Rob Reidy interview, 27 July 2016

Father Rob Reidy is the pastor at La Sagrada Familia in Cleveland, Ohio. In this interview, he reflects on his time in El Salvador as part of the Cleveland Latin American Mission team. He served in El Salvador on two separate occasions, first in the 1980s during the El Salvador Civil War and later in the late 1990s-early 2000s. Father Reidy discusses the conditions and nature of his work while in El Salvador, including the attitude of the military junta towards Catholic church workers and the threats made on his life. He also reflects on his ministry throughout his forty-one years as an ordained priest. He speaks at length about his experience in Hispanic parishes in Cleveland, Ohio and the differences in faith between El Salvadorans and people in the United States.

Participants: Reidy, Rob (interviewee) / Randt, Naomi A. (interviewer)
Collection: Protest Voices
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:01] My name is [Naomi A. Randt]. It's the 27th of July, 2016. I am with Father Rob Reidy in La Sagrada Familia Church. Could you please state your name for the record?

Father Rob Reidy [00:00:12] Yes, Rob Reidy.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:14] And could you spell your last name?

Father Rob Reidy [00:00:16] Reidy is R-E-I-D-Y.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:19] Thank you. We'll start with just some basic biographical info. When and where were you born?

Father Rob Reidy [00:00:26] I was born in Akron [in] 1949.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:33] What was it like growing up in Akron for you?

Father Rob Reidy [00:00:36] It was nice. We lived in Akron part of my youth, and then moved to Minnesota for a few years and then moved back to Akron. My dad worked for Goodrich, so he was selling tires.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:48] How old were you when you moved to Minnesota?

Father Rob Reidy [00:00:50] I was probably around four years old, and I lived there till we were, I think I was eight years old.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:57] Did you like Minnesota?

Father Rob Reidy [00:00:58] I don't remember much about it, but I think I did.

Naomi A. Randt [00:01:04] You have any siblings?

Father Rob Reidy [00:01:05] I have two sisters, one older and one younger. The older one lives in Akron still, and the younger one lives in Pickerington, which is outside of Columbus.

Naomi A. Randt [00:01:18] You mentioned your dad worked for Goodrich?

Father Rob Reidy [00:01:21] Yeah, he was what they call off the road tire sales. So he sold especially tires, like for earth movers and different things like that.

Naomi A. Randt [00:01:31] What did your mother do?

Father Rob Reidy [00:01:33] Before we were born, she was a secretary for Goodyear.

Naomi A. Randt [00:01:44] Did you stay in Akron after you moved back?

Father Rob Reidy [00:01:47] Yes, we lived in Akron. We lived in a couple different places, but basically our family was Akron-centered.

Naomi A. Randt [00:02:00] What was your childhood like?

Father Rob Reidy [00:02:02] It was good. I was active. We had a lot of kids in our neighborhood, I mean, a ton of them. So we just did a lot of crazy things. We had a baseball field. It was actually a running, a horse track behind our house. It was surrey track, and the guy let us use it and we put a baseball diamond in the center of it. So from pretty much dawn till dusk, we were out playing baseball.

Naomi A. Randt [00:02:28] Did you have a favorite player when you were growing up?

Father Rob Reidy [00:02:31] Yogi Berra, I would say.

Naomi A. Randt [00:02:35] Were you also a catcher then?

Father Rob Reidy [00:02:37] No, I wasn't a catcher. I played, I think I played third base most of the time, sometimes in the outfield, depending on the other kids and who was better than I was.

Naomi A. Randt [00:02:47] Was that just pickup or did you play regularly?

Father Rob Reidy [00:02:49] It was pickup. I never played in a league or anything like that, but we were pretty good.

Naomi A. Randt [00:03:00] Did you grow up an Indians fan or anything like that?

Father Rob Reidy [00:03:04] Indians, Browns, yeah, those are my favorite teams, and we were- My dad used to take me to Browns games all the time down the old Muni Stadium, so I have some good, good memories of them, definitely.

Naomi A. Randt [00:03:22] What made you decide to become a priest?

Father Rob Reidy [00:03:26] It's always a tough question. I haven't been asked that in a few years. I guess I knew there's a priest in the school. I grew up St. Sebastian in Akron, and he was just a really good person and very lively. He's still alive. His name's John Valley. I think he's retired. But one day he took a group of us to the seminary, and some weird thing, I just thought, well, I'm just going to try this out. And when I went in, I, I didn't know whether I was going to stay or not. And the more I got involved, the more I liked it. So that was the main thing. I can't say there's any huge overriding thing. One of my philosophies is you just don't say no, you know? As long as you say yes, things seem to work out, and I think that's just kind of what my whole life has been like, not saying no.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:21] How old were you when I went into seminary?

Father Rob Reidy [00:04:23] I went in high school. So it was after grade school. I went to Borromeo for four years of high school, four years of college, then the major seminary, and John Carroll.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:39] What year was that, then?

Father Rob Reidy [00:04:41] I'm not good on years. [laughs] I can tell you when I was born and when I was ordained, but anything else than that can't tell you.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:50] What year were you ordained?

Father Rob Reidy [00:04:51] It was 1975.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:54] What was that experience like?

Father Rob Reidy [00:04:56] It was. It was different because there were three of us that were ordained apart from our class. Two of them needed to finish materials that they didn't have done. I was at a place, St. Leo's, it's on Broadview and Brookpark. And I was there with a tremendous pastor. He was one of the neatest guys I ever met. His name was John Fiala. And when I heard my two buddies were going to be ordained three months later, I went to the seminary staff and I said, I'd like to be ordained with them and be ordained later. That way I could participate in the other classmates ordination, and I could stay on where I was for a few more months, so it was different because- It was interesting. They asked me, they said, are you doubting your vocation? And I said, three more months doesn't mean I'm doubting my vocation. You know, I mean, I've gone through all this so far. Why would I be doubting my vocation? So. But it was really, it was great to be able to participate in other people's ordination and then stay on where I was.

Naomi A. Randt [00:06:04] What was the nature of your participation in their coordination? What did you do?

