- Out of the Ashes Came Hope by Monsignor William J. Linder and Gilda Rogers
In her book about Newark, New Jersey in the 1960s through 1990s, The Fixers (University of Chicago Press, 2016), Julia Rabig places William Linder among those Newarkers who moved from being activists to working within the system. At 81 years old, Linder resides in a continuing care facility that is part of the New Community Corporation, a community development program he founded in the aftermath of the riots that decimated Newark in 1967. As a young curate assigned to Queen of Angels, an African American parish in Newark’s Central Ward, Linder was one of the “Newark Twenty,” twenty archdiocesan priests who, in 1969, publicly accused the archdiocese of systematic racism. Some of the twenty eventually left the priesthood, others left the city. Linder never left the city or the priesthood. He was transferred to St. Joseph’s, which he refers to as “dormant” (40). During his time there he went back to a doctoral program in sociology at Fordham and wrote his dissertation under Joseph Fitzpatrick, SJ, who influenced his attitude toward the church and minorities. With the appointment of Peter Gerety as archbishop in 1974, Linder was assigned to St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newark, where he continued his advocacy for the Black residents of the city.
Linder is a passionate storyteller, and his stories are mostly about his beloved community. While the history of Queen of Angels has been ably told by Mary Ward, Linder offers an intimate look at the parish from the perspective of a curate who, along with the other priests assigned there, made it, in Linder’s words “more than a parish. It was a spiritual force and progressive prescription for what was ailing the [End Page 77] community” (64). It was from Queen of Angels that Operation Understanding was launched, which sent teams made up of a white suburbanite and a black urban resident out to parishes, synagogues, and other community groups throughout northern New Jersey to speak about the need for the races to come together. Out of Operation Understanding came the beginnings of the New Community Corporation which, beginning with “Babyland,” a much needed nursery in the inner city, grew into what is today a social service organization that includes housing and health care, and a couple of restaurants.
The book is not organized chronologically, but topically. The first chapter is about the 1967 riots (officially called “disturbances”), for which Linder had a front row seat. In this chapter, as he does in others, Linder speaks about the problems of the city, many of which were political. He offers his perspective on the history of Newark from the 1960s through today. He pauses in chapter four to give a bit of autobiography. Much of the book concentrates on the history of the NCC, with special emphasis on the role of local African Americans in its development.
Linder’s work was not without its critics, both inside and outside the church, and he sometimes clashed with African American activists. In contrast to poet/activist LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s separatism, Linder and the NCC sought to be inclusive. Linder made sure that local African Americans (many of them Catholic convert members of Queen of Angels) held leadership positions in the projects he promoted. He made a trip to Africa to learn about African communalism and self-determination. Having studied intensely community development, for years was called upon to speak as an expert in this area.
Linder is passionate about telling his story about the Catholic Church in central Newark. As far as I know, this is the only memoir written by a member of the Newark Twenty, and so is an important insight into their thoughts and into a significant era of the church in the Archdiocese of Newark. Historians will have to judge the effectiveness of the actions of Linder and the other urban priests. (One question I would examine is how many of the converts...