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
By Paul McMullen
I had the blessing of reporting on the most decorated Olympian in history from 2000 to 2004, when Michael Phelps went from being a 14-year-old phenom to the star of the Games.
The accompanying photo was taken in August 2000, at the U.S. Trials in Indianapolis, the night after Phelps finished second in the 200 butterfly and became the youngest American male to qualify for the Olympics in any sport since 1952. He was less than two months removed from his 15th birthday; I was 45, and from my expression, already gasping to keep up with Phelps. Twelve years later, I can still smell the chlorine at the International Aquatics Center in Sydney, Australia, the host city of the 2000 Olympics.
In rapid fashion, Phelps became the youngest male ever to set a world record in a timed sport, and then the youngest American male swimmer ever to turn professional. Back then – a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – daily newspapers in markets such as Baltimore had the resources to do what The Sun did from April 2003 to August 2004, send me wherever Phelps competed.
Without Michael, I would have never toured cathedrals in Barcelona or taken a drive with my wife,
Mary, along the Great Ocean Road outside Melbourne, Australia, to see the 12 Apostles (a rock formation, not St. Peter et al). The competition was pretty good, too.
At the Athens Olympics in 2004, besides becoming the first swimmer ever to medal in five individual events and the first Olympian to earn eight medals in a non-boycotted Games, Phelps and the U.S. vanquished a supposedly invincible Australia foursome in the 800 freestyle relay.
It was a good night to be a Yank.
I recounted his development in a book titled “Amazing Pace, The Story of Olympic Champion Michael Phelps from Sydney to Athens to Beijing” (Rodale Press, 2006). One year, I was an authority on the most quantifiable human on the planet. The next, as Managing Editor of The Catholic Review, I dove into matters of the divine that have eluded theologians for millennia. Perhaps I had always been pulled in this direction. Page 1 of that book includes this sentence: “Michael Phelps manipulated water like no man since Moses.”
August 03, 2012 10:27
By Paul McMullen
Good news on the Tommy Hannan/Olympian Park front.
Marjorie Hampson, the director of the Baltimore County Office of Tourism and Promotion, saw my blog entry on Hannan, a Mount St. Joseph grad and gold medal swimmer at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, being absent from the county’s Olympian Park in Towson.
Hampson followed up with a phone call to Hannan in Seattle, and sent an email July 25, which I quote here:“All is good. County Executive Kamenetz will be adding Tommy’s name to the County’s Olympian Park – constructing a monument and adding a plaque.
“We hope to hold a recognition event sometime in September or October for 2012 Baltimore County Olympians and will include Tommy’s honor at the time. Hopefully, Tommy will be able to attend.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention, and it is our pleasure to rectify the oversight.”
Reached in Seattle, Hannan said “It’s an honor to be recognized by Baltimore County. I’m happy for my family, that they will be able to see that, and for Mount St. Joe to get some recognition.”
And thanks to Marjorie and Baltimore County, for the prompt action.
July 26, 2012 03:51
By Paul McMullen
Olympian Park in Towson honors medalists from Baltimore County, but does not include Tommy Hannan, a Mount St. Joseph grad who won gold at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Why doesn’t Tommy Hannan have a spot in Baltimore County’s Olympian Park?
The green space was dedicated in 2010, where Joppa and York Roads converge at the Towson roundabout, right next to The Catholic Corner, the book and gift shop on Allegheny Avenue.
It acknowledges Michael Phelps and other swimmers from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, such as Anita Nall, who went to Towson Catholic High. There is also recognition of Paralympians, such as swimmer Jessica Long. I couldn’t get anyone from the Baltimore County Office of Communications to return a phone call, but a county press release dated July 8, 2010, found online reads that the purpose of the park is to honor “Baltimore County athletes who have won medals in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Hannan did that at the Sydney Olympics, in 2000, winning a gold medal in swimming’s 400-meter medley relay, where he handled the butterfly leg for the United States in the preliminaries. A student at the University of Texas ( where he would earn a degree in finance) at the time, he was just two years removed from Mount St. Joseph High, where the Class of 1998 also included New York Yankees’ first baseman Mark Teixeira. Before that, Hannan went to St. Agnes School. His parents, “Big Tom” and Georgia, still reside in Catonsville. His family has roots here, as Georgia was in one of the first graduating classes at Archbishop Keough High.
