Who is Saul Alinsky?

Gradual infiltration of ideas so as to shape culture without its members even realizing it: This is what one man in the 20th century set out to do — and at the time, he even did it with the initial help of the Catholic Church.

The man was Saul Alinsky, a Chicago man born as a Jew who later became agnostic. He studied criminology at the University of Chicago, where he got involved with the mafia. He went on to become the founder of modern community organizing, and began that work with a vision of care for the poor, implementing his strategies in the Diocese of Chicago. His ideologies and community organizing strategies would go on to influence the social and political movements of today.

Father and son duo Richard and Stephen Payne of Arcadia Films co-produced the documentary A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing on the life of Alinsky and just how far “his tentacles spread” into the philosophical inner-workings of our country — infiltrating the Catholic Church and sowing seeds of the political polarization we see so widespread now.

“He was really central to the profound upheavals within the Church in the care of the poor,” said Richard. “His whole vision of reality breaks the fundamental principles of Catholic moral teaching, which is that the end does not justify the means.”

The documentary film A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, which chronicles the life and influence of Saul Alinsky, will be the focus of this year’s Gospel of Life Conference Oct. 21. The film’s producers, Richard and Stephen Payne, will speak at the event.

Alinsky’s approach, according to Richard, is one that is gnostic, a heresy that says you’re saved by your ideas.

“The Church in Chicago bought into that and supported his work and it had a profound impact in the 1960s on the Church’s project for the poor. He had developed nation-wide affiliates and community organizers,” Richard said.

“He had great influence on organizations,” Stephen said. “[Many modern movements] are funded by Alinskian-trained individuals, people who stoke the flames of violence…it stokes anxiety and frustration in poorer communities.”

“Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, they studied Alinksy. She knew him and she thought he didn’t go far enough. The tentacles [of Alinsky] are quite vast,” he added.

Alinsky didn’t come up with it all on his own, though. Richard explained that “several movements shaped his life historically” and influenced his Marxist ideology.

“In 1919, Lenin developed the Marxist institute, which moved away from the overt brutal forms of Marxism (Soviets or Nazism) to an underground movement,” Richard said. “The Frankfurt School played an essential role in the sexual revolution; they drew on Freud’s pansexualism and merged in the late ’30s and ’40s with movements that would later create the gender revolution.

We show at the end of the film the parable of the Wolf of Gubbio, the wolf that terrorized a town. And St. Francis [of Assisi] comes into town and he tames the wolf, and he brings him back to town, where he’s loved. The key is that. [We have to] see Christ in the poor, not using the poor as a means to an end.”

“In the movement of the Frankfurt School, they bought the idea of gradualism, that it will take a long time to infiltrate [culture]. They were violently anti-Catholic,” Richard continued. “The Fabian Society in England, a movement that was initiated in the 19th century, [is another] — their symbol is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which means moving under public awareness and cloaking things by redefining the language. These movements came into the country in a post-World War II period, where people were strangely influenced more and more by European movements.”

These movements deeply influenced Alinsky, who in turn impacted the modern movements and ideologies of today.

“It’s fundamentally a gnostic movement, where people are saved by ideas, and there’s the oppressors and the oppressed, and they’re attacked by force, and it usually ends up in violence,” Richard said. “It’s based on this engagement of a confrontation of oppressor and oppressed, that’s so fundamental. It’s created the polarization we see now.”

Their film lays these historical facts out in the lens of the Catholic worldview, and they’ve created a follow-up 10-minute short film that goes into more depth about the modern movements today and how they came from Alinskian thought.

But hope is not lost, Richard and Stephen said.

“We show at the end of the film the parable of the Wolf of Gubbio, the wolf that terrorized a town. And St. Francis [of Assisi] comes into town and he tames the wolf, and he brings him back to town, where he’s loved,” Stephen said. “The key is that. [We have to] see Christ in the poor, not using the poor as a means to an end.”

“The whole film is based on Matthew 7, that ‘underneath is a ravenous wolf’ — but we discern this by fruits,” Richard added. “That’s where we go with the film, we point out where the fruits lie.”

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing aired in September of 2016 on EWTN, won multiple film awards and continues to air on the Catholic network occasionally. It can also be watched online at alinskyfilm.com and is available for rent or as a download for purchase.

Richard and Stephen Payne will speak extensively on Saul Alinsky, show a trailer of their film, and reveal an exclusive follow-up short film on A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing at the Gospel of Life Conference, taking place at St. Thomas More Parish on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. The event includes Mass and lunch, and other speakers including Sister Maris Stella of the Sisters of Life and Father Daniel Ciucci.

Early-bird registration costs $50 and closes Oct. 18; the student rate is $15, and walk-ins cost $55, but with no lunch provided. Registration is capped at 500 attendees.

For more information or to register, visit gospeloflifeco.org.

Photo: Associated Press

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”