One man's "social sacrament" {St. Thomas University Source}
By In the gritty boxer-producing town of Bayonne, N.J., Frank Kroncke was born into a popular Irish-American myth: The first-born son carries out the family name, the second son is disobedient and the third enters the Catholic priesthood.

Frank Kroncke has been promoting a play he has worked on: "Peace Crimes."

Out of 10 {9} children, Kroncke was the third son. Born to strict Catholic parents, he moved to Hastings, Minn., in 1960 and eventually enrolled at St. John’s University’s seminary. But Kroncke’s path was not for the priesthood. Rather, he would find himself in the Vietnam War resistance.

Dropping out of the seminary during his freshman year of college was one of Kroncke’s most difficult life decisions, and his family “saw that as a failure,” he said. His decision to lead a scholar’s life meant spirituality, rather than politics, led him to become a member of the draft-office-raiding group that would later be known as “The Minnesota Eight.” {I was in the Franciscan Novitiate before I entered St. John's University.}

The Eight were part of a larger draft-resistance group during the Vietnam War called the Minnesota Conspiracy to Save Lives (MCSL). The eight men gained notoriety after their arrest in 1970. Before being arrested, Kroncke had taken part in the largest draft raid of the Vietnam War, dubbed the “Beaver 55” raid.

The January1970 Beaver 55 raid destroyed 54 draft boards in one night. His group broke into a St. Paul post office and ripped apart military-draft materials for six hours. The government was unable to draft more than 10,000 persons because of the destroyed files, according to Kroncke.

Kroncke’s college roommate and fellow Vietnam War protester Jim Hunt did not envision Kroncke in a radical group.

“He was very studious [in college],” Hunt said. “The war protests didn’t interest him. He was in the intellectual realm.”

Indeed, Kroncke was not a college radical. He sympathized with the Civil Rights movement and opposed the war but did not demonstrate with Hunt. After “Friar Otto” (as Kroncke was known in the seminary) went to register for the draft in his monk’s robes, he looked to the priests for answers.

“It was before Vatican II, when you {did not think for yourself!} thought for yourself [in the seminary],” Kroncke said.

After college, Kroncke was drafted in 1968 but acquired conscientious objector status. In lieu of serving in Vietnam, he worked at a Catholic student organization at the University of Minnesota called the Newman Center. There he advised students on how to avoid being drafted. {I never encouraged draft resistance, rather became a moral guidance counselor.}

“After [Kroncke] came out of college he saw the real world,” Hunt said. “He was sheltered in college. Theology wasn’t just the writings of theologians; it was real stuff.”

While working at the Newman Center, Kroncke began to be convinced that real resistance to the U.S. government was justifiable for his generation. Kroncke became enamored with the work of the Rev. Philip Berrigan, a pacifist priest who led draft raids on the East Coast. Then, a Black Panther friend of Kroncke’s was shot and killed in 1970 by law enforcement officers. {Fred Hampton, murded in December 1969}

“I was a conservative kid who believed in law but the country was not following the law,” Kroncke said. “It was screwed. They started shooting students at Kent State. We were authorized to bring peace to the earth.”

Kroncke felt he was answering a higher calling through his work with the MCSL. It was his theological understanding that his involvement with MCSL was the duty of a good Catholic. To Kroncke, raiding draft offices was “a social sacrament.”

The only god Americans followed was a god of war, he recalled.

“Why are we supposed to commit to killing?” Kroncke said. “Why do we accept the fact that we must agree to break this one commandment?”

After the successful Beaver 55 raid, Kroncke and several other MCSL members attempted a “ring of fire” campaign, in which they tried to raid rural Minnesota offices in a circle around the state. It was during one of these raids that Kroncke was caught and arrested by the FBI.

Kroncke was originally charged with sabotage of national defense but those charges were lessened to burglary. He said he knew his sentence after draft-office-raiders before him received five years in prison. Yet Kroncke maintained his innocence with an appeal to a higher law and a parade of historians, economists and theologians as witnesses.

In his closing argument, Kroncke left the jury with: “Violence has to end somewhere. It stops with me.”

When the judge threw out his pleadings as irrelevant, Kroncke was crushed. He was sentenced to prison and served 14 months.

“I lost my church and my country,” Kroncke said.

In prison, the only thing keeping Kroncke from committing suicide was a single word, “mother.” Not as in his own mother, but a “non-patriarchal God,” he said.

He was released on July 23, 1973, exited the Catholic Church, and eventually sold World Book encyclopedias door-to-door in California. Two and a half years ago Kroncke returned to St. Paul’s Merriam Park neighborhood to promote a play he helped produce entitled “Peace Crimes.”

Returning to his days with the Minnesota Eight was something Kroncke “had to do,” he said. In a time when people are comparing the Vietnam War to the war in Iraq, he continues to wave the flag for peace.

“A lot of people would not keep talking about going to prison [for resisting war],” said Gary Hayden-Sofio, Kroncke’s nephew, “but it’s something he’s willing to do.”

Francis Xavier never became the priest that his parents wanted. Yet he saved lives and his pacifism runs deep. He still gets letters from people thanking him for his part in the draft raids.

“Our warrior culture wants to conquer but no one becomes human like that,” Kroncke said. “We have to embrace the other person and find a way to live on Earth without blowing ourselves to smithereens.”

Posted by on April 22, 2008 12:34 AM | Permalink