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.
October 17, 2013 04:39
By George Matysek
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
A statue of Brooks Robinson is unveiled Oct. 22 outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)
Before the new statue of Baltimore's beloved Brooks Robinson was unveiled last weekend beneath a blast of black, orange and white confetti outside Oriole Park, the bronze behemoth rested in a foundry in Pietrasanta, Italy. Standing right next to the likeness of the Hall of Fame third baseman was a replica of Michelangelo's David.
Joseph Sheppard, the Baltimore sculptor who crafted the Robinson statue, remembered that a friend noticed the neighboring artwork and made a prescient observation:
"Florence has their David," the friend said. "Now, Baltimore has their Brooks."
Baltimore does indeed have its Brooks - a 1,500-pound, nine-foot homage to a man many consider to be the greatest third baseman of all time and one of Charm City's most beloved adopted citizens.
Sheppard, the man who sculpted the statue of Blessed Pope John Paul II in Baltimore and who painted a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI, called it an honor to be chosen to work on the figure. He examined nearly 100 photos of Robinson in action - choosing to depict Number Five standing at third base with ball in hand, ready to gun down a runner at first. The statue is aligned with the actual third base of Oriole Park, with Robinson facing first.
In recognition of Robinson's 16 Gold Gloves, a glittering glove of that hue is fitted over the figure's hand.
Sheppard told me that the baseball statue was "much more difficult" than the statue of Blessed John Paul II because it was so much bigger. By contrast, the papal figure is 850 pounds and stands seven feet tall.
On seeing the statue for the first time after its unveiling, an emotional Robinson declared it "beautiful" and called Sheppard "truly a genius."
A convert to Catholicism who has supported the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Baltimore charities, Robinson thanked a long string of supporters that included civic leaders, his wife and fans he described as "friends."
"God has blessed me abundantly," Robinson said.
And God has blessed us with Brooks.
Check out these photos and excerpts from Robinson's speech:
October 26, 2011 04:31
By George Matysek
Otis Rolley unveils an education voucher proposal June 13 in Baltimore. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)
Otis Rolley is trying to shake things up in his bid to succeed Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as the next mayor of Baltimore.
During a June 13 press conference outside public school headquarters on North Avenue, Rolley said he wanted to close the city's five worst-performing middle schools and give $10,000 education vouchers to the affected students. The vouchers could be used at Catholic and other nonpublic middle schools in Baltimore. (See The Catholic Review story here).
During the news conference, I asked Rolley what he thought about the contributions made by Catholic schools in the city. I was impressed that the former Baltimore City director of planning viewed Catholic schools as allies - not enemies - in the common goal of educating children.
"When I think of city kids in city schools, it's public, parochial and independent schools," he said. "All of these kids are our kids. All of these schools are our schools."
That's a sentiment that's not always popular in some education circles - although Dr. Andres Alonso, current Baltimore public schools CEO, has gained kudos from Catholic school leaders for keeping lines of communication open between the systems and for serving on Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien's Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic education.
Rolley's plan isn't perfect, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Pamela Sanders, principal of St. Ambrose School in Park Heights, pointed out that it will face stiff opposition from teachers unions and others. Rolley will also have legal issues to overcome in appropriating $25 million from the city schools' budget for the voucher program.
Ellen Robertson, associate director for education with the Maryland Catholic Conference, said there might be some challenges with the candidate's requirement that enrolled children maintain a consistent level of achievement to be eligible for vouchers.
"These students are coming from underperforming schools to start with," said Robertson, who was eager to see more specifics in the Rolley plan. "It might be putting a lot of pressure on them."
Yet, as both Sanders and Robertson pointed out, it's a step in the right direction for a candidate to put vouchers squarely on the line for public debate.
"At least people are talking about it," Sanders said. "Putting the question out there raises awareness."
Catholic schools in the city have consistently produced students who go on to earn college degrees and become productive citizens. Yet, because of increased expenses and declining enrollment, they have struggled to stay open in recent years. Vouchers could be a way of bolstering Catholic schools, while also improving educational opportunities for kids stuck in underperforming public schools.
It will be interesting to see whether Rolley's proposal gains any traction. In the coming months, The Catholic Review will followup on the plan and explore where the other candidates stand.
Rolley deserves credit for including Catholic and nonpublic schools in his vision for making Baltimore a better place.
"I know defenders of the status quo will attack me and my ideas," Rolley said. "My plan provides hope to parents of current students."