Father Rob Reidy [00:06:08] Oh, and in the other ones, I was able to go to the first masses of the other people, whereas you would have had your own, you know. So I was free. I went to two of those. And then when we were ordained, it was, it was a different experience, too, because most of the guys were on their retreat until almost the night before. The three of us, the night before we were ordained, we went to an Indians game, and then we stayed at a hotel downtown. So it was a true bachelor party. And when everybody heard of what we did, they thought we'd be home praying all night, but we weren't. [laughs]

Naomi A. Randt [00:06:46] Where did the ordinations happen?

Father Rob Reidy [00:06:49] I'm not sure of my classmates. I remember mine was at the cathedral. It was right downtown. Yeah.

Naomi A. Randt [00:06:54] St. John's Cathedral?

Father Rob Reidy [00:06:55] Yes, correct.

Naomi A. Randt [00:07:02] What was your family's reaction to you joining the priest?

Father Rob Reidy [00:07:06] Surprised. Very surprised. In the beginning, I don't think my parents understood why I went to the seminary. We're a pretty Catholic family. I mean, pretty active. My mom was active in our parish, working with youth. My dad was a little bit disappointed, first because I was the last one of a long line that had the last name, the last boy. So they were concerned that the name wasn't going to be carried on. But once I was ordained and they became active in the parishes where I worked, they became extremely my best supporters. My dad even went down to El Salvador to visit me when I was down there. So, I mean, it started out as I was wondering what was going to happen. But eventually they just became extremely supportive and knew all they visited the parishes where I worked. Everybody knew them, so it was great.

Naomi A. Randt [00:08:02] What were some of those parishes you worked in?

Father Rob Reidy [00:08:04] I worked. The first one I was in was St. Mary's in Bedford. That was- I was there for, I don't know, five or six years. Then I went down to El Salvador. Then I was down there for, I can't remember, it's like seven years. Then I came back and worked at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain, which is a Hispanic parish. Then I went back down to El Salvador again, and then I came here. So most of my ministry, except I've been ordained 41 years, and all except seven, were in Hispanic parishes. And when I was in the seminary, I flunked Latin, and I got D's in Greek. So God has a sense of humor, sending me where I had to learn a new language. [laughs]

Naomi A. Randt [00:08:53] I've heard other people talk about going to another country for language school. Did they send you somewhere for language?

Father Rob Reidy [00:09:00] Not much because there was a short timeframe from when they asked me to go down to when I actually went down. And I was- I was working in Bedford, and I went to- I did a little bit of Berlitz up here, but not much. Then I missed the whole first part of the language school in San Antonio because there was a thing called MACC, which is Mexican American Culture Center. And when I went down there, I missed the first part. I went right to Mexico for my kind of like my internship, and then came back and had some more language in MACC. And then I went to El Salvador. So it was a real quick thing. I went to Mexico in August, and in January, I was already in El Salvador, you know. So I basically went down there with, I would say, two months of language. So when I got down there, the people says, your vocabulary is absolutely fantastic, but you have no grammar. Like, I just say, Boy house go. You know, something like that. So after I was down there for about six months, the team decided, you need a little bit more language. So they sent me to Coachabamba, Bolivia, for six weeks. So I went down not being able to speak the language it was- And you mentioned you spoke to Doug Koesel. Doug really helped me out when I got down there, and his advice was, if you don't know what people are asking, you, don't pretend like you are, because we were down there during the war. And he says, even if you have to, just keep saying, I don't understand. I don't understand. Don't make people think that you understand when you don't. So that was always good advice.

Naomi A. Randt [00:10:41] What was Berlitz?

Father Rob Reidy [00:10:44] Berlitz is a- It's a language school. It's one on one. And they have almost any language that you can imagine. Berlitz is like that. And I was- I think I was with a lady from Ecuador for, you know, I'd go, like, twice a week. And it was just- It was like, conversation is basically what it was. And I think they still have it, but everybody talks about Rosetta Stone. But I thought Berlitz was really good.

Naomi A. Randt [00:11:09] Yeah, it was actually with a person.

Father Rob Reidy [00:11:11] Yes. One on one with a person.

Naomi A. Randt [00:11:15] What did you think about that, being sent to El Salvador?

Father Rob Reidy [00:11:23] Well, the story behind how that happened is when I was at that church as a deacon, St. Leo's, the man, one of the associates there, eventually became the mission director. His name was Al Winters. And after I was ordained, Al took me out to lunch, and he was just appointed mission director. And he said if there would ever be an opening to the mission down there, would you consider going? And I just said, yeah, why not? And seven years later, he called me and he says, are you still serious about that? And I said, I don't know if I was ever serious. But then they sent me down to take a look around for a couple days, and next thing I knew, I was there. It's like I told you at the beginning, I just didn't say no to things. And I wound up down there. I mean, when I was ordained, I never in my life would have ever thought that I would be going outside the country, never, to work in language, another language.

Naomi A. Randt [00:12:18] What was that experience like for you?

Father Rob Reidy [00:12:20] It was wonderful. I was down there during the time of the war, and then the second time, I was down there after the war, when the gangs and all the other type of violence was there. But I learned a tremendous amount about other cultures. I learned a lot about what my vision of church developed through working with the people down there. It's hard to describe, but it was- It was- Those years went by so quickly for me. I have a lot of friends and people I know there.

Naomi A. Randt [00:12:55] You were down there, obviously, after the four church women were murdered. But I was wondering if I can get your take on that.

Father Rob Reidy [00:13:06] I did not know them personally. I never met them, but a lot of people- The first parish I was at in La Libertad was where those two from the Cleveland diocese had worked. So I really knew a lot about them through secondhand experience. It was- There was just so much that was going on violently. We lived in the place that wasn't directly in the war zone, but we would have a lot of things going on. Like, they'd find bodies out in front of houses or thrown into the, over an embankment or something like that. And the people would usually come in and tell me about it, because if they went to the police, the police would accuse them of doing it. So they would come in and tell me about it. I would go out, and then I'd go and take the police out. So I. And people that were identified, they would take them and put them into what they call the Casa Communal, which is a- Most of the cities have it. It's like a little hall that they use for a variety of different activities. And they would just take the body, put it on the floor, put flowers and candles around it with the hope that someone would come in and recognize them. A lot of times that didn't happen, and they have, the law is they had to bury people there within 24 hours because they don't embalm them. So I saw some things that were extremely gruesome. And several times I was caught in areas where there was shooting going on, and I went and filled in for a priest on the other end of the country. And during that time, the guerrillas were in the city I was in. And the army came in the next morning and there was a big battle there, and they threw them out. So I saw a lot of things that were very, very difficult, you know, a lot of violence. And I saw the effect that violence had on the people.

