Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 19, 2010

Father Michael Pfleger: A Herculean Effort, Put on Film

Fr. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina’s on Chicago’s South Side

See a clip here: 

I stepped out in Evanston last night to see Radical Disciple: The Story of Fr. Michael Pfleger, a new 60-minute documentary by my friend Bob Hercules, screened as part of the Reeltime series of free independent films.

Let’s just say it was inspirational, both from a filmmaking standpoint and from a ministry and politics standpoint.

Politically, some of y’all may have seen or heard Pfleger during the 2008 presidential campaign, from a viral YouTube video of his talk on racism –in which he impersonated Hilary Clinton and cried out “I’m white! I’m entitled! Who’s this black guy coming in to steal my show?”

That’s Father Pfleger, telling it like it is. Mike’s not black, obviously, but he preaches like a Southern Baptist or A.M.E. firebrand. He’s a thorn in the side of conservatives, conservative Catholics in particular, because of what Jesse Jackson calls in the film the “prophetic tradition” that he comes from. I found myself thinking even of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in the gospels, good law-abiding Jewish priests, who nevertheless found in Jesus someone to respect and even support, whom their superiors were clearly set against.

I’m hoping Bob finds more outlets to get the film seen by more people, especially Progressive Christians and Catholics. The big bonus last night was that Hercules and Pfleger were there, and had a great, long Q&A right after the screening. Here’s Mike and Bob:

No thanks to my poor Blackberry camera…

I came out of it raring to go, newly energized to fight racism, addiction, and other systemic social problems with the gospel. I recognize –as does Pfleger himself– that he’s a showboater and a media whore. But more power to him. And who can blame him? It’s a jungle out there. Plus, he’s just being himself: colorful, charismatic, sometimes angry.

But also, he’s asking questions about America’s infrastructure, and institutions (churches, or the Church, if you prefer) that should be doing more to critique themselves and our society. He asked: “Where was the Church when people needed them in Haiti, which is 80% Catholic?” Strong words, from a courageous guy. He even told a funny story about a secret dinner he arranged with himself, Minister Louis Farrakhan, and Cardinal George of Chicago… complete with George sneaking out the back door to get a ride from Mike. And Bob intimated that somebody within the current Obama administration actually started this film, eight years ago, but had to let it go for political reasons.

If you think you might know of a group or church willing to screen or buy the film — Catholic or not — let me know, or just click on Bob Hercules’ name above for his website. It will be around at some smaller film festivals, and probably on local tv eventually, but hopefully for a national audience as well and not just Chicagoans. 

Look, Ma. It’s okay to be Catholic and countercultural, even radical. Father Mike’s doing it! I’m just ahead of the curve.



  1. Okay, two final things:
    1) Sorry Mom. You’re fine. I’m just using a cliche to talk about the previous generation.

    2) Evanston/Chicago journalist Bob McClory has a book coming out about Pfleger, also titled _Radical Disciple_ but with a different subtitle. Keep your eyes open.

  2. […] heard more than just the two-minute soundbites we get of him in the news.  An old friend of mine, Bob Hercules, even made a documentary film about […]

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