June 15, 2011 12:05
By George Matysek
Last Thursday's issue of The Catholic Review reported on the 150th anniversary of the Pratt Street Riot in Baltimore, a bitter conflict that resulted in the first blood spilled in the Civil War.
The city officially commemorated that event with a procession along Pratt Street this morning. I had a chance to cover it. Check out this video report:
April 16, 2011 09:05
By George Matysek
After spending more than a decade in the baseball wilderness, long-suffering fans of the Baltimore Orioles have reason for hope on this Opening Day.
When the O's take on Tampa tonight in Florida, they'll do it with a solid lineup stocked with sluggers like Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Luke Scott, Brian Roberts and Mark Reynolds. They'll have promising pitchers, and - perhaps most importantly, a hard-driving leader in Buck Showalter who proved last year how much he can get out of his players.
In this week's Catholic Review, my good friend Matt Palmer has a cover story about the high hopes of O's fans this year. You'll want to check it out here. Also, a day after the O's legendary Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson was admitted to the hospital, you might also want to look at this story I did last year on the great third baseman's Catholic faith and how it helps him with his health challenges.
1997 was the last time the O's had a winning season, when they went wire-to-wire in the American League East. It's time the Birds got back in the game. I know this season ticket holder is as about excited as you can get. Let's go O's!
April 01, 2011 06:54
By George Matysek
Part of a 1790 letter to Catholics written by President George Washington is shown in this photograph. The letter is housed in the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Baltimore)
In honor of President’s Day, tomorrow’s issue of The Catholic Review will feature an article on a very valuable letter housed in the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Written to Catholics of the United States by President George Washington, the March 12, 1790 note was in response to an earlier message sent to the new president by Baltimore Bishop John Carroll on behalf of American Catholics. The bishop had congratulated the new leader on his election and asked him to promote religious freedom.
“I hope ever to see America among the foremost Nations in examples of Justice and Liberality,” Washington wrote in reply.
In researching the historic letter, I was surprised to learn that the precious artifact had gone missing for an unknown period of time early in the 20th century. Neither the current archivist nor her predecessor knew the circumstances of the departure. Not even Father Michael Roach, an esteemed professor of Church history at Mount St. Mary’s University Seminary in Emmitsburg, knew of the mystery.
According to a 1922 biography of Carroll, written by Peter Guilday, the letter had been housed until 1865 in the archives of what then was the Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore. It was loaned to John Gilmary Shea, a layman, that same year before it was returned Sept. 7, 1866.
Guilday wrote that the letter went missing in 1908. It’s not clear how long it was gone or when it was returned.
According to a 1916 article in the New York Times, the letter had last been kept in a “fireproof vault beneath the sanctuary of the cathedral." Archdiocesan leaders realized it had vanished as they were indexing the many thousands of historic documents at the time.
“The envelope which contained it, marked ‘Original Letter of G. Washington to Catholics U. States,’” is in its usual place,” the New York Times reported. “But it is empty. A thorough search is being made, for the loss is a matter of great concern.”
If anyone knows more about the history of the missing and recovered letter, let me know. I’d love to be able to unravel the mystery.
February 16, 2011 11:56
By George Matysek
- 2008 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
With the much-anticipated signing of Vladimir Guerrero, the Baltimore Orioles are getting a proven slugger with a reputation for some amazingly freewheeling swings. (Two years ago in Baltimore, the Dominican superstar famously smacked a bloop single against the O's by connecting on a pitch that bounced in front of the plate).
Yet, there's something else the long-suffering birds might be getting with their latest signing: a man of deep Christian faith who says he takes his Bible with him everywhere he goes.
Check out these snips from a 2007 Los Angeles Times article when Vlad played for the Angels:
Two hours before taking the field for the game that would give his team the division title, the Angels’ best hitter is sitting on the floor in a tiny room behind home plate at Angel Stadium, a Bible in his lap.
Vladimir Guerrero may fear no pitcher, but he’s a little nervous about God.
“I comfort myself with the Bible,” Guerrero says. “It’s like having my family there.”
In that case, Guerrero is truly blessed on this morning because he has both: the good book and members of his extended family, namely the handful of Spanish-speaking teammates he gathers every Sunday for a short chapel service led by broadcaster Jose Mota.
Today’s reading comes from Galatians 2:20, in which Paul talks about commitment and example. So Mota asks the players to name the person whose example they’ve followed in life.
Guerrero breaks into a wide smile. It’s as if Mota has thrown a batting practice fastball right in his wheelhouse.
“My mother,” he says.
