New Democratic Party leader Tom Perez has deep Jesuit connections

Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is a candidate to run the Democratic National Committee, before speaking during the general session of the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Branden Camp) Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is a candidate to run the Democratic National Committee, before speaking during the general session of the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

Speaking in a downtown Chicago club last June, Tom Perez, who on Saturday was elected to lead the Democratic Party, said that he grew up in “a Matthew 25 family.”

“My folks taught us that if someone is hungry, you feed them. That if someone is thirsty, you give them drink. If someone is a stranger you welcome them into your home,” he said, invoking the passage from the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells his followers that how they treat those in need will serve as the test during the final judgment.

Mr. Perez, who takes over as head of the Democrats during a particularly challenging period for the party, said Jesuit values have animated his career, which includes stints in two Democratic presidential administrations.

“The Jesuits have always been practitioners of that notion that we will never be silent in the face of injustice, we will never be silent in the face of attacks on religious liberty and we will never be silent in the face of economic inequality,” he said in his speech to the Jesuit Alumni and Friends of Chicago.

“A rising tide must lift all boats. That’s what Matthew 25 teaches us,” he said. “It can’t just lift the yachts.”

Mr. Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants who was the Secretary of Labor and an assistant attorney general focusing on civil rights issues in the Obama White House, has deep Jesuit connections.

He graduated from the Jesuit-run Canisius High School in Buffalo and would go on to meet his future wife, Ann Marie Staudenmaier, when she was part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corp in Buffalo in the 1980s. They attended a Jesuit-run parish in Washington, D.C., and he has spoken at high-profile Jesuit gatherings in recent years.

Mr. Perez holds up as one of his role models the late Horace B. McKenna, S.J., who in addition to his work as a civil rights and social justice activist, was also the pastor at the Jesuit parish in Washington Mr. Perez and his family attended before it was shut down in 2012. “Look him up, he’s going to be a saint some day,” Mr. Perez said in his Chicago speech.

His Jesuit connections were highlighted at Mr. Perez’s 2013 confirmation hearing as secretary of labor.

During the hearing, Mr. Perez brought up his wife’s volunteering with the Jesuits to Senator Bob Casey, an alumnus of the same volunteer program.

In response, the committee chairman, Senator Tom Harkin, cracked “an inside joke” about the Jesuits: “I have been in Catholic schools all of my life. I always say I was very fortunate. I never had Jesuit teachers.”

The exchange prompted Mr. Perez to note that his wife has an uncle who is a Jesuit priest, John M. Staudenmaier, who works in the mission and identity office at the University of Detroit Mercy.

“Oh, well. They're great people, those Jesuits,” Mr. Harkin said in reply. Mr. Perez responded simply, “Yes.”

Father Staudenmaier told America that he has known Mr. Perez since the 1980s and that they speak about Jesuit spirituality. He said Mr. Perez’s Jesuit connection is most evident in how he makes big decisions.

“He considers his options in a very Jesuit way,” he said. “That’s the key to understanding the influence of Jesuit prayer, how you make decisions about your place in the world and where those decisions will place you.”

In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s vote for party chairman, some Democrats expressed frustration with Mr. Perez’s candidacy, saying that he represented the establishment wing of the party and that he does not have enough political experience for the job.

They wanted instead Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman endorsed for the post by Senator Bernie Sanders. Mr. Perez won on the second round of voting, and he immediately named Mr. Ellison his deputy.

As head of the party, Mr. Perez will fulfill a role similar to that of a C.E.O., working to advance the agendas of elected officials and helping to rebuild the party at the state level. An early supporter of Hillary Clinton during last year’s campaign, Mr. Perez will almost certainly continue attacking President Donald J. Trump.

That is where his appeals to values derived from his faith may be most visible, particularly as Mr. Trump pursues immigration and refugee policies that his critics say unfairly target Muslims.

For example, during his speech in Chicago, Mr. Perez spoke several times about the importance of religious liberty in the United States, pointing to the rights of Muslims in the United States.

“We have to be mindful of the fact that religious liberty is one of our founding principles,” he said. “Our faith calls us to remember, and our fabric as Americans calls us to remember, that we all succeed when we embrace religious liberty.”

