Michael PflegerAt midmorning on an overcast September day, a security man at the Hyatt Regency Chicago downtown steps outside to examine the threatening sky. Inside the hotel, Jerry Springer is scheduled to speak at a lunch meeting of the Broadcast Advertising Club of Chicago, and the word is there may be some kind of protest. "I have a feeling [the protesters] might not show up." the security man says, sounding hopeful. “I don't think they'll want to march in this." Clouds the color of dishwater look as if they could open up at any second.

But ten minutes later a yellow school bus rolls to a stop out front. Then another. The doors open and one by one, a line of black children files onto the sidewalk, all of them dressed in Catholic school plaids and dark colors. Some are carrying bright signs with slogans such as STOP TRASH TELEVISION and ADVERTISERS! DON'T FINANCE VIOLENCE.

Soon, a white priest bounds out of a bus and starts leading the children in a looping march on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Jerry Springer's got to go," they chant. "One-two-three-four, Jerry Springer needs to go."

After an hour or so of marching, the priest and the young protestors file onto the buses and head back to St. Sabina Catholic Church on the city's South Side.

And that's it. Springer never appears outside. There's no confrontation and virtually no media coverage. In the rich history of Chicago protests, this exercise wouldn't register as a footnote—other than perhaps to raise the question of why a local parish priest is taking on a nationally syndicated TV star.

But for Father Michael Pfleger, this is what life is about, tiresome, frustrating, hopeless, or not. For more than two decades, Pfleger has been fighting anyone he thinks threatens his community, particularly its children-everyone from the drug dealers who poison their bodies to Jerry Springer, whose sex-and­-slugfest TV show, Pfleger believes, poisons their minds. The fact that the priest is a boyish-looking 49-year-old white man and his community is overwhelmingly black hasn’t slowed his crusade for a moment. He has fought crack dealers, bar owners, and anyone who preys on children. He has tormented the shops that sell drug paraphernalia. He hounded the city for years until it agreed with him that alcohol and tobacco billboards posed a health risk to children and had to come down.

He has been thrown in jail and targeted by hate. The threats against his life are taken seriously enough that for the past decade a Chicago police officer has been assigned to keep him from harm. He has been accused of making noise for its own sake and shooting from the hip, and cynics have suggested that he has way overstayed his 15 minutes of fame.

For all the commotion, though, Pfleger has scored some real victories, especially in his South Side neighborhood, where he has revived a dying parish. “Jerry Springer is a wimp compared to some of the guys Father Pfleger has taken on,” says Mike Kelly, a Chicago lawyer who has represented him. Pfleger has also aimed his protests well enough that he has won the endorsement of the city’s political powers. Mayor Daley calls him “an inspiration to me as mayor.”

After a career of more than 20 years, Pfleger shows no signs of wearing out—nor after tilting at a windmill like Springer, not even after suffering a personal tragedy on the streets of his neighborhood, as he did last spring. He insists that constant pushing is what he was meant to do, that he has been pulled that way since he was a young man. And if you ask him how he does it, where he gets the energy to keep fighting, he offers a straightforward explanation: “The call of the Gospel is to renew the face of the earth.”

PHOTOGRAPH: Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune



Those who have seen him work close at hand say that conviction gives him remarkable audacity. “He will confront anybody who is taking advantage of the community,” says Mark Davis, the commander of the Chicago Police Department’s Sixth District, which includes St. Sabina. “He will go right up to a crack house and stand out in front and pray.”

Bishop George Murry, who as vicar in the archdiocese from 1995 to 1998 was Pfleger's supervisor, puts it this way: "The thing I admire about Mike Pfleger is he is a man without fear. He genuinely understands courage."


It is a Sunday morning and Father Pfleger is rocking. His face glistens with sweat as he shouts at his flock, the hundreds of parishioners packed into St. Sabina Catholic Church. “Stir up the atmosphere!” he cries. “Charge the atmosphere!"

The worshipers, nearly all of them black, cannot contain themselves. They shout back. They clap. They wave their arms. They stamp their feet. Some bolt from the pews and dance in the aisles. “Baby,” Pfleger yells over the din, “when you come to church you better wear something loose and baggy.”

This looks for all the world like a Baptist revival. The purple-clad choir. The huge face of Jesus—a black Jesus—looking down from a mural above the altar. A statue depicting Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, whom Joseph is holding over his head. Mary, so pious and reserved in most other churches, is like everyone else here. She is dancing.

