George P. Matysek Jr. has been a member of the Catholic Review staff since 1997, serving as a staff writer, senior staff writer, assistant managing editor and now web editor.

A graduate of Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Essex, George holds a bachelor's degree in history and writing from what is now Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore and a master's degree in history from UMBC.

A winner of more than 50 regional, national and international journalism awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C Press Association, the Catholic Press Association, Associated Church Press and National Right to Life, George has reported from Guyana, Guatemala, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary.

Happily married and living in Rodgers Forge, George is the proud father of two daughters. 

Reach George at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org and follow him on Twitter @ReviewMatysek

 

 

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I have know Sister Anthony and her family all of my life. Like Sr. Anthony, the whole family is truly God loving people. Happy 100 Sr. Anthony and may God continue to bless you. Love you. Pearl

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Happy birthday Sister Anthony from your great niece Lauren. The undated photo is Sr. Anthony with her mother and 9 of her siblings.

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The Narthex

Baltimore sculptor honors Brooksie

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:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF7DVDwO3Cw]

October 26, 2011 04:31
By George Matysek


Baseball cards get nun hooked on national pastime

NPR has a story about nun who’s crazy about Dodger baseball. Sister Vincent Cecire, a 94-year-old Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, has been rooting for the Dodgers ever since they won their first World Series in 1955. It seems that third graders with baseball cards are responsible for getting Sister Vincent excited about the national pastime.
Cecire tells her friend Sister Catherine Garry how she became interested in baseball while teaching third-graders in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1950s.
“The boys would come in with their baseball cards and I’d say, ‘It’s not time for baseball. Now put them on my desk.’ And of course, while I gave them work to do, I would look at the baseball cards,” she says.
Read more here
BTW, I wonder if Sister Vincent held onto any of those baseball cards?  Late last year, the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Baltimore fetched more than $220,000 for a donated Honus Wagner card. Sister Virginia Muller - who grew up rooting for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field - received the donation and called it a "gift of heaven."  You can read about that here in The Catholic Review.

Note: Sorry about the weird formatting on this post. Wordpress is acting up and I can't get it to format properly.

April 10, 2011 08:33
By George Matysek


Oh, oh, oh -- C'mon O-rioles!

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!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33lpnuDI5_o&feature=player_embedded]

April 01, 2011 06:54
By George Matysek


Shock or awe?

Participants in the Maryland March for Life carried yellow balloons with a positive pro-life message. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

Kay Cole of Holy Family in Davidsonville distributes signs before the Maryland March for Life March 14. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

Moments before the Maryland March for Life kicked off March 14, I watched a handful of participants move to the front of the line and unfurl a banner with graphic images of aborted fetuses. It was a sharp contrast to the other images that were in abundance that day - pictures of smiling babies, banners with messages such as "Protect Maryland Women" and bright yellow balloons each stamped with a smiley face surrounded by, "Smile! Your Mom Chose Life."

Someone discreetly told the holders of the graphic banner to step away from the front of the line. They complied, and I don't think they carried their banners the rest of the day. At least, I didn't see them as I marched through the streets of Annapolis.

It's always a big debate in the pro-life community whether graphic messages are appropriate at pro-life events. Some argue that people must see abortion in all its horror for hearts to be changed. Others point out that gruesome images turn people away, preventing them from hearing a positive pro-life message.

The bishops of Alberta, Canada, have decided not to participate in their local March for Life this May precisely because they couldn't be guaranteed the absence of graphic signs. According to a March 15 article posted on the BC Catholic website, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said the presence of images of aborted babies at the march is not consistent with the message the bishops wish to share about the dignity of human life.

“We think a far more effective image, that would be consistent with what we are proclaiming, would be the images of unborn living children," Archbishop Smith said. “That says the same thing and it says it far more beautifully.”

The archbishop was right on track.

Baltimore Raven Matt Birk participates in the Maryland March for Life in Annapolis March 14. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

This year's Maryland March for Life was beautiful. Participants were prayerful and enthusiastic. Baltimore Raven Matt Birk gave a compelling personal testimony on why he embraces the sanctity of life. (Check out The Catholic Review story on Birk here). Pro-life leaders laid out ways participants could work to change Maryland's permissive abortion laws.  A local Christian radio host told the story of how she lived with the pain of having an abortion and how she now works to convince other women to choose life.

