Ten years ago Father James E. Groppi led shouting protesters through Milwaukee streets demanding better housing for blacks. Today Jim Groppi, 46, his Roman collar replaced by a four-in-hand, takes Milwaukeeans down some of those same thoroughfares as a bus driver.
During the 1960s Groppi was arrested more than a dozen times, but not all of his problems were political. During one demonstration he met Margaret Rozga, a fellow activist, and eventually fell in love with her. For five years, he says, he struggled with his vow of priestly celibacy. He went to Washington, D.C. to try law school but lost interest. Finally, last April, he and Peggy, 31, a college English instructor, were married in Las Vegas. Groppi was quickly excommunicated and defrocked, and he is bitter. “For me, marriage has not been an obstacle to communicating with God,” he says. The marriage did little to quiet the controversy which has surrounded his name for so long. When he sought work, potential employers were afraid he might be a troublemaker. Twenty of them rejected his application.
Throughout his troubles, Groppi has remained close to his large family—he was the 11th of 12 children of an immigrant Italian grocer—and he visits his 86-year-old mother almost every day. With a group of other married former priests, he celebrates Mass frequently and worships on Sunday at an Episcopal church. He is considering becoming an Episcopal priest.
On the job, he has the short, irregular runs that are the lot of the new driver. He sometimes has difficulty with unruly homeward-bound high school students, but adult riders often recognize him with a sympathetic remark. “This bus has become my parish, and the riders my brothers and sisters in Christ,” says ex-Father Groppi. “But the real reason I’m driving a bus is that I need a job.”