with every priest, Father Gordon had a long list of regular priestly
duties that were a regular routine - "Breviary, Mass, Rosary, Spiritual
Reading, Exams, and the constant interest in souls, sick-calls,
deaths, births, marriages, debts, collections, sermons, confessions,
communions, catechism, vocational schools, retreats, confirmations,
devotions, virtue, sin
Still he always found time to help where he was needed. When Father
O'Hara (later Bishop of Kansas) urged the attention of the Catholic
Church to the rural question, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference
was formed as a part of the Social Action Department of the National
Catholic Welfare Conference. Father Gordon soon became involved
and attended the third annual meeting in St. Paul, October 12-17,
The Conference regarded the betterment of rural conditions as the
starting point in the regeneration of society. Its objectives were
the improvement of the spiritual, religious, social, cultural, and
economic status of the rural group.
They stated: "Reconquest of the soil, which has been depleted through
improper use and exploitation, is a fundamental consideration, for
human erosion is closely related to soil erosion. Reconquest of
ownership is another fundamental consideration, inasmuch as ownership
is essential for independent, successful, and self-satisfying farm
life. The multiplying of family-sized, owner-operated farms is an
important safeguard against the exploitation of our greatest natural
resource, namely, the land
When he was unable to attend a conference because of distance, Father
Gordon kept in touch with everything that was going on and read
everything about the conferences. He was an avid reader and had
an uncanny ability to absorb what he read.
Many important subjects were discussed at the conferences - A Review
of the Problem of Land Tenancy; Population Prospects in the South;
Religion and Rural Welfare; Catholic Rural Social Planning; Youth
Problems in Rural Communities; A Christian Interpretation of the
More Abundant Life; -- and many others.
When the national administrator of the Farm Security Administration
(FSA), C.B. Baldwin, along with other officials, came to a meeting
in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Father Gordon asked, "Why should one of
the largest government agencies
send three of the highest
ranking men to an abbey in central Minnesota where fewer than one
hundred priests and laymen were at school?"
Mr. Baldwin answered, "We are trying to give the low income farmers
an outlet for self-expression that they've been lacking. We want
to give them dignity, a place in the community
with disadvantaged citizens has indicated that they are worthy of
all the help we can give them. Our legislative fight will be a never-ending
fight. We have had a lot of support. I want to pay special tribute
to Father Ligutti and to Father O'Grady who have helped us to protect
this program that we tried to build so carefully. If it had not
been for the assistance that we got from the Farmers Union, from
the Catholic Rural Life Conference and from some labor quarters,
I doubt if this work, which we are doing could have been saved."
Baldwin's tribute also explains why the Church is interested in
the FSA. This agency above all the New Deal programs has dealt with
the common man." Father Gordon said. "Its object is to protect and
promote the family type farm, and in all its divisions it works
through the family. It has not simply doled out relief, but in a
brilliant, far-sighted program it provides financial and expert
guidance over a long period of time so that the families can rehabilitate
Father Gordon said the meeting brought out the persistence of the
same old farm problems so wisely described by Bishop Vincent J.
Ryan, of Bismarck, North Dakota:
"A blight has fallen upon the land, which tend s to destroy everything
that is beautiful to behold. At its worst this blight is symbolized
by the dispossessed farmer who is now a tenant, dilapidated farm
buildings, the hovels of the farm laborers and sharecroppers, the
mighty hoards of dispossessed farm families moving across the western
sections of the nation in search of the work, and the rural proletariat
gathering in the towns and cities of the nation."
He said President Roosevelt spoke of this same picture when he proclaimed
that one-third of our people are underfed, poorly clothed, and without
He also quoted Pope Pius XI who had said a long time ago, "Economic
life has become hard, cruel and relentless in a ghastly manner.
Not alone is wealth accumulated, but immense power and despotic
domination is concentrated in the hands of the few."
Father Gordon added his comment, "I trust this description of present
day history will bear fruit in making one or the other farmer devote
some thought to his situation and then join into cooperate in the
execution of the plans suggested by his friends and in this case
by his friend the Catholic Church."
Previous to this time it had been true that the farmer was an isolationist
by necessity. His neighbors were far away and there was little contact
because of poor roads, no phone and not much group action.
Father Gordon said, "This bred a sort of exclusive regard for one's
own personal interest - nothing else that selfishness. So here we
have perhaps another reason for the farmer's lack of appreciation
He worked zealously to promote the Farmer's Union and preached adult
education. He was in demand as a speaker at meetings, picnics, school
commencements, etc., where he urged farmers to join the union and
also took the occasion to speak on the rising juvenile delinquency.
In June 1942, he prepared broadcasts in German and Italian of Station
KSTP, St. Paul, for the Office of Strategic Services.
He had his own philosophy in regard to the state of the world, in
disagreement with the economists, socialist, and capitalists. Their
theories, he said, were "examples of modern man looking outside
of himself to explain the chaos that is gradually forming in the
world. If only he would look inside himself and examine his conscience,
he would find the real answer - it is the almost universal rejection
of mankind of Christian principles."
An article in the Christian Farmer, December 1940 stated, "The same
jungle law we also find prevailing in agriculture, which makes agriculture
as bad off as the rest of the modern economic system. Despite policies
and programs, good intentions and organizations, the lot of the
farmer today is not better than it was years ago; if anything worse."
is almost a surprise to me," Father Gordon said, "Is that most of
the suggestions and plans of actions offered by the National CRLS(Catholic
Rural Life Conference) were offered to us fifteen years ago. To
indicate what progress has been made or should I say, lack of progress,
I would only have to list the number of farm foreclosures that has
taken place in my little flock
He also berated the clergy for lack of interest - "I am still waiting
to see my brothers of the cloth (this is an expression used to designate
clergymen) become indignant over the woes of the farmers. Some are
interested in foreign missions and take collections for the heathen
in far off China. Others are interested in Madagascar or Manchuria,
but Polk County counts many farmers living in absolute insecurity,
and few seem interested
Preaches preach 'Love they neighbor'
and promptly forget the neighbor, apparently
When 1,000 indignant farmers in four counties met in Sparta to begin
a determined fight against the Federal Security Administration's
ruling which permitted the use of synthetic vitamins in manufacturing
oleomargarine, he asked, "Where in Polk County is an organization
to join in the battle?"
The St. Cloud Daily Times, Thursday, August 8, 1942, quoted Father
Gordon, after the meeting there, "I live in Polk County, and it
is the most cooperative-minded county in the whole United States.
My parish includes five county villages and in one, Milltown, cooperative
promoters from all over the United States and Canada come to hold
their annual meetings
Eighty percent of the people in the county are of Danish, Swedish
and Norwegian extraction. Hence they brought their cooperative ideas
and plans from Europe. We have the oldest cooperative newspaper
establishment. The county is filled with cooperative creameries,
cheese factories and milk drying establishments
" But the farmers
were reluctant to unite.
After World War II began, the economy vastly changes, "but certainly
not for the better," Father Gordon said, "particularly when we look
ahead say five years from now."