Jerry Ryan came into my office at United States Catholic Conference in October 1973, just weeks after the coup d’etat in Chile, an event that totally consumed my work life for many months. Until 2001, 9/11 meant only that day in 1973 when a flawed leftist democracy had been violently overthrown by the Chilean military led by General Augusto Pinochet.
Jerry had come up from Argentina, having fled there from Santiago, Chile, where he had been working in a foundry that the new government shut down. He was staying at Tabor House in Washington D.C., a Christian community founded by a Carmelite priest and a Mercy Sister. After recounting a bit of his quite extraordinary experience, he said, “Let’s get out of here—let’s get a beer.”
So we went out the back of the USCC’s old building at 1312 Massachusetts Avenue and into Stoney’s Bar and Grill on L Street, where he continued the fascinating story of his life as a Little Brother of Jesus, most recently in Chile. I told him this was a story that needed to be told and that he should write it up. He said he had already done so and pulled out a five-page, single-spaced typed manuscript. After doing a bit of editing for grammar and punctuation, I sent it to Jack Deedy at Commonweal. “The Chilean Coup: An Eyewitness Account” appeared in the November 2, 1973, issue of the magazine. It was the first of what would turn out to be well over thirty Commonweal articles. The Chile article began with an editorial comment:
The following is a Chilean foundry-worker’s first-hand account of events surrounding the September 11 coup. The author, who managed to escape into Argentina where he wrote this, must remain anonymous, but he is well known to the Division for Latin America, U.S. Catholic Conference, which verifies this is his account.
Today’s writers and editors may be interested in what they paid for articles back then. I have a note from Ed Skillin apologizing for failing to pay the author—I had requested payment be made to the Division for Latin America, which would then get the money to the author—and the check was for $60. Quite generous when you consider that a similar article I had fenced with Christianity & Crisis brought in only $35. Yet another article by Jerry—he was bursting with tales to tell—was rejected by the Nation but brought a nice note from Carey McWilliams, who said they were running “a somewhat similar” piece. I sent a third article to Bob Hoyt, then editor of The American Report, noting that if he didn’t want it, “I may try a paper out in Kansas City I’ve heard about.” Bob, of course, was the founding editor of the National Catholic Reporter, and had been unceremoniously dumped by the NCR Board. Jim Castelli, then NCR associate editor, replied that much of it sounded close to Fr. Fred McGuire’s Congressional testimony for the USCC. No surprise there, as I had written the testimony, based largely on Jerry’s accounts. He was also to publish five articles in NCR and one in the Catholic Worker (under the byline José Obrero) and would soon become a close friend of Dorothy Day, whom he had first met in the 1950s.