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
- Redemptorist Father John Murray walks outside his residence in Ephrata, Pa. (CR/Clare Becker)
Redemptorist Father John Murray is convinced he's a walking miracle.
After suffering a fall that left him paralyzed from the chest down, the former pastor of St. Mary in Annapolis and St. Wenceslaus in Baltimore began praying for Blessed Francis X. Seelos - a former St. Mary's pastor - to intercede on his behalf. As noted in this upcoming story in The Catholic Review, Father Murray is now walking on his own and will soon receive his first priestly assignment since the 2010 accident.
After spending a morning with Father Murray in preparation for the article, I was struck by how the priest was inspired by his fellow Redemptorists. As he underwent rehabilitation at Stella Maris nursing home in Timonium, the priest lived with infirm and elderly members of his religious order and, at 63, was the youngest priest among them at the St. John Neumann Residence - a wing for retired Redemptorists.
"You are surrounded by your confreres," Father Murray told me. "You get to pray together. You get to eat together. You get to just walk the corridors with them and sit down in our community room - and you get to celebrate Mass."
It was quite different from a former facility in which Father Murray lived after the accident - one in which he could sometimes go a day without seeing another person besides the medical staff, he said.
There were 18 Redemptorists living at Stella Maris with Father Murray, 13 of whom spent most of their priesthood in foreign missions.
"They were in the Dominican Republic and Brazil eating rice and beans down there with no electricity large parts of the day," Father Murray said. "To see how they sacrificed and now, at the age of 85 and 90, they are still going strong - it really touched me."
Five Redemptorists died while Father Murray lived at Stella Maris. He watched his brother priests gather in the room of dying clerics, staying with them and praying with them before and after they died.
"It was just so touching," he remembered.
Father Murray noted that the St. John Neumann Residence could not be more perfectly named. St. John Neumann had been a diocesan priest in New York in the 19th century. He became depressed because he was often alone, Father Murray said. The priest joined the Redemptorists because one of its great charisms is community life.
"John Neuman realized he needed the support of a community," Father Murray. "That was one of the things I most learned since my accident - the importance of community living and how community living for Redemptorists brings new life. It certainly brought me life."
November 22, 2011 09:32
By George Matysek
Todd Whitaker speaks Aug. 22 at the Convocation of Catholic Schools in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)
Do you know how you come across to others? If you do, there's a good chance you are highly effective in your job and other areas of your life. If not, well, you might want to make a few changes.
In an Aug. 22 keynote address to more than 2,000 educators from across the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Todd Whitaker talked about what makes great teachers - and people - different from others. He challenged educators to treat everyone as if they were good -- even the so-called "crummy" kids, teachers or parents.
Whitaker is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University and author of the best-selling, "What Great Teachers do Differently."
Here's an audio clip from his talk, which was delivered at the Baltimore Convention Center. While directed at educators, the message applies to everyone. It's worth a listen. Whitaker is an engaging and funny speaker.
Click here for complete Catholic Review coverage of the convocation.
August 24, 2011 01:12
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 Milton Hipsley holds his rosary at his Mercy Ridge residence in Timonium last year. (CR/Owen Sweeney III)
Father Milton Hipsley's letters started arriving on my desk in the summer of 2009. Very neatly written in all capital letters, the notes always seemed focused on the importance of kindness and of taking time for spiritual reflection. A new message appeared every two weeks or so.
What struck me the most about the correspondence was that I knew the letter writer was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Father Hipsley, a longtime Western Maryland prison chaplain and pastor of St. Mary in Cumberland, had recently moved into Mercy Ridge Retirement Community in Timonium. Wearing a special electronic bracelet so medical staff could monitor his location, the priest who had often visited prisoners was suddenly faced with his own kind of confinement.
To me, the priest's letters were a very tangible demonstration of Father Hipsley's determination to continue his ministry in one of the only ways left to him - through the mail.
George P. Matysek Jr. meets with Father Milton Hipsley and Ann Pugh in 2010. (CR/Owen Sweeney III)
About a year after I received that first letter and a year after Father Hipsley was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I called Ann Pugh and asked her how she would feel about me writing a story about her brother.
Naturally somewhat hesitant about how I would portray her sibling, Ann agreed to my proposal after I assured her that the story would highlight Father Hipsley's ministry of pen and paper. She graciously accompanied me on a visit to Mercy Ridge so I could spend some time with the retired pastor.
The story that resulted from that meeting is one I will always cherish. I was moved by the simple, sincere faith of a man who knew at some level that his mind was leaving him - but who didn't let that stop him. He remained focused on faith and helping others.
Father Hipsley no longer sends me letters. I recently called Ann and her husband, Frank, and they confirmed what I had suspected: the priest's condition has deteriorated in the last year. He no longer speaks of his beloved Cumberland. Sadly, he's even given up writing letters.
"It's taken a toll," Frank told me. "He asked how his brother, Bob, was doing. He gave him last rites last August."
