the noise. Cells banging back and forth. They open a whole row of cells at the same time. Clang, clang, clang. And people are shouting all night long. Nobody sleeps. And we actually had to learn the Washington Black English, Ebonics. I had to make everybody repeat themselves more than once because I couldn’t understand what they’re saying. Somebody can walk up and say, “Jeetyet?” I said, “What?” “Jeetyet?” I said, “What?” “Did you eat yet?” I said, “Oh, jeetyet.” It was- But we got along and we got along fine. There were no problems with the people. So then after that, it was all organizing for the trial and trying to make a statement at the trial. Right at that time, the Chicago Seven were being tried for their- This was March, April, I think March. They were being tried for the things that had happened at the Republican convention, Democratic convention in Chicago, when everybody got arrested outside and they were representing themselves in court. So I have this family at home that’s very close, and everybody loves each other, and I still go home to see Sunday dinner all the time, etcetera. And after the cathedral action, my sister called me, the one who was born while I was in college - she’s 20 years younger than me, the last one - and she said, “Don’t come home.” She’s about twelve years old, maybe. She said, “Dad’s downstairs shining up that 22 rifle that he used to shoot the rats in the chicken coop with. Said if that bastard ever comes around here again, I’m going to be ready for him.” Because my father was secretary to the chief in the fire department, and he was also a member of the union, and the police and fire unions worked together. So he knew all these policemen that had to arrest me, and they were all upset. It was a huge issue for people to go into church and arrest priests, have the Eucharist spilled. I mean, it was. These were just horrible things. So he’s getting the brunt of all this. What the hell’s the matter with your kid? And he. I mean, if we had a rule in our family that everybody had to follow, it was, don’t embarrass the bishop, my father’s brother. And the second rule was, don’t embarrass the bishop. And the third rule was, don’t embarrass the bishop. So I embarrassed the bishop. [laughs] Lost my career, lost my job. That was just after the cathedral event. Well, then when we went to Washington, it got a little more serious because these were felonies now. So then we had to prepare for trial, and we worked with the attorneys. But my court-appointed attorney was Edward Bennett Williams, was the owner of the Washington Redskins and the most powerful criminal attorney in Cleveland or in the country. And I’m sure that my uncle had something to do with that. He was the bishop of Oakland, California, by this time [laughs], because I have no other idea why this guy would end up being a court appointed attorney for me. And he wanted to treat this as a criminal matter, and he wanted me to plead guilty. And I said, no, we want to make some statements about the war. And he said, that’s not what I do. And I said, well, then I don’t need you. And so I had worked with another attorney in the office named Phil, named McDaniels. His last name was McDaniels. I forget his first name. So when we went in front of the court, I said, I’d like to represent myself. I don’t want this man to represent me. And the judge said, wanted to refer me for psychiatric care [laughs], which means I would have had to go to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in chains or something. So anyhow, a couple other people made the same kind of emotion. And we had a couple attorneys that were really good, a guy named Eddie Bowman and Phil Hirschkop. And they said, well, let’s see what the judge says. Finally asked me if there was anybody in Edward Bennett Williams firm that I thought would understand what I wanted. And I said, yeah, it’s Mister McDaniels. So they appointed McDaniels as my attorney. But, I mean, we’re living in this, in this cooperative living place on S Street in northwest Washington. And a big Cadillac rolls up to pick up Bennett Williams’ client, take him to his office. [laughs] There were so many comical things. And so the guys that were the movement lawyer people said, let’s keep them in the circle because we can use their resources. They have computers, they have some other things that are going on, so we can use their resources. So we kept them and McDaniels in the survey, and he was good. He was very helpful. But we basically had to make statements about why we did what we did, and the judge would not allow motive as a reason. And so as the trial went on, it got really horrible. And you’ll see some descriptions of the whole trial in here. And two of the people, Bernie Meyer, the priest from Cleveland, and Kathy Melville, who had been the nun in Guatemala, decided to just plead guilty or plead no contest and serve a sentence. I think they served maybe an 18-month sentence, something like that. The rest of us went on with the trial. I actually, one day in the trial, the judge said, if anybody says the word Vietnam again in this courtroom, there will be held in contempt. The judge is a one-armed ex-Marine. His name was Pratt. So the next day, I decided not to go to trial. In fact, I rented a room, thinking I might go underground and see what I was going to do next. But I thought better of it and the following day, I went back to this trial. They didn’t say anything about my being absent, which was very interesting. We would always go into trial with flowers and things to try to bring some humanity into the courtroom. And the women in our group were really good at teaching us how to do that. So basically, we were convicted of two felonies, breaking and entering and destruction of property. And we appealed on the basis, two basis. One, that we should have been allowed to ask the jury to nullify the law because of the necessity of stopping the war, and that motive should have been admitted as a defense. And the second reason was that we should have had the right to represent ourselves. So the jury nullification argument that the jury could nullify the law was rejected by the Supreme Court eventually, when it got up there, on the basis of the fact that this is exactly what happens in Mississippi when a White person commits a crime against a Black person and the jury nullifies the law. And if we let your case go through, then we have to let those kind of cases go through, which is very interesting. [laughs] That was the basis. But on the basis of the fact that we had a right to represent ourselves. And this judge wanted nothing of that because he said he was not having a circus like the Chicago Seven had. We actually won the appeal. By the time we won the appeal, Nixon had ended the- Oh, we were on probation. No, we were not on probation, we were just on bail. But the war was pretty much winding down. It was over. And by this time, I really got interested in law. And I thought there should be a way that motive is interest- I mean, in European law, they have something called epieikeia, which is, like, during nullification, but it’s if you can serve the purpose of the law instead of the letter of the law and show that you’re doing that, that you should be exonerated and you should be honored instead of criminalized. And the example they give is in a medieval town. There’s walls and there’s gates, and if anyone opens those gates, after dark, that person shall be hung by the neck until dead because they’re