George P. Matysek Jr. is the assistant managing editor of The Catholic Review in Baltimore.

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The Narthex

Cardinal Shehan and the repose of JFK’s ‘great soul’

U.S. President John F. Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline, and their children, Caroline and John Jr., are seen on Easter Sunday in 1963, months before the president's Nov. 22 assasination. (CNS photo/Reuters)

When Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago today in Dallas, Baltimore’s Cardinal Lawrence Shehan was far from home attending meetings of the Second Vatican Council in Rome. That didn't stop him from feeling the impact of one of the most shocking moments of the 20th century.

A Nov. 22, 1963, statement released on behalf of Cardinal Shehan asked for prayers for the eternal repose of President Kennedy, whom the cardinal said died “like the bravest of soldiers in the pursuit of his duties.” The cardinal also asked for prayers at every Mass, and “to solemnize the day of his burial with a Requiem Mass for the repose of his great soul.”

CR File Photo“Remembering the bitterness that poisoned our nation a century ago after the death of President Lincoln, let us pray for the strength to resist the inevitable temptation to hurl reckless charges of culpability against any segment of our people,” the statement said. “At his inauguration, President Kennedy summoned each of us to ask what we might do for our country. Our best tribute to him now is to determine, more resolutely than ever, that our nation will remain wise and united in the difficult days ahead.”

In the cardinal’s absence in Baltimore, Auxiliary Bishop T. Austin Murphy sent a Western Union Telegram  to the White House expressing “sincere sympathy” to Mrs. John F. Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963.

“Masses and prayers are being offered in all the churches of the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the repose of the soul of President Kennedy(,) for you, your children and all the members of your family,” the 3:21 p.m. telegram said in capital letters. 

The first lady acknowledged the acts of kindness of Baltimore Catholics with a card sent to the cardinal that said simply, “Mrs. Kennedy is deeply appreciative of your sympathy and grateful for your thoughtfulness.”

The first lady’s card and Bishop Murphy’s telegram are held in the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

(The card immediately above is courtesy Associated Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The photo of Cardinal Shehan is a CR file photo)



 

November 22, 2013 10:08
By George Matysek


Remembering a friend

Christopher Gaul died Oct. 18, 2012. (CR file photo)

Kneeling in the small parking garage at Catholic Review headquarters about a decade ago, Christopher Gaul and I went to work changing a flat tire on his small sports utility vehicle. Gaul, my former managing editor, confidently wielded an iron wrench to unloosen lug nuts while I waited to help him remove the damaged tire.

After a few minutes, my keen journalistic powers of observation kicked in.

“Ummm, Chris,” I said, unable to contain a laugh. “You’re changing the tire that’s not flat.”

The metallic clank of a dropped tool echoed in the garage before Chris looked at me with a bemused smile. He was soon laughing with me at our automotive incompetence.

“Shut up,” Chris said in an urbane British accent. “You are not to tell anyone of this.”

Christopher Gaul was one of the great characters in the history of the Baltimore press.

Suave, intelligent, driven, funny and ambitious, Chris was a fixture at the Catholic Review from 1995 to 2005. He served in a variety of award-winning roles including senior correspondent, managing editor, associate editor and host of television and radio programs.

It will be a year Oct. 18 since Chris lost a nearly yearlong battle with lung cancer. His distinguished journalism career included stints as a reporter for The Sun and The Evening Sun, an investigative reporter and documentary film producer for WJZ-TV, and a medical reporter for WBAL-TV.

Raised in the Church of England, Chris became a Catholic as a teen a few years after his mother joined the church in the late 1940s. Gaul’s godfather was William E. Barrett, a Catholic writer whose novels include “The Left Hand of God.”

Chris long ago told me he was attracted to the romance of the Catholic Church – stories of fantastic saints and martyrs, a theology that ran deep, and liturgy that inspired awe. I always had the sense that he was on a spiritual journey – sometimes stumbling, but always staying the course.

Chris was one of my greatest mentors. I learned more from reading his eloquent prose and sitting next to him at the Catholic Review than I did in any writing course. More than that, he became a friend.