Ann reported that the head nurse at Mercy Ridge believes Father Hipsley has found a sense of peace. He no longer agonizes about not being able to serve his parishioners at St. Mary or the prisoners in Western Maryland.
"He often talked about the letters he got and the letters he wrote," Frank said. "That was an important part of his life - a tiny piece of his ministry that he still had. It filled an important void in his life. I think it's a tribute to him that people still write to him."
The "long goodbye" has been difficult for Ann and Frank, but the parishioners of St. Joseph in Cockeysville believe God must have a purpose in it.
"I guess it's part of God's plan," Frank said. "It gives people like us the privilege of being a caretaker. So, maybe that's part of the plan that we will never understand."
God bless you, Father Hipsley. Thank you for your priesthood and thank you for your courage in allowing me to share your story. Your letters are in a special folder that I keep on my desk. I plan to save them and return to them often.
The story on Father Hipsley was recently awarded first place in the feature category of a journalism competition sponsored by the Maryland, Delaware, DC Press Association. I was fortunate to also win first place in the religion category for a story an a survivor of sexual abuse.
Click here for a full list of all the honors that were awarded to The Catholic Review.
April 26, 2011 01:37
By George Matysek
NPR has a truly remarkable story of self-sacrifice.
Valentina Komarov, the widow of Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, kisses a photograph of her dead husband during his official funeral, held in Moscow's Red Square on April 26, 1967. (AFP/Getty Images)
So there's a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he's on the phone with Alexsei Kosygin — then a high official of the Soviet Union — who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die.
The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won't work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship."
This extraordinarily intimate account of the 1967 death of a Russian cosmonaut appears in a new book, Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month. The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venymin Ivanovich Russayev, and previous reporting by Yaroslav Golovanov in Pravda. This version — if it's true — is beyond shocking.
Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Kamarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space. The two men were close; they socialized, hunted and drank together.
In 1967, both men were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn't back out because he didn't want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.
You'll definitely want to read the rest here
March 18, 2011 08:52
By George Matysek
Sister Cecilia Adorni (Left) dances on her 103rd birthday (credit: CBS 2)
Born into a Polish and Czech family, I've danced plenty of polkas in my life. I'm hoping I'm as good as Sister Cecilia Adorni when I'm 103.
The Connecticut nun just celebrated her 103rd birthday by dancing a lively polka at the nursing home where she still works. CBS New York has the video footage here.
I'd like to say 'Sto Lat!' to Sister Cecilia ("May you live 100 years" in Polish), but it looks like she's more than beat us on that one.
So what’s the secret to living over 100 years? As she celebrated her 103rd birthday, Sister Cecilia Adorni attributed her long life not to a healthy diet or clean living, but rather to attitude.
“I think that’s one of the best things in life is to be happy and to be cheerful, and people see you being happy and cheerful, and they become happy and cheerful,” she said.
Her birthday party was held at a nursing home in Hamden, where she still works nearly five hours a day. Of course on that day, she showed what positive attitude is all about, by dancing the polka.
February 26, 2011 08:52
By George Matysek
A touching story from The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington.
Lying in a hospital bed, his heart failing, Allan Wood met a priest.
The two were sharing a room at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center when Wood discerned the priest’s Dutch accent. They struck up a conversation, and soon these two men, ages 89 and 88, uncovered a shared experience from decades ago that molded their lives.
They had never met until their chance encounter in the hospital last Nov. 11 – Veterans Day. But they spoke intimately of Sept. 17, 1944, in Nijmegen, one of Holland’s oldest cities.
Wood was among more than 40,000 U.S. Army soldiers who boarded a fleet of C-47 airplanes in England, flew several hundred miles on a crisp clear day, and parachuted into a daring military plan drawn up to liberate the Dutch, outflank the enemy and seize the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany.
The priest, Arnold Schoffelmeer, was a seminary student at the time. He lived quietly, sometimes hiding to avoid being conscripted into the occupying German army or sent to labor camps.
The two elderly men shared their memories of those momentous days. Wood told of his jump and tough mission. Schoffelmeer, who struggles to speak, recalled the joy of liberation and street celebrations. And he offered thanks.
“You saved my town. You saved my life,” Schoffelmeer told Wood as he held his hand tight.
The meeting has been cathartic for Wood, who received the Bronze Star for combat valor and a Purple Heart. He has struggled all his life with his memories and role in the war.
“I really wept. It was such a powerful statement from him, and to think I had a part in that was just unreal,” he said.
“He lived in that city and he saw our chutes opening and us coming down.”
Holland would be Wood’s first jump, and he steeled himself for battle.
He had missed parachuting into Normandy three months earlier. Commanders had sent him to cadet training in Vermont instead.
He felt guilty about missing the invasion of France where his unit, like so many others, took heavy casualties.
