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
George P. Matysek Jr. with Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien in Rome, 2008.
For the last four years, I've had the honor of covering Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien as one of my main beats at The Catholic Review.
I was at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome when Pope Benedict XVI placed the pallium around Archbishop O'Brien's neck, conferring the symbol of his office as a metropolitan archbishop. I've seen the archbishop testify forcefully against the death penalty in Annapolis and meet with parish and school leaders throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
I've witnessed our spiritual shepherd quietly encourage seminarians and answer questions of young people thinking about the religious life. I've also seen him choke with emotion when reflecting on his close bond with the priests he serves.
The archbishop has a well-earned reputation as a serious-minded and devoted leader who gives everything he has in service of a Church he loves. Yet, there's another side to him - a playful side that endears him those who know him.
All of Baltimore first encountered Archbishop O'Brien's wit at his installation Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Oct. 1, 2007.
The packed cathedral erupted in laughter when Archbishop O’Brien acknowledged that some may find it “puzzling, even ironic, that the Holy Father should choose a native son of New York to be archbishop of another part of the American League East.”
The archbishop won even louder laughs when he recounted how he gave a copy of his high school yearbook to the editor of The Catholic Review to be used for a “human interest” piece in a special edition about the installation. Unknown to the archbishop, his junior year report card was tucked inside the yearbook. A member of The Catholic Review staff informed the archbishop of the discovery – “gleefully” reminding the new archbishop that his lowest grade that year was in religion.
“Even my Irish imagination had a little difficulty in putting a good spin on that,” the archbishop said with a smile.
“Knowledge of the faith is so very important, but what you do with that knowledge is ever so much more important,” he said.
Just prior to Archbishop O'Brien's first Ash Wednesday celebration in Baltimore, he held a brief press conference on the portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I held my breath and asked what I knew might be a somewhat personal and bold question to pose to an archbishop:
“Can we ask if you’re giving anything up or doing something special for Lent?” I ventured tentatively as the archbishop stood at the top of the steps.
The archbishop paused for a second, exhaled and looked taken aback. Then mischief engulfed his face completely.
“I’m giving up rash judgments on certain people,” he said as his smile grew wider and he chuckled playfully. “How’s that?”
My fellow reporters broke into laughter. I did too, although my face was crimson and my heart was beating faster.
"Trying to be more charitable – that’s the main thing for all of us, I think,” Archbishop O’Brien said, showing some charity after he had zinged me.
Just a few weeks later, I happened to exit the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen through a side door at the same time as the archbishop. He had just finished celebrating the Holy Thursday Mass. As we walked a few feet together, he asked me if I was married or single. When I said I was single, he noted that he knew that was the case because I'm a person who's always smiling.
About a year later, at the end of the May 3, 2009 dedication liturgy for the new St. Ann Church in Grantsville, one of the owners of the nearby Newman Funeral Home surprised parishioners by giving their pastor a check for $18,000. The gift was the amount the parish had paid the funeral home for allowing the faith community to worship there after their former church was destroyed in a 2006 fire. The owner wanted to donate the money to the parish as a sign of his commitment to the religious community.
Thanking the donor for the gracious gesture, Father James Hannon turned to Archbishop O’Brien and joked that he would give him the check in the knowledge that the archbishop would certainly turn it over to the parish.
When the pastor sat down, Archbishop O’Brien solemnly arose from the presider’s chair and walked over to the lectern as if to continue the liturgy. Without saying a word, he picked up the check and walked back to his seat while smiling mischievously. Waves of laughter from the congregation built to a crescendo before the archbishop finally made a detour and handed the check to Father Hannon.
I'm going to miss Archbishop O'Brien's good humor. More importantly, I'm going to miss his solid leadership, his model of Christian living and his sense of pastoral outreach. Archbishop O'Brien truly cared for the people he served. He had to make some tough calls during his tenure. He did what he thought was best to build up the Church of Baltimore.
God bless you, Archbishop O'Brien, as you begin a new phase in your ministry.
Click here for coverage of the archbishop's appointment to Rome.
8/31 UPDATE: Jennifer Williams, my friend and colleague at The Catholic Review, has some of her own memories of Archbishop O'Brien's humor posted here.
