Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Glimpse of a "Modern Saint" on Film
While films have been, and continue to be, produced about likely future saints Mother Teresa of Calcutta (already beatified by the Roman Catholic church) and Pope John Paul II (already called "The Great" by some of his biographers), the lesser-known, but equally important work of Monsignor John Powis, a man called "a modern saint" and praised by Pulitzer prize-winner Jimmy Breslin in his recent book The Church that Forgot Christ, can presently only be glimpsed on screen in the sequel to one of the most comprehensive documentaries ever produced about the civil rights struggle in this country: PBS's Eyes on the Prize. Appearing in chapters 5 and 6 of Eyes on the Prize II, Fr. Powis recounts his involvement in the controversial attempt to give control of the school board in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district of the New York borough of Brooklyn to the community. During the 1967-68 school year, the new interracial school board worked to assemble an integrated teaching staff, only to have tenured teachers in the area rebel, and 350 unionized teachers go out on strike the following year. Powis' work on behalf of the disenfranchised during this tumultuous period in Brooklyn, is indicative of his life-long dedication to serving the poorest of the poor in Brooklyn's most economically depressed areas. I'm proud to call this man my friend. Years back, Fr Powis and I created a pro-bono publication of neighborhood awareness. He's been to my house for dinner, and, at my request, he served as the priest who performed my wedding ceremony. Standing in sharp contrast to the scandals that have rocked the priesthood in recent years, Fr. Powis is a good man, a true priest. He is recognized throughout Brooklyn as a dedicated advocate and mentor who is inspirational to generations of new leaders. There has yet to be a film that has focused exclusively on his many years of good work which include creating and leading organizations for better education, quality housing, safety and social services for the poor. This documentary needs to be done, while Fr. Powis, now 71, is still here to recount his work first hand.