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The Catholic roots of Tom Hayden


Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 10/24/16

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The headline-making political activist, war protestor and one-time husband of Jane Fonda died yesterday:

Tom Hayden, who burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements, but rocked the boat more gently later in life with a progressive political agenda as an author and California state legislator, died on Sunday. He was 76.

His wife, Barbara Williams, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. Mr. Hayden had been suffering from heart problems and fell ill while attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

During the racial unrest and antiwar protests of the ’60s and early ’70s, Mr. Hayden was one of the nation’s most visible radicals. He was a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial after riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and a peace activist who married Jane Fonda, went to Hanoi and escorted American prisoners of war home from Vietnam.

As a civil rights worker, he was beaten in Mississippi and jailed in Georgia. In his cell he began writing what became the Port Huron Statement, the political manifesto of S.D.S. and the New Left that envisioned an alliance of college students in a peaceful crusade to overcome what it called repressive government, corporate greed and racism. Its aim was to create a multiracial, egalitarian society.

Less well-known are his Irish Catholic roots:

Thomas Emmet Hayden was born in Royal Oak, Mich., on Dec. 11, 1939, the only child of John Hayden, an accountant, and the former Genevieve Garity, both Irish Catholics. His parents divorced, and Tom was raised by his mother, a film librarian.

He attended a parish school. The pastor was the Rev. Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semitic radio priest of the 1930s and a right-wing foe of the New Deal.

A profile of him from last year back had this detail:

Named for St. Thomas Aquinas, Hayden was born in 1939 and went to Catholic schools in Royal Oak, Michigan, an all-white middle-class Detroit suburb. By the time he reached high school, Hayden was already an iconoclast. The editor of his school paper, Hayden was banned from attending his own graduation and kicked out of the National Honor Society for writing an incendiary editorial.

It’s unclear what faith, if any, he possessed later in life. But in 2013, after the election of Pope Francis, he wrote on his blog:

[Pope] Francis is on the side of liberation theology, working from within, towards his moment. His choice is more miraculous, if you will, than the rise of Barack Obama in 2008.

…Francis is far from predictable. No one knows how long he will preside, or what demonic forces are planning his demise. His views on gender and sexual orientation seem tethered to the past – until we realize how radical is his denunciation of Church conservatives who “obsess” on those agendas. To bring the Church back to the needs of the poor and the sins of the rich is enough for now [“por ahora”]. This is the greatest moment in empowering spiritual progressives in decades.


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