In Profile: Father Jerry Tobin
Father Jerry Tobin was ordained into the ministry in the1960s in Chicago. He was a young man then, and found himself totally taken aback by the Civil Rights movement that was rising up around him. He describes that he, like most white people at the time, was kept totally ignorant of the injustices and inequalities that African-Americans faced. He realized that it was time to educate himself. Although he was already working with two parishes in African American communities, he decided that he wanted to take a more strategic approach to social justice. After gaining a degree in social work, he returned to Chicago to work with Catholic Charities and make an impact in a wide variety of minority communities.
After many years of service with Catholic Charities, he was offered a position within the Norbertine Order’s new priory (now the Norbertine Priory of St. Moses the Black) that was being founded in Mississippi. Father Jerry realized that this new setting would offer him different opportunities, such as a chance to begin sharing his thoughts on human rights and social justice. So when he relocated to the Mississippi priory in 1990, he began writing and speaking on social justice issues.
Father Jerry’s communications on social justice dovetailed perfectly with the work that Bill Chandler was starting in Mississippi. Chandler was creating a coalition to advocate for immigrant rights, and according to Father Jerry, it was Chandler’s experience with labor organizing that gave MIRA the backbone of discipline and unity necessary to become truly effective.
Father Jerry was one of MIRA’s founding members, and has served on the board of directors ever since. He says that while other groups advocate for immigrants on a case-by-case basis, MIRA is the only Mississippi organization that affects change at a policy level. In addition to his own commitments to Mississippi’s immigrant community (he conducts mass on a weekly basis for a primarily immigrant parish in Carthage), he has been a consistent presence with MIRA at the Mississippi State Capitol. He has been able to offer a religious and human-rights based perspective on immigration issues, a perspective that he says Mississippi lawmakers recognize and respect.
Father Jerry remains connected with multiple ministries and parishes across the state, and participates with groups such as The Southern Human Rights Organizer’s Network and the United Auto Workers. He regularly writes for the local press (Jackson Advocate and the Clarion Ledger) and even some national publications. As he continues advocating for human and immigrant rights, his biggest hope for MIRA is that it will gain more resources. Greater resources would mean not only continuing the cause – but expanding MIRA’s role and increasing the scope of its advocacy across the state.