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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Remarks at Launch of Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor & the Working Poor

Riggs Library
November 10, 2009

Thank you for that introduction, Dr. McCartin.

And thank you all for joining us this evening.

There are many special guests with us tonight, but I’d like to recognize the outstanding labor leaders here, especially the leaders of the nation’s two labor federations:

• Anna Burger, Chair of Change to Win

• Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer

I’d also like recognize two individuals from the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation:

• Lou Giraudo

• Bernie Orsie

I’m truly pleased that we have come together for the formal launch of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. It’s appropriate that we begin here, in Riggs Library. This is one of our most beautiful places on campus; where we host our most distinguished guests and begin our most important discussions.

We’ve joined together for two purposes. The first is to celebrate the great gifts which have enabled the launch of this initiative. The second is to consider how to use these gifts for a cause that concerns us all: advancing prosperity, economic justice, and respect for the dignity of labor.

In a real sense, all that we have here tonight is a gift of labor, whether a labor of construction, a labor of scholarship, or a labor of service. And as Pope John Paul II wrote, “Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because, through work, man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and, indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being.’” (Encyclical letter Laborem exercens n. 9)

But in celebrating the work, we must also care for the worker. As Catholics, we are the heirs of a long tradition of thought and teaching on the moral dimensions of economic activity and economic relations. More than 100 years ago, Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Rerum Novarum, which is often considered the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching on the proper relations of employers and employees. Rerum Novarum firmly supported the right of workers to secure fair wages and working conditions. It championed collective bargaining. And it asserted that the State has a duty to intervene on behalf of justice, and for individual and social well-being.

The challenge, and call to action, of Rerum Novarum is another example that our faith has always been measured—and tested—by how we treat the neediest, the most vulnerable, the most wounded in our midst.

Our times have changed, but the imperative has not. Still with us are the vulnerable — the working poor and all those who are in need of economic justice. We are called anew to care for them, to uphold the dignity of the laborer, to answer the challenge of globalization.

So what should we do?

One aspect of the answer is before us thanks to the generosity of the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation. They have given us a great gift, a commitment of $5 million toward Georgetown’s Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. Georgetown is truly grateful for the Foundation’s generosity and for the spirit which it represents.

We’ve also been given a second, more subtle gift, which enables and empowers the first. That’s the gift of community. Consider this evening. We’ve come from many different backgrounds – from labor and business, from academia and the Catholic Church. Yet we’ve been given this opportunity to come together, to consider together, and ultimately, to work together.

All great endeavors must begin with a reminder of what brings us together as a community. We have invited you here tonight to celebrate with us, to commemorate this endeavor, and to begin a conversation. As the work of this initiative proceeds, we hope to have you here again to participate in its practical work, to lend your voices, your ideas, and your own labor to help make this vision a reality.

But now, it is my privilege to introduce a great friend of Georgetown and a representative of the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation. Lou Girardo is the chairman of several companies including Pabst Brewing and Boudin Bakery. His work has been animated by the same spirit that lives at Georgetown. As he told the San Francisco Examiner, “I believe that we are all obligated to make every place that we touch better than it was before we got here. Better means that people’s lives are enhanced and that they too are driven to a sense of the common good.”

Lou, thank you for your friendship . . . your dedication to labor . . . and your commitment to the common good. Would you please share a few words with us?


Thanks again Lou. And thanks once more to all of you for joining us tonight. Your presence is a recognition of the importance of labor and the imperative of upholding the dignity of workers.


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