Paul McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review.

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Great article Paul. Really enjoyed reading it!

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Dear Paul, Great , I love it. Sweet memories, Lots of Love Sharon

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Baltimore Boomer

Of Brothers Brennan, and Brothers McMullen

 
“I’m Coach Mac’s brother.”

When I introduced myself to Jason Brennan at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland Jan. 19, he carried his Uncle Mark’s crosier and a confused expression.

Back in December, I had spent a leisurely morning at the Frederick home of his parents, Paul and Patricia, gathering background for a feature on Bishop Mark Brennan’s roots. Paul is Bishop Brennan’s only sibling. We had already established a pretty good rapport when he mentioned that their three children, Jason, Lyn and John, had all played athletics at Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick.

I noted that when my brother, Kevin, a career educator, took his calling in the 1990s from Anne Arundel County to Frederick County, his first coaching job there was the boys’ soccer team at TJ.

“I know your brother,” Paul Brennan said. “He coached Jason.”



A photo of the Brennan Brothers shows the future bishop on the right.

Much of the remainder of the interview kept returning to our shared interests and acquaintances. Paul spent about 30 seconds discussing his own professional career with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (his last 25 years there spent managing a wastewater treatment plant in Damascus), and was more eager to talk sports. The Brennan brothers attended St. Anthony High School in Washington, D.C., where Paul played football and baseball.



The Brennan Brothers played baseball growing up.

“John Thompson was in his first year (1966-67) there when I was a senior,” Paul said, of the coach who would go on to become the first black man to lead an NCAA basketball champion, at Georgetown University in 1984.

The Brennan brothers are separated by 27 months. My brother, Kevin, is 22 months older than me. (We weren’t the closest bond of brothers in our house, incidentally, as Don and Tim are separated by 11 months, “Irish twins” born in January and December 1947). Paul Brennan described an idyllic youth with his big brother stretching out from the Glassmanor Apartments in Oxon Hill, along the border of our nation’s capital and Prince George’s County, of games of whiffle ball and two-hand touch. All of those happened at my home, which included one of the first regulation basketball hoops in Brooklyn Park. The photo below is from 1971, when I was called up to the Brooklyn Park High varsity for the District V tournament because I looked good in lay-up lines.



While the Bees came within just 47 points of winning the district final and playing at the state Class B semis in Cole Field House, Kevin and I rarely lost a game of 2-on-2 against the other family combos based at St. Rose of Lima Parish.

When I asked Paul Brennan his thoughts on his brother becoming a bishop, he got emotional and struggled to find words to describe their bond. I understand his sentiments. A young Father Mark Brennan baptized his nephews and niece, and now officiates at the weddings and the baptisms of their children. My brother, Kevin, was the Best Man at my wedding, 33 years ago. I am godfather to his oldest, Esther.

When I related my meeting with Paul Brennan to my brother, Kevin remembered Jason Brennan as a hard-nosed player and natural leader.

Like father, like son, like brothers.


February 02, 2017 10:31
By Paul McMullen


Phelps’ maturation includes faith


Having been blessed to cover his Olympic debut in Sydney, Australia, in 2000, and report on his unprecedented eight medals at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece, I am more than a casual observer of the athletic marvel that is Michael Phelps.

It was gratifying to see Phelps swim as well as ever the night of Aug. 7, as he led the U.S. to a gold medal – his 19th – in the 400-meter freestyle relay. It was his first dip into the pool at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but the performance was not surprising, considering the evident serenity the 31-year-old discovered in the aftermath of a series of aimless choices that culminated in a drunk-driving arrest in fall 2014.

Phelps bared his soul to Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden in November 2015, and in June Karen Crouse of the New York Times added additional pertinent details about his personal growth.

It was at an addiction recovery center in Arizona where Phelps, who turned pro at 16 and never had time for college, began reading real books, not just magazines, which took him from Rick Warren’s best-selling “The Purpose Driven Life” to “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl.

This is a side of Michael not previously exhibited.

Over a 14-month span, from July 2003 to August 2004, The Baltimore Sun sent me wherever Phelps competed. Those travels became a book, “The Story of Olympic Champion Michael Phelps, From Sydney to Athens to Beijing” (Rodale Press, 2006).

The only references to faith or religion in the book are mine.

On page 1, I wrote that “Michael Phelps manipulated water like no man since Moses.” Later, it was noted that swimming’s 24/7/365 ethos does not observe the Sabbath, that before swim finals are held on a Sunday night, preliminaries are held on Sunday morning, church services be damned. While the men who founded the North Baltimore Aquatic Club swam their first strokes in a Knights of Columbus pool and studied at Loyola High and Loyola College, the NBAC stressed a self-reliance and self-determination more in line with Ayn Rand.

