May 1, 2002
Monsignor George G. Higgins, America’s foremost labor priest, died in his hometown of La Grange Park, Ill., today. He was 86.
Monsignor George G. Higgins
The double alumnus and former lecturer of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was best known as “the labor movement’s priest,” for his dedication to the cause of worker rights. For more than 50 years, he had been a vocal supporter of the labor movement and an advocate for social justice.
“There are few individuals who advocated the cause of justice in American labor relations with as much dedication and commitment as Monsignor George Higgins,” said the Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., president of Catholic University. “His oftentimes controversial presence as a priest in the forefront of the organized labor movement in this country earned him both distinction among and respect from people of all faiths.
“Although advanced age and diminishing health resulted last year in a move from the campus to a local assisted care facility for priests, The Catholic University of America is privileged to have been both his home and base of operation for many, many years,” O’Connell said. “His remarkable circle of friends included leaders in the Church, government and the labor movement as well as countless students and workers whose lives he touched. His passing leaves us with a legacy that is unparalleled within and outside of the Church that he served so faithfully.”
Higgins was born in 1916 in Chicago and ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1940. He studied at The Catholic University of America, obtaining a master's degree in economics in 1942 and a Ph.D. in 1944. He served on the staff of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, now known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, from 1944 to 1980, and was director of its Social Action Department from 1954 to 1967.
Higgins was a champion of human rights and economic justice, especially in advocating for farm laborers' rights. He served on committees and boards of numerous organizations, including the Bishops' Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations, the Bishops' Committee on Farm Labor, the United Auto Workers of America, the American Arbitration Association, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Martin Luther King Jr. Fund of the United Farm Workers.
“The Church in the United States and we at The Catholic University of America will sorely miss Monsignor George Higgins,” said the Rev. Robert M. Friday, vice president for student life at CUA and a good friend of Higgins. “Both have lost a loyal, dedicated supporter and tireless worker for social justice… Though he walked among and with the giants of labor, industry and Church hierarchy, George never lost his sense of mission: to assure a living wage and humane working conditions for the most vulnerable and otherwise voiceless members of our society. He was their voice, their warrior and their friend.”
Higgins brought his expertise to the classroom, lecturing on social science and theology at Catholic University.
On August 9, 2000, at a White House ceremony with President Bill Clinton, Higgins was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. He was selected because of his nearly 50 years of service to the cause of justice for workers.
Funeral arrangements for Higgins are pending.
For more information, contact Chris Harrison or Victor Nakas at 202-319-5600.
Revised: Feb. 18, 2002
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