Several times a year, I visited Chris and his wife, Pam, at their Essex home not too far from where I grew up. Sometimes we enjoyed a cookout or took in a football game. On his last Christmas Eve, I joined Chris’ family for a dinner that featured his famous Yorkshire pudding. Another time, ushering in a new year, I watched the husband-and-wife team dance with their beloved Weimaraner show dogs at the stroke of midnight.

As Chris neared the end of his life, he began giving things away. He had already given me a copy of the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible (which he steadfastly described as the most eloquent Catholic translation), an icon of St. Paul and a St. George medal from France that I wore until it broke free of its chain and was lost.

In those last months, Chris also gave me spiritual books and a bag of “holy dirt” he collected while on pilgrimage to one of his favorite shrines in Santa Fe.

Fulfilling a longtime dream, Chris received special permission to make his definitive promises as a lay member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites just months before he died – even though he had not completed formation.

The day before Chris lost his battle with cancer, I visited him one final time. As a wet cloth perched on his forehead, Chris rested in bed while his beloved canines lingered nearby. On the wall hung a framed copy of Jean-Francois Millet's familiar painting of peasants pausing in a field for the Angelus – a retirement gift from The Catholic Review editorial department in honor of the tradition Chris started at the newspaper of praying the Angelus every day at noon.

Soft classical music hung in the air as I thanked Chris for being such a good friend and mentor. Within hours, he was gone.

Christopher Gaul enjoys his retirement party with some of the people he mentored:
George P. Matysek Jr., Rachel Richmond and Jennifer Williams.

I often wonder what Chris would make of the changes that have taken place in the church since his death – the stunning and humble retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of the Argentine Pope Francis.

I suspect he would be intrigued by our new pope’s emphasis on mercy, since one of Chris’ favorite prayers was a soul-searching one he borrowed from the Orthodox: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

He would be pleased, I think, to know that some of the people he mentored at The Catholic Review are using the skills he honed in them to cover these exciting times with a sense of fairness, balance and perhaps even some of his style.

Yes, Chris is gone. His legacy is not.

Rest in peace, friend.

October 17, 2013 04:39
By George Matysek


Tom Clancy never flunked English at Loyola

It certainly makes for a good story: a scrappy kid from Baltimore flunks out of an English class at what is now Loyola University Maryland only to become an international bestselling author. 

The problem is that the oft-told tale concerning Tom Clancy is just as fictitious as Jack Ryan.

“It was an urban legend that just wouldn’t die,” said Carol Abromaitis, the English professor accused of giving Clancy an F in her class. 

For decades, Abromaitis urged English majors to let others know the truth. Her efforts bore little fruit.

“One major said to me, ‘Of course not. It makes us look smart,’” Abromaitis remembered with a laugh.

Clancy, who died Oct. 1 at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore following a brief illness, was, in fact, a friend of Abromaitis and her husband, Mike. The master of the techno-thriller sometimes played war board games with Mike Abromaitis. The couple also served as the godparents of Clancy’s eldest child, baptized at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville. 

Author Tom Clancy is pictured in an undated photo at his home in Huntingtown, Md. Clancy, best known for works including "The Hunt for Red October" and "Clear and Present Danger," died Oct. 1 at age 66 after a brief illness at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. (CNS photo/courtesy David Burnett via Reuters)

At Loyola, Clancy enrolled in Abromaitis’ 18th-century literature course and an independent study focused on science fiction. The professor remembered her friend as a man with a “gifted imagination” who thoroughly researched his topic before taking on a project. When he showed up for his independent study, she said, he had a briefcase filled with books that he expected Abromaitis to read.

Clancy’s prodigious talent was evident very early on. He wrote a short story at what is now Loyola Blakefield in Towson, bringing it to Abromaitis for a critique when he began studying in college.

“It was just fabulous,” Abromaitis said. “It was about a man-eating tiger in India who had a mutation that made him have a human brain. It was totally fantasy, but it was a really good story.”

When Clancy began “The Hunt for Red October,” his first book, he sent galleys to Abromaitis. She was impressed with the work and soon hooked her husband, Mike.

“I think it was his best book,” she said.

Abromaitis noted that Clancy’s Catholic upbringing was reflected in his characters.

“He had a sense of right and wrong, good and evil,” she said. “He had a sense of the obligation to protect the weak.”

Others who knew Clancy remembered him as a man who always had a keen interest in military matters. 