It sounds like a Baptist revival, too. These people are singing. Not mumbling into their hymnals, but singing. So is Pfleger, whose voice, courtesy of the microphone he is clutching, rises above the rest. There are heavenly voices in the church, but Pfleger's isn’t one of them.

Most Roman Catholics would not recognize this mass. Catholics don’t usually storm the altar to be saved, as dozens here do. And Catholics, who know even an ll a.m. mass will have them home before the first quarter of the Bears game is over, don’t normally stay in church for three and a half hours. Except for the old church itself, there is not much for any Catholic to recognize-especially those who once worshiped here.


St. Sabina church looms over 78th and Racine like a castle in a small village. Opened in 1933 (the parish has been around since 1916), the towering Gothic church was the focal point of a largely Irish community and was known throughout the South Side, where parishes dotted the landscape like a string of rosary beads. Once the starting point of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, St. Sabina was also the scene of dances and basketball games that attracted people from all over. “I can remember at St. Sabina they’d have those big AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] tournaments,” says Mike Kelly, who grew up near another church about a dozen blocks to the north. “College teams would play tavern teams. The tavern teams would get killed, but by the second week they’d play themselves back into shape and they were really good.”

By the mid-1960s things were changing. Blacks were pouring in, replacing who couldn’t stick FOR SALE signs on the lawns Fast enough. Unlike some of its neighboring parishes that made no secret of their animosity toward the new residents, St. Sabina, or more accurately its pastor, Monsignor John McMahon, and his staff accepted blacks. “We welcomed black children in the school, and [McMahon] spent a huge chunk of our savings on a community organization designed to integrate the neighborhood,” recalls Robert McClory, an associate journalism professor at Northwestem University and a special report writer for the weekly newspaper National Catholic Reporter, who was a priest assigned to the parish at the time.



Still, many parishioners didn’t like the idea of sharing the parish or the neighborhood with blacks, though they were polite about it. “People were saying, ‘Oh, yeah, that's right, we are going to stay,’ and you’d look out the door and they were gone,” recalls McClory.

Nonetheless, McClory says, enough whites were staying to keep alive a hope of creating an integrated parish. Then, on August 16, 1965, someone from a group of blacks fired a gun into a group of whites in front of St. Sabina’s gym. A white teen fell dead. After that, says McClory, “you could see moving trucks up and down the street on almost any block.”

About this time, Michael Pfleger was in high school. For most of his childhood, Pfleger’s life a couple of miles away in the Wrightwood neighborhood in the area of Western and 79th mirrored that of the children living in the shadow of St. Sabina. The neighborhood was all white, a place where people grew up and stayed to raise their own families. As far as Pfleger could see, he says, “everything was fine; everybody got along, everybody went to work in the morning. I just thought the whole world was like the neighborhood I grew up in.”

He would see occasional black faces, mostly on television or on the field at Comiskey Park. The word “nigger” was thrown around, but in a white neighborhood a kid could hear it, or even say it, without really understanding the kind of pain it caused.

Inside Marian and Louis Pfleger’s home, though, it was a different story. “The word ‘nigger’ was never allowed in our house,” says Pfleger. A big part of the reason was Pfleger's mentally handicapped sister. “You know, they ran into tremendous prejudice with my sister," he says. “I think that impressed my parents; it was so much a part of them that it carried over and flowed into other areas.” It flowed in the direction of their son. “As a kid I can remember coming home from school with awards. I could get first place, and my mother—the first comment out of her mouth was, ‘Don’t think you’re better than anybody else because you won an award.'"  

Still, Pfleger didn’t give racism much thought until a priest told him about an Indian reservation in Oklahoma that was looking for young people to work during the summer. Pfleger spent two summers there. One day he and some kids walked to a store for something to eat. “And the store owner said they couldn’t come in because they were Indians,” Pfleger recalls. That night Pfleger telephoned his mother. He railed on about what had happened, how it shouldn’t happen in America. “My mother kind of laughed on the phone,” he recalls, “and she said, ‘Michael, come back to Chicago. You don’t have to live in Oklahoma to see problems with racism.'"  

During his junior year in high school, Pfleger saw what his mother meant. The Reverend Martin Luther King, was leading a march at Marquette Park. Pfleger and a couple of buddies rode their bikes over to get a look at the civil rights leader they had seen only on television. “I recognized people that I knew, who went to the church I went to, people who lived in my neighborhood, people who were parents of some of my friends," he says. “They were yelling ‘nigger’ and throwing things.” In the middle of it all stood King. “All the hate against him, and I never saw him react.”