Thank God those uplifting messages weren't marred by graphic signs.  Rather than shocking people, let's awe them.

March 16, 2011 06:46
By George Matysek


Anglican priest studies spirituality of snowboarding

Photo/Shanty Creek Resort

An Anglican priest in British Columbia has just earned a doctorate, looking at the spirituality of snowboarding. Rev. Neil Elliot of St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Trail investigated "soulriding" - examining whether there was a spiritual dimension to snowboarding down a mountain. The priest's findings don't bode particularly well for organized religion.

What he learned from his research is that context and location largely determine whether an experience is spiritual. For example, he said, many people describe their experiences with nature as spiritual, but few would use the same term in reference to a night of fun at a club downtown. "It may be the same kind of experience, but they don't frame it as spiritual because of the context."

His research contains bad news and good news for organized religion. "One thing that was very clear in the research that I did is that people didn't see any necessity to include God or any kind of structure in their understanding of spirituality. In fact, a number of people said it's about spirituality; it's not about God.

"That's quite challenging, coming from an institutional church which very much sees God as key in spirituality."

His work also brought him to the conclusion that people want community but they don't want institutions, rules and regulations. Although he insists churches are communities, they are often viewed as inflexible institutions and that's what drives people away.

"We need to help people see that we're a community and not an institution," Elliot said. "Ironically, the challenges that we're facing in terms of finances and congregations are actually helping us to do that, because we haven't got the money to prop up the institutional stuff [any more]."

The Vancouver Sun has more here.

March 05, 2011 07:05
By George Matysek


The Orioles' other Ironman dies at age 86

Baltimore Orioles Photo

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Ernie Tyler, the Orioles' longtime umpire attendant who worked 3,819 consecutive home games at Memorial Stadium and Oriole Park, has died at age 86.

A graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington, Mr. Tyler was a dedicated O's fan from the first moment the baseball team came to Baltimore in 1954. 

Donna Koros Stramella, a former writer with The Catholic Review, profiled Mr. Tyler for the newspaper in 2000.  That story is reprinted below.

The Orioles have more than one Iron Man in their midst.

While Cal Ripken, Jr. recently passed the 2,500 game mark, another member of the organization just one upped him – making the 3,000 consecutive game mark. Ernie Tyler started his streak in 1960 as an umpire attendant, and has worked every game since.

Mr. Tyler’s career with the ball club actually started in 1954 at Memorial Stadium during the Orioles first season. He worked part-time for several years, moving into a full-time usher slot in 1958.

Even battles with serious health concerns haven’t kept him from his work. Over the last decade, he has endured two surgeries – both during the off season. His 1995 operation for liver cancer was performed by Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Keith Lillemoe. The physician went on to treat two other Orioles – current outfielder Eric Davis and former player Boog Powell.

The years have certainly not tarnished Mr. Tyler’s enthusiasm for the game. His only challenge, he said, "is still being able to move fast enough at the tender age of 74." With his proximity to the batters box, the possibility of getting struck by a wayward ball is high.

"It’s important to stay alert at all times," he added.

Although he has been beamed by a ball 4 or 5 times, he has never taken a serious hit.

"I’ve never really gotten a full smack," he maintains. "I can get my hands up pretty quickly."

He’s found another protection over the years – both on and off the field. As he prepared to enter the service at age 17, his mother presented him with a Miraculous Medal – which he still wears to this day.

"It’s protected me in everything," he insisted. "I have a lot of faith in it."

So much faith, in fact, that he has given all of his 11 children and 22 grandchildren Miraculous Medals.

Mr. Tyler admits a long-time passion for sports. A graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School, he played on the same football backfield with former Oriole and recently retired New York Mets general manager Frank Cashen.

Over the years, he has played baseball, softball, basketball and football. He coached Little League teams for some of his children, and he still finds time to play baseball with his grandchildren.

For many years now, the Tyler family has maintained a real presence within the Orioles organization. Seven of his children, as well as his wife of 52 years, Juliane, have worked for the club at one time or another, in jobs ranging from bat boy to ticket office attendant. His son, Jim, currently serves as Orioles clubhouse manager and another son, Fred, as visiting clubhouse manager. Neither have ever missed a game. Fred has another interesting connection to an Oriole player. As a senior at Bel Air High School, his single drove in the winning run to beat an Aberdeen High School pitcher named Cal Ripken, Jr. Both were named as All-Harford County players: Fred as shortstop and Cal as pitcher.