endangering the whole town. But the town is on fire and everybody’s perishing, and I open the gates. So the purpose of the law is to protect the people, and I serve the purpose of the law by breaking the letter of the law. And therefore- And that’s how European law works. If you’re serving the purpose of the law, it should not, not be criminalized. It’s almost the same kind of mental geriatrics or whatever mental exercise you go through when you’re sitting at a red light at 3:00 in the morning and there’s just nobody around. The purpose of the law is for the safe and efficient movement of traffic. Well, there’s nobody here. [laughs] I’m serving the purpose of the law. So anyhow, so I got interested in law school, and I decided to, the judge offered us the opportunity to plead guilty to one misdemeanor and get probation instead of two felonies, which is you can’t just don’t get deals like that. So we all decided to plead guilty at that point, except two, I think Joe O’Rourke and I think two of them decided, and Mike Dougherty. They were Jesuit scholastics. They weren’t ordained yet, but were in the seminary with the Jesuit. You have to go to school a lot longer to be a Jesuit priest, so usually in your thirties. So I think that they had some problems saying they were guilty when they weren’t, didn’t think they were guilty of anything. I said, you know what? It’s not system. You got to play the game. So anyhow, I was on probation for three years, and I had this wonderful probation officer who was very Catholic, who came from Lorain to see me once a month and see how I was doing. And then I continued living and working with the people here on the Near West Side. But then I went to law school, and I went to the law school. I got out in ’76, so I probably started in ’74 because it took me two and a half years to get out. Law school cost, I think, about $50 a credit hour, and I took 11 hours. So maybe it was $30. It was $30 a credit hour because my- I think I was, I was under $400, I think. And when I paid for a semester, a semester of law school, I think my books cost more than the tuition. And it was night school. But because I took 11 hours, it was full time. And then I took 18 hours in the summer. And then I started taking as many hours as I could, but it counted as residence. So I had enough residence that I got out in two and a half years. And I didn’t study everything. I mean, they used to publish grades on the bulletin board with your Social Security number and your grade, so nobody knew who you were. So I could figure out pretty much which professors never gave lower than a C, and that’s how I determined my curriculum. [laughs] And you could also figure out after one semester which professors didn’t care whether you were in class or not. And I was kind of working full time. We had a hospitality house for homeless men, and we were serving hot meals in the neighborhood, so mostly doing direct service social work on the Near West Side. So I actually passed the bar, and I had to explain my- You have to meet with three judges to see if your character is good enough to be a lawyer. And I had to explain this arrest and everything. So I got letters from a couple of judges that were friends of a friend of mine, so that I got through that interview all right. And then I passed the bar for some reason. It’s a horrible test. It’s three days long, and it’s two days of essays and one day of multiple guess. So I never did find out how to bring that kind of philosophy of law into the United States, but it still needs to be done. I might do that someday. So that was pretty much the outline of what happened and why it happened. Again, I didn’t tell you this, but after I talked to Frank, the guy who had the PTSD, I learned that there was a group called Clergy and Laity Against the War, Against the Vietnam War, CCNV[?]. And they were meeting on Sunday afternoons at the Church of the Covenant by case western reserve. So I started going there on Sunday afternoons since I couldn’t go home to Sunday dinner and learning about the war and found out that we had no business being there in the first place. The whole thing was just incredible. And then learning about what was going on. As they started with the bombing, they eventually dropped more bombs on Vietnam and Cambodia than were used in all of the Second World War. That tiny country. I mean, it’s just incredible. And now we’re doing the same thing to fight ISIS, I mean, Ramadi is destroyed. They got ISIS out of there, but nobody can live there. There’s no building left standing. I mean, it’s just destroyed. And they’re going to do the same thing in Mosul. And if Donald Trump gets, my God, I mean, he might just use nuclear weapons. He’s destroy the enemy, but it was, We had to destroy the city in order to save it. That’s where that came out of. So anyhow, it was a great freeing thing for me. I certainly got freed of all of the tribal religious things that I had grown up with about what’s a sin and what’s not a sin and what’s right and what’s righteous and what’s not righteous, and began to deal with the real priorities of life in what is moral and what isn’t moral and what does promote what’s good for humanity instead of what’s good for me and what’s good for America. And beginning to think beyond borders. And that was huge. Also beginning to think beyond religious separations that there’s one God. And I began listening more to people. People know these things, but churches don’t. And I don’t know why people let us keep teaching them things that they know better. I was just an example. I was baptizing a baby here one time, and I said, this child is part of your family, but today we’re going to baptize him and make him part of God’s family. Everybody’s nodding except the grandmother. She says, excuse me. I said, what? My grandchild is already part of God’s family. We’re just celebrating that. [laughs] And we’re celebrating it in the Catholic way. Other people celebrate it. Hindus celebrate it differently, and American Indians celebrate it differently, and Jews celebrate it. So, yeah, just to start listening to get- Because you grew up with these tribal notions and they’re really firm. I mean, you really, and you have to, at some point you have to reexamine them and say, you know, what’s believable and what’s not believable and what’s real and what’s real about our spiritual part of our existence. And then how do we develop that? And how do we develop that in a convergence. And in the kind of convergence where we come together in a convergence and the community is more important than the individual, but because it’s the kind of convergence where the individual, the individuality of the individual is increased, it’s not decreased as you converge. It’s like family. So you marry somebody and you have three kids and you are a unit and you love one another, you give your life for each other, and you know more who you are now than you ever did before. Okay? So your individuality doesn’t decrease when you merge. It actually increases. So it’s a taste of what if there’s an afterlife, what the afterlife must be where you have this spiritual communion becomes perfect, and the individuality is maximum. So anyhow, that kind of thinking was already being expressed by some philosophers and theologians, and I had read a lot of that, but it wasn’t real for me. And now it all began to become real for me, and it was a very freeing kind of experience, so I hope everybody goes through something like that.