Pfleger went home and created a shrine to Dr. King, plastering his closet door with photographs and articles about the civil rights leader. He read everything about King he could get his hands on. A student at a high school for future priest on the South Side, Pfleger had been unsure about what he wanted to do with his life, vacillating between the priesthood, teaching, and playing the piano. When he saw King, he decided that he, too, wanted to minister. And the way a Catholic does that is to become a priest.


It was not an easy marriage. Almost from the time he began studying for the priesthood, Pfleger and the church hierarchy clashed. He was nearly kicked out of the seminary over his insistence on living near the West Side parish where he was being trained instead of at the seminary in Mundelein. He believed that he couldn’t fight racism at the seminary; he couldn’t fight poverty. His battles with superiors caught the attention of John Cardinal Cody, who ordered Pfleger to spend a year in a white upper-middle-class parish in Glenview.



But if Pfleger couldn’t attack social problems in the way he wanted, he would attack them in the way he could. “He took us to Cook County Jail, [and] had us working in a soup kitchen on the West Side," recalls Sue Leonis, who was a teenager in the Glenview parish at the time. At the end of the year, Pfleger was ordained and received the kind of assignment he was hoping for: St. Sabina.

The church was in trouble when the newly minted priest walked in the door in 1975. With about 120 families, almost all of them black, the parish was only a fraction as large as it had been in the early sixties, McClory says. It was drowning in debt. With weekly collections adding up to only about $300 a week, and a half-empty school, Pfleger says, the church was losing about $170,000 a year.

At the time, many other South Side churches were closing or consolidating with other parishes. “I get here and I'm told by somebody at the chancery that this place is going to close in about three years,” Pfleger recalls. If the church was going to survive, it had to find a way to attract blacks from the neighborhood. But the presiding pastor didn’t want changes.

Pfleger was able to push through a few innovations—such as the playing of gospel music—to make the parish more comfortable for blacks, but many other ideas were vetoed. The young priest became so frustrated that he decided to take a leave of absence, going so far as to put a deposit on a downtown apartment. Then the priest in charge died of a heart attack.

Pfleger assumed Cody would never appoint him pastor. For one thing, at 31, he was too young. For another, “I knew how Cody felt about me.” But parishioners wanted him so strongly that the archdiocese personnel board recommended Pfleger's appointment.

The day before Christmas 1980, Cody called the young priest, telling him that he was being appointed something called permanent administrator. Pfleger asked Cody what the term meant. “There is no such term,” Pfleger recalls the cardinal telling him. “I'm making this up.” Cody forbade Pfleger to make any changes or spend a dime. “And he said, ‘As soon as things calm down, I’m removing you."'

With that, Pfleger took over. Within the year, Cody found himself in a firestorm of controversy over allegations that he had misappropriated archdiocesan funds. “So I was the least of his worries,” says Pfleger. "He never talked to me again." Cody died in 1982.

Despite the cardinal’s admonition, Pfleger had immediately started making changes. One of the first was the elimination of bingo, about the only moneymaker the parish had. “I said, ‘We are going to rely on tithing… on biblical principles,’" he recalls. "'And either we are going to depend on God or we’re going to die.'" The change angered many parishioners. Some left. Some who stayed circulated a petition to get Pfleger to leave.

Meanwhile, Pfleger had decided that the days of black parishioners worshiping at a white church were over. “We wanted to rum this into a church that affirmed people rather than a church where people felt they had to check their culture at the door,” he says. Among other things, he started to bring in black speakers, people such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, and Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X. Inside the church, Pfleger put African Americans in positions of authority. Today, the school principal is black, as are associate minister and several other parish officials.

“Here we bring our heritage to the service,” says Bob McCoy, who came to the parish at the time most of the whites left. As word of the changes spread, the pews of the church started filling. "For years I went to a church and it was almost like you apologized for being black,” says Mildred Johnson, one of those who came from another parish.



In the 18 years since took over, St. Sabina Church has been reborn. The 120 member families in the parish when he arrived turned into 2,000. With 540 students, the school is full and more kids are waiting to get in. The church offers a host of programs, from a thriving after-school recreation center to computer training to an employment center. Meanwhile, the $300 a week in collections has become $22,000. On Thanksgiving of 1990, the parish wiped out its debt to the archdiocese with a check for $89,000.