“I recall planning military strategies with him, playing with little toy figures of soldiers,” said Father Gregory Rapisarda, associate pastor of several Dundalk-area parishes and Clancy’s classmate at St. Matthew School in Northwood and Loyola Blakefield. 
 
Don Lavin, a senior lecturer in economics and business at McDaniel College in Westminster, was Clancy’s classmate at Loyola Blakefield. Clancy was a member of the “brain class,” Lavin said. 

“Those were the 22 or 23 people in our class who were the smartest guys,” Lavin said.

Monsignor James Farmer, pastor of St. John in Westminster and one of Clancy’s college classmates, said his friend will be missed. 

“He was a very hardworking and interesting guy,” Monsignor Farmer said, noting that Clancy made contributions to assist children with cancer. “He held strong convictions and had a concern for people’s needs.”

October 07, 2013 11:03
By George Matysek


Remembering Art Modell, champion of Catholic education

A photo of Art Modell accompanied a 2003 story in the Catholic Review.

(George P. Matysek Jr. | CR Staff) 

 

(Courtesy Ravens)I only had a chance to interview Art Modell once in my journalism career.

A few days before the then-owner of the Baltimore Ravens was to be honored by the National Catholic Educational Association in 2003, I was assigned to find out why this Jewish businessman from Brooklyn, N.Y., was spending part of his fortune boosting Catholic schools in inner-city Baltimore.

Shortly after moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996, Modell made a major five-year gift to support the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Partners in Excellence program. Co-sponsored by the archdiocese and more than 400 philanthropies, businesses and private benefactors, the program has provided more than $22 million in tuition assistance to thousands of Baltimore families since Cardinal William H. Keeler launched it in the same year Modell arrived in Charm City.

Seated in a white golf cart on the sidelines of the Ravens’ practice facility in Owings Mills, Modell told me he was happy to spend his money on a worthy cause like Catholic education. Catholic schools are well-known for inculcating values and discipline in their students, he said, and the Catholic school system was “the best anywhere.” He was impressed with Partners in Excellence, he said, because it is “a good program that can benefit anyone no matter their religion."

Modell noted that his more than three decades as an owner of a professional football team gave him unique insights into the far-reaching value of education.

“Thousands of football players have gone through my system,” Modell explained, whose Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV.

“Invariably, when you research their background, there’s a connection between the schools they’ve come from and what they’re like,” he said. “The ones who had a good education invariably turn out to be the better guys in terms of character and commitment.”

Together with his wife, Patricia – whose funeral was offered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore nearly a year ago – Modell also made contributions to the basilica’s restoration, Catholic Charities, the House of Ruth, the Hospice of Baltimore and other charitable causes.

As much as I remember Modell’s matter-of-fact answers to my questions, I will also always remember his legendary wit.

As his players raced up and down the field preparing for a big game with the Kansas City Chiefs nearly a decade ago, the white-haired businessman reiterated how he took delight in supporting a good cause such as Catholic education. Then, he paused.

"It’s better than taking my wife to Neiman Marcus," he quipped.

Art Modell died Sept. 6 at age 87. Funeral arrangements are pending. 

 

September 06, 2012 11:49
By George Matysek


Thurmont parish welcomes G8 leaders

As leaders of the world's economic powerhouses meet at Camp David in the Catoctin Mountains this weekend, parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Thurmont are putting out the welcome mat.

Barbara Anderson, pastoral life director of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Anthony Shrine in Emmitsburg, sent me these photos showing how Mount Carmel is inviting G8 visitors to stop by the parish for worship. The top photo shows the message parishioners posted on a sign outside Mount Carmel.  Below is a shot of how the town decorated a Main Street park.

Pretty cool idea, huh?  I'm sure we will hear much more if President Obama or any of the other dignitaries take parishioners up on their invitation.  With the state of the global economy and its devastating impact on the poor, prayer could definitely do some good.

 

 



May 19, 2012 01:02
By George Matysek


People of faith as ‘animals in a cage’

If you plan to be the keynote speaker before a group of award-winning journalists, be ready for some challenging and unexpected questions.

That’s what Chris Cillizza discovered April 20 after giving a talk at the 2012 awards conference for the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, held at the Four Point Sheraton BWI Hotel in Baltimore.

