Remembering Saint Frances Perkins’ legacy this Labor Day

Handout: Courtesy of Labor Department Labor Secretary Solis speaks about the department’s faith-based project to connect with job clubs and … Continued

Handout: Courtesy of Labor Department

Labor Secretary Solis speaks about the department’s faith-based project to connect with job clubs and ministries at Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Ga., on Oct. 5, 2011.

The other day, a colleague wished me luck on my upcoming “Patron Saint Festival.” He was joking, of course. He was referring to Labor Day.

It’s true, Labor Day is a busy time for labor secretaries. But my friend’s comment got me thinking.

I was raised with saints. I always thought it strange that our large, Hispanic-American family belonged to Saint Louis of France parish in La Puente, Calif. Whenever my mother misplaced something–her address book, eye glasses or house keys–she would immediately ask Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things, to intercede. Saint Anthony never failed her.

My father had an even more personal relationship with a saint. In the 1920s, Rafael Guizar Valencia was known as Mexico’s “Bishop of the Poor.” He cared for the wounded and dying during the Mexican Revolution. But he also baptized my dad, gave him his first communion, confirmed him and sponsored his attendance to seminary school in Mexico City. He was canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. When my father died earlier this year, Saint Rafael’s picture was on his mass card.

In my youth, I had my own favorite saint, and was introduced to her in a more modern way. I was mesmerized by the actress Jennifer Jones’ portrayal of a poor French girl who becomes a saint in the movie “The Song of Bernadette.” As a teenager, Bernadette was my personal patron saint. I admired how she kept her faith, even when no one believed her. She showed me how to be faithful to my convictions, even when others doubted me. I still draw strength from her story.

More recently, another saint came into my life.

On a weekend shortly after I became the nation’s 25th secretary of labor, I was exploring my new Capitol Hill neighborhood. I came upon a small Episcopal church, St. Monica and St. James, just a few blocks from my home. I decided to check it out.

I liked the services very much. The music was beautiful. The sermons were thought-provoking. The congregation was engaged and friendly. I felt very much at home.

On my third visit, as the service ended, one of the ushers introduced himself and took my hand. He smiled warmly and said, “We know who you are. We’re so glad you are here. We knew you’d come.” I was taken aback. I had no idea what he was talking about. And then he explained.

It turns out, back when it was just called St. James, the church was the spiritual home of my predecessor and the most influential labor secretary in U.S. history, Frances Perkins. Appointed by Franklin Roosevelt, she was the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. During her 12-year tenure, she was the heart and soul of the New Deal. She led the effort to create Social Security (some say she wrote the legislation in the St. James rectory). Unemployment insurance, minimum wage and overtime pay are just a few examples of her legacy. The federal building where I work is named after her, and her portrait hangs outside my office. She was a woman of great accomplishments, and of great faith—a pioneer in what we now commonly refer to as social justice.

But most extraordinary: Frances Perkins is a saint in the Episcopal Church, welcomed into the calendar of lesser feasts and fasts in 2009. Her commemoration (or day) is May 13.

Frances Perkins knew the power the faith community had in making a difference in the lives of working people, and enlisted their support and involvement during the Great Depression. I think she would be very pleased to see how her department is working with that community today.

For decades, churches, synagogues, mosques and temples across the country have sponsored “job clubs”– informal and often volunteer efforts to assist unemployed members of their congregations, as well as the wider community. Job clubs provide networking opportunities and employment resources, like resume writing tips, interview coaching and the use of social media in a job search. But they offer something else, too. The emotional and spiritual support they provide to someone who is out of work is critical. They reinforce to job seekers that they are not alone. The prayers, fellowship and hospitality keep them going.

Since May 2011, the Labor Department’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been working with job clubs in cities across the nation. We’re facilitating ways for them to get to know each other and share experiences in ways both high-touch (meetings and conference calls) to high tech (a web portal that shares best practices: www.dol.gov/jobclubs). We’re helping new clubs get started in rural and urban communities, and partnering them with our nearly 3,000 job centers, a nationwide network of one-stop career shops. We’re giving them tools to expand and extend the state workforce development system to church basements, fellowship halls and synagogue conference rooms.

And our efforts are paying off. We’ve connected with more than 1,500 job clubs, career ministries, and networking groups in the past year alone, and have developed an online directory so that job seekers can find job clubs, and job clubs can find each other. Our regional symposia and training events across the country are helping faith leaders, practitioners, volunteers and staff better serve their congregations and communities through new connections and partnerships, as well as promising practices. Most important, job clubs are reporting back to us that people are finding jobs and training opportunities. And that’s really what it is all about.

In speeches after she left office, Perkins would often make the point that “man has infinite worth.” That is as true today as it was when she sat in the labor secretary’s chair. It’s a common truth among people of goodwill and all faiths. It didn’t take her elevation to sainthood to remind me of that. The work of my department reminds me every day. Saint Frances Perkins would be very proud.


Hilda L. Solis is 25th U.S. Secretary of Labor. Prior to confirmation as Secretary of Labor, she represented the 32nd Congressional District in California from 2001 to 2009.

  • VirginiaMom3

    This is a remarkable article by Sec. Solis. I am thrilled to learn that Frances Perkins is a Saint in the Episcopal Church, and to learn of the job clubs.

    Faith communities are the key so very often to building a richer social fabric for struggling families and individuals, whether veterans, the jobless and underemployed, and I’m sure also for young college grads trying to cope in this harsh economy.

    The leadership of DOL has produced wonderful papers on such difficult issues as homelessness among women veterans, making them far more understandable.

    Isolation is the foundation of so many social ills, and fosters just about all the social problems one could name. Hooray for this tradition of job clubs and for the DOL’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

    It’s so refreshing to read of something that brings us together, and with such a vitally important benefit to so many.

    Dare I say hooray? You bet. Hooray!

    Priscilla Chism, Listening to America’s Veterans http://www.listening2vets.org

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.