Robert Mills Holstein Jr.
November 3, 1941 – January 5, 2003
Robert Blair Kaiser
Last rites were held on Jan. 9, 2003, in Riverside, California for Robert Mills Holstein, 61, a personal injury lawyer who poured much of his time and his considerable earnings into causes aimed at helping the poor. He died of pneumonia Sunday night, Jan. 5, at a Riverside hospital in the arms of his wife, Loretta.
Holstein studied for seven years to be a Jesuit priest, and left the Order some five years short of ordination, but he hated the term "ex-Jesuit." The homilist at yesterday's Mass of the Resurrection, the Rev. John Baumann, SJ told a standing room only crowd of more than 1000 at the Riverside Convention Center that Holstein "just considered himself a Jesuit who was a little ahead of his time."
Holstein is survived by his wife Loretta, a former Dominican nun, who ran the Holstein law firm and attended to the five now-grown Holstein children while he pursued various causes in California and in a world he was determined to change. He spent years organizing annual November demonstrations at the gate of the U.S. Army base at Ft. Benning, Georgia, protesting the agenda of the Army's School of the Americas, a training ground for Latin American military officers, some of whom ended up killing priests and nuns ministering to the poor in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
In 1997, Holstein spent two months in the U.S. federal prison at Lompoc, California, for crossing a line at the Ft. Benning gate in 1995, a second offense for civil disobedience. But he went right on organizing the ever-increasing numbers of mostly young people attending some 28 Jesuit universities and 45 high schools in the U.S. More than 1,500 of them showed up last November, still protesting the U.S. Army program, which has changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, but not its modus operandi, according to Holstein and his ad hoc organization, the Ignatian Family Teach-In.
Holstein served on and contributed to many boards. Among them: the Pacific Institute for Community Organizing (PICO), an ecumenical group representing 30 denominations that includes Moslems and Jews. He has helped fund an inner city Catholic school in Oakland, and Verbum Dei High School in South Central Los Angeles, an experimental program for minority students who work a day each week for Los Angeles firms that each, in turn, donate $25,000 a year back to the school. He and Loretta set up an endowed chair in religious studies at the University of California Riverside, and they have been major contributors to the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. In 1980, Holstein founded West Coast Companeros Inc., an organization that now numbers some 1,000 ex-Jesuits, some of whom also consider themselves Jesuits at heart.
Holstein was a major player in the California Democratic Party, a fundraiser for Democrats who wanted to make a difference in the lives of the poor. He was instrumental in the passage last year of a global warming initiative in the California legislature, and of a bill designed to provide health care and education benefits to the poor. On Jan. 9, State Senator John Burton adjourned the legislature in Holstein's memory.
He was a rollicking good, and often profane, storyteller who loved duck hunting and steelhead fishing. He had a cabin near Ft. Jones in the High Sierras that he readily offered to his friends, including Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.