Phelps was a boy and young man of few words when I followed him on a full-time basis. He never mentioned church or faith, and I cannot recall him saying “Thank God” or anything similar, as an aside or at a press conference, on the road to Athens.

That’s why it is gratifying to hear him acknowledge a higher power, that he is not in this on his own.



August 08, 2016 11:33
By Paul McMullen


Jerry Savage benefit brings flood of warm memories


All things for a reason.

That was the prevailing sentiment among several hundred at Loyola Blakefield April 16, when the school held a fundraiser for a merit scholarship fund that  honors Jerry Savage, its former basketball coach and athletic director. Marquette University coach Steve Wojciechowski, a Baltimore Catholic League Hall of Famer who led Cardinal Gibbons to the 1994 title and is one of the fellow Jesuit institution’s most prominent faces, was initially advertised as the headliner for the benefit, but then the NCAA objected and the Dons went to their bench. “Wojo” is a great success story, but because he was not allowed to make it, Loyola Blakefield alums, as well as the friends and family of Savage, had the chance to hear some poignant and powerful stories from three of their own.
 
It was my pleasure and honor to moderate a panel that included Snuffy Smith ’60, Pete Budko ’77 and Tony Guy ’78. Retired from coaching, Snuffy became the first commissioner of the BCL, and indirectly explained the appropriateness of the league’s Player of the Year award carrying the Savage name. Smith was a University of Baltimore freshman in the 1960-61 season, when Savage was a senior at Mount St. Mary’s and concluding a record-setting career. Savage still had game in the early 1970s, when Budko and Guy entered Loyola Blakefield and made a good high school program great. The Dons won four straight BCL tournaments from 1975-78, still the only program in the league’s 45-year history to achieve that feat.
 
Budko and Guy traded one tradition for another, as they chose two of the nation’s five most storied college programs, North Carolina and Kansas, respectively. Budko related his injury-wracked senior season with the Tar Heels, which ended with Dean Smith putting him on the floor for the first time in months in the NCAA final, against Indiana. Who had replaced Budko in the North Carolina starting five? “Sam Perkins,” he answered. Guy’s name association was even more impressive. Asked to describe a time when he leaned on what he had learned from Savage, Guy told a story from his freshman year at Kansas, when a Michigan State star lit up Tony and the Jayhawks. “I guarded Magic Johnson as a freshman, Michael Jordan as a senior, and everyone in between,” Guy said. “There wasn’t anything I heard at Kansas that Jerry hadn’t already said. We came to Loyola as basketball players and left as much more than that. The expectation was excellence.”
 
Guy found a home in Kansas, where he has worked for State Farm for 30 years. Budko runs his own business development corporation in New York.

The evening’s rewards included visiting with Savage’s peers, like Nappy Doherty and Bucky Kimmett, and some Loyola Blakefield alums I hadn’t seen in decades. The latter included the Welsh brothers, Marty and Pat. A football and lacrosse star, Pat was one of the Baltimore metropolitan area Athletes of the Year I selected for The Evening Sun in 1984.
 
Those guys are part of a substantial legacy, one that I hope Loyola Blakefield alums never take for granted. I related a story about Jim McKay ’39 leaving me spellbound with his ABC reporting on the terrorist attack on the Israeli quarters at the 1972 Munich Olympics. What I didn’t share was how Tim Pierce ’60 and Murray Stephens ’63 brought Jesuit standards to the swim club they founded, one that produced the greatest Olympian ever, Michael Phelps.
 
“Men for Others” was not a slogan for Savage, but an ethos. In retirement, he gave countless hours to the Baltimore Catholic League he helped found in 1971. He took ill at the 2015 BCL tournament and died a few months later. I last saw him in February 2015, at Mount St. Joseph, where the Gaels were hosting No. 1 Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I wasn’t seated five minutes when Jerry entered the gym and supplied copies of the BCL standings. It wasn’t the first time he helped me out on a story. His wife, Pat, was one of my voices in a 2009 article about Notre Dame of Maryland’s Renaissance Institute.


Pat Savage, center, with, from left, Tony Guy, Snuffy Smith, Paul McMullen and Pete Budko. (Photo Courtesy Loyola Blakefield)

April 20, 2016 11:46
By Paul McMullen


Blakefield teacher got around on milestone birthday


Most guys celebrate their 50th birthday by blowing out the candles on a cake. A few opt for something more strenuous, such as a day of sport fishing or a round of golf.

Then there is Chris Cucuzzella, a physics teacher and coach at Loyola Blakefield, who marked that milestone Nov. 20 by running 50 kilometers on campus, just over 31 miles. The past president of the Baltimore Road Runners Club, Cucuzzella ran to raise funds and awareness for Back on My Feet, which helps empower those experiencing homelessness through physical activity, and Loyola’s Class of 1964 Endowed Scholarship Fund.