Naomi A. Randt [01:20:30] Did you end up reconciling with your dad at some point?

Father Bob Begin [01:20:33] Yeah. Eventually, my sister- My sister Sheila decided to have a family meeting. And it was very interesting to me. What they were concerned about is they thought that anybody who was opposed to the Vietnam war was a communist. I mean, that was actually what they thought. And they wanted to know whether I was being duped by the communists. And didn’t I know that I was following a communist lie? And I said, this has nothing to do with communists. I’ve never met a communist. [laughs] This has to do with the Gospel. This has to do with Jesus’ teaching, which. And it has to do with what’s right. And I told him Frank’s story, and I said, what am I supposed to do as a priest when I talk to somebody like this? And my church is still supporting the war and sending chaplains over there and telling people to go to war and blessing their guns. So after that, my mother was not allowed to go to the meeting. She still obeyed my father. My mother never understood women’s liberation, because all she wanted to do was be married and have a lot of kids, and that’s what she did. [laughs] She was a great mother. She was good at it and she loved it. So anyhow, that was after we got back from Washington. We got back from Washington in April. I think it was Easter time. Then we still had to go for trials and things like that. And sometime in there, I got an invitation to Sunday dinner. And my father was very reluctant, but he just got tired of watching my mother cry. So then after I became- He died in- He died in ’76, right just as I was getting out of law school, so I was finishing law school. He was only 68. So my mother was funny. About two years after he died, somebody she was talking to- Our phone was in the living room, and everybody could hear the conversations. There were no cell phones or anything. It was probably 1978. Somebody died, and she was talking to the widow, and she said, “Margaret, it’s a difficult time, and it’s a hard time, and it’s a different life, but believe me, you’re gonna like it,” she said. [laughs] Being a widow. She didn’t have to get lunch ready every day. She didn’t have to do a lot of things. Believe me, you’re gonna like it, she said. Plus, she could make the financial decisions, and she was a lot smarter than he was about that. Anyhow, a lot of that’s irrelevant. But it was a freeing experience. We had a good example. Before I did any of these, and before the Catonsville Nine was Doctor Spock. I don’t know if you know anything about Doctor Spock, but he pretty much risked his medical reputation to be against the war, and that was very powerful. He’s the one who actually preached instant gratification to people, too, in raising their kids. That was his- When the baby cries, do something.