Naomi A. Randt [00:15:00] Were you ever worried about that violence being directed towards you or people of the mission?

Father Rob Reidy [00:15:05] It was once. One time I was threatened. What happened is we worked a lot with people, the displaced people who were coming in from the war zones, and they would come in just with the clothes on their back, families. So I worked with people in the city and with Caritas, which is an international group that helps people, and we would get them clothing, food, and get them settled somewhere. We did- We settled an awful lot of people. And because of that, we were suspect. They felt we were like guerrilla supporters or something like that. One of the men that I worked with, he was a carpenter, and he'd come in and we took care of him. He came to me one day and he said, I was walking last night in this one area, and I heard your name. So I stopped, and both your name and Catalina, who was a guy that I worked with in the parish, they were planning to kill us. They really were. So, you know, I was really upset, and I told the rest of the team members about it, and the mayor was a very good friend of mine. So I went and I told him, and he says, do you have an idea who these people are? I said, no, but this other guy knows who they are. So he says, you come tomorrow to the city hall at 1:00. So I go there, and Catalina was with me. And who's sitting there? It's the mayor, the head of the military, the head of the police, and the head of the guardia. They're sitting at a table, and these guys walk in, and the mayor just looks at him and he says, this is not a court. We're not accusing you of anything. But if anything happens to either one of these two men in the near future, we know who did it. Get out of here. That's all he said to him. And I thought, wow, you know, those guys are going to be watching out for me the next couple of years. You know, they're not going to want anything to happen to me. But it was- I remember the night, you know, before that, after I knew about it. And I remember sitting there all night. I had a little wooden rocking chair, and about 3:00 in the morning, I just had a tremendous peace that came over me, and I thought, it's going to be okay. So. And I knew constantly, you know, the government, more than anything else, mistrusted us. They mistrusted the church for many reasons. And we got, all of us in our area got called in once by the head of the military in the country. So at that point, we knew the American consul in a country at that time, they were really close to us. And he said, I want to go to the meeting with you. So we went in there. They started accusing us of having subversive music in the church that, you know, one time we had taken some of the kids out on a hike with backpacks, and they said we were training kids to be guerrillas. You know, I mean, it's just a bunch of stupid things they were talking about. And he just contradicted everything they said. He says, you guys don't really have to say anything. Let me do it. And it just really shut them down. So they were, they would come and listen to masses, they'd sit and listen to our preaching and stuff like that. So you're always aware that you had to be careful what you're saying and doing and never went anywhere alone. Never.

Naomi A. Randt [00:18:27] Could you maybe elaborate on, you said there were very various reasons why they mistrusted you?

Father Rob Reidy [00:18:35] I think because we were not, we did not take sides on things, and they, I think the government many times wanted you to take sides. Government was mostly the military at that point, because the government was the Christian Democratic Party at that time, and they were- Then eventually ARENA came in, but the Christian Democratic Party really didn't have anything against the church, but I think ARENA did. And it's looking more and more like [Major Roberto] D'Aubuisson, the one ARENA guy, was responsible for Romero's death. So they just thought that we should be more pro-government and less talking about justice and not butting in when people are being abused or tortured or things like that- That's- Those are the reasons I think they did not like the church, because we would say what we thought and would intervene in areas that the military would just as soon that you didn't.

Naomi A. Randt [00:19:40] Can you spell ARENA for me?

Father Rob Reidy [00:19:42] ARENA, it's A-R-E-N-A. It's still a political party that is there, you know, and it was pretty much tied to the rich righthand group, I would say.

Naomi A. Randt [00:20:01] And the people that you were resettling, you were resettling them inside El Salvador?

Father Rob Reidy [00:20:06] Yes. Almost all of them were in the parish itself. And there was one place on the entrance to the town where there was a huge hill and across from a gas station. And one of the guys from the city, who was someone I knew very well, we were able to get that land and developed it into what they call a colonia, which is like a little suburb which had water, lights, and places you never thought they'd have houses. They probably have a hundred or so up there now. And some people were resettled in a place just outside of town that's called Progreso, which is now a very, very big city. So we basically tried to get them their basic needs for a while. And most of the people became independent very quickly. They went to- Either they were trying to escape the war, or they were involved in it and wanted to get out of it. And our area was, like I said, was relatively peaceful. There weren't battles going on there all the time, but the military was there all the time.

Naomi A. Randt [00:21:08] And this was in-

Father Rob Reidy [00:21:09] La Libertad. Yeah.

Naomi A. Randt [00:21:11] Did you spend your entire time in La Libertad?

Father Rob Reidy [00:21:13] My first time I was there, the second time I was there until a major earthquake hit the country, and then I moved to a city which I was visiting because it was almost destroyed, and the bishop gave me permission to move up there. And I finished my time working in that area.

Naomi A. Randt [00:21:30] What was the name of that area?

Father Rob Reidy [00:21:31] That was called Chiltiupan. C-H-I-L-T-I-U-P-A-N. It's really- The city's name comes from Nahuatl. And chil means red. Tiu is like theology, it means God. And pan means place of. So it was considered the Place of the Red God because the city- My understanding is there was a temple built there many years ago because it was so high up, and it was dedicated to the red God. And it was interesting that eventually they built the Catholic church on the same spot where the temple was.

Naomi A. Randt [00:22:14] Did you see a lot of expression of some of those older religious practices?

Father Rob Reidy [00:22:21] No, there wasn't- There was no practice. Most of the people were Catholic or Christian. But you saw in the people, it was interesting because they had very native features, darker skin, really sculptured faces and things like that. It wasn't- A lot of the other areas of the country, there was a lot of mestizos, the mixtures. But I was amazed at how many people up there were very, very indigenous looking.

Naomi A. Randt [00:22:45] What was that experience like up there?