A member of its class of 1982, Cucuzzella ran cross country and wrestled for the Dons, and hasn’t shown much sign of slowing down. Less than a decade ago, at age 41, he notched his personal best for the marathon, 3 hours, 2 minutes. On Nov. 20, he cranked out more than three dozen laps on a 1.5-mile course around the Loyola Blakefield athletic fields, avoiding the dip down to Wheeler Hall, and the climb back up.

“I chose the flatter course,” he said, “but it got monotonous.”



Family, friends and some of his former runners helped pass the time, as Cucuzzella started around 8 a.m. and finished during the lunch hour, clocking in at 4 hours, 40 minutes, about 9 minutes per mile.

Ryan Stasiowski (class of 2007), Greg Jubb (’07) and Greg Lange (’08) joined him at the start. Later, two of his three brothers joined in, Neil (’86) and Paul (’89). His other brother, Mark (’84), would have been there, if he had not been preparing for the 53rd annual JFK 50-Miler, which goes off Nov. 22 in Hagerstown. Also keeping Cucuzzella company were his wife, Jeanne Pinto, McDonogh School coach Jeff Sanborn and Ben Hosford, one of his current runners.

Afterward, Cucuzzella got cleaned up and directed indoor track and field practice. He’s the Dons’ head coach and an assistant in outdoor track and cross country, where Loyola Blakefield has won six straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and two straight East Coast Jesuit Invitational titles.

After that, he went to out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with his wife and their children, Sam and Mia, to pig out and reflect.

“The nice thing about 50,” he said, “is that I don’t feel the need to top this.”

November 22, 2014 02:23
By Paul McMullen


Why watch the World Cup in a crowd?


What struck me about the June 22 ESPN telecast of U.S.-Portugal in the World Cup was not its status as the most-watched soccer match in the history of American television, but that so many chose to take in the drama on a big screen in a public space, whether it was Chicago, Los Angeles or New York.

Fans cheer at a viewing party in Hermosa Beach, Calif., June 16, during the 2014 Brazil World Cup soccer match against Ghana. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

In other words, it was just like 1974.

Once upon a time, before ESPN came along and used soccer and other sports to fill a programming void, fans of the real football had to fork over good money to watch the World Cup final on closed-circuit TV in a basketball arena or concert venue. In 1970, we watched Brazil and Pele trounce Italy at what is now the Baltimore Arena, on a big, grainy screen. Four years later, for the West Germany-Netherlands classic, I headed to Constitution Hall in D.C. with my brother Kevin and some of his teammates from Towson University (remember when they had a team?). The last such schlep was in 1978, when Bill Spangler, Rob Mueller and I left a perfectly good time in Ocean City to drive to D.C. to see the Dutch lose again, to host Argentina. 

I had no idea we were such trend-setters.


ABC, ESPN and live-streaming have made it so easy to watch from your home, phone or desk – the accompanying photo is of photographer Tom McCarthy’s work station, where his Apple monitor is vastly superior to the analog TV in the Catholic Review newsroom – but how many people are going to sneak out of the office for an extended lunch and seek a communal vibe June 26, when the U.S. meets Germany in its final Group G qualifier?

I would just as soon watch the Ravens from the peace and solitude of my recliner, but then Mary suggests that we watch with our Ravens Roost, which, of course, is always more fun. Whether it is U.S. soccer, an NFL game or the Sunday Mass that precedes it, the species craves community. Digital tools allow some to craft their own reality; they don’t always trump tribal instinct.
 

June 25, 2014 03:01
By Paul McMullen


Calvert Hall sends Karp off in style


At some point during the May 17 celebration of Bill Karpovich’s life at Calvert Hall, I turned to my wife and indicated that if Carrie Zaruba isn’t in town to sing at my funeral, that Mary should inquire as to the availability of George Wilkerson.

That gives some indication as to why the obituary section in the paper is referred to as the “Irish Sports Pages.”

Given my druthers, I prefer a funeral Mass to a funeral home, a sentiment reinforced at Calvert Hall, where the man called “Karp” was honored with a liturgy as rich and textured as the soccer coach and math department chair who never missed a single day of work or practice in 33 years at the school.

Start with Wilkerson, director of vocal music at Calvert Hall, whose tenor at the front of “On Eagle’s Wings” made me pause even more than normal on that most poignant of recessionals. I have added him to my funeral plan wishlist, after the aforementioned Carrie, a conservatory-trained rising star in Nashville who still graces the choir loft at St. Athanasius when someone from the Curtis Bay clan is being buried, or wed.

Wilkerson was accompanied on piano by Calvert Hall junior Collin Power, whose family should be very proud. The McManus Theater, where the funeral was held, was dotted with Christian Brothers, the order that founded Calvert Hall in 1845. Our eucharistic ministers were Calvert Hall principal Chuck Stembler; Lou Heidrick, his predecessor; and Joe Baker, a math teacher and fellow Calvert Hall fixture. How cool is that?

