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
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
Major news out of Baltimore. A federal court just struck down a Baltimore law that required the posting of specific signs at pro-life pregnancy centers .
Here's a clip from a story I just finished for The Catholic Review:
U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled Jan. 28 in Baltimore that it is unconstitutional to require pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs with language mandated by the government.
The ruling was a major victory for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which had challenged a Baltimore City law passed in 2009 requiring the posting of signs at pro-life pregnancy centers stating that they do not provide abortion and birth control.
The archdiocese argued that such signs were a violation of First Amendment rights and that the law unfairly targeted pro-life pregnancy centers while no such signs were required of pro-choice centers indicating which services they don’t provide.
“The Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable,” Judge Garbis wrote. “Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ it is for the provider – not the government – to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods.”
Judge Garbis said the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, “require a ‘pro life’ pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.”
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, who had actively campaigned against the law when it was being considered by the Baltimore City Council, called the ruling a “clear victory both for pregnant women in need of assistance and for First Amendment principles we treasure in a free society.”
In a written statement following the ruling, the archbishop said crisis pregnancy centers were an “integral part” of the archdiocese's efforts to help women looking for help carrying their babies to term.
“In Baltimore, these centers assist thousands of women every year who are trying to embrace the gift of life in their unborn children,” Archbishop O'Brien said. “And this ruling allows the important and compassionate work of these pro-life pregnancy centers to continue without interference from Baltimore City which sought to target these centers because they are pro-life.”
The archbishop added that “The ruling also upholds the constitutional rights under the First Amendment that protect private citizens such as those who work and volunteer in pregnancy centers from having to convey a government-mandated message.”
David W. Kinkopf, an attorney with Gallagher, Evelius and Jones who represented Archbishop O'Brien at an Aug. 4 hearing in Baltimore on the issue, said the ruling was a “great victory” for pro-life pregnancy centers and the Freedom of Speech.
Kinkopf noted that the ruling holds that because the city was regulating “core-protected speech” and not merely “commercial speech,” there was heightened scrutiny under the First Amendment.
“We think the judge got it right when he basically said there's no place for the government to single specific speakers out for unfair speech regulation,” Kinkopf said. “The kind of speech these pregnancy centers are engaged in is not commercial speech -it's deeply personal, moral and very important speech that deserves the full protection of the First Amendment.”
to read the rest. The Catholic Review will have much more on this story.
January 28, 2011 07:41
By George Matysek
This story just broke in Baltimore. I'm working on it now, but here's a quick snip from a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis.
The judge ruled today that it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL to require pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs with language mandated by the government. The Archdiocese of Baltimore had challenged a Baltimore City law passed in 2009 that required the posting of such signs.
Stay tuned. Much, much more to come!
The Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable. Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is "pro-life" or "pro-choice," it is for the provider--not the government--to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods. The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a "pro life" pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.
- Marvin J. Garbis, United States District Judge
UPDATED: Here's a link to the complete story
January 28, 2011 05:26
By George Matysek
Mercy Medical Center's impressive new hospital tower in downtown Baltimore is all set to open
tomorrow, Dec. 19. Amid the fanfare, hospital leaders have added a nice Christmas touch that hearkens back to the days when Mercy's "old tower" first opened nearly five decades ago.
Back when the 1963 building was the new kid on the block, Mercy employees placed stencils in the lighted windows of patient rooms -- spelling out "A CHILD IS BORN" on the side of the tower.
If you take a close look near the top of today's $400 million Mary Catherine Bunting Center, you'll see that Mercy has posted the same lighted message.
Very cool idea, Mercy!
Baltimore News-Post Photo/Courtesy Mercy Medical Center
Mercy Medical Center Photo/Kevin Parks
December 18, 2010 08:57
By George Matysek
Haussner's Restaurant, Highlandtown
The pending closure of Obrycki's in Fells Point, a legendary crab house and Baltimore institution, reminds me of the loss of another Baltimore culinary landmark: Haussner's in Highlandtown.
The quirky German restaurant, famous for its endless menu and extensive art collection, closed its doors more than a decade ago. Located within walking distance of several Catholic parishes, Haussner's was THE place to celebrate special occasions in East Baltimore.