Father Rob Reidy [00:22:49] That became a very special place for me because I was only visiting there once or twice a week. And when the earthquake hit, I was up there the next day and looking at things, and I just thought, you know, they need to have someone here. And through just a lot of bridges that I had made in the past, I was able to get people from here to go up, go up there and help. And just basically, with the government, and with our government, rebuild the city. The Catholic school was totally destroyed. And now they have this beautiful school, one of the, I think it's one of the pretty schools in the country, totally set up, made by aid, paid for aid, aid for international development. And it has a plaque at the entrance. So the bridges we were able to make with the embassy at that time enabled these kids to have just a tremendous school. And it just started a whole bunch of really wonderful things. So out of that whole earthquake experience, which was horrible, I mean, I had to come back for a while after it was all over and, you know, kind of get my mind back together. But it really opened this city up for a lot of different possibilities.

Naomi A. Randt [00:24:04] Do you remember approximately when that was?

Father Rob Reidy [00:24:08] No, I can look it up, but I just, like I said, I'm so bad with names. It would have to be in the early two thousands, because I went back, I think I went back in 1999, but it was a- It was a huge earthquake. It did devastating to a lot of the country. And we were on what they call the Cumbre, which is a series of mountains, razorback mountains, that go across part of the country. And it's- There's a fault line that's very close to that out in the ocean. So it really- I'd say half the buildings in the town were destroyed. The church was cracked, but we were able to fix it.

Naomi A. Randt [00:24:54] What was it like going back sort of after the war had ended?

Father Rob Reidy [00:24:59] I didn't want to go back. Okay? What happened is there was a. I went to Lorraine and was working there, and one of the priests that was down in La Libertad, he- Someone in his family, I think it was his mom, became very sick, and he wanted to come back. So the bishop says, we have, you know, if you can't get someone to replace you, you know, you're going to have to wait. So he was back here, and he came and talked to me and he said, you know, I want to come back, but I have to have someone to take my place. And I just- I didn't have any expression whatsoever. I was thinking, I don't want to go back there now, go back to the same place. But I thought, that's not fair. So I went back and I was in the same place, which was very difficult to go back to where you worked before under totally new circumstances. People expected the same things in the past, and it just wouldn't happen. So after a couple, I think it was two years down there then was when the earthquake was and was when I was able to move up to the other place, which I had been visiting on a regular basis anyway.

Naomi A. Randt [00:26:09] What were some of those expectations that people had?

Father Rob Reidy [00:26:12] That you were the same person you were before. You could- You know, in the war, we did have a lot of pull because we were Americans down there. And after the war, I think people expected things of us, and we were able to get a lot of help from outside, Caritas and other things. I mean, we never lacked for things that we really felt we needed. But then after the war, it was totally different. You know, the political structure was different, the economy was different, everything in the country was different. So to come back then, I almost felt like a fish out of water. I didn't know how I was going to fit in. And it took me a while to actually move into the other place where I really felt this is where I should be.

Naomi A. Randt [00:26:58] What was your impression of the people of El Salvador?

Father Rob Reidy [00:27:02] They are a very hardworking people. It takes a while to get the trust of the people, but once you have it, they will do anything for you. I mean, it was just- I felt I had very good friends down there. Family. One family basically raised this one guy and his father, his grandfather raised him, but his grandfather was the one that, when I told you, we got that place on the side of the mountain, he and I, he worked for the city, and I got to be good friends. And his grandfather died, so I helped this kid go to school and everything like that. And eventually he came to the United States and his girlfriend came up. They got married, and they've got two kids now. I'm godfather to one of them, but that's like my family. You know, they're in their forties now, both of them, absolutely fantastic people. They fell into a good immigration situation, which was pure luck because of the whole thing. So, you know, I feel that I have family that came from down there, and my family accepts them as family, too. So, you know, that's the kind of bonds of relationship you can have with people. I still go down maybe once or twice a year, depending, visit people. I'm involved in an agricultural project down there and just some other things. But they taught me so much about life. An awful lot about life and what it really should be. So I have a great admiration for those people.

Naomi A. Randt [00:28:40] Was there a lot of immigration trouble, people trying to get out of El Salvador and come to the United States?

Father Rob Reidy [00:28:46] Constantly. I had an experience just a year ago. Right now I work a lot on undocumented here. As a matter of fact, I was down in southern Texas for a week at the family detention center, where I ran into people who actually knew. So I think, because the violence and the economic situation, I'd say it's more violence than it would be economic situation. People want to get out of there so they can get out of the fear of being killed. The economic situation, too, because it's such a small country and because there are no real natural resources. Everything is based either on service or on production. And there's a lot of sweatshops down there, people working in those places. And it's just really hard for a young person with an education to be able to use that ability. And I think a lot of them left because of that now because of the gangs, the gang violence, the threats. It crosses over both of those areas.

Naomi A. Randt [00:29:59] Are there a lot of educated people, or what is the education level?

Father Rob Reidy [00:30:04] It's varied. In the bigger cities, the people have more opportunities. There's a lot of universities. The problem, like with the Chiltiupan where I lived, is the kids would either have to move to the city to go to school or they'd have to commute. There's one young man that, he's going to a mechanical school now in the capital. He gets up at 4:00 in the morning, catches the 4:30 bus to get into the capital by around 6:30 or 7:00. And, you know, you imagine doing that every day. So they have to really desire to be educated to do that. People there don't just go to school to pass time because everyone else is doing it. Very highly, highly educated people.

Naomi A. Randt [00:30:53] Do they see it as a way out?

Father Rob Reidy [00:30:56] As a- They- I don't know. Out of what?

Naomi A. Randt [00:31:03] Out of that situation that they might find. Is that motivation for them?

Father Rob Reidy [00:31:09] It probably is, because the contact they have with. With the western culture. But there's still a lot of young people that are involved with agriculture because there's two young men that just graduated from- They're from Chiltiupan. They graduated from the Escuela Nacional de Agro Cultura, which is the National School of Agriculture. And they're highly educated in agriculture and ecology and things like that. But they want to stay working on the land, but they have a tremendous education. So I think in all areas, young kids want to have an opportunity for the future for themselves and their family, because a lot of them wind up helping their parents as their parents get older.

Naomi A. Randt [00:32:00] Do you usually see large families in El Salvador?

