This Holy Week carries greater meaning than most, as it includes preparing to leave for Assisi and Rome the day after Easter, as part of a Catholic Review-sponsored pilgrimage that culminates in the April 27 canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II. Other than a few days in Venice in 1980, I have never been to Italy, let alone Vatican City, and my reading has led to some head-shaking coincidences and connections.
My late father was born May 15, 1920, in Western Pennsylvania. Three days later, Karol Józef Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, in southern Poland. Both were insatiable readers. Both disdained bias against Germans that lingered after World War II: John Paul as a prelate in Poland, where he angered some by promoting forgiveness of a people whose invading armies had a role in the killing of 6 million and sent priests, along with the Jews, to Auschwitz; and my Dad, in 1980, when he discovered that my older sister’s father-in-law from Bavaria, who had been conscripted into service by the Third Reich, had come within a few kilometers of one another during the Battle of the Bulge. They became fast friends.
At the monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Pope John Paul II greets throngs of Poles waiting for a glimpse of their native son during his first trip to Poland following his election. His visit came in early June of 1979. It was the second of 104 trip s the pope would make outside Italy. (CNS photo/Chris Niedenthal)
My father had taken ill in 1976 and had to back out of a family trip to the Summer Olympics in Montreal, where the men’s gold medal volleyball match remains the most riveting athletic contest I have ever witnessed. At the height of the Cold War, 20,000 North Americans and a few well-heeled tourists from Japan cheered on the underdog, as Poland came back from deficits at every turn to defeat the mighty Soviet Union. We’ve seen hordes of Ravens’ fans celebrate after a Super Bowl victory, but nothing compares to the singular smile on a lone man running laps around the Montreal Forum, carrying the flag of Poland after its gold-medal performance.
I didn’t gain a complete appreciation for that moment until earlier this year, when I opened Tad Szulc’s “Pope John Paul II, The Biography.” It had sat on my bookshelf since 1995, when I ordered it through a membership in the Book of the Month Club – remember that? I was ignorant about Poland’s origins as a Catholic nation-state in the 10th century, the persecution of Poles and how John Paul began his studies for the priesthood in secrecy, thus on multiple mornings around St. Patrick’s Day, I asked Chris Gunty and George Matysek, who have considerable knowledge of Polish heritage and culture, why Ireland seems more celebrated in the U.S. than Poland.
Its struggles, and John Paul’s role in them, are particularly pertinent as Ukraine, another former satellite state of the Soviet Union, combats the aggression of Russia and Vladimir Putin. The late pope’s 1979 visit to his homeland is regarded as a pivotal moment in the eventual collapse of communism, the partition of Germany and the Soviet Union, which Putin seems determined to re-create in one form or another. As we head to Rome, I pray that John Paul’s spirit helps the people of Ukraine hold on to the freedom and stability he helped bring to Poland.
April 16, 2014 03:13
By Paul McMullen
Wish I was in South Florida this weekend. Not to soak up much-needed sun, but to pay my respects to Stan “Stas” Koziol.
Stas was just 48 when he died March 3, less than two months after being diagnosed with leukemia. He was one of the best players in the storied history of Loyola University soccer, and the most ferocious leader I have ever encountered.
I do not say that lightly, having witnessed Ray Lewis lead the Baltimore Ravens to their first Super Bowl title and then Juan Dixon guide Maryland to its only NCAA basketball championship in the span of 15 months. Neither was the kind to back down from a challenge. Teammates modeled their example, just as the Loyola Greyhounds responded to Koziol.
A tireless midfielder, Koziol still holds the school record for assists and was an All-American in 1986 and ’87, when Loyola reached the NCAA quarterfinals. In both tournaments, it upset the University of Virginia. The Cavaliers had the international players, the Greyhounds the grit, personified in Koziol, always one of the smallest men on the field.
Twenty years ago this spring, doing leg work for the first and only World Cup on American soil, I spent an afternoon in northern New Jersey, which had several starters on the U.S. team. It was Stas’ turf, and he was my tour guide. We met at Evergreen, hopped in a rental car, flew up the Turnpike and the next thing you know, I am in a social club in Kearny, having a beer with the father of John Harkes, one of those UVA guys Stas took delight in beating.
In addition to a soccer pitch and Jersey, Koziol knew his way around Argentina, Puerto Rico, and especially Poland, his parents’ homeland. He put his entrepreneurial skills to use as a telecom pioneer, first in Eastern Europe, where the business smarts he picked up at Loyola and his family’s heritage were a winning combination.