Naomi A. Rand [01:24:25] We are almost at an hour and a half now.

Father Bob Begin [01:24:30] Is that tape still running?

Naomi A. Randt [01:24:32] No. It could go longer, but how much more you have to contribute. I did want to clarify one thing. Who was the bishop in Cleveland?

Father Bob Begin [01:24:45] The bishop at that time was Clarence Issenmann. He had been the Bishop of Columbus, and he was moved to Cleveland. He wasn’t well. He had. He had. I think he had double hip surgery. So at the point where we did this, he was walking around with a couple of canes, and he was pretty much shielded by the two monsignors that were kind of running the diocese and doing things. So he was probably more insulated and isolated from real information. All he knew is what they told him. They both became bishops eventually. One was Bishop Quinn, AJ Quinn, and the other one was Jim Griffin, who was the Bishop of Columbus. Quinn stayed an auxiliary here in Cleveland. They both went to law school, and they got much better grades than I did. [laughs] They were the top of their class. And Jim Griffin. And he was actually part of the group in the sacristy the night we did the mass in the cathedral and part of the group that sort of attacked us when we came down to give communion to people, because the police came in to the point there, and his sister is married to my brother [laughs], and they have eight kids, so the kids are saying. So, mom, who’s right? Father Bob, Uncle Bob or Uncle Jim? Very interesting. So where did you go to law school? I went to Cleveland State at night school. Yeah. I eventually switched to days because I could. While I was in law school, so it would be 1975, I think, Bishop Issemann retired and Bishop Hickey became the bishop. He actually called me to meet so I met him in a restaurant. And when you ordained a priest, this goes back to feudalism. Do you know what feudalism is? Some people don’t. You have to kneel in front of the bishop, and you put your hands in his hands like this, and he says, do you promise me and my successors reverence and obedience? In Latin, Promittitis mihi… [inaudible]. Yeah. And you say yes. Okay. So Bishop Hickey said, So, just what did you mean when you promised obedience to your bishop? I said, you know, I think I meant that I would be obedient to the needs of the people. And frankly, Bishop, I think I know those better than you do, because I’ve been living on the streets for two years [laughs], and he said- He was great. He said, that’s a very novel definition of obedience. [laughs] So he said, well, I’d like to help you, but I can’t very well pay you for what you’re doing. It’s not part of the official diocesan apostolate, but I’ll give you $100 a month to help you with law school. That was nice. So I started getting $100 a month from the diocese, and then later on, he assigned me to St. Patrick’s Parish, which is right in the neighborhood.

Naomi A. Randt [01:28:21] Is he the one that you were- I remember at one point, you were suspended.

Father Bob Begin [01:28:27] Yes, I was suspended. And then two years, almost to the day, was February 5, actually, I was reinstated and assigned to St. Patrick’s Church. Yeah. So it was February 5, 1971.

Naomi A. Randt [01:28:44] And that was Bishop Hickey that did that?