August 29, 2011 09:58
By George Matysek
Be sure to tune into Comedy Central tonight to watch Jesuit Father James Martin make another of his hilarious appearances on the "Colbert Report." Father Martin, culture editor of America Magazine, has become known as the "chaplain" to the Colbert Report. His appearances on the popular program are always a lot of fun. Tonight's topic is God's "approval ratings."
During a Baltimore talk on faith and humor at the end of July, Father Martin took some questions from the audience. As almost always happens, the first one was about what it's like to appear with Stephen Colbert on national television. Father Martin described how he was first invited onto the program. He outlined how his appearances on the popular show might be considered a form of evangelization. He also noted that Mr. Colbert is "very Catholic" - to the point of even wearing a scapular.
Check out Father Martin on Stephen Colbert in the following clip.
For more from Father Martin's talk, click here.
August 10, 2011 06:37
By George Matysek
St. Ignatius of Loyola at prayer in Rome. (Father William Hart McNichols)
In honor of today's Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola - founder of the Jesuits - here's a video clip of Father James Martin, S.J. sharing some of his favorite Jesuit jokes. It's taken from the priest-author's July 29 talk at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. I know you'll enjoy it!
Also, the image of St. Ignatius shown on this blog is one of Father Martin's favorites. It shows the great saint at prayer in Rome - perfectly capturing his humanity. Father William Hart McNichols was the iconographer and you can learn more about his work here.
For more funny and insightful clips from Father Martin's lecture on humor and spirituality, click here.
Happy Feast Day to all my Jesuit friends from a proud graduate of Loyola University Maryland! Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!
July 31, 2011 07:26
By George Matysek
Father James Martin, S.J.
Being a faithful Catholic doesn't mean you have to be a joyless one.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan knows that. When Archbishop Dolan was installed to his post in the Big Apple, an enterprising reporter asked the newcomer if there was anything he would like to condemn. Archbishop Dolan responded in the affirmative.
"I condemn instant mashed potatoes and light beer," he deadpanned.
A few years ago, when Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl visited a Catholic bookstore, the owner approached him and said, "Oh! You're looking for a book, Father. You must be a Jesuit!"
"No," Cardinal Wuerl replied, "but I'm literate."
Back when Blessed Pope John XXIII enjoyed making surprise visits to Catholic institutions in Rome, he once stopped at a hospital run by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The superior of the religious community ran up to the Holy Father and announced that she was "the superior of the Holy Spirit."
Without skipping a beat, the pope countered with: "Well, you outrank me. I'm only the vicar of Christ!"
Those were just a few of many stories of faith and good humor shared by Jesuit Father James Martin during last night's Ignatian Day Lecture at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. The Jesuit priest, a bestselling author and culture editor of America Magazine, spoke on the important role of humor in living a spiritual life.
Well-known for his amazingly funny appearances on Comedy Central's Colbert Report, Father Martin is traveling the country to spread a message that might be summed up in two words: "Lighten up."
Along with Matt Palmer - my good friend and colleague at The Catholic Review, I had the honor of interviewing Father Martin at the end of his lecture. The priest was very generous with his time and gave us a lot of good insights into evangelization.
We will be sharing some of what he had to say in the next few days. I will also be posting some interesting observations from Father Martin on what it's like to be on the Colbert Report.
For now, take a look at some of these three video clips from last night. Father Martin will have you laughing like you won't believe. Stay tuned for much more to come and check out The Welcome Matt to see what Matt Palmer's posting about Father Martin's appearance last night.
7/31 UPDATE: Click here to hear Father Martin share some of his favorite Jesuit jokes.
July 30, 2011 12:57
By George Matysek
Father Blair Raum (CR File Photo)
This little anecdote has been sitting in my notebook since March 17, so it’s about time I shared it with you. It comes from a story recounted by Redemptorist Father John Murray during his St. Patty’s Day homily at St. Patrick in Fells Point.
Father Murray remembered that not long after St. Patrick Church suffered a devastating fire in 1983 and was later restored, a parishioner who had been away from the church for a long time returned to the historic Broadway parish. He had heard about St. Patrick’s reopening, Father Murray said, and wanted to confess his sins and get back on a spiritual track.
