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
December 29, 2010 03:26
By George Matysek
The Jan. 6 issue of The Catholic Review will feature a vocations story about an enrollment boom at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitburg. The nation's second-oldest Catholic seminary is putting up some impressive numbers and producing priests known for their passion and commitment to the church. Look for the story next month. In the meantime, check out this companion video report:
December 28, 2010 07:05
By George Matysek
Even in a difficult economy, parishioners of St. Mary in Hagerstown are stepping up to support their church.
One year after their pastor, Father J. Collin Poston, spoke at all the weekend Masses about the real need for increased giving, donations spiked dramatically. The parish recently reported that for the 11 months ended Oct. 31, St. Mary's offertory was $598,898, compared to $495,411 for the same 11 months of the prior year -- an increase of 20.9 percent! That's even more generous than what the Washington County parishioners promised to donate a year ago when Father Poston asked them to complete commitment pledges.
Kudos to the good people of St. Mary. They're just one more example of the big-hearted spirit of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore
For more on St. Mary, check out a recent parish profile in The Catholic Review by Jennifer Williams.
November 27, 2010 08:30
By George Matysek
CR photo/Owen Sweeney III
The leader of the Premier See has a Thanksgiving Day message for his flock:
With gratitude to our Heavenly Father, we give thanks this day for the many blessings He bestows on us, among them:
The blessing of family: inspired of the Holy Family of Jesus, we embrace the sacred institute of marriage and the blessings of children, which God grants to husbands and wives as a symbol of their love and disciples to carry the Good News of His love to all nations;
The blessing of love: in the example of Jesus, we show charity to our neighbor, friend and stranger alike, with special attention to those who are marginalized and who suffer due to poverty, hunger, violence or drugs. To these, ours is the face of Jesus. May we always reflect His love and charity; and
The blessing of faith: it is the underpinning of all we are and all we do. Unwavering in our faith in God, the Church —through its priests and dedicate laity--share this gift through the work of its parishes, schools and charitable institutions.
On this Thanksgiving Day and throughout the year, may we be mindful of our many blessings from God, and seek others with whom to share them.
November 25, 2010 02:05
By George Matysek
There's a great group of Catholic young adults that meets every Tuesday night at the Greene Turtle in Fells Point as part of the six-week Tap into Your Faith speakers series.
Tonight's speaker is Philip Rosensteel, founder of Wired Different Media, Inc. and a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville. He'll give a personal testimony on mercy.
Lots of other great speakers are coming up.
Vicki & Syl Schieber, whose daughter was raped and murdered, will speak next Tuesday on forgiveness. They will also share their opposition to the death penalty.
Baltimore City Fire Chief James S. Clack will appear Dec. 14, talking about his journey into the Catholic faith, life-and-death experiences in the field and his role as a deacon at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown.
The TAP events get started with a "happy half hour" at 7 p.m., followed by a talk at 7:30 p.m.
Check out the TAP Facebook page.
November 23, 2010 03:22
By George Matysek
A narthex is the main gathering area or lobby of a church. It’s where conversation takes place, bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds.
That’s what this blog aspires to be — a spot where you can join a conversation about news and happenings related to the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Catholic world at large.
Stay with The Narthex for inspirational posts about people who live their faith every day. You'll also get a frontline perspective on archdiocesan news you won't find anywhere else.
I have to give a shout out to Matt Palmer, my good friend and colleague at The Catholic Review. He came up with the name for this blog. It's the perfect fit for what I hope to accomplish here. I hope this blog will be as fun as it is informational.
Let's get going.
November 23, 2010 02:25
By George Matysek