Father Rob Reidy [00:32:04] Oh, yeah. Most of them are big. And I asked- I was always asking a lot of questions. And I was asking one guy once, I said, why do these big families. And they say, when we get old, somebody's got to take care of us, you know? So it's funny, but they- A lot of big families. I mean, there's not very many families that have one or two kids. 5, 6, 7, 8, you know.

Naomi A. Randt [00:32:31] While you were down there the first time, during the civil war, what was your view of the U.S. foreign policy at the time?

Father Rob Reidy [00:32:41] It changed radically, because when we were there the first time, Carter was the president, and he was very, very strong on human rights and our aid was based on human rights and it was very strongly controlled. When Reagan was elected, very quickly the policy changed and things became much more violent. A couple times I was in a small airport when they had- Sometimes the guerrillas would close down the roads for a day. They called it a paro, a stopping. And sometimes if I had to go to help, at the other end of the country, we'd take a. A small plane, you know, because you couldn't drive anywhere. And twice I saw them loading caskets onto troop planes and they had American flags on them. And I kept telling people, you know, the whole thing was, they said, well, we're not fighting. They were not fighting. And I was seeing them taking out soldiers' bodies, United States soldiers' bodies. And I knew what was going on. And now it's all coming out that. Yes, that was going on. And one time there was a group of military in a cafe downtown, and the guerrillas went in and killed a colonel and a couple other people, a colonel from our army. And, I mean, it made the news and all this stuff. And then later on, they found out he was the one that was training soldiers, Salvadoran army soldiers in the country. And also he was controlling some of our own military people who were- They called them advisors, but I think they were more involved than what they thought. So we were seeing things that the news was not picking up on. We knew there was stuff going on, but you couldn't prove it, and you really didn't want to say anything about it because it could get you in trouble and we would get- We could get thrown out of the country. You could lose- I'm still a resident down there, but you could lose your residency very easily, if you get, you know, you get out of line. So we didn't say much about anything.

Naomi A. Randt [00:34:52] Did that impact, like when you came home, like Father Doug has mentioned, that you got like three or four weeks in the summer is sort of the vacation, did you try and educate at all as to what was going on?

Father Rob Reidy [00:35:14] There wasn't really too much to educate up here. You didn't know what you could do with it because you're always thinking in the back of your mind, if I say something here and it gets back there, what's going to happen to my chances or even my safety? So you'd see one thing on the news and I could talk to my friends and that, and say, that's a bunch of baloney. It's not true. But, you know, I saw a lot more things and I began to realize that we do things and then 15, 20 years later it comes out. All the meanwhile, you're denying, denying, denying, and then it comes out and it seems to be a cycle, like what happened in Panama and other areas of the world. So I decided that that cycle exists and you're not going to be able to do a whole lot internationally to change it. You know, you can tell people what's going on, but I tried to avoid any press stuff or anything while I was working down there.

Naomi A. Randt [00:36:19] Was that difficult to do?

Father Rob Reidy [00:36:21] No. I just, you know, I kept real general when I was talking with people and just was, I just thought, it's not gonna- It's not gonna help anything. It's just gonna get me in trouble. But my family knew what was going on and my friends knew because I would tell them and they'd say, is that true? And I said, I saw it, so I know what's going on.

Naomi A. Randt [00:36:42] Did they have reservations, your friends and family, about you being down there?

Father Rob Reidy [00:36:47] Probably, but my family is very understanding and they knew how much it meant to me to be down there. And both of my sisters came down to visit me. My one sister's a nurse. She came down several times with an eye clinic. And then my other sister, my older sister came down with her on my last tour down there. And like I told you, my dad was down there. My mom just, she doesn't like heat, so it wouldn't be good for her. But I don't think they ever would have told me to come home. I pretty much told them what was going on, but they knew we were being as careful as we could be also. And the people watched out for us. If there was something, they may come in and say, I don't think you should go there today. And we say, okay, we wouldn't go because they were kind of watching out for us.

Naomi A. Randt [00:37:41] Can you talk a little bit more about some of the other things you did down there as part of your work?

Father Rob Reidy [00:37:48] When I was in the port, I worked with a cooperative, a fishing cooperative. That cooperative, they would go out for a day or two at a time in these small boats. There'd be two guys in the boat, and they'd fish and come in. Well, their equipment was really bad. And somehow, and I don't remember how this happened, but I came into contact with this man. His name was, I think, was Provost. He was from an international group in Canada. And one day, we were talking. All of a sudden, I just started talking about the fishing thing, and he was able to get enough money to buy, I think it was 14 boats, motors, and the whole thing for one of the fishing cooperatives. It was just, like, dropped out of the sky. And we had the meeting with the cooperative. They're all sitting around the table, and they're listening to this guy. And then when they're all done, they say, well, how many years do we have to pay for this? And the guy looks at him, and he says, you're not paying for it. We're giving you these boats forever. And they're just like, we don't believe this happened. And it really helped this cooperative to work. I also threw- What is it called? CCHD, the Catholic community. I can't remember all the initials, but we were able to get money to set up a welding workshop. And one of the guys in our parish had taught welding in Iraq, believe it or not. And he- We paid him, and he taught young people to weld, and he was very good. And a lot of them eventually opened up their own welding shops. Worked- I taught in a high school. I taught English in a high school, and teaching them English I learned my Spanish, basically, and that was a great experience. I got to know the teachers very well there, and there was just so many things you could do. You know, it was just, the sky was, like, the limit, honestly. If you had energy, you could do a lot of things, work with the people. That's what I did. That's why here it's really stifling, you know, here it's like things came to a screaming halt when you're here. Does that make any sense?

Naomi A. Randt [00:40:09] Yeah.

Father Rob Reidy [00:40:10] Okay.

Naomi A. Randt [00:40:12] How did you end up teaching English in high school?