Father Bob Begin [01:28:46] I’m trying to think whether it was Hickey already. No, it was still a Bishop Issemann, I think. Yeah, but there was an auxiliary bishop here in Chicago that brokered that whole thing. His name was Bishop Cosgrove. He had been a professor at the seminary, so he knew me pretty well. What happened was, I was working as an orderly in a nursing home, and the priest from St. Patrick’s, who was a Jesuit, who was really angry with us because we didn’t invite him to be part of the cathedral thing, he said, if I’d known you were doing that, I would’ve joined you. So he was a very- He was on the same page with us. Anyhow. He came into the nursing home because the family requested that he command and pray with his. With one of the members, and he saw me working as an orderly, and he said, what are you doing here? I said, we got to pay the mortgage on our $3,000 house [laughs], and not everybody was paying. Everybody that was living there was supposed to pay $10 a month, and not all of them were doing it, and we were paying a friend. It wasn’t a mortgage. It was like a land contract, unwritten. But anyhow, so I think he called Bishop Cosgrove and said, I could use him here at St. Patrick’s. And then Cosgrove brokered the whole deal. Meanwhile, I got to be pretty good, orderly. It was funny, they would keep me late at night because they had some really heavy women there that had to be put in bed and some of the aides couldn’t lift them. So I could do that. I’d kiss them all good night. They loved it. [laughs] Anyhow. That’s not what you were asking me, right? I digress. Yeah.

Naomi A. Randt [01:30:46] At any point did you ever think about leaving the church at all after being suspended?

Father Bob Begin [01:30:50] You know, that was very interesting. During the time I was suspended, my uncle, the bishop, Uncle Floyd came from, he was visiting. And by this time I was still. I was allowed back in Sunday dinner. And so I was over there and he said, so why don’t you tell me just what the hell you’re trying to do? [laughs] And he was a good friend. I mean, he was at Sunday dinner every week with us. And all the while I was in the seminary. All I had to do was write him a letter and he’d send me $50 because my family didn’t have any money to send me. And I got hungry. I say, well, I’m trying to subvert the church back to what it was before Constantine took it over and made it the empirical church and get it back to what Jesus was talking about in the Apostles. Well, then you’re a damn fool, he said. I said, why? And he said, because you don’t subvert from the outside, you subvert from the inside. [laughs] You get outside, nobody’s going to listen to anything you have to say. Which was very good advice. So I’ve stayed in to subvert. And I have subverted a lot, I think. But it’s not easy just because the reputation of the Catholic Church is so horrible on so many things. And it’s because so many, so often they think they have the truth. If they would go back to the Vatican Council and take another look at what it is and say, we’re searching for the truth, we don’t know if that’s a real human being in a womb, especially if it’s not able to exist on its own. We’re searching for that truth. And until we do know, somebody needs to be benefit of the doubt, either the child or the mother. And we need to see what the circumstance is. Yeah, and see what the responsible decision is. And we don’t know about gay and lesbian and transgender, and we don’t know, but we need to think about these things and we need to be open. We don’t know about the whole sexual and marriage laws which were part of the cultural customs of the Apostles. And why would those be the ones we follow today when we don’t follow the ones of King David who had a harem? [laughs] Because those change from year to year and from country to country. In Africa, there’s lots of people that have more than one wife. Instead of saying, we have the truth and it has to be this way, dogmatically, with that kind of authority. They’re not bad willed about it, but they really think they’re doing us a favor by protecting us from going in the wrong direction and telling us what the truth is. But that’s the whole problem, thinking we have the truth and there’s very little we actually know. But that was a good question. Yeah. I did think about it. Yeah.

Naomi A. Randt [01:34:16] I think that pretty much covers- [inaudible]

