Labor’s Birthday Consolation Gift: Labor’s Saint Celebrated

Photograph by AP Photo

President Roosevelt witnesses the signing of International Labor Organization’s declaration for world economic security in his White House office in Washington on May 17, 1944. From left are: seated, Roosevelt, Walter Nash, minister to New Zealand and president of recent ILO Philadelphia conference; Edward J. Phelan, acting ILO director, signing. Secretary of State Cordell Hull (left) and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins are standing.

The Department of Labor marks its 100th anniversary this month, yet budget cuts have prevented it from celebrating in style. Now comes consolation in the form of Lent Madness, a whimsical online tournament to pick the best saint.

The winner: Frances Perkins, mother of the minimum wage, architect of the Social Security Act, U.S. labor secretary under President Franklin Roosevelt and the first woman Cabinet member. And yes, an Anglican saint.

“Sequestration prevented us from doing many of the education efforts, including activities about Perkins, that we’d planned in conjunction with the centennial,” Labor spokesman Carl Fillichio said. “It looks like Lent Madness may be our small salvation.”

The month-long saints competition, which wrapped up today, is the work of Timothy Schenck, rector of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal parish in Hingham, Massachusetts. He calls Perkins “an inspirational figure” who put her faith into practice by insisting on caring for the poor and marginalized.

“Voter turnout was exceptionally high this year,” Schenck said. “It’s rewarding to see so many people engaged with the lives of the saints.”

Labor Department staffers weren’t the only ones stuffing the ballot box, Fillichio said. The New York State Department of Labor, which Perkins led before going to Washington, was a powerful voting bloc, as was Mount Holyoke College — Perkins’ alma mater. “Don’t mess with Mount Holyoke women on a mission,” Fillichio said.

Perkins, who was canonized in 2009, defeated Hilda of Whitby in the final four, and got 57 percent of the vote to beat out Luke the Evangelist for the tourney’s golden halo.

 

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