As a result, there is no shortage of people who think Pfleger saved the church. “My personal opinion is the parish would have closed if it wasn’t for Mike Pfleger," says McCoy.

Something else Pfleger did impressed his congregation. “The neighborhood was going down,” says Shirley Lyke, a long-time parishioner. “He walked out on the sweets to bring about change. He walked into stores saying, 'You will not sell drug paraphernalia.'"


In the early eighties, Pfleger was often seen with another activist Catholic priest, Father George Clements. "Clements was Batman and Pfleger was Robin,” recalls McClory.

Clements and Pfleger targeted stores that sold drug paraphernalia, making such a fuss that they would get themselves arrested for trespassing. “One day they call me and tell me they’ve been arrested in Milwaukee,” recalls Kelly, Pfleger's lawyer. (Why Milwaukee? Pfleger argues that the drug problem isn’t a local issue and he's taken his protests all over the Midwest.) Kelly phoned his Milwaukee partners, who got the two priests, along with comedian turned activist Dick Gregory, out of jail. Later that day he took another call from Milwaukee. The three had been arrested again—at the same store. Again the attorneys won their release, and again the three went back to the store, where they were arrested again.

Batman and Robin did whatever they could to draw attention to their causes. Victories included a citywide ban on the sale of grain alcohol and a statewide ban on the sale of drug paraphernalia. In 1993, Clements left for Washington, D.C., where he founded a substance abuse program called One Church—One Addict, which he heads today. Since then, jokes McClory, “Robin has assumed a larger role.”

Acting on his own, has at times been brazen. “He goes up to drug dealers and tells them it’s over,” says Mark Davis, the local district police commander. “And it's not like he does it only if there's a little white [police] car behind him. Whether the police are around or not, he will tell them [drug dealing] is going to stop.” Davis recalls a march on a South Side hotel where the manager was allowing prostitution. Pfleger broke off from the other protesters and “marched right in and was confronting the manager.”

Pfleger’s record as an activist has won support from a number of politicians. “Wherever Father Mike says we got a fight, I say, 'What time?'" says Alderman Terry Peterson, whose 17th Ward is across the street from St. Sabina. When Mayor Daley speaks out on drugs or alcohol abuse, Pfleger often stands behind him at the microphone. “His compassion and commitment to the lives of children is overwhelming,” says Daley.

Pfleger's most famous fight, at least until 1998, was over liquor and alcohol billboards. Years ago, noticed that they seemed to be everywhere in his neighborhood. A count revealed more than 100 in a ten-block area. A similar count in an all-white South Side neighborhood found three.



Pfleger came to believe that these billboards amounted to a barrage on young people, encouraging them to smoke and drink alcohol. At first not many others saw the same thing. “This was not a popular issue in the community,” says Peterson. But after news reports charged that cigarette companies were targeting children—something Pfleger had been saying all along—the community took to the cause, Peterson says.

By 1990, Pfleger was tired of futile meetings with city officials. “There was a billboard [for Newport cigarettes] at 79th and Loomis,” he recalls. “I told [the billboard company], ‘If this thing is not clown in two weeks, we are painting this billboard.’ Two weeks later, was arrested for smearing the billboard with red paint.

To the priest, the issue was simple. The signs were encouraging children in his neighborhood to kill themselves with cigarettes; he was merely trying to save their lives. “He was attempting to prevent a greater harm,” argues his lawyer in the case, Mike Monico. The jury agreed and acquitted him.

Six years later, the City Council passed a ban on alcohol and tobacco advertising on billboards in residential neighborhoods. Last summer a federal judge slruclc down the ciry’s ordinance, and the decision is now on appeal. In the meantime, though, the number of such billboards near St. Sabina has dwindled to a handful. “They know we're winning," Pfleger says of advertisers. “It’s only a matter of time.”

Until last year Father Pfleger had never seen or heard much about Jerry Springer's talk show, with its regular offerings of fights, profanities, and falshing skin. “Then I started hearing the kids over at the school talking about it,” he says. “They’d say, ‘Did you see on Jerry Springer this guy kick this woman?'" So Pfleger watched the show. “I was just blown away when I saw it,” he says. “All this violence, this degradation of women, kicking of pregnant women, women pulling up their dresses. They were showing it like it was normal behavior."