“Our parents came over from southern Poland in the late 1950s,” said Joe Koziol, who was a year behind his brother at Loyola and was their top goal-scorer in that era. “Our Mom had been confirmed by Pope John Paul II. In Passaic (N.J.), we went to Polish school on weekends. Stas played professionally in Poland for two years. He married a girl from Poland.”
Margaret Koziol, her children, Nicole and Matthew, and their Uncle Joe will have plenty of support March 8, when Stas is laid to rest at St. Rose of Lima Church in Miami Shores, Fla. From Joe Barger and Chris Webbert to Jeff Nattans and Sam Mangione and coach Bill Sento, most of the men who united with Koziol at Loyola will be there for him in Southern Florida this weekend.
They would have gone to the moon for their captain.
March 06, 2014 01:15
By Paul McMullen
Am I in the running for the world’s worst boss this morning?
It’s relatively cozy at the offices of the Catholic Review Jan. 22, but the thermometer reads 5 degrees Fahrenheit, with the wind chill making the forecast 5 below, among the reasons schools are closed and many canceled their plans to attend today’s March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Nonetheless, Staff Writer Elizabeth Lowe and Staff Photographer Tom McCarthy Jr. began making their way to the March, meeting at Baltimore’s Penn Station at 7:20 a.m. to catch one of the few early trains south that wasn’t canceled. Their challenge at this morning’s youth Mass and rally at the Verizon Center will be finding folks from the archdiocese. This afternoon, it will be avoiding frostbite at the March itself on the National Mall.
I have a long record of numbskull taunts of the weather forecast. In March 1993, then-Loyola University sports information director Steve Jones and I drove to the University of North Carolina for a men’s lacrosse game. The highlight for the Greyhounds was the team Mass the night before the game, which ended with sleet turning to snow. As USA Today confirmed, it was the only outdoor sports event played east of the Mississippi River that day.
Looking to save time a few years later, I passed on a rental car and drove Ken Rosenthal, now of Fox Sports, to Charlottesville for a Maryland-Virginia basketball game. We drove home the next morning in the snow, and after dropping off Ken at a park and ride, I spun out on an overpass and wrecked my Mary’s Camaro.
Liz and Tom, get the story and get home.
Father Michael Paris from St. Patrick in Rockville, MD delivers the homily at the Verizon Center Jan. 22.
(Tom McCarthy Jr., CR Staff)
January 22, 2014 10:24
By Paul McMullen
On May 19, Mary and I followed one of our grandsons to Germantown, where his Fewster FC won the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association U-13 title. His coach is Barry Stitz, best known as the coach of Archbishop Curley but a fine player in his own right a generation ago at Towson University.
On an adjoining field, the U-14 title went to the Baltimore Bays, who were under the guidance of Pat Healey, who was filling in for Frank Assaro while he upgraded his coaching license. Assaro played with Stitz at Towson. Healey, the Baltimore Blast star, is one of the most distinguished players ever to come out of the university. I never wrote about him there, like I did about Assaro and Stitz, but I did teach him in a Sports Media class at Towson in the spring of 2008.
That day in Germantown, I sensed the presence of Frank Olszewski before I saw him. Of course he was there, watching the good come out of guys he taught.
Olszewski coached Towson University from 1982 through last season, when the college’s hierarchy eliminated a program
that was producing educators and business leaders before the Tigers ever fielded a football team.
(I am a Towson grad, with multiple axes to grind on this issue. One of my brothers played for Towson and coached at Mount St. Mary’s, which also dropped men’s soccer after last season. We scratch our heads and ask: Nineteen years after the U.S. staged one of the most successful World Cups ever, why do the boys born in 1994 have fewer college playing options than their fathers?)
Soccer coach Frank Olszewski, center, continues to mentor many of the men he coached at Towson University, such as Frank Assaro, left, and Rich Zinkand, who now coach at Calvert Hall.
Towson took Olszewski’s program, but it cannot remove his legacy, which keeps growing through the guys who played for him, such as Assaro, Healey, Stitz and many others coaching at the club, scholastic and collegiate level. Olszewski was not boastful that day in Germantown, either. He took the accomplishments of his protégés in his customary low-key manner.
Assaro and Stitz played at Curley. Assaro is an assistant at Calvert Hall, where the head coach is Rich Zinkand, another Towson alumnus (they flank Olszewski in the accompanying photo). Zinkand and Healey, the Baltimore Blast star, went to Calvert Hall.