With 80 pounds of guns, grenades, bullets and extra gear strapped to his body, he drifted into the Dutch countryside as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Inside the city, the drone of hundreds of airplanes brought townspeople to their windows and into the streets. Among them was Schoffelmeer, who gazed into the sky as the paratroopers descended “like angels.” They represented freedom to the Dutch, who had lived under Nazi occupation for five years.
“We were so happy,” Schoffelmeer, a Spokane priest for decades, told close friends who are supervising his care in a North Side nursing home. “We wanted to be saved. To be free.”
Much more here
. Be sure to check out the video.
February 20, 2011 09:28
By George Matysek
Sargent Shriver is shown in a Life photograph. The former vice presidential candidate was the godson of Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons.
This week's cover story in The Catholic Review spotlights a mother and daughter who are planning to jump into the icy Chesapeake Bay at the end of the month to raise money for the Special Olympics.
Was it mere coincidence that the story went to press the same day R. Sargent Shriver, longtime Special Olympics advocate and the last pro-life Democrat nominated to a presidential ticket, died at age 95?
Son of Carroll County
Born in Westminster, Md., on Nov. 9, 1915, Shriver was baptised by legendary Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons, a family friend who served as Shriver's godfather. The internationally-known prelate was a frequent guest at the Shriver homestead in Union Mills, and his young godson often served as an altar boy when the cardinal celebrated private Masses in the family chapel.
The Shrivers owned the B.F. Shriver Company, a canning corporation with about half a dozen factories in Carroll County. Young Sargent attended St. John School in Westminster for grades one through three. After his family moved to Baltimore in 1923 when his father took a banking job, Shriver transferred to the "old" Cathedral School in Baltimore for grades four through seven. He later went to the Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn.
Lifting up people at home and abroad
In a 1994 interview with The Catholic Review, Shriver reminisced about how service was imbedded in his genes. He served in the Kennedy administration as the director of the Peace Corps. In the Johnson administration, Shriver started Headstart and numerous other social service programs as the top general in the "War on Poverty."
Shriver later served as President Johnson's ambassador to France when French President Charles de Gaulle was asserting his nation's independence and "making it a tense time" for Franco-American relations, Shriver said.
It was during that time when Ambassador Shriver and his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, began a program benefiting French children with disabilities.
"Eunice rolled up the rugs of the embassy and had handicapped children in playing games," Shriver said.
The former ambassador recalled that President de Gaulle's wife, Yvonne, requested a meeting with Mrs. Shriver after learning of the program. Unknown to the Shrivers, the de Gaulles had a daughter with Down Syndrome.
"If we had been briefed by the CIA," Shriver said, "we couldn't have touched a more sensitive spot in a good way."
With the support of her husband, Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968. Sargent Shriver would go on to work as chairman of the board emeritus for the Special Olympics and president of the Special Olympics Movement from 1984 - 1996. He also served the Special Olympics as chairman of the board of directors from 1990 - 2003.
Champion of the Sanctity of Life
After returning to the United States in 1970, Shriver was tapped to be Sen. George McGovern's vice presidential running mate in the 1972 contest with President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland. The McGovern-Shriver ticket lost in a landslide.
A daily Mass communicant and dedicated pro-life supporter, Shriver ran for president himself in the 1976 campaign at a time when some newspapers reported that he was against a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion. It's a charge Shriver denied in his 1994 Catholic Review interview.
“I am not against a constitutional amendment on abortion,” said Shriver. He added, however, that he didn’t think an amendment had a chance of passing.
“In a secular society,” he said, “secular laws are not exactly the same as the moral laws. In this society with a wide variety of religions, it’s unlikely that our secular laws will ever be in full agreement.”
Shriver and his wife campaigned against Maryland’s permissive abortion laws in 1992. They spoke at a pro-life rally at the Turf Valley Hotel and Country Club in Howard County as voters were considering a referendum on the issue. That same year, a presidential election year, he joined his wife and other pro-life Democrats in signing a full-page New York Times political advertisement titled, "A New Compact of Care: Caring about Women, Caring for the Unborn.”
Shriver never forgot his Maryland ties. He and his wife gave a life-size portrait of Cardinal James Gibbons to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1989. The painting had been in their private collection for years.
Although Shriver will be buried next to his wife in Massachusetts, it seems he had at one time longed for a different option. In his Catholic Review interview, Shriver spoke of returning to his beloved Carroll County. He recalled visiting old Westminster friends like Eddie Weant, a lawyer who lived in the same house where he had been born.
"I had kicked around the world, been everywhere, seen everybody, done everything," Shriver said. "Was I any better than Eddie? Did I know anything about life or people he didn't know? Was Willis Street any less interesting than Fifth Avenue, New York? I'm not sure."
"All I do know is that Eddie and Sally have lived a full and rewarding life and almost all the values they rely upon are the same ones I learned here," Shriver added. "No wonder I long ago bought a burial plot in St. John's Cemetery where I hope (to be buried) one day. Then I'll be back in Westminster where I belong - for good."
January 22, 2011 01:06
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