Father Rob Reidy [00:40:16] I don't know, but I think what it was, I met one of the teachers, and they said they wanted. You know, the English was so bad there. So I said, well, you know, I'm not a teacher, but I'm willing to go in and teach. So I would go in once a week for about 4 hours. I had two classes, and they really- I could say they learned English the way I motivated them, that if they behaved during class, then I would teach them a song. You know, they listened to the American music, so I'd give them the words and, you know, we, at the end of the class, we'd always sing a song, and it really worked for them. And a lot of those kids learned English very well. And then I got involved with one of the teachers, and he and I team taught a sociology class. And I didn't know anything about sociology, but I learned. But it was just- It was a very large high school in the port, but it was an experience for me to get- I was able to get in contact with a lot of people that I never would have known otherwise.

Naomi A. Randt [00:41:21] What kind of songs were they?

Father Rob Reidy [00:41:24] It's all the modern stuff. I remember one I taught them was "Another Brick in the Wall" by Pink Floyd. That was one of them. And, I mean, they're really good songs, but if you ever sit down - and now you can get this stuff on the Internet - but to sit down and try and write the words to these songs, I would listen to them 20 or 30 times, because sometimes there's two words. What are they saying here? You know, they were all modern English songs that they wanted to learn, and they'd sing them. High school kids singing. The whole group. They loved it. I did, too.

Naomi A. Randt [00:42:01] How long did you teach English?

Father Rob Reidy [00:42:04] I think it was about five years. I went through a whole cycle of the high school.

Naomi A. Randt [00:42:12] Was that- Have you done anything since then?

Father Rob Reidy [00:42:16] Not really. Probably the only thing would be, I do a lot of talks on immigration law. I do, for groups and things like that. I do that. I'm not a lawyer, but I do know a lot about, you know, ins and outs, practical stuff of that. I'm not a real teacher, to be honest with you. I would never want to do that for a living. [laughs] I hope no one's listening to that.

Naomi A. Randt [00:42:44] You mentioned how things were different when you came back. They were kind of stifling. Did you ever try and work to change that? Or did you see a way that you could try and open it up like it was in El Salvador?

Father Rob Reidy [00:43:01] The only- Boy, that's a tough one. It really is. I don't- I guess I see the church's role as quite a bit different here than it was in El Salvador because you could really get involved in just about anything, you know, and keep your religious principles. But working with people here, everything just seems to have to go through all kinds of processes to get anything done. And you just keep working on things and you're not too sure that anything's ever going to happen. And we're- This is a relatively poor parish here, so, you know, I've kind of centered in on working with the undocumented people. We also have neighborhood meals and things like that. But I don't know, it's. I'll have to think about that a little bit more. But I don't, I don't feel I have the same freedom or resources to do what I did down there. But it was always with the people. We worked in groups together and accomplished it. Here it seems like everybody goes their own way and then you maybe see them a week later, or if you live with them, it's a little bit different.

Naomi A. Randt [00:44:20] Did you also see just differences in how the faith sort of manifested itself?

Father Rob Reidy [00:44:26] Definitely. I think with people that live in the conditions that they live in, they depend more on God, and you have, you're more concentrated. There's so many things that people have here that can occupy their minds and their activities. I mean, I just see, I admire parents here because they're hauling kids all over the place. They're doing all this stuff constantly. They don't- But there, when you're living in a more simple life, you have much more time to think about things, more time to pray. People would walk two hours to come to mass on Sunday up this huge mountain. And I just saw faith was so much a part of their life.

Naomi A. Randt [00:45:21] Is that one of the main things that you sort of bring back from El Salvador?

Father Rob Reidy [00:45:26] I think it is. Like I mentioned before, it's a different understanding of church, of working with people. And I've always thought it's so important to the word empower to give people the tools they need to form their own life. And I think people here are much more self-sufficient than people would be there, and they rely more on each other. We worked quite a bit also on getting kids lined up with families up here to get scholarships for them. And somebody asked me once a question, they said, well, have you ever done any study on seeing how many of these kids that you're getting these scholarships for get jobs? And I said, that's not important. The reason we're educating them is not that they get a job. It's so that they can form themselves and make their society a better place to live. And I said that question never entered my mind because that's not why we're looking to get them help for their studies so they get a job. That's a side effect. But to change the society in which they live, that's why I see they get educated.

Naomi A. Randt [00:46:41] Were those scholarships that can go to school down there, or would they come up to the United States?

Father Rob Reidy [00:46:45] No, all down there. And right now the program is extremely big. I don't know how many they have, but they give them scholarships to the high school and many kids- There's probably over the last ten years been hundreds that have gone to college because of those, you know, direct links with people here in Cleveland.

Naomi A. Randt [00:47:08] Just backtracking a little bit. This Canadian helped with the cooperative. Was there a lot of other countries involved down there at the time?

Father Rob Reidy [00:47:20] After the earthquake? Venezuela was incredible. They did an awful lot of work on rebuilding one of the cities that was the worst destroyed, Comasaugua. Japan does a lot of work in education. So does Spain. Spain has a group that we met after the earthquake. It's called Intervita, and it was formed from a group of 14 families in Barcelona that started working together. And they have been extremely active in building schools and working with teachers. It's a tremendous- And they came to Chiltiupan by accident because after the earthquake hit, they went, brought two trucks in from Guatemala, and they said, who can we help? Everybody says, oh, we don't know. And somebody said, well, we heard there's a lot of damage in Chiltiupan. Go up there. They came up and they stayed there for two months, and that's where they started to work throughout the country of El Salvador, just because of that little mistake that somebody made sending them up to us. Seriously, you know, you look back and you say, God has a plan, and you just really don't get in the way of it. And it's blossomed out to help many schools in the country. I think it's I-N-T-E-R-V-I-D-A, and they're still in existence. You can look that up.

Naomi A. Randt [00:48:48] That was after the civil war?

Father Rob Reidy [00:48:52] Yes, that was the second time when I was in Chiltiupan. That was after the earthquake when they came. And they really, they do a lot in the rural areas of the country.

Naomi A. Randt [00:49:03] The first time you were down there during the civil war, was there any sort of other groups from other countries besides the Catholic church, besides the Cleveland mission team?

Father Rob Reidy [00:49:15] There were- I know that there were Franciscans that were down there that were from the United States, too. The Lutherans have always been very good in mission. Spain has always been, has always been really, had a tight link with the government, especially in the areas of education.

Naomi A. Randt [00:49:46] Did you ever wish that more people would get involved?

