A retired Siena sociology professor with his own civil rights activist bona fides has published a new book on Franciscan men and women who focused on the forgotten members of American society following the post-World War II era of prosperity.  

Paul Murray, Ph.D., professor emeritus of sociology, is the author Seeing Jesus in the Eyes of the Oppressed: A History of Franciscans Working for Peace and Justice, which shares the personal stories of eight Franciscans and their communities who struggled to create a more just and equitable society where all Americans could have a seat at the table. 

Through these eight mini-biographies, Murray explores Franciscan efforts to establish racial and economic justice and promote peace and nonviolence. Some examples? Fr. Nathaniel Machesky, who led the battle for civil rights in Greenwood, Mississippi; Sr. Antona Ebo, one of two African American sisters at the famous march in Selma, Alabama; and Sr. Pat Drydyk, who worked with Cesar Chavez for justice for farmworkers.

Sister Thea Bowman, for whom Siena’s Women’s Center is named, is also profiled: she celebrated Black gifts to the U.S. Catholic Church and worked toward an expression of the faith that was “authentically Black and truly Catholic.” 

“In all, the book emphasizes the passion and struggle of Franciscans in the United States to create a more just world within society and within the Church,” said Murray. “Most of these subjects are not among the most well known in the peace and justice movements, but they nevertheless had an impact.”

He noted that religious leaders of the mid-20th century – the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. chief among them - often motivated citizens to become involved in the fight for voting rights, justice for farmworkers or anti-nuclear proliferation, but said “somehow the Catholic involvement has been overlooked in the history of that era.”

Murray’s book seeks to redress that oversight; he gathered together oral histories and archival research to weave the stories of his subjects.

Fr. Dan Dwyer, O.F.M., Ph.D., associate professor of history, noted that Murray’s book is part of a series on American Franciscans that was commissioned by the Academy of American Franciscan History.  

“Paul's book is very informative and brings alive members of the Franciscan family who have taken a stand for justice since the middle of the 20th century,” said Dwyer. “Paul's own involvement in the civil rights movement and his long acquaintance with Franciscan men and women made him the ideal person to write this volume.”

Other books in the series so far feature Franciscans and parishes, and Franciscans in the media.