It may seem odd that a local parish priest is taking on a national television show that makes, according to one estimate, $50 million a year for its syndicator, Studios USA. But to Pfleger, Springer is no different from the local merchant who sells drug paraphernalia or the billboards hawking cigarettes. “They threaten our children,” he says. So Pfleger took his usual approach, the one he had learned from King: educate, negotiate, then demonstrate.

First, he went to the source. But a meeting with Richard Dominick, the executive producer of the Jerry Springer Show, gained him nothing, except a certainty that Dominick was not about to voluntarily slay this cash cow. Pfleger had no luck in getting a hearing from the star of the show. Once, he ran into Springer after a meeting. “He asked us what we were doing there,” recalls the priest. “We said we were trying to get rid of his show. He laughed, said ‘Good luck,’ and walked off.”

Pfleger planned a big demonstration outside the NBC Tower in downtown Chicago. But the night before the protest was to take place, he learned that Chicago’s NBC station, WMAQ Channel 5, was dropping the show, and Fox was picking it up. So Pfleger gathered 400 or so protesters at NBC, where they thanked Larry Wert, president and general manager, and marched over to WFLD, the local Fox station.

Pfleger's efforts have netted mixed results. Last spring, Studios USA pledged to edit out the violence, but that promise lasted just long enough for the ratings to drop. Now the show is as raunchy as ever, but in Chicago the local Fox station continues to edit out the worst bits. “My feeling was [the show's producers] made a promise and I made a promise, too,” says Stacey Marks-Bronner, vice-president and general manager at WFLD.



Since then, Pfleger has not picketed the station. In the meantime, though, he has started a letter and telephone campaign to the show’s top advertisers. “If we can get them to drop, [Springer] won’t have a show.” So far, says Pfleger, eight companies have stopped advertising—though it is not clear what role, if any, Pfleger's protest played in their decisions. “Companies never like to admit movement due to public pressure because it sets a precedent,” says Pfleger.

Pfleger also urged the police department to file charges against Springer. “We think he’s violated the city’s decency laws that prohibit indecent exposure in a public forum,” Pfleger says. After looking into the matter, Tom Needham, the police department‘s general counsel, said the show's studio wasn’t a public forum. But the fact that city attorneys would research the question says something about Pfleger's Clout. “His Stature is such that he can pick up the phone and ask [Police] Superintendent [Terry] Hillard or myself, and we'll do research for him,” says Needham. It also accounts for Needham's willingness to point to the Federal Communications Commission to see if government officials can help him.

For his part, Richard Dominick does not seem worried about or his protests. “Is he effective?” Dominick asks. “On what? We are the number one show on television.” When they met, Dominick offered Springer’s services to go to the South Side for town hall meetings, to talk with children to warn them about the dangers of drugs, and to help conduct food drives. Pfleger dismissed the offer as little more than an attempt to buy his silence. Says Dominick: “If getting Jerry Springer off the air, if that is going to feed hungry children, I don’t see how it will, but God bless him.”

Dominick’s dismissal of the priest suggests a persistent criticism that Pfleger draws from his targets. “If he perceives something, then that perception is fact,” says Jerry Rosen, who represents a number of independent liquor retailers in Illinois and has battled Pfleger over the billboard issue. “It doesn’t matter if he has no grasp of the issue. His perception becomes the case.”

The criticism came acutely into focus last fall, when Pfleger and Alderman Peterson led a march of some 300 people to a store managed by a man who had been accused of fondling a neighborhood girl. “We want him out,” Pfleger shouted to the crowd. In November, the man was acquitted of charges involving the girl. His lawyer, Scott Jaffe, said the store manager would probably file a slander suit against both Pfleger and Peterson.

“If there was even the slightest doubt in my mind, I wouldn’t have done it,” Pfleger says of the march and a boycott of the store—which he says will continue. Little of the criticism of today comes from the church itself. In the late eighties, Pfleger says, he was told by another priest that he should leave the priesthood. And in a 1989 newspaper article about Pfleger, McClory quoted a high official in the archdiocese as saying that he did not think it was “appropriate for a priest to be closing down stores and getting arrested.” In contrast, last November, Pfleger was given the Pope John XXIII Award for leadership from the Association of Chicago Priests. "In answer to your question, no, I don’t think he would have received this award ten years ago,” says Father Mike Nacius, the association's chairman.