He recalled a community of Muslims in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who faced resistance when they tried to build a new mosque in 2010. Mr. Perez’s office in the Department of Justice filed a suit in federal court on behalf of the faith community.

On hand when the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro opened its doors in 2012, Mr. Perez said the United States is “a nation of great principles of religious freedom.”

“But as the history of religious discrimination against Jews, Catholics and Mormons, among others, demonstrates, it can be a difficult path along the way,” he continued.

Mr. Perez has also said that hostility against Catholics in the 19th and 20th centuries is analogous to what Muslims face today.

“The faith changes but the narrative that rears its ugly head tends to persist,” he said in Chicago last summer. “It’s a narrative of intolerance.”

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee in 2011 about how the Department of Justice was protecting the rights of Muslims living in the United States, he made the same comparison.

“A century ago, being Catholic, my own faith, gave rise to attack in much the same way that being Muslim does today,” he said. “Many said at the time that you could not be a good American and a good Catholic.”

During his tenure as head of the Labor Department, Mr. Perez championed the so-called Fight for Fifteen, an effort at raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and he negotiated with business leaders on overhauling the nation’s overtime pay.

His faith has driven his fight for those kinds of policies, Mr. Perez said in Chicago.

“For me, the intersection of labor rights and civil rights has been remarkable, and it's been such a privilege to do all of this,” he said. “And it's so frequently informed by my faith.”

Vince Killoran
4 months ago

Keith Ellison is an alumnus of University of Detroit Jesuit H.S. Ellison discusses frequently the great value he places on his h.s. education.

Tim O'Leary
4 months ago

Vince - Not to be too cynical about it, but Ellison became Muslim after his Jesuit education. He also was with the very bigoted Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan for a decade (since disowned).

Vince Killoran
4 months ago

Yes, he did become a Muslim. My point was that he speaks of his Jesuit education as providing him with the ability to reason and discern issues of social justice. I can't write about his journey to becoming a Muslim. It's interesting how important a Jesuit education has been to many of our public officials.

Carlos Orozco
4 months ago

Do Jesuits not hide in shame when these politicians that form part of a group (HRC group) that supports perpetual warfare, the homosexual agenda and abortion refer to them as inspiration for their careers? Why listen to people rambling about theif faith when they are in the same camp as occulist John Podesta, cheater Donna Brazile and apologist Paul Begala?

Chuck Kotlarz
4 months ago

The fight for $15 championed by Mr. Perez perhaps has lacked some historical perspective.

In 1955, the minimum wage was $0.75/hour and McDonald’s had sold one million hamburgers. In 2010, the minimum wage was nearly ten times higher. The number of McDonald’s hamburgers sold was 240,000 times higher.

Jesse Rodriguez
4 months ago

Chuck Kotlarz,

The analogy of the cost of McDonald’s hamburgers may be relevant to frame a discussion of minimum wage levels today as compared to 1955. However, your comparison of the number of hamburger sold in 1955 and today is not applicable to the question of the appropriateness of the minimum wage. I would suggest that the prices of the hamburger in 1955 and today be used instead. In 1955, a McDonalds hamburger cost $0.15 and the minimum wage was $0.75, implying that you could buy 5 hamburgers using one hour or minimum wage. Today, a McDonalds hamburger costs @$1.00, and if we use the 1955 ratio of 5 burgers equals 1 hour minimum wage, then today’s minimum wage should be $5 per hour. However, the McDonalds menu may have changed, and so the 1955/2017 burger comparison may not be relevant. Alternatively, we could use another mass-use commodity like gasoline. A gallon of gas in 1955 was @$0.29, suggesting that you could buy 2.6 gallons of gas with your $0.75 of minimum wage. If we assume that the current price of gas for regular is $2.30, then we would need a minimum wage of @$6.00 to buy 2.6 gallons today. Let’s assume the price of gas is expected to average $4.00 during the next 5 years, then the minimum wage should be $10.40. Finally, if you assume that the average price of a car in 1955 was $1,950, then you would have to work 2,600 hours on that minimum wage ($1,950 divided by $0.75). Today’s average auto costs @$33,500, and if we assume that it would take 2,600 hours to buy that average car, then the minimum wage should be @$12.88 per hour today given current car prices. So, the data seem to suggest that if the idea of a minimum wage is to be “subsistence support”, then today’s hamburger costs and gas costs may suggest the current federal minimum wages are appropriate (assuming 1955 is the base year – a big assumption). However, if the minimum wage is to be a “living wage” which enables people to work (getting to work requires a working car and gas money), it seems that a @$11-13 minimum wage is appropriate.