Olszewski played for Patapsco High and John Hopkins University, but his Catholic roots run just as deep. Born and raised on Fleet Street in Highlandtown, he continued to attend the old Holy Rosary School even after his family moved to Dundalk. He and his wife, Diane, moved from Our Lady of Hope Parish in Dundalk to Immaculate Conception in Towson, where their kids went to grade school, and are now parishioners of Church of the Nativity in Timonium.
“Faith,” Olszewski said, “isn’t something you fall back on as a quick fix when adversity comes. It’s there all the time.”
Stitz still considers Olszewski his mentor. Not because he won close to 300 games and went to two NCAA tournaments, but because his Tiger teams also won academic distinction and he keeps the proper perspective.
“He (Olszewski) didn’t put winning ahead of his values, he always did things the right way,” Stitz said. “The biggest thing I got from him, he brought his family around. He was a coach, but family came first. I want my players to see me not only as their coach, I want them to see me as a good husband, a good father. Just like Frank.”
Olszewski continues to be employed at Towson, where he stayed on as an assistant in the athletic department, filling a variety of roles. He could not afford to walk away from a job and besides, going off in a huff is not his style.
While there is no Colonial Athletic Association opener to prepare for, Olszewski is getting his soccer fix with the Baltimore Bays, as the coach of their U-16 and U-18 teams. He’s also the club’s academy director and director of coaching, still teaching the next generation.
August 22, 2013 01:03
By Paul McMullen
Can you remember what you were doing 10 years ago?
On Friday, July 25, 2003, thousands of Baltimoreans were beginning a pilgrimage to Cooperstown, N.Y., to witness Eddie Murray’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was in Barcelona, Spain, covering the world swimming championships, where Michael Phelps climbed atop Mount Olympus, a perch he won’t be budged from for a long, long time, if ever.
The world championships are back in Barcelona this week, and Phelps will surely feel a rush of nostalgia when he attends, this time as a spectator. In 2003, he was a month past his 18th birthday and less than two months out of Towson High School when he became the first male swimmer to set world records in different events in the same day, in the span of 49 minutes, no less. That night he became the face of the 2004 Athens Olympics, and well, you know the rest.
I filed a chart for the next day’s Baltimore Sun, detailing Phelps’ movements on July 23, 2003. Here’s what I would have been producing in the Twitter era:
Phelps’ 3.62-second margin of victory in the 200 individual medley was the nearest thing in athletics to Secretariat’s 31-length romp in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
Glad I got to see that lesson in human potential.
July 24, 2013 03:45
By Paul McMullen
Why do you go to a particular church? Maybe it’s for convenience or old time’s sake, but sometimes we are recruited. I was reminded of that May 25, at the funeral of Sharon Bialek
at the Shrine of the Little Flower on Belair Road. I had visited the church previously, but it was my first Mass there, thanks to Fran Gast.
In April 1985, I covered high school sports for The Evening Sun. Then and now, I loved family stories, and jumped on the opportunity to write about the Gast brothers, who were pitching against each other, sophomore John for McDonogh and senior Joe for Calvert Hall. Before the game at Calvert Hall, I introduced myself to their mom, Fran. The Gasts lived in Mayfield and attended church there. When I informed her that my expectant wife and I were going to be relative neighbors in northeast Baltimore, as we were settling on our first home, a short walk from Little Flower, she proceeded to change my life.
“You’re not going to Little Flower,” Fran said. “You’re going to St. Francis of Assisi.”
Over the next 18 years, baptisms to first Communions to funerals, whether it was from a rowhome on Herring Run Park, a Cape Cod in Hamilton or a Victorian in Mayfield, my family worshipped at St. Francis – all because one of its parishioners invited a stranger to her church.
Fran Gast and her husband, Robert, celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary.
There are other layers to our continuing connection.
The Catholic Review
has written about WJZ-Ch. 13 sports anchor Mark Viviano
and his brother, Tony, a priest in their native St. Louis. When “Viv” first came to Baltimore, he worked in the same newsroom with John Gast. The two became teammates in the Baltimore Baseball League and fast friends. Viv is godfather to John’s son, John Robert, and has likened Fran Gast to his surrogate mom in his adopted hometown.
These days, Viv is a very serious runner, a teammate of mine and our hammer every October in the Baltimore Running Festival’s marathon relay, where we race for a good cause, Mark Ragonese
, everybody’s buddy. On June 15, Mark, Comcast sports anchor Brent Harris and I are raising funds for “Rags” in the Baltimore 10-Miler.