Part of the reason for the apparent shift in attitude is that Pfleger's parish is so healthy. More than that, though, is the growing appreciation for drive and accomplishments. “I’d hear priests critical of him and I’d say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and they didn’t have an answer for that,” says Monsignor John Egan, himself an activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and now the assistant to the president for community affairs at DePaul University. “They were jealous of Mike. There’s no jealousy anymore.”


In 1981, shortly after George Clements made national headlines by becoming the first U.S. Roman Catholic priest to adopt a child, Pfleger adopted a seven—and-a-half-year-old black boy named Lamar. He had been warned by an archdiocesan official that Cardinal Cody would suspend him from the priesthood if he went through with the adoption; Pfleger ignored the threat, and it never materialized. Eleven years later, he took in another boy after a woman in South Korea who had heard about the priest sent her 13-year-old son to the United States. The boy, whose name was Beronti, was the child of an African American father. Pfleger originally thought he was simply helping the boy find a home, but ended up adopting him, too.



Over the years, has had to juggle his life as a priest with fatherhood. He paid rent for the boys to St. Sabina so they would not feel as if they were being raised by the church. Nonetheless, Pfleger could see it was difficult for his sons to grow up in a setting where the parishioners sometimes believed they had a say in how to raise the boys. And then there were the problems that come with life in the “fishbowl” brought on by Pfleger’s activism. “I really saw the pressure put on Lamar, how people always knew who his dad was and how people that didn’t like me transferred that to him," says Pfleger.

Today, Pfleger is justifiably proud of the young men his sons have become. Lamar works for the postal service. Beronti, formerly a standout basketball player at Brother Rice High School, attends the University of Central Florida on an athletic scholarship.

Two years ago, Pfleger took in another young man—a 16-year-old neighborhood kid named Jarvis Franklin who was no longer living at home. Pfleger became the boy’s foster father, and for a year and a half the boy lived with Pfleger. Once involved with gangs, the teen was “really starting to make a future for himself,” says Pfleger. Eventually, Jarvis moved back in with his mother, but heard on the street that he wanted to return to live with the priest.

On the morning of May 30th, Jarvis was near the corner of 79th and Carpenter streets, talking with others who had gathered there. A young man on a bicycle rode through an alley to a spot within about ten yards of Jarvis and the others. The bike rider was carrying a gun, and he had some senseless notion about gang turf. In the movies, gunmen usually aim at someone specific. In reality, some just shoot. At 11:10 a.m., the young man opened fire.

Pfleger had just finished presiding over a wedding when someone told him Jarvis had been shot. He took off running. When he got to the scene of the shooting, Jarvis was crumpled against a building. Blood poured from his neck. His eyes were open, but there was no sign he was conscious. Pfleger held the youth and told him he was there, not sure if the boy heard any of it.

At the hospital it looked as if Jarvis might recover. He regained consciousness. His left side was paralyzed and he couldn’t talk because of all the tubes in his mouth, but he squeezed Pfleger's hand. And he cried. The next day, Pfleger's foster son died.

Pfleger had suffered loss before. He had buried both his mother and his sister. As a pastor he had seen others whose lives were ended by gang warfare. “But this was the first thing that really paralyzed me,” he says. “I remember articulating to myself as I was sittlng there in my chair in my room, I don’t know if I can go on, you know, keep on fighting the fight, keep being a priest."

He forced himself to sit down at his desk in his office. All around the desk are framed photographs. Some are of Hollywood celebrities Pfleger has met. Some of the largest ones are of Dr. King. Most of the others fighting for space on the walls are of his heroes—Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou, Harold Washington, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King. That day, he had brought another photograph to his office, a family picture taken the Christmas before: his father, his sons, and Jarvis. “I said to myself, I’m going to use this to motivate me,” he recalls. “I said I have to try, and at some point God was going to get me through this."

When he emerged from his office Pfleger told his parish that he wasn’t going anywhere. He marched up to drug dealers and told them, too. He met with gangs. He led his parishioners on marches through the neighborhood, not during the day but on Friday nights when gang activity was at its peak. Everywhere he went, the message was the same: He was going to keep on disrupting their business until they stopped. “And lo and behold,” says Mark Davis, “nobody has been killed since.” Pfleger’s message is the same today.

Long after Jerry Springer is gone, relegated to infomercials or wherever else such people go, Pfleger says, he will still be fighting for children. It is what God has called him to do, he says, even when he has wanted to leave.

“We will be there every step of the way,” he says. “We're here for the long haul. We’re not going anywhere."