Vince Killoran
4 months ago

I appreciate that Mr. Rodriguez isn't engaging in the usual alarmist predictions, or resorting to abstract economic models. Still, $11-13/hour is not going to provide a living wage. There is no comprehensive assessment of transportation, housing, food, clothing, etc. that pegs it that low, even in small, rural cities.

Tim O'Leary
4 months ago

Jesse - thanks for this helpful detail. Here is a very enlightening article on a systematic review of the characteristics of federal minimum wage workers (2015 data). ttps://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/minimum-wage/2015/home.htm. 1.9% of workers age 16 and up were paid the minimum wage or less (which is way down from the 13% in 1979, when stats were first collected on hourly workers). There are no major discrepancies based on sex or race. The key drivers are young age (50% are under 25), service industry (9%), part-timers (7%), failure to finish high school (6%) and non-marital status (5%). While state of residence is also a factor, so is cost-of-living & the unemployment rate.

The really sad thing about the last 8-16 years is how many millions of jobs have never come back. This is not reflected in the unemployment rate as millions have just left the work force – a big reason why Trump won, according to this article by Nicholas Eberstadt https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/our-miserable-21st-century/. He notes that "Adult Work rates have fallen off a cliff since 2000", and for every unemployed man age 25-25, there are 3 who are not even looking for work. The Adult work rate is lowest in 30 years.

J Cosgrove
4 months ago

Wendy's is about to introduce an ordering kiosk in about 1000 of its stores. This is a big improvement in ordering at fast food place as I had very positive experiences with ordering sandwiches at Wawa using their ordering kiosk. The ordering screen at Wawa allows for millions of combinations of sandwiches to be ordered and the process takes less than a minute usually with no waiting. Here is the Wendy's story

http://bit.ly/2l86O2c

The march to $15 minimum wage will eliminate a lot of jobs as technology becomes cheaper than labor.

Here is a video of ordering a sandwich at Wawa

http://bit.ly/2l8j6rm

Raising the minimum wage has nothing to do with helping people. Much of it is about union wages which are based on minimum wages. It is an extremely cynical ploy played on low wage workers that people are trying to help them when in fact they are putting them out of work to get higher union wages.

John Walton
4 months ago

France is a country with high and sticky wages, enormous problems with youth unemployment. If you visit a MCD anywhere outside Paris you'll witness a kiosk for ordering.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 months 4 weeks ago

The McDonald’s sign noting the millions and billions of hamburgers sold over the years perhaps was really telling Trump and his supporters that the economy was rigged in favor of hamburgers.

Martha Murray
4 months ago

Yes but does he support the protection and sanctity of life at conception? If no to that, not interested in his relationship with the Jesuits.......

Bill Collier
3 months 3 weeks ago

Hopefully Mr. Perez, given his Jesuit grounding, will be open to giving such pro-life groups as Democrats for Life of America a seat at the policy-planning sessions for the party's future. I'll be pleasantly surprised if he does, but given the stranglehold pro-choice forces now have on the DP, I won't hold my breath. AMDG

Salvo Signorile
2 months ago

Shame on America magazine for once again cowardly omitting the most important and pressing facts; namely that Tom is 100% pro-abortion and that he recently stated the DNC has no room for anyone who believes differently. It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tom is no more a practicing/believing Catholic than Madonna or Nacy Pelosi. But after reading this, one has to wonder the same of the Jesuit order.

Andrew Eppink
1 month 1 week ago

"My folks taught us that if someone is hungry, you feed them. That if someone is thirsty, you give them drink. If someone is a stranger you welcome them into your home,” he said, invoking the passage from the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells his followers that how they treat those in need will serve as the test during the final judgment."

And if they're unborn and unwanted you kill them. Lying b______.

"“A rising tide must lift all boats. That’s what Matthew 25 teaches us,” he said. “It can’t just lift the yachts.”

HOW does that happen? Must've flunked physics with everything else. Typical witless lib.

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