Near its halfway point, the course loops around Lake Montebello, across Harford Road from St. Francis of Assisi. Hope Fran Gast is there to give us a hug.
Mark Ragonese on the rehab trail
June 13, 2013 09:28
By Paul McMullen
One of my guilty pleasures in the summer is ending a work day that began early with a rapid walk around the golf course. On May 14, after the most recent issue of the Catholic Review had gone to bed, I went home, let Nelly the mutt out back, then headed to Rocky Point for what I assumed would be a 9-hole stroll in 90 minutes. Alas, the place was jammed with a men’s club and play was exceedingly slow. It was a good thing, because otherwise I would not have lingered on the 4th tee and encountered an old friend.
When I became managing editor of the Catholic Review in 2008, Chris Gaul was among the veteran Baltimore journalists invited to do some freelance work for us. He knew the turf, as he had been M.E. of the paper before his retirement in 2005. Whether Chris was reporting from the Holy Land or doing a stand-up from an operating room – many Baltimoreans remember him as the medical reporter for two local TV stations – the man who was born in England and never lost his British accent came across as erudite, engaging and informative. He could report, write and talk about it.
Chris also knew his way around a golf course. We lived in the same zip code, and I got to play with Chris and his friends a few times before he died last October at age 72
. Some of his buddies memorialized his skill and style with a memorial plaque at No. 4 at Rocky Point, where he scored three holes-in-one.
May 22, 2013 12:15
By Paul McMullen
Feb. 22 marks the end of an era at Mount St. Joseph High, as the Gaels’ Baltimore Catholic League tournament quarterfinal game against Loyola Blakefield will be the last high school game played in Memorial Gymnasium as basketball fans have come to know it.
Gaels from Dan Popera to Barry Scroggins to Will Thomas played here, matching up against visitors the caliber of Quintin Dailey, Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay. Completed in 1954 and originally dedicated to the 78 Mount men who died in World War II, the rambling 30,000 square foot gym in 1991 was also dedicated to alumni who served in Korea and Vietnam.
Phase II of the Campaign for Mount St. Joseph, which will cost an estimated $18.5 million, will include the renovation of the existing gym and the construction of what will be a 58,000 square-foot athletic complex. The project is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2014.
I saw my first college game at Memorial Gymnasium, Towson State against the University of Baltimore, in 1967 or ’68. The UB Bees did not have a suitable gym, but they did have a scoring machine in Bunny Wilson, who played with a toothpick in his mouth. I did the same for the next month. In 1969, my St. Rose of Lima eighth-grade team was privileged to compete in the Sweet Sixteen tournament, which the Mount St. Joe community has been staging since 1961, the heyday of CYO athletics. The 53rd annual will be played March 2-4.
On the high school front, the second-seeded Gaels are suddenly favored to win the BCL tournament, after Mount Carmel’s stunning upset of top-seeded St. Frances Academy.
Basketball players from Mount St. Joseph and Loyola Blakefield match up in 1961, the same year the St. Joe community began to host the Sweet Sixteen tournament, which continues to showcase top eighth-grade players.
February 22, 2013 11:26
By Paul McMullen
Bidding on eBay began at $3 million in early October on a letter from Albert Einstein, in which he dismisses God as “nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses.”
My Mom never spent a day in a college classroom, but I believe she produced a pretty good counter to the great mind of Einstein.
This essay, which references my mother’s 1997 funeral, appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of the Catholic Review. I wrote it before heading to Texas, where my wife, Mary, and I hosted our daughter Kate’s wedding in late September. As the happy day approached, we fretted about a tropical storm inundating the Hill Country. Sure enough, the night before the wedding, the welcome party was drenched by a strong downpour. It didn’t last long, however, and produced the glorious double rainbow shown in the accompanying photo.
For the record, that rainbow was courtesy of Tropical Storm Miriam.
My mother’s name? Miriam.
October 23, 2012 04:25
By Paul McMullen
In early June, I stumbled across the fact that Rick Detorie, creator of “One Big Happy,” what I feel is the most life-affirming of America’s funnies, was a product of Loyola Blakefield and, before that, St. Thomas Aquinas School in Hampden. One quick email exchange later, Rick agreed to a profile, and asked for some preliminary questions. What followed was a 2,200-word response that reflects the wellspring of material that goes into his work.
Some verbatim responses from that Q and A follow.