Hannan is the national group coach for the King Aquatic Club in Seattle, where he has been living and working for six years. The Olympian Park slight was news to him.
“I cherished the Olympic experience,” Hannan said in a July 18 phone conversation, “but I would never tell kids that winning a gold medal is a crowning achievement in life. I don’t think I’ve had one yet.”
Hannan won MIAA titles for Mount St. Joseph, but did most of his training with the Eagle Swim Team, which is based at McDonogh School. He’ll be doing a camp there Sept. 15.
Maybe by then, Baltimore County can give Hannan the recognition due him.
July 20, 2012 03:07
By Paul McMullen
Before taking this job four years ago, I first had to pass inspection with the publisher, Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien. When he inquired about my background, I explained my understanding of chain of command with the aside that when he was jumping out of helicopters in Vietnam as a U.S. Army chaplain, one of my brothers was on the ground there and my father was stationed at the Pentagon.
The photo here shows the two in a room at the Good Samaritans School in St. Marc that serves as a makeshift medical office for Taneyhill on his missions of mercy to Haiti. Long before he became a respected dentist and Cardinal O’Brien headed the Archdiocese for Military Services USA – which includes the U.S. Naval Academy
– and then Baltimore, their paths probably crossed in Vietnam.
After Taneyhill graduated from Loyola Blakefield in 1965 and Loyola College in ’69, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a helicopter pilot with the 48th Assault Helicopter Company, attached to Da Nang. For most of 1971, he ferried soldiers into the stuff, and one of them might have been Cardinal O’Brien, who served the Special Forces.
“From the cockpit, these were faceless guys boarding,” Taneyhill said. “I have no idea if I ever dropped off the cardinal, but we were in Da Nang at the same time he was heading into the field.”
The aforementioned trip to the Good Samaritans School began with one of the more interesting greetings Cardinal O’Brien received during his time as the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore. Check out this video to see how the boys of Good Samaritans welcomed him with their take on American pop.
May 08, 2012 09:00
By Paul McMullen
The last time I saw Bob Flynn was in the summer of 2006, during Baltimore Ravens’ training camp at McDaniel College. Flynn was the men’s basketball coach there, literally had the keys to the gym, but he was like any other fan, excited to see professional athletes honing their craft.
Jan. 13 marks the fifth anniversary of the Ravens’ last home playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium, a 15-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning. The sidebar I wrote off the game was quickly forgotten, as it was not the most important story I prepared that day.
That Saturday in 2007 was sour from the moment word came of the passing of Flynn. He had died the night before, of a massive heart attack, at age 49. Before he was the face of McDaniel basketball, Flynn was a fixture in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, coaching at Mount St. Mary’s and then Cardinal Gibbons, his prep alma mater.
Flynn bled the red of Gibbons, where he was a benchwarmer for Ray Mullis before he went to the Mount. He was a longtime assistant to Jim Phelan at the Mount, and that is a parlor game in itself, debating who was the bigger character of the two.
The first time I set foot in St. Mark Church in Catonsville was for Flynn’s funeral. I’m not sure what left more of an impression, the legion of former players who packed the church, or the homily from Father Chris Whatley.
When the archdiocese closed Gibbons two years ago, Bob’s legacy became a rallying point for that community. Gibbons had named its basketball floor for its former coach and athletic director. His twin sons, Mike and Ryan, were basketball players there. They moved on to Archbishop Spalding, where Mike is a regular for the basketball team.
Flynn did not take himself seriously, and had a golden touch with the common man. The morning after Flynn died, Phelan told me, “Bob went out of his way to be nice to the fringe people, from the manager to the custodial help.”
Not a bad way to be remembered.
January 13, 2012 02:30
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