Finding My Way in a Grace-Filled World by William Droel. Acta Publications (Chicago, 2005). 112 pp., $9.95.
Former Rochesterian William Droel has written a memoir Finding My Way in a Grace-Filled World included in the series, “The American Catholic Experience” (Acta Publications). Droel, who has lived in Chicago for the last 27 years, recounts how the changes of the Second Vatican Council worked within him as husband, father, teacher, pastoral minister and community organizer. Presently serving as a pastoral associate at Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills, Chicago, and an adjunct professor at Moraine Valley Community College, Droel has worked vigorously to promote the lay vocation in the church. He edits “Initiatives,” a newsletter that encourages lay activity, especially for social justice.
His lay vocation began as an altar server at St. James Church in Irondequoit. The responsibility of serving Mass fulfilled two basic needs: “to belong and the need to make a difference.” It also brought him into contact with a strong influence in his life — his pastor, Father Francis Feeney, who “incorporated belonging and making a difference into his job and life style.”
He also mentions familiar landmarks that influenced his development: St. John Fisher College (as student) and neighboring Nazareth College. He began volunteering in migrant camps in Albion, N.Y., became involved in the United Farm Workers movement and eventually became an advocate in the Vietnam War campus protests.
The integrating influence of Droel’s lay vocation has been the Second Vatican Council, more specifically the document Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), which has provided for Droel a mission, a driving force and a calling.
He recounts the July 1964 Rochester rioting amidst the city’s humming economy with Eastman Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, Stromberg-Carlson and Xerox providing good employment and no one suspecting a “ghetto seething with rage.” He recounts how church leaders formed a discussion group to study Charles Silberman’s Crisis in Black and White that advocated for laws and attitudes that would insure equal access to society’s basic rights. Eventually, community organizer Saul Alinsky was invited to Rochester to organize a community action group, FIGHT, that would demand job training, crime prevention, educational opportunities and more from the power structure of the city. These events helped fuel a strong bias in Droel toward action on behalf of social concerns and a methodology — reflection and action — for addressing society’s ills. Such involvement helped establish his “public vocation.”
“Full-time Christians are obligated to change social policies and institutions, and with such patience and sophistication, such change is possible,” he wrote.
Such activism is not without its downside, however.
“I would inevitably be disillusioned with each new job or relationship. After an initial burst of energy, I often lost enthusiasm,” Droel wrote.
Even so, he has remained convinced that ordinary people working together for social justice can humanize the world.
This book will in some ways provide a nostalgic review of the activist Catholicism of the ’60s and ’70s. Some readers will also enjoy the topography of Droel’s sojourn in his early years and the influence of Rochester on his vocational development. Some will debate whether Gaudium et Spes was too optimistic about humanity overcoming its sinful nature. Did the document paint too rosy a picture of the “world,” suggesting that it could be an equal partner in dialogue with the church? But most readers will enjoy reading about a deeply committed Catholic Christian, energized and excited by the Second Vatican Council, who made the lay vocation and action on behalf of social justice a driving force for church and life.
Father McKenna is pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Irondequoit and author of the recently released book You Did It For Me: Care of Your Neighbor as a Spiritual Practice.