The family’s interest in professional baseball came naturally as the children enjoyed "hanging out" at the stadium with dad, often getting homework assistance from players.

Currently members of St. Ignatius, Hickory, Mr. and Mrs. Tyler named their twin sons after their former parish – Ss. Philip and James. Retired from the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 1988, Mr. Tyler currently finds himself in demand as a speaker (on the subject of longetivity) at nursing homes and schools.

The ultimate diplomat, Mr. Tyler declined to play favorites when it comes to umpires, managers or Orioles. "They’re all my favorites." But when pressed to cite the players he has most enjoyed watching over the years, he produces some familiar names: Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Brady Anderson. And the name of a another well-known member of the organization comes to mind – announcer Rex Barney, who died during last season. "He’d sit with me for two hours before the game," Mr. Tyler remembered. "We’d talk about his no hitter every day."

The Orioles recently paid tribute to their long-time employee on the occasion of his 3,000 consecutive game. A pre-game ceremony and post-game party was attended by a total of 47 Tylers. The organization presented him with two tickets to Paris – a trip tentatively scheduled for late October, early November.

"If we get in the play-offs we won’t be able to go until after the World Series," Mr. Tyler noted.

More than 30 years later, not much has changed from the early days. He still gets to the ball park on time and ready to work.

"If you get there 15 minutes early, you never have to worry about being late," he quipped.

He takes care of the umpires uniforms, equipment and guest tickets (they each get six per game). He covers the new balls with mud from the Delaware River – a silky, sand-free variety that is shipped in barrels to every Major League ball club.

"The new balls are smooth and shiny," he explained. ‘They’re too hard to control."

Five minutes before the game, he takes his position in what has been described as the best seat in the house – a stool located on the field next to the backstop. After the game he spends about 20 minutes with the umpires as they watch controversial plays from the game video. But one constant has changed from his earlier days with the club – the commute. While the Tyler family once lived just two blocks from Memorial Stadium, they later moved to Bel Air, a change that Mr. Tyler describes as a "40 second walk to a 40 minute drive."

Despite the added drive time, he considers himself a fortunate man.

"There’s nothing I don’t like about my job," he insisted. "I’ve been in six World Series and nine play-off series. Everytime I walk out onto the field it’s a great memory. I’m just happy being a part of the whole thing."

 

February 11, 2011 10:35
By George Matysek


Vlad brings big faith with his big bat

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


Super Bowl Sister picks Packers, says 'Big Ben's clock is rung'

Providence Sister Jean Kenny, left, has predicted the outcome of the Super Bowl since 1986. She is pictured in 2008 at Lucas Oil Stadium with Providence Sisters Barbara McClelland, center, and Rita Wade. (Criterion File photo)

Here's some news Baltimore Ravens' fans will love.

Providence Sister Jean Kenny, a nationally known Super Bowl prognosticator, is picking the Green Bay Packers over the Pittsburgh Steelers in this Sunday's big game.

The Chicago nun, who has made late-night talk show appearances on Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien in the past, predicts Super Bowl XLV's final score will be 24-21.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sister Jean is 18-7 in selecting winners since 1986. 

The Catholic schoolteacher's foray into game picks began in 1986 when the Bears made it to the Super Bowl and Sister Jean was one of the winners in a poem-writing contest for a Chicago radio station.

“Monday Night Football heard about it and they brought a camera crew to my classroom,” Sister Jean told The Criterion, official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, in a 2010 interview. “They taped my students reading the poem with me. That’s how it started.”

Here's Sister Jean's poem about this year's pick.  Let's hope she's 19-7 by the end of Sunday's game.  Go Packers!

Prolific Packers Prevail

Welcome frenzied fans to the Lone Star State,

Steel City and Titletown — two storied teams that are great.

Rodgers' air show quickly leads the Pack out of the gate,

Big Ben's clock is rung and he can't stand up straight.

Mike McCarthy's focused TEAM is ready to go,

Raji, "The Freezer," is stocked and he won't be slow.

These resilient Packers smile and say cheese as they beat their foe,

The Lombardi Trophy returns to the Badger State where it will glow.

The "Here We Go Steelers" chant is saved for another year,

No "Seventh Heaven" as the Terrible Towels are soaked with tears.

