Letters from Archbishop Robert E. Lucey of San Antonio to Monsignor George G. Higgins


Mexican farm workers entering
the bracero program, c. 1942-1945

Courtesy of the National Archives

While Monsignor George G. Higgins earned his nickname of “The Labor Priest” over his long career, San Antonio Archbishop Robert E. Lucey could have been called “The Labor Bishop.” A native of California, Lucey was ordained in Los Angeles and named Bishop of Amarillo in 1934 before being called upon to take the office of archbishop in San Antonio in 1941. Throughout his ministry there, Lucey became known for his work with labor unions in the San Antonio area. Many of the laborers in the area were Mexican-Americans receiving little pay for jobs in construction and other industries, and there were few leaders amongst the workers to lead a fight for better livelihoods.

Lucey took up the challenge in the 1960s, seeking fair wages for workers and implementing a number of social programs through the Church to assist spiritual and physical needs in addition to pay. One of the ways he accomplished this was by leading through example when he authorized the construction of diocesan buildings, but only hiring companies that paid fair union wages. Lucey would closely keep track of the workers to ensure that this was done.

Lucey letters.pdf

Letters from Lucey to Higgins
Courtesy of ACUA

In a series of letters between July 1959 and March 1960, Lucey briefly discussed the needs of laborers with Higgins. “So far as farm labor is concerned, and most especially migrant labor, they have not succeeded in doing very much but they are interested and they are trying,” Lucey wrote in one letter. He praised the attention the Catholic press had been giving the plight of migrant workers, though warned about the abuses in Public Law 78, which extended protections to Mexicans coming to the U.S. for temporary work (braceros). Many in the U.S. argued against the program due to it denying jobs to American workers, and the program was eventually phased out in 1964. The work done by Lucey in San Antonio would be a foreshadowing of what was to come in California during the mid-1960s.



1. Due to his opposition to Public Law 78, what did Lucey most likely see as his primary responsibility?

2. Is the tone of the letters one of optimism or pessimism?