When the well-known Washington Post political blogger opened the floor to questions, one journalist asked how Cillizza’s personal faith influenced his reporting.

Cillizza, a Georgetown graduate, responded initially by speaking more broadly about how today's journalists cover those who take their faith seriously – noting that he didn’t think “liberals in the press” were trying to organize a secret plan hostile to believers.

“But I do think that there is a skepticism that exists about people of deep faith,” he said. “I think it comes out sometimes in the language we (use to) cover them. The thing that bugs me is the whole ‘animal-in-a-cage’ way we can sometimes cover people of faith – like, ‘Hey, look what he says over there! It’s the evangelical voter!’”

Cillizza pointed out that a devout believer is not an uncommon person in America.

Then, realizing he really wasn’t answering the question about how faith might influence his own reporting, Cillizza said he himself is a “person of faith.”

“I was raised Catholic,” he said. “I like to think it doesn’t impact (reporting) all that much in a negative or a positive way. I mean, I am someone who believes, but – (just) like I try not to let what I think of certain politicians impact the way I cover things, I’d put (my faith) in that same basket.”

Cillizza, a regular contributor to MSNBC, said he tries to “make sure I’m giving enough attention and not treating people of faith like ‘other’ in my coverage.”

“I don’t know if that’s my own faith speaking as much as my frustration with the fact that that is sometimes how things get covered – not necessarily by the Post, but in general in national politics,” he said.

Here's how the Catholic Review did in this year's MDDC Press Association's competition. Read "The Fix," Cillizza's political blog, here.

 

April 26, 2012 10:52
By George Matysek


‘God is my assistant editor’

 

“More reach than you realize.”

That was one of the slogans the Catholic Review used a few years back as a way of getting people thinking about how the newspaper connects with the wider community.

During a recent talk for a Theology on Tap group at the Greene Turtle in Fells Point, Christopher Gunty, editor/associate publisher of the Catholic Review, told a story that seemed tailor-made for that old slogan.

Recalling his time working as an editor for a Catholic newspaper in another diocese, Gunty recounted how a divorced woman noticed his newspaper sitting on her mother’s coffee table.  While waiting for her mother to prepare for a dinner outing, the woman flipped through the issue and came across an article about annulments.  It was the second of a three-part series on divorced Catholics.

The woman asked for a copy of the previous week’s issue – taking time to read more about the church’s outreach to the divorced. She had been away from the church for a long time because she was convinced that a divorced person could not receive the sacraments.

The following week, the daughter started her annulment process. She found the kind of healing she needed, Gunty said.

“Einstein’s been quoted as saying that coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous,” Gunty said. “If it’s just coincidence that we published that when the woman needed to read it most, then God is my assistant editor or vice versa.”

Those who work in the Catholic press never know if what they write is going to touch someone, Gunty said, but experiences like that of the divorced woman “happen all the time.”

These days, one of the slogans of the Catholic Review is, “Wherever your faith takes you.” In an age of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and an endlessly evolving social media landscape, the newspaper is striving to have a presence wherever Catholics may be.

In his talk, Gunty said it is important for Catholic media outlets to build community. That can be a challenge – especially when the English-language edition of the official Vatican newspaper has 85,000 followers on Twitter while Ashton Kutcher has more than 10 million, he said. Yet, it is absolutely necessary.

“Who’ s got the more relevant message?” Gunty wondered. “Whose message do people need to hear?”

With a brand-new website, a revamped print product, accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube and several other new initiatives, the Catholic Review is working to be everywhere it can to inform, inspire and engage.

Check out Gunty’s full Theology on Tap talk below. He addresses the emergence of social media, Church statements on communications and new initiatives at the Catholic Review. He also fields some interesting questions at the end.

 





 

April 24, 2012 12:21
By George Matysek


Chris Matthews and conflicted values

MSNBC photo

 

Chris Matthews, popular host of MSNBC’s ‘Hardball,’ was in town last week - plugging ‘Elusive Hero,’ his new book on President John F. Kennedy. During a public question-and-answer session following an appearance at the Enoch Pratt Free Library downtown, the tough-talking Matthews struck me as a bit conflicted.

