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Diocese to Adopt Workers Memorial Mass

After 7 years of rank and file grassroots organizing, the Long Island Workers Memorial Mass gets a big hand from the Bishop.

Brian Young's picture
Apr 27, 2018

Worker’s Memorial Day is April 28th and unions across America recognize this day and celebrate the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 which created OSHA. Every region organizes around this day differently. Some hold memorial events, actions, rallies and even Catholic Masses. In New Jersey, many different Parishes hold a Mass to pay homage to those who lost their lives as a result of going to work. In New York, a Mass is held at the world-famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. They held their Mass last night and you can click here to check out the imagery of the pomp and circumstance from this well-attended event. This year on Long Island they are holding their Mass on May 1st.  I asked Brian Young to dive into this story as what could be described as a local milestone for Long Island labor. Enjoy and this goes without saying, losing your life should never be a job description.- Kris LaGrange

For years on Long Island, Workers Memorial Day was celebrated in a non-denominational way at the New York State Office building in Hauppauge. There was a candle lighting, flags, Boy Scouts and even a Memorial outside, but no religion. So back in 2010, a few of the unions who made up UCOMM Media Group got together and brought some God into the conversation of workplace deaths.

“I found it difficult to find comfort just by lighting candles in a cold government facility. When tragedy strikes, many turn to the big guy to find solace. So, it only makes sense to do a Mass to ask for a blessing to keep us safe on the job,” said UCOMM Media Group founder Kris LaGrange.

With that, the Long Island Workers Memorial Mass was born. This is not a novel idea. NYC has been doing it for 10 years. Every year the work to prepare the Mass just got harder and attendance wasn’t great. Some good press was received in years past, but the attendence was still poor.

“There were times when we had just 60 people show up and raised a few thousand dollars. Finding an appropriate catering facility to hold the reception after was becoming more difficult,” said LaGrange.

At one-point, union leadership and the UCOMM Media Group considered not doing the Mass anymore because of how much time and money it took. However, with the election of Matty Aracich as the new  President of the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council, new light and vision was brought to an almost impossible event to organize. With the help or Aracich and the continued support of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO -  2018 saw a record amount of money, participation and preperation raised for the Mass and reception.

At the Mass every year, participants remember those who died on the job. The AFL-CIO calls the families to invite them to the Mass, but often their participation is light. “To have to constantly relive the death of a loved one is difficult. We wouldn’t want to politicize their death, but we would be remiss to not invite them when we read their names in front of a hundred strangers,” said LaGrange

Over the years LaGrange, an active parishioner at St. Patrick’s Church in Bay Shore, who serves as both a lector and catechist, developed a good relationship with Monsignor Richard Henning. Monsignor Henning is a leader in the Diocese and educates new priests on homily delivery and a host of other essential services.

“I always found Father Rich to be not only intelligent, but very compassionate, especially to the plight of the immigrant worker. Father Rich is someone who really understood the work we do at UCOMM, the pressure unions are under to serve, and how misunderstood we are as a union movement,” said LaGrange. Paster Tom Coogan jumped through hoops over the years to keep the doors open for this annual event, and Father Rich's assistance came at a crucial time. It was suggested that the Workers Memorial Mass be held on May 1st every year. That is an important day for workers since it is both May Day - also known as the Interntional Labor Day and for Catholics, May 1st is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. St. Joseph was the earthly father of Jesus Christ, and was a Carpenter by trade and is recognized as the Patron Saint of all who work. Politically to combat the anti-religion Red Scare back in the 1950's, the Catholic Church made May 1st the feast of St. Joseph the Worker since communist were rallying around May Day as a call to arms against their oppressors. "Moving the Mass to the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker made perfect sense," said LaGrange. "We never have to compete with other Workers Memorial events and we can easily get this day on the Church's calander."

That is when Monsignor Henning offered to bring the event to the Diocese. After a few calls and meetings, the decision was made for the Diocese of Rockville Center to adopt the Mass as an official Diocese event. Immediately, through their programming structure, the Mass was put out to the 133 parishes on Long Island. Sadly, a scheduling conflict prevented the young and popular Bishop John Barres from attending. Instead, Bishop Robert Brennan will be presiding this year. Also this year, LaGrange addressed the spanish speaking Mass at St. Patrick's. In broken Spanish, and with the help of his bi-lingual wife JoAn, they spoke of the importance of workplace safety and invited all to attend to have their work gear blessed. "Of all the names we read every year on Workers Memorial Day, 90% of the deaths happen to Latin American immigrants. It only made perfect sense to extend an invite to our Spanish Parishiners," added LaGrange. “Henning and I spoke of not only the Diocese helping with outreach and turnout, but eventually developing it into something that is done at more than one parish,” said LaGrange. We even discussed it possibly being held at the Rockville Center Cathedral in future years.”

Time will only tell what becomes of the Mass this year and how far the Diocese outreach went. However, the fact remains that the Long Island Workers Memorial Mass has new life.

Every year over 5,000 people die as a result of going to work and even though it has been said by experts that OSHA has saved 70,000 lives since its inception, the pain felt by the families of the fallen workers is still tremendous.

“I don’t want to have a large turnout for turnout's sake,” said LaGrange. “I would just like for union leaders, members and the exploited non-union tradesmen to feel like this Mass is for them, and is a chance to have their moral batteries recharged so the next day, they can go back out there and continue the fight because wouldn’t it be grand if someday at the Workers Memorial Mass, we read no names instead of the 14 we are reading this year.”


The image above is the digital ad to help promote the Mass, for information click here.

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