Father Rob Reidy [00:49:51] I think that through our mission team, many people have gotten involved, and it's been a real blessing to have people from here going down. When I was down that second time, we put a lot more effort on bringing people down because during the war it was just too dangerous and you wouldn't have to watch out for people. But now a lot of people are going down. It's like a reverse mission where people are going down there and they are growing from the experience and it's changing their lives. So we think we're helping them, but more times than not, they're helping us. It's reverse mission.

Naomi A. Randt [00:50:32] Have any people from your parish gone down there?

Father Rob Reidy [00:50:36] Oh, yeah. I took two youth groups down at different times. I've taken one group of adults down from here. The good thing here is most people speak Spanish, so you don't have to do the translating stuff. But it has really, I think, more on the kids. These are kids that are late high school or college, and they are so open to everything going on. I think they're- And all of them say, that's one of the greatest experiences I've ever had in my life, you know, going down. And we didn't do a lot of working. We did a lot of relational stuff with people, you know, going to schools, going to villages and things like that. And I think it has a great impact on them.

Naomi A. Randt [00:51:22] How did that make you feel, being able to take those people down there?

Father Rob Reidy [00:51:27] I enjoyed it a lot, you know, and it was. I always took, you know, also, I took the one that's my godson, and then his sister went down with me last time. They're from Lorain, but I tried to get people from other parishes to mix with our kids, too, so that they would be able to do it. But I found them really easy. I didn't have to worry about a thing. I worried more about the adults than the kids. Kids seemed to be able to take care of themselves, but it was- You get a good view of what youth are like when you can spend a week with them, too, and talk with them and, you know, people badmouth them, and I don't understand that. They're really- They just need some opportunities and they do wonderful things.

Naomi A. Randt [00:52:09] Why were you more concerned with the adults than youth?

Father Rob Reidy [00:52:12] The adults, sometimes they just want to do what they want to do, and, you know, you have to say, say no we're going to do this because you want them to get an experience. But the adults that went down, came back, really fired up too, and helped on an irrigation project in a cooperative. They helped to buy a water pump for a project. So they came back and wanted to get involved and things here to send some help. There they were. All of our adults were perfectly bilingual, or maybe better in Spanish than English. So they were able to just relate with the people right away.

Naomi A. Randt [00:53:02] Were there other projects that they got involved in once they came back from those experiences centered in this community?

Father Rob Reidy [00:53:11] I don't think so, no. Most of them have their own families and their things. But one of them said, I don't try and talk a lot about it at the services because people tend to say, that's all you ever talk about. So one of the ladies who is our bookkeeper here, she's young, and she went down with me because I wanted to have a lady along too for the girls. So we got back, she says, now I know what you're talking about, you know, because she says, before I didn't understand anything. And she says, after going through this experience, I really understand why you say the things you do and why you feel the way you do. And I said, yeah, that's what it's all about.

Naomi A. Randt [00:53:59] Is that a typical thing for people to say once they come back?

Father Rob Reidy [00:54:03] I think so. But like I said, people that don't have an experience, you can keep giving them examples, but they don't understand. But once they see it eye to eye, they understand. My sister Mary was like that. She just never wanted to go down there. Never. And Judy kept saying, you gotta go, you gotta go. And then when she went down, she said, this was just incredible, what I learned being down here. So I think that's an important part of it. I was going to take a group down, but with the Zika thing, I just didn't want to mess around with that and get anybody sick because you have to really watch what you eat and drink when you do that.

Naomi A. Randt [00:54:46] How big is the parish here?

Father Rob Reidy [00:54:49] It doesn't have boundaries. And that's the question I always get. I can't give you numbers, but many Hispanic people who need services, whether it's baptisms, weddings, funerals, translations, whatever it is, they consider this their parish. So, I mean, it reaches out. We have people that come from Strongsville, people that come from Medina, we have people come from the east side. It just, you know, they see this as their parish. So sometimes they're not big on registering. So when you look at our books, you say, well, you don't have that many people, but you come here or you come to church, and you see how many people are here. So they're not real organized as far as registering or signing up.

Naomi A. Randt [00:55:33] Is this one of the only Spanish?

Father Rob Reidy [00:55:37] There's an. Lorain has Sacred Heart. We're two totally dedicated Spanish, and we have an English service, too. But St. Michael's, which is on Scranton, has, it's like a, it has a group of Americans and a group of Hispanics. There's another one down on Broadway. Our Lady of Lourdes is another one. Painesville is another half and half. These are the only two that are totally dedicated are ourself and Lorain. There's a parish down in Wooster, and there's one in Akron that have bilingual stuff. They have English masses and they have Spanish masses. So we're the only two that are primarily Hispanic, but the other ones have large populations, too.

Naomi A. Randt [00:56:29] Has that been more of a recent development, or is that kind of always been that way?

Father Rob Reidy [00:56:39] I think these two parishes, this one was made of two others, Christ the King and St. John the Baptist. They were like- John the Baptist was a small church. They had a church. Christ the King was a storefront, and they were growing, growing, growing. And this was about 15, between 15 and 20 years ago. And they really thought that they needed to get a bigger building. So those two groups came together and with the help of the diocese built this place. And this was really the forming of two communities that came together. And we have 14, at least 14 Hispanic nationalities in this parish. And people think that it's all the same. It isn't. A Peruvian is a lot different than a Puerto Rican. So it's the only thing that joins them together is the language. But the cultures are- It's a real challenge to work here.

Naomi A. Randt [00:57:40] Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Father Rob Reidy [00:57:43] Well, somebody said the other day, and it makes sense to me, you know, a Puerto Rican and a Mexican can be as different as a French and an Italian, you know, and you just have all these people with their customs and with their personalities, because each country is a little bit different, just in the way they view life, too. So when you get all these people and you throw them together, it can be a challenge when people are all pulling their own way. And the main thing is just to keep getting them back together. I made a strong effort to get our parish council as diverse as I could, because when I came here, there was all Puerto Ricans and maybe a couple Mexicans. But now we have people from Peru, we have people from El Salvador, you know, we trying to get broad representation on the council so that they would represent more of the church. But it's a challenge because people are very different. Even sometimes the words. I can say one thing to one culture, and it's totally accepted, and it can be a dirty word in another one. So you're thinking that the language is basically the same, but the idioms and different things like that can change totally from one country to another.