Calvert Hall was the site of a lovely funeral liturgy for Bill Karpovich, one that included the piano of junior Collin Power and the tenor of George Wilkerson, the director of vocal music at the school. (Paul McMullen | CR Staff)

Presiding was Bishop William C. Newman another son of Calvert Hall. The only non-Calvert Hall guy on the altar stage was Monsignor William F. Burke, Karp’s pastor at St. Francis of Assisi in Mayfield, the celebrant who packed more into a 4-minute homily than others do in a half hour. Father Bill reminded us that Bishop Newman was on staff at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Highlandtown in the 1950s when one of its boys, Karp, fell in love with one of its girls, Theo.

Father Bill’s brevity left plenty of room at the end of Mass for reflections by two more Calvert Hall guys. Jerry Geraghty was in the Class of 1968, a senior when Karp landed on campus, could have been describing me when he said that the only tools Karp knew how to use were “a knife and a fork.” Billy Karpovich is the youngest of Karp and Theo’s four boys, and his observations similarly ranged from the affectionate to the educational to the hilarious.

To whit, on Karp’s roots:

“Dad was the youngest of 8 kids. His father was an immigrant from Russia who narrowly escaped the Revolution. He arrived at Ellis Island in 1915 and settled in East Baltimore where he worked as laborer. Dad learned pinochle at age 8 and competed through his teenage years in the family card game on Sunday afternoons.”

On Karp’s math acumen:

“Dad went to grade school at Holy Rosary and then Patterson High School. At 16 Dad was ready to drop out of school. The pressure from home was to do the respectable thing and get a job or join the Army. His guidance counselor at Patterson,, Mrs. Tillery, saw more in him than he had seen in himself. …Two years later Mrs. Tillery persuaded Dad to apply to college. He was awarded a Senatorial Scholarship to attend Johns Hopkins, where he completed a degree in Industrial Engineering and paid for his boarding as the cleaning lady for his fraternity.”

On Karp’s 422 wins and 19 MIAA or MSA titles:

“In approximately the same number of years the iconic Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) of Duke basketball (Billy played his soccer there) has a lower winning percentage and 15 fewer titles.”

On Karp being paid $500 a season, and his work ethic:

“Throughout Dad’s prime, he worked Saturdays unloading boxes of produce in a part-time job to help make ends meet. While he was a truly gifted calculus teacher, his greatest mathematical achievement was providing me and my brothers with all that we had on such a modest income.

On his core beliefs as an educator:

“Everything Dad did was to help us not only recognize our potential but to also have the tools to realize it. He knew that you cannot succeed in anything without rigor. He made us pull up our socks, tuck in our shirts and he trimmed off our rat tails in the locker room, because he knew the first step in being great was to look and act the part. He put team ahead of individual regardless of the number of goals you scored, because he knew the whole was much greater than the sum of the parts. He made us follow the rules, because there is only one way to win and that’s with integrity. He pushed us to the edge, because he knew that all growth requires discomfort.

On priorities:

“Dad did things his own way. The important rules were always followed. He made up the rest. He never really cared what anyone else thought. It is said that to succeed you must be willing to offend. Dad understood this all too well.”

On Karp’s forgetfulness:

“If my Dad ever called you “Butch” it meant he liked you but forgot your name. As a kid I was always amazed at how many kids went to Calvert Hall and Dad’s summer soccer camps with the name Butch.”

On his dedication:

“In 33 years of service at Calvert Hall, my father never missed a day of work. For context, this is almost two times longer than Cal Ripken’s remarkable streak. I asked Mom the other night once again to confirm that this was really true. She said “Yes, he never missed a day.” She paused for a moment and then added “It’s not that he never got sick, that just always seemed to happen on the weekends when there was housework to do.”

On Karp’s soulmate, Theo:

“Mom was the backbone. She was the selfless, nurturing, wise, stabilizing force that made it all work. … Dad was a great man and committed husband; he could also be difficult. There is good reason that Mom has been often referred to as a saint over the years. Now that John Paul II has greased the skids for the Poles, I am confident you will be reading about her canonization in the future.”

On Karp’s lesser-seen tender side

“Some of my most poignant memories with Dad were when I approached him in times of trouble and having him respond not as Dad the disciplinarian but as Dad the kind and supportive father. … While it wasn’t his most deft instrument, Dad had a big heart.”


May 19, 2014 03:52
By Paul McMullen


A saint, a father and a Cold War

 
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


Hats off to the captain, Stan Koziol


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


Michael Phelps’ what-if Twitter feed from a decade ago

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


Rags, Viv and the woman who led me to St. Francis of Assisi


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

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