While he asserted that morality “belongs in public life,” Matthews added bombastically that “we don’t want sharia of the Christian sort.”

“It’s always going to be a tricky question to what extent we bring our values to political life,” he said, dismissing recent cultural skirmishes as little more than candidates seeking advantages with their core constituencies.

“If you said to everyone in America (that) you can’t eat meat on Friday, that would be absurd,” said Matthews, whose aunt is a Catholic religious sister. “If you take religious precepts and apply them to the law, I think you’re missing the point. But, do we have communitarian values and love? Do we take those values with us? Of course we do.”

Matthews pointed out that the Civil Rights movement would not have happened without people of faith bringing their values to the public square.  In the same breath, however - and without any sense of irony - Matthews said he'd oppose those who would seek an end to legalized abortion.

“In all fairness,” he insisted, “if someone said abortion was illegal, punishable by criminal sanctions, well, liberals like me would get involved in changing it because we have values too.”

In addressing the legacy of President Kennedy, the former longtime aid to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill praised the late president’s strong leadership during the Cuban missile crisis and his heroism during the Second World War.

Kennedy was effective, Matthews said, because he built alliances and was a natural leader who inspired people to follow him.
That’s not the case with President Barack Obama, Matthews said.

“Obama doesn’t have great organizational skills,” he asserted. “He goes home at night with Michelle. He doesn’t build relationships with people. He’s a solo act. Solo acts are very dangerous because that means you have no one backing you up.”

Matthews, who famously said during the 2008 presidential race that he had a “thrill” go up his leg while listening to an Obama speech, held out hope that Obama can become a great leader.

March 13, 2012 02:46
By George Matysek


A funeral home director and a priest walk into a stadium

Trinitarian Father Stan DeBoe (CR photo illustration/Robert Thompson)

Charles Hauboldt, a Texas funeral home owner, wants nothing more than to see his Houston Texans bury the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl drive at this Sunday’s big game at M&T Bank Stadium. He’ll get his chance as the winning bidder for a playoff ticket auctioned by a Texas Catholic priest and rabid Ravens’ fan.

Hauboldt’s high bid of $2,115 won him the ticket, a flight to Baltimore, lodging and ground transportation – not to mention the chance to sit next to Trinitarian Father Stan DeBoe, the man who put the ticket up for grabs. The money will be used to help purchase a bus for Father DeBoe’s parish, Our Lady of Sorrows in Victoria, Texas.

Father DeBoe, whose parishioners often make use of Hauboldt’s funeral home, invited his friend to participate in the auction. The winner had to contend with some last-minute competing bids, but still came out on top.

“Father Stan and I will have a blast,” Hauboldt said.

Will there be any smack talk between them?

“I’m sure there will,” Hauboldt said with a laugh. “People will know who I’m supporting after the first few plays – and I know he will be on the other side.”

As reported yesterday on The Catholic Review’s website, Father DeBoe has been a Ravens season ticket holder since the team began playing in 1996. The Pittsburgh native caught Ravens fever while he was ministering in the Baltimore-Washington area and in residence at St. Lawrence, Jessup.

The auction has been a great morale booster for his Texas parish, Father DeBoe said. He received a total of approximately 15 bids.  

Father DeBoe, who plans to attend Mass at the Catholic Community at Relay on game day, said he also received a call from the Baltimore Ravens.

“They said they were glad to know they had a supporter in Texas,” Father DeBoe said. “It was great that with everything they have to do, they took the time to call. I really appreciated it.”

The priest heard from his bishop, who quipped that Father DeBoe’s departure to Baltimore “was the worst-kept secret getaway” he’d ever seen.

Hauboldt, a Lutheran, said he wanted to help Father DeBoe’s church as a way of giving back to the community. He also supports other Victoria-area churches.

“It’s always good to support local community functions or charities,” he said.

January 13, 2012 04:26
By George Matysek


Congrats to Baltimore's newest cardinal!

Pope Benedict XVI presents the pallium to Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien in 2008 in Rome.  (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, will become a cardinal!  Cardinal-designate O'Brien will be elevated at a consistory to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on February 18.

Check out The Catholic Review story here.

Stay with The Catholic Review for more on this breaking story throughout the day!

January 06, 2012 06:27
By George Matysek

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