Naomi A. Randt [00:59:19] How did it work with diocese being assigned to El Salvador? Did they give you a timeframe or how long you would be down there?

Father Rob Reidy [00:59:29] They- I'm trying to think it changed when I was down there. I think they gave you so many years, then you could renew. I never felt I came back the first time because someone else wanted to go down and wanted to open up a slot for them. And the second time, it was almost the same thing. But we were in the process of turning Chiltiupan over to the diocese down there, because that was always important for me to see you go in. You can use some material resources to, you know, we really got the place up and going materially, but also had some very good leaders that were formed. So we left. They turned it over to a newly ordained guy down there. So he really had everything in place. He just had to add his own part to it and continue it on. So I came back the second time. That's the main reason why I think I came back, and I was supposed to have six months off, but the pastor here, who had worked down El Salvador before, died suddenly of a heart attack. So he- A month before I came back, so the bishop called me and he says, I have a job for you, you know, so I came back. I didn't have a car, I didn't have anything, and I was here within four days. You know, he says, move in there. So that was- That was the main reason I came back. It just. Circumstances presented themselves that I felt it was time to come back.

Naomi A. Randt [01:01:06] How did you feel about being placed in a parish like this?

Father Rob Reidy [01:01:13] It didn't make any difference to me. The first time I came back was interesting because the bishop specifically said to me, I want you to come back and go to a normal parish. I said, okay, you're the boss, whatever. But the pastor of that place really wanted in Lorain really wanted me to go there. And he just was bugging the bishop. Bugging the bishop, bugging the bishop. So the next thing I know, I get the letter of appointment that I'm being sent out there. I didn't say anything. I'm thinking, I thought you said I wasn't going to hispanic parish. So I wound up there. And then the pastor eventually moved on, and I was appointed pastor there. So I have never asked to go anywhere in my whole life. That includes El Salvador. That's why I said, I don't say no. I've always been asked to go to somewhere. So, so far, so good. It's worked out. [laughs]

Naomi A. Randt [01:02:07] Who was the bishop at the time that wanted you to go a normal parish?

Father Rob Reidy [01:02:12] That was Bishop Pilla, and he was pretty. He didn't beat around the bush, you know. He called me and says, just don't think you're going to a Spanish parish. You're going to go to a normal parish, an English parish. I said, okay, you're the boss.

Naomi A. Randt [01:02:27] But he said, why he wanted you to go to a normal parish?

Father Rob Reidy [01:02:32] I think we had some very interesting people on the mission team, great people, but we're all a little bit off, you know? [laughs] You know, so I think he was thinking maybe we could turn us back into normal or whatever it is. But it never worked. But I mean, some really interesting, interesting people. Very good. You know, they're great personalities, but they're not people that hide behind a bush. So I think he figured that if it gets us back into what would be a normal situation, we'd be a little bit normal, but it didn't work that way. [laughs]

Naomi A. Randt [01:03:06] Can you describe some of those people?

Father Rob Reidy [01:03:09] Well, one, that good friend of mine, Denny St. Marie, he was one of the people who helped form the mission team. Denny was just always had a story. He just was always with the people. A great guy. When I was in Mexico, we did a little bit of studying down there. I don't know if you've ever heard of Ivan Ilitch, but he was someone who was in the formation for missionaries. And his basic philosophy is we shouldn't go to other countries because we're the ugly Americans. And they pounded that into us, and, I mean, it made you feel like dirt. I mean, they just kept saying, why are you doing this? You're going down to be a do gooder, you know, and just really grinding you up. Well, he came down, and I was studying with Carol Savage, who eventually worked with me, and we were both disgusted. We just said, we're about ready to leave this. So we're just sitting, telling Denny, he's just sitting there. He just looks at us both and he says, you know what? They're full of blah, blah, blah. And we both just started laughing and laughing. And laughing, and it just broke the ice. And we continued on from there. But he knew at that point that's what we needed to hear. He's an exceptional guy. Then there was a friend of his, Bill Gibbons, who was a doctor, a medical doctor, who was eventually ordained a priest. And those two guys were best friends, and they were like opposites. Denny was tall. Bill was short. Denny always talked. Bill never talked. You know, it was just- You just had people like that. And Doug, I mean, Doug taught me a lot about not just mission. He taught me a lot about church and all kinds of stuff like that. I'm sure knowing you had a very good talk with him. I'm sure he's a great guy. People like that. I worked with, I had a couple from Washington. He was an ex-school principal from Fairfax, Virginia, and she was a nurse practitioner, so they worked in Chiltiupan. He was in the school, of course, and she was in the clinic. I worked with a girl. Her name is. What was her name? She's from Los Angeles, and was a Mexican-American, more Mexican than American. Worked on the team with me. We just had a series of people that were incredible. You know, they really were dedicated to what they do. They had a good idea of church, and we had a lot of fun together, you know? So it's a great group. We had our anniversary. I can't remember. It was 50 years in the mission, was last year for our whole group. So we have quite an investment. I don't know how many people have worked in the missions from Cleveland, but there's a lot. Most of us are now in Hispanic parishes.

Naomi A. Randt [01:06:09] What was the biggest thing you took away from your time in El Salvador?

Father Rob Reidy [01:06:18] Biggest thing? I think, for me to feel that you can go and live in another totally different culture, and somehow you can make your way through it, you know, you can do that and be accepted by people from another culture as being part of them. I think that's one of the biggest things that I learned, and it's- I think some people can be the ugly American, go in and want to change things, but if you're just in there with the people, one of the things they talk to us about in our preparation is you're not going down there to help them. You're going down there to walk with them. And that's the philosophy I think a lot of our team has. They're good people, they're humble people, crazy people, but really caring people. [inaudible] That's what I took.

Protest Voices

The Protest Voices series is a collection of oral history interviews with Catholic peace activists in Northeast Ohio. Interviews were conducted during the Protest Voices: Using Activist Oral Histories to Teach Historical Thinking Undergraduate Summer Research Award in 2016, focusing on Anti-Vietnam protests and Catholic activism surrounding US- involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s. Clips were then associated with Ohio Department of Education Social Studies Content Standards at…