Q. How much of the comic strip is based on your early life?
A. A lot. I lived with my dad and mom and two younger sisters, Terry and Sandy, right next door (coincidentally) to my father’s parents, Nick and Theresa.
In the strip the grandparents are named Nick and Rose because they’re both short names, which take up less space in a caption. ROSE may have fewer letters than THERESA, but I really screwed up when I introduced characters like PLAYGROUND LADY and HOMEWORK HOTLINE LADY. A lot of hand-crippling lettering goes into those two names.
Q. Who was the inspiration for Grandpa?
A. Well, Grandpa Nick may have the same name as my own grandfather, “Pop,” who was bald, wore glasses and baggy pants, and every Saturday would slip me a few bucks when he returned from the track, (a two-dollar bill if he lost and a fiver if he won), but that’s where the similarity ends.
Whereas Grandpa Nick is good-natured, courteous and witty, Pop was grumpy, rude, and a profligate cusser. He would annoy the neighbors, including us, by burning trash in his incinerator (usually when the wash had just been hung on the line to dry), and by pounding garbage can lids with a hammer at sunset to scare roosting birds out of the many trees on the property.
He also slept with a loaded .38 under his pillow – something I’m pretty sure Grandpa Nick doesn’t do.
Q. Who was the inspiration for Ruthie?
A. Initially, but not intentionally, Ruthie looked like my sister Sandy, and behaved like my sister Terry. Terry was very inquisitive, liked dogs, and didn’t take a lot of crap from anybody – especially me. Eventually, Ruthie morphed into her own unique character.
Q. How do you come up with your ideas?
A. Morey Amsterdam was a comedian who played Buddy Sorrell on the original Dick Van Dyke Show. I once heard him on a talk show say that he could come up with a joke for anything. Then he asked the audience to shout out a word, any word. Someone yelled, “Diet!” Without pausing, Morey Amsterdam said, “I’m on a whiskey diet. I’ve lost three days already.” Then he proceeded to come up with a joke for every word they threw at him.
Well, I’ve convinced myself that I can come up with a cartoon based on any phrase or situation among the hundreds I’ve collected and saved on a printout that’s now eight pages long. Samples: Talk Radio, Prune Danish, Trophy Wife, Heimlich Maneuver, Stunt Driver, “So this is what it’s come to?” etc. When I’m trying to come up with ideas, I go over the list and hope something sparks an idea that I can use in the strip. And, of course, I always tailor the gag to fit the character.
Q. Where does your wordplay originate?
A. A lot of my ideas come from personal experiences and observations. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a nonlinear thinker. My mind regularly veers down some off-ramp, often taking me far from the main highway.
For example, I met a woman who was wearing an odd-looking thing on her head that resembled a giant Muppet. “Interesting turban,” I said.
“Yes,” she agreed. “It says who I am as a person.”
“Oh,” I wanted to say, “so it talks, too?”
But, of course, I didn’t, because that’s not how a mature adult would respond. However, coming from a small child like Ruthie, it’s innocent and not terribly offensive.
I remember as a kid seeing the movie “Bambi.” Yeah, I was traumatized. But unlike the other kids, who were upset that Bambi’s mother got shot, I got worked up at the realization that Bambi was a guy’s name. That’s right. Bambi was a male fawn who grew up to be a buck, yet that big hulking buck was named Bambi.
And speaking of movies, during the eight years I spent at St. Thomas Aquinas, I remember going on two field trips. One was to see A Nun’s Story starring Audrey Hepburn. It was about a young woman who joins a convent, takes her vows, and works in Africa. Except for a scene in which she encountered a spider in her room, nothing exciting happened. I do recall the scene where they cut her hair, she puts on the habit, and, voila, she still looked pretty. And I got to thinking, if only the nuns at St. Thomas would dab on a little makeup, get rid of their granny glasses and Herman Munster shoes, they’d be as good-looking as Audrey Hepburn.
I’m pretty sure that’s not the message that the good sisters of St. Thomas expected me to take away from the film, but I did.
In many ways I still think like a kid, which is a good place to be if you’re doing a comic strip like “One Big Happy.”
Q. What else do you remember about your time at St. Thomas?
A. I remember every nun and our one lay teacher. Grades 1 through 8: Sister Angela Mary, Sister Maretta, Sister Xavier, Miss Holzinger, Sister Fernando, Sister Emedia, Sister Hubert, and Sister Henrida.
September 05, 2012 10:50
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