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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
10/17/2013 4:39:40 PM
By George Matysek