The man came early to Mass one day and headed straight for the confessional. He opened the confessional door and sat down in a large easy chair. Beside the chair was a bottle of Jameson whiskey and on the left was a small television designated for Orioles and Colts games. He closed the door and waited for a priest.
That’s when the now-deceased Father Blair Raum, then the pastor, opened the door and saw the man sitting in the cushy chair.
“Get out!” Father Raum said. “That’s my side!”
May 10, 2011 01:46
By George Matysek
Cardinal William H. Keeler, master of the one-liner, meets with George P. Matysek Jr. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)
During a March 2 testimonial at a special celebration of Cardinal William H. Keeler's upcoming 80th birthday, Richard Berndt told a story that demonstrated why friends know the retired archbishop as a master of the one-liner.
Speaking at the Center Club in Baltimore, Berndt recalled how he and the cardinal were walking back to the Catholic Center after a meeting with The Baltimore Sun in the late 1990s. Berndt, who was an attorney for the archdiocese, was discussing some difficult personnel matters with the cardinal as the two strolled by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Cardinal Keeler looked up and pointed to a sign on a small office building at the southeast corner of Mulberry and Cathedral streets.
"Psychic Reader Advisor - The Mystical Tarot," the sign proclaimed.
The cardinal told Berndt that the psychic advisor herself had come up to him on the street a few days earlier and introduced herself as a neighbor and a professional competitor. She told the leader of the Premier See that both of them were "in the same business."
Standing in front of the grand basilica, the cardinal looked at the psychic and deadpanned: "I think you have a lot less overhead."
"I went away happier for hearing him tell that little story," Berndt remembered with a laugh, "and thinking that Cardinal Keeler had room in his heart for every person - even lawyers and psychic readers."
Earlier this week, I had the honor of spending some time with Cardinal Keeler at his residence at Mercy Ridge Retirement Community in Timonium. I caught a glimpse of his humor near the end of an interview when I asked the cardinal if he missed the administrative work at the Catholic Center. Without skipping a beat, he replied with a confident "No!"
Then, he laughed -- and laughed hard.
For more on how the cardinal feels about becoming an octogenarian and what he's been up to in retirement, check out this story in The Catholic Review. Next week, we will have more on his birthday celebration. The cardinal's actual birthday is March 4.
Happy birthday, Your Eminence!
March 03, 2011 08:02
By George Matysek
I thought he said to take it slowly?!
January 24, 2011 06:34
By George Matysek
Retired Secret Service Agent James Le Gette displays a photo of him with Pope John Paul II while he was assigned to protect the pope during his 1979 visit to the United States. (Owen Sweeney III/Catholic Review File)
The recent announcement that Pope John Paul II will be beatified May 1 brought renewed attention to the late Polish pontiff’s intense prayer life and his almost mystic spirituality.
But the pope also had a playful side.
James Le Gette, a Secret Service agent assigned to help protect the pope during the Holy Father’s first visit to the United States in 1979, caught a glimpse of that playfulness firsthand. The parishioner of St. John in Severna Park was with the pope at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington, Oct. 7.
Joseph Kirk Ryan, former managing editor of The Catholic Review, recounted the story in this snip from a 2005 CR article:
Mr. Le Gette had positioned himself on the landing of a stairway leading down from the floor where the meal for the pope was held.
When he saw the papal party approaching the stairs, Mr. Le Gette looked down the stairs and got on his radio to say, “We’re coming for sure.”
“I turned back to see where he (the pope) was, because I was concerned about a tumble,” Mr. Le Gette said.
That was when the agent saw the pope “hind-saddle coming down the banister.”
“I turned around, grabbed him and he grabbed me.”
“Ho, ho, ho, Secret Service,” Pope John Paul said.
Mr. Le Gette looked at the rest of the papal party coming down the steps the old-fashioned way.
“Everybody is standing there: ‘What is he doing?” he recalled. “It was totally impromptu.”
January 18, 2011 11:52
By George Matysek
December 15, 2010 06:49
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