My personal favorite entrée was the sauerbraten. For dessert, you could never go wrong with the restaurant's storied strawberry pie.
In an age of cloned chain restaurants, it's sad to see family operations like Haussner's and Obrycki's leave voids in the city.
Below is a piece I did in The Catholic Review when Haussner's closed.
What are your memories of Haussner's, Obrycki's or other favorites?
Whenever Evelyn Jakowski had something to celebrate, there was one place she knew she could go for some fine dining in a pleasant, eclectic atmosphere: Haussner’s in Highlandtown.
For years, the administrative assistant of nearby Holy Redeemer Chapel has marked wedding anniversaries, birthdays and special parish events with a dinner at the legendary German restaurant. Meals there weren’t just pleasure for the palate – sauerbraten, crab cakes, hasenpfeffer and grilled pig knuckle – they were also a feast for the eyes, as diners sat beneath a crammed panoply of portraits and sculptures by artists like Rembrandt, Homer and Millet.
Mrs. Jakowski was looking forward to celebrating the 11th anniversary of her son’s ordination to the diaconate at Haussner’s later this year. But since the restaurant closed its doors Sept. 22, she won’t get that chance. For her and a lot of other neighborhood Catholics, it’s going to be a big loss.
"It was a special place to go," said Mrs. Jakowski. "They made you feel like someone special. They treated you like a guest, not just a patron."
The founders of Haussner’s, William Henry Haussner and Frances Wilke Haussner, always treated priests with extra kindness, Mrs. Jakowski said. When long lines of waiting customers would stretch along Eastern Avenue - as was often the case - the owners would pluck priests out of the crowd and make sure they and their guests were given priority seating.
"The priests at Sacred Heart of Jesus never had cooks on Saturdays at the rectory," remembered Mrs. Jakowski. "So they all used to go to Haussner’s."
Father John Drum, C.Ss.R., associate pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus, was one of those Saturday evening clerical diners.
"I liked the crab cakes and the potato pancakes," he said. "The owners were wonderful people. They provided a pleasing atmosphere with an extensive menu."
Mrs. Haussner probably had a soft spot in her heart for the priests and nuns who were frequent guests at her restaurant because of her own experiences in Germany.
The Bontkirchen native’s mother died when Mrs. Haussner was only 13. She was raised in a 400-year-old convent boarding school, before coming to the United States in 1924. Customers remember one of her favorite life-long expressions: "The Lord gives us everything."
Mr. Haussner died in 1963 and Mrs. Haussner has not been active in the restaurant for the last several years.
Thomas Kuhl, a 91-year-old parishioner of Our Lady of Pompei in Highlandtown, remembers Mrs. Haussner as a "very kind and very intelligent lady." He’s been a customer of Haussner’s ever since the days when the original restaurant was located in the 3300 block of Eastern Avenue in the 1920s.
Every Saturday, after attending a rosary and benediction service at Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mr. Kuhl would walk a few blocks to Haussner’s to get some cakes or coffee rings to bring home to his mother. He has continued to patronize the restaurant over the last several decades, taking his parish priests out to dinner every year after the parish carnival.
Frances Haussner George, the daughter of Haussner’s founders, said she will donate the Haussner’s building to the Baltimore International College as a training center for chefs. All the extensive artwork, valued at more than $8 million, will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York and elsewhere.
"Highlandtown just isn’t going to be the same," said Mrs. Jakowski. "Haussner’s was a classy place."
December 08, 2010 11:59
By George Matysek
No Charm City Christmas is complete without this classic!
December 03, 2010 10:38
By George Matysek
November 24, 2010 10:39
By George Matysek
The surprise election of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan as the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops grabbed most of the headlines at last week's fall bishops' meeting in Baltimore. A close second might be the bishops' two-day conference on exorcism, held just before the Nov. 15-18 general assembly of bishops.
With cinematic images of flying pea-green soup, twisting heads and growling voices firmly fixed in the popular culture, some dismiss the ancient ritual as a medieval superstition. The bishops disagree, contending that - though rare - there are still occasions when exorcisms are necessary.
Check out this take on the topic from Good Morning America.
November 23, 2010 04:17
« Older Entries
By George Matysek