Father Bob Begin [01:34:22] You can, if you check those two sources for Cleveland, and I think we were called D.C. Nine, Dow Chemical Nine, or Washington, D.C. Nine for the Washington thing. But the Cleveland Press and the Plain Dealer, too, I suppose. And that Universe Bulletin- Universe Bulletin actually had accurate, very accurate account of what happened at the cathedral. We had invited their religious editor from the Press to be there and the religious editor from the- So they were actually there and knew what was happening and gave a very good account of what was going on. So I think it was Russell Faist was the Plain Dealer person. Okay, I will, I think- Did I keep your phone number? Let me see. The diocese- After I left St. Patrick’s, my job was to work with the Commission on Catholic Community Action, which was the social action office. And my job was to try to change the United States policy toward El Salvador. So I read everything there was to read about El Salvador. Probably knew more about it than most Salvadorans, but I didn’t speak Spanish and I didn’t think I should go there without that. So I went to Bolivia and took a crash course in Spanish. And when I came back, I began visiting there. But while I was there, someone wanted to donate a house. And we wanted to do it through St. Patrick’s Church so they could- It was had been four apartments in one house. It had originally been a single house, broke up into four apartments. So we went to St.- Judy went to St. Patrick’s to see if they would accept the church so the people could take it off their income tax. Pastor called the bishop. The bishop said, no, we don’t accept properties unless they’re adjacent to our property. They’re just a liability. So we found out that the Suburban Human Relations Foundation was still an extant corporation. So we revitalized the Suburban Human Relations Foundation, accepted the house in terms for that. And then when I came home from Bolivia, I moved out of the House for Battered Women. I was still living there in a little apartment at the back, and moved into this house that people had given us, and we called it Casa San Jose. So then that became the house for refugees from El Salvador. So we had 16 people living there all the time. Some of them, we would get off to Canada. Some of them, once they learned enough English, got a job, we’d get them into apartments here in Cleveland. Almost all of them were illegal. And so I lived there, and I tried to get some people to help me manage it. And we paid him something, and we worked together with the InterReligious Task Force so that we were actually, I would guess, probably four or 500 people went through that house over eight years. And while I was living there, I became the director of West Side Ecumenical Ministry, which was falling apart. It was down to $900,000 budget. They were sending money back to the foundations. They had fired- Their director quit, and it took him six months to hire a new director. After six months, they fired him and rehired the associate director that he fired. Then they were still looking for a director. So it was like two years without any direction, just trying to maintain what they were doing. So I applied for the job. They gave it to me. I began getting Catholic churches involved in it, and we built the budget up to about $3 million. But then it became all fundraising. It was no fun anymore. I wasn’t creating any programs. So I announced in, I think it was 1990, 1993? 1993, yeah, that I was, I was going to leave in July. So I left in July, and I said, you should hire somebody who really enjoys fundraising. And they did, but he kind of lost the soul of the agency because it just became raising money. But Judy Peters then took it over. And I don’t know if you know her, but she works now with Center for Families and Children, and West Side Ecumenical Ministry is part of that. So it’s all merged together, and it’s primarily children’s services, but I think they still help coordinate the free meals. While I was there, then I incorporated some of the things we were doing into that. So that, first of all, I could count the statistics for the foundations and the volunteer hours, because free meals are all volunteers that do that. There’s hundreds of them. They come from different parishes. So I think those are still coordinated by West Side Ecumenical Ministry but I’m not sure. We were serving three or 400 people during the Reagan years. And it wasn’t just the single men. We had a whole separate room. It was probably big enough for 150 people, for women and children that were coming for food. And you got to be hungry to come to those meals. I was cooking some of them. [laughs] But we got to the point where we got a different church to come every Tuesday. I did Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, a different church to come every night. And I just had to coordinate it, make sure they were there. And if they weren’t there, I always kept a couple cartons of wieners in the freezer. Always do wieners and beans. We would go buy 100 pounds of potatoes and cook them with the skins on, and we would get this government butter, and mash the butter into the potatoes. They were delicious, these big pots. It was incredible. And then we would get this government beef, which was packed in these big number ten cans. When you opened it up, it was just grease, and it was ugly and gross. But we got cases of Dinty Moore beef stew and mixed it with it and then put it over the mashed potatoes. It was really good. [laughs] That was another learning experience for me. It was January. It was really cold one night, and we finished the free meal, and we were outside packing things in the cars, and we never gave money out because there would be a money line, like the coffee line or anything else. This guy came up to me and asked me for $5. He’s all bundled up, and it was like sleet hitting our face, and I wanted to get out of there. I said, we don’t give money out, and I don’t have any money. We just spent all our money for you. And he said, I need $5. I said, why do you need $5? He said, for gas. And I said, gas? You have a car? Half these people don’t know where they’re going to sleep tonight, and most of them are walking, and you’re the one that’s asking me for money? And he said, Father, my car is going to be home for three other people tonight, and if I don’t have gas, we’re going to freeze. And I said, oh, my God. I should get down on my knees. All this guy has in the whole world is a car. He doesn’t know where his money is gonna come from tomorrow, what he’s going to do, and he’s sharing it with three other people, and I’m making a fool out of him while he asks me for money for gas. And I said, everybody else gives out of what they have extra. This guy’s giving from, that’s all he has. I said, he’s Jesus. [laughs] So I gave him $5. But, yeah, if you listen to people, you get to change your attitude a little bit. I’m sure they bought a little wine or something to go around. A little antifreeze. So. Okay.

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