Charles Owen Rice

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Charles Owen Rice
Born November 21, 1908
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died November 13, 2005(2005-11-13) (aged 96)
McCandless, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Education Duquesne University
Saint Vincent Seminary
Occupation Roman Catholic priest, labor organizer
Known for Activism

Monsignor Charles Owen Rice (November 21, 1908 – November 13, 2005)[1] was a Roman Catholic priest and an American labor activist.


He was born in Brooklyn, New York to Irish immigrants. His mother died when he was four, and he and his brother were sent to Ireland to be raised by his paternal grandmother, in a large extended family home along the seafront in Bellurgan, County Louth. Seven years later he returned to the United States.

In 1934, after studies at Duquesne University and Saint Vincent Seminary, he was ordained into the priesthood in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he served for seven decades. His brother Patrick was also an ordained priest in Pittsburgh and a canon lawyer. His cousin, also called Patrick Rice (June 1918 – June 8, 2010), was an ordained priest in Dublin and similarly elevated to the Canonry.

Contributions in Pittsburgh[edit]

In 1937, Rice founded St. Joseph's House of Hospitality with two other Roman Catholic priests, Carl Hensler and George Barry O'Toole. Also that year, the three priests formed the Catholic Radical Alliance.[2]

During the Great Depression, Rice began his activism in social causes and especially in the American labor movement. Rice was mentored by Pittsburgh's original labor priest Father James Cox, and as a leader of the Catholic Radical Alliance, was involved in strikes against the H.J. Heinz Company.[3]

He met Dorothy Day and was a friend of Philip Murray, founder of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee and president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.[4]

Rice helped form the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists. From 1937-69, Rice held a weekly radio program on which he often discussed the labor movement, communism, and St. Joseph's House. Rice was appointed rent director of the Hill District during World War II.[2]

During seven decades of priesthood, Rice was pastor of Pittsburgh congregations including St. Joseph's in Natrona, Pennsylvania, Immaculate Conception in Washington, Pennsylvania, Holy Rosary in Homewood, and St. Anne's in Castle Shannon, Pennsylvania.[2]

Later years[edit]

For many years, he was a columnist for the Pittsburgh Catholic. He marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Spring Mobilization for Peace in New York in 1967. He opposed America's involvement in the Vietnam War in 1969, and supported workers in Pittsburgh as they lost their jobs and livelihood when the steel industry closed in the 1980s. [5]


  1. ^ Nate Guidry and Jon Schmitz (2005) Guidry, Nate; Schmitz, Jon (November 14, 2005). "'Labor Priest' Msgr. Rice Dies at 96". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 14 November 2005. 
  2. ^ a b c "Charles Owen Rice Papers Finding Aid". Archives Service Center Finding Aids. University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "Priests, Pickets, Pickle Workers". Time (June 28). June 28, 1937. Retrieved 2008-06-24. 
  4. ^ "In Memoriam to the Labor Priest: Msgr. Charles Owen Rice" (Obituary). Retrieved July 12, 2008. 
  5. ^ "Msgr. Charles Owen Rice". Retrieved 2016-04-12. 


  • Heineman, Kenneth J. (1999). A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-01895-X. 
  • Rice, Charles Owen (1996). Fighter With a Heart: Writings of Charles Owen Rice, Pittsburgh Labor Priest. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-5619-5. 
  • McGeever, Patrick J. (1989). Rev. Charles Owen Rice: apostle of contradiction. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press. ISBN 0-8207-0209-9.