Teammate Erick Aybar says Guerrero is humble, likening him to a second father.
“He’s a good guy,” adds the Dodgers’ Wilson Valdez, who works out with Guerrero in the Dominican each winter. “Everybody likes him.”
Guerrero, who habitually speaks of himself in the third person, believing the pronouns “I” or “me” to be boastful, laughs off such praise.
For Mota, among Guerrero’s closest friends, such modesty is a product of the two most important things in his life: faith and family.
“He’s seen the examples of guys that have not been humbled,” he says. “They move away, they come back and they don’t even relate to the people they grew up with. That’s what Vladdy doesn’t want to do.
“If this ended for Vladdy right now, he’d be out in the fields doing the crops. Happily. If this ended today, Vladdy would be Vladdy. Just somewhere else.”
Much more here
February 05, 2011 05:22
By George Matysek
St. Augustine Bishop Victor B. Galeone is shown in his Baltimore days. (Catholic Review file photo)
In the course of more than 13 years writing for The Catholic Review, I’ve interviewed thousands of people. Only one asked to begin with a prayer.
Monsignor Victor B. Galeone had just returned to Maryland in 2000 after leading a two-week archdiocesan mission to Gonaives, Baltimore’s sister diocese in Haiti. Before I could get out my first question, the humble pastor of St. Agnes in Catonsville bowed his head and asked me to join him. After making the Sign of the Cross, he prayed for God to bless the interview. He then called on the Holy Spirit to guide my questions and his answers.
It was a simple, but powerful moment - one I've never forgotten. Although priests and parishioners had often told me of Monsignor Galeone's holiness, that was the first time I experienced it personally.
Almost exactly one year after that interview, I had the honor of covering Monsignor Galeone's episcopal ordination and installation as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. Addressing his new flock after his installation, Bishop Galeone said his vision for the future was to "make Jesus better known and loved and imitated as the Lord of our lives."
It seems Baltimore's much-loved gift to Florida has fulfilled his mission.
Bishop Galeone submitted his resignation letter to Pope Benedict XVI last year as required by Church law when he turned 75. A farewell Mass was celebrated in November. The Diocese of St. Augustine has posted tributes to the bishop - a spiritual leader unafraid to speak up in defense of human life, in support of marriage and in solidarity with the poor.
Here is Bishop Galeone's farewell homily, touching on the past, present and future:
February 01, 2011 08:29
By George Matysek
Catholic Review photo/George P. Matysek Jr.
Baltimoreans didn't let today's feast of St. John Neumann go by without a special celebration inside the downtown church he once served as pastor.
Following the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the Shrine of St. Alphonsus, dozens of worshippers formed a solemn line Jan. 5 to venerate a relic of the Bohemian-born saint. One by one, they prayerfully touched or kissed a piece of the saint's bone that was encased in a gold reliquary.
St. John Neumann, a Redemptorist priest and provincial leader for his religious order, served as St. Alphonsus' pastor from 1849-52. Pope Paul VI proclaimed him a saint June 19, 1977.
An image of the saint peered out from the church sanctuary, where a one-of-a-kind statue was on display. Designed by Franco Alessandrini and specially commissioned for St. Alphonsus, the newly installed statue shows St. John Neumann vested in his episcopal garb and seated on an ornate wooden chair.
Catholic Review photo/George P. Matysek Jr.
Monsignor Arthur Bastress, current St. Alphonsus pastor, explained that the artwork hearkens back to St. John Neumann's 1852 consecration at St. Alphonsus as the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia. It seems the chair used in the consecration had been borrowed from the nearby Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After lying prostrate on the church floor, the new bishop was seated by Baltimore Archbishop Francis P. Kenrick.
"We still have that chair," Monsignor Bastress said with pride. He noted that Alessandrini used that exact chair as a model in designing the new St. John Neumann statue at St. Alphonsus.
In addition to marking St. John Neumann's feast day, today was also the launch of a yearlong celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth. The saint is well-known for his humility, his promotion of eucharistic adoration, his outreach to immigrants and his support for Catholic schools.
Monsignor Bastress will present a 3 p.m. lecture at St. Alphonsus Jan. 8 on the "Missionary Spirit of St. John Neumann," followed by a Tridentine Mass. Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien will celebrate a special 3 p.m. Mass at St. Alphonsus March 27, one day before the anniversary of St. John Neumann's birth and the 159th anniversary of his consecration as bishop.
Check out this Redemptorist site for more on St. John Neumann and this year's celebrations.
January 05, 2011 09:07
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