Greg, Clay and Charles have nothing to fear,

The Green Bay Packers prevail in Texas — this much is clear.

— Sister Jean Kenny, Saint Francis Borgia Parish, Chicago

February 03, 2011 09:43
By George Matysek


Legendary fencing instructor killed by snow plow

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Richard Oles, a well-known 77-year-old Baltimore fencing instructor who once coached at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, was struck and killed by a truck with a snow plow early this morning. The vehicle's driver left the scene of the accident, according to The Sun. 

Just over a year ago, I profiled Mr. Oles for a senior section in The Catholic Review.  He was an unforgettable character - a bit on the gruff side and wholly committed to sharing his love of swordplay.  Below is my 2009 story on Mr. Oles. May he rest in peace.

Expert fencer Richard Oles heads the Tri Weapon Club located in Homeland. (Catholic Review/Owen Sweeney III)

Richard Oles was walking around the campus of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore when his ears picked up precise, metallic clinking sounds emanating from one of the sports practice rooms. Intrigued, the college student peeked inside and was even more amazed by what he saw.

“All I heard was ‘click, click, click,’” the 76-year-old Baltimore native remembered. “It was a lot of guys in white and they were fencing. I didn’t even know college fencing existed.”

Long a fan of Errol Flynn and other swashbucklers from the movies, Oles decided to join the team. It wouldn’t take long before he more than matched the skills of the swordsmen of the silver screen.

Oles won numerous state championships and was a member of the USA Masters’ team that won the World Masters’ Championship in London in 1970. He was the legendary coach of the Hopkins’ fencing team from 1960-2003, renowned for taking men with no fencing background and transforming them into top-notch competitors.

Now retired from Hopkins, the senior fencer doesn’t seem to have slowed down much. He heads the Tri-Weapon Club, the only fencing club in the Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis area designed for boys rather than adults. He also works with adults in the Salle Palasz program.

Sitting in his North Baltimore practice facility, located in the lower level of the Knights of Columbus Hall on Homeland Avenue, Oles relished his role as a coach. Having the opportunity to teach young people to fence is more than giving them sports skills, he said. It’s also about helping them cultivate discipline and character.

“You can take a kid who has never been good at anything and make him into something,” said Oles, who wore a grey T-shirt emblazoned with one word in capital letters: “COACH”

Concentration is the most important skill in fencing, according to Oles, who grew up in St. William of York parish in Baltimore and graduated from Loyola Blakefield in Towson.

“You have to coordinate the hand and feet and brain and do it in such a way so your opponent doesn’t know what you’re doing,” said Oles, a former fencing coach at The John Carroll School in Bel Air. “That requires concentration – which is another thing modern youth lacks.”

Oles specializes in all three of his sport’s weapons: foil, épée and sabre. Each weapon is suited to a different personality, he said. Before a new student picks up any of the weapons, Oles administers a questionnaire to match the personality with the weapon.

The sabre, which a fencer may use to stab and slash to score points, is attractive to an aggressive personality, Oles said. The épée, a dueling sword used to score points by simply touching an opponent’s body, is a more suited to a person who can demonstrate patience. The foil is used to score point by hitting the torso. Students wear protective gear and an electronic device that lights up a scoring bulb when a hit is made.

To be successful in the sport, a person has to “hang with it,” Oles said. Those who have done just that have gone far. The Tri-Weapon Club has produced three national under-16 champions. Three of the top four places in the 1993 U.S. national sabre championship were claimed by club graduates – two of whom fenced on the 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams.

“The kids nowadays have so many things to do, they try it for six weeks or so and quit,” Oles lamented.

Oles has a message for those who think fencing isn’t as demanding as other sports. “Fencing is as hard as football,” Oles said. “It requires tremendous speed, timing and stamina. It’s a tough sport.”

January 27, 2011 02:16
By George Matysek


VIDEO REPORT: John Harbaugh on faith and the Ravens

Two years ago, I profiled Baltimore Ravens' Head Coach John Harbaugh for a feature story in The Catholic Review.  The gracious NFL coach gave me great insights into his Catholic faith, but there was plenty that didn't make it to the printed page.  Below is a video report I put together using portions of the Harbaugh interview  in Owings Mills that have never been reported.   Go Ravens!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIl0ZUKHYmA]

December 19, 2010 07:08
By George Matysek

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