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God and a 2-year-old Get a Prof Arrested

“It was a call from God,” said George DeMarco, Professor of Physical Education and Sports Studies. 

“I’ve never done this before. After experiencing months of frustration and anger over our government’s treatment of immigrant children and their families, I was watching the news late on Wednesday night (July 17) and was on a flight to Washington, DC early on Thursday morning. I went to the Dayton airport without a ticket. Only God could have gotten me to the Capitol just minutes before the protest started.”  

Professor DeMarco was watching the nightly news when he learned that 1,000 Jewish activists had gathered in Washington on Tuesday, July 16 outside of ICE Headquarters calling for humane treatment of immigrants.  Photos of the horrific conditions at the detention centers, reminders of the family separations still going on, and accounts of children dying in those centers at the US-Mexico border prompted DeMarco to take action. The stories and pictures of those children “broke my heart and seared my soul” he said.   It was then that the still, small voice spoke to him, in fact, “it screamed at me.”

At the end of the news report, the broadcaster mentioned that a group of Catholics were planning a prayer and protest the next morning at the Capitol. DeMarco, a Catholic, quickly researched electronic sources; specifically those posted by the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) and decided he just had to be there.

The "Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children" was organized by a coalition of dozens of national Catholic organizations. The coalition’s goal was to call attention to ending child detention and family separation in the immigration crisis.   

Over 200 Catholic vowed religious, priests and laypeople began with a prayer service on the Capitol lawn. Then they walked inside the Russell Senate Office Building, some holding photos of children who died in detention centers in recent months. They went to the Rotunda where they continued praying with songs and the Rosary. 

Some planned to participate in an act of civil disobedience that could result in arrest for unlawful assembly. “I had never engaged in an act of civil disobedience before.  Dr. Eli McCarthy, the leader of the Day of Action [the director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the U.S. Catholic men’s religious orders and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University] explained what the consequences would be for participating,” Professor DeMarco explained. 

Deeply and inexorably moved by the poster sized photo of 2-year-old Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez of Guatemala given him by Dr. McCarthy to carry during the protest, DeMarco knew that he had to give witness. “Aren’t these dear innocent children the embodiment of Jesus today?” he mused.

Thinking also about the struggles of his immigrant grandfather, Salvatore Cracchiolo, a Sicilian shoemaker, who came to America in 1912 and worked for years as a laborer before being able to ply his trade, DeMarco prayerfully discerned to become one of the 70 who were arrested by Capitol Police.  His wife, UD Professor Emeritus, Dr. Carolyn Ridenour wholeheartedly supported his decision.  “Go ahead, I am with you all the way no matter what the consequences,” she told him during their phone call that morning.  

Inspired by Catholic clergy and lay leadership, including  90 year old Sister Patricia Murphy, a member of the Sisters of Mercy from Chicago, Professor DeMarco, recalled experiencing  “complete peace with my decision, fully cognizant that I was among courageous people who, like Sister Pat and Dr. McCarthy, had dedicated their entire lives to social justice and serving the oppressed and those in need.” 

And so, in unity with them, Professor DeMarco was arrested, charged with “Crowding, Obstructing, or Incommoding” and held in police custody until 5:00 pm that day.  He was released but ordered to appear in court on August 21.

DeMarco is strongly influenced by the University of Dayton’s Catholic and Marianist identity and teaching. “What brought me to UD was the Marianist commitment to Body, Mind, and Spirit through physical education enunciated in the Manual of Christian Pedagogy in 1899. Look at the documents we have that relate to caring for all people, such as University statements on human dignity and diversity. Plus, the Marianists have a special connection to immigration: Fr. Chaminade and Mother Adele sought asylum in Spain and Portugal during the French Revolution.  Our government’s policy and actions at the border are causing grotesque violations of human rights.  Not I alone, but only through the Grace of God and prayers to Jesus Christ for strength, was I able then – shall I in the days to come -- continue to give witness to those deceased immigrant children and their families.”

Although this was his first experience with civil disobedience and arrest, Professor DeMarco has taken political action before, especially to promote health and physical education.  As a member of the Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (OAHPERD) advocacy committee in the early 2000s, he lobbied members of the Ohio General Assembly for policies that would protect and enhance physical education in Ohio. The founding of the UD Adapted Physical Education Program in 1998 and the Fitness, Friendship, and Fun Program in 2004 in collaboration with campus colleagues and area urban parochial and public school partners exemplify the results of those advocacy efforts.

One of the others also arrested in the Day of Action and influenced by the Marianist charism and Catholic Social Teaching was Tinamarie Stoltz. Stoltz received her master’s degree in Theological Studies from UD in 2017, and was a graduate assistant in Campus Ministry. 

These two members of the UD family took action that required great personal sacrifice in order to draw attention to a social injustice. Neither is ashamed to say that God called them to participate in this nonviolent action for the common good.  

For more information about a Catholic response to immigration today, see http://usccb.org/about/migration-policy/ as well as Archbishop Schnurr’s statement on Immigration System Reform Advocacy at http://www.catholiccincinnati.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Arbishop_letter-letterhead.pdf

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