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
There are many parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that strongly support the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville is one of the most passionate. For the 25th year, students from the all-girls school have participated in the march - traveling to the capital in six buses Jan. 24.
Check out the following video report on the school's appearance at the march and be sure to read this week's Catholic Review for full coverage of the March for Life. We feature a compelling story about a Hunt Valley woman who has a very personal experience with abortion.
January 27, 2011 12:17
By George Matysek
The Salt Lake Tribune has a nice piece in the Dec. 11 issue looking at scrupulosity, a psychological disorder that drives sufferers to worry obsessively about sin. Sometimes called the 'doubting disease,' the condition plagues many religious-minded people of all denominations.
Though it has been described for centuries in Catholic literature and afflicted saints such as Ignatius of Loyola, Alphonsus Liguori and Catherine of Siena, as well as reformer Martin Luther, scrupulosity has been recognized in the field of psychology only in recent decades.
A series of books, beginning with The Doubting Disease: Help for Scrupulosity and Religious Compulsions in the mid-1990s, helped raise awareness.
Scrupulosity is not in itself a diagnosis, but falls within the OCD family of anxiety disorders, explains Jonathan S. Abramowitz, a clinical psychologist and researcher in the field at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Unlike the normal person who can reject intrusive thoughts — and everyone has them — people with OCD get tied in knots by their mistaken ways of thinking and behaving, Abramowitz says. They cannot handle ambiguity, which makes it hard for one who is scrupulous to remain a person of faith.
According to the International OCD Foundation, up to 3 million U.S. adults and about 500,000 children suffer from OCD. Of those, 5 percent to 30 percent have scrupulosity, according to one estimate.
Its sources are biological and likely environmental, but Abramowitz believes OCD manifests itself as scrupulosity mostly in those who care a lot about their faith, whether that is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. Conversely, it makes it difficult for the faithful to remain faithful.
A Catholic woman may confess to her priest constantly about intrusive obscene thoughts while gazing on a crucifix, a “sin” she fears is unforgivable, while an Orthodox Jew might worry obsessively that he didn’t keep his milk separate from his meat in accord with kosher law.
“Folks with scrupulosity have a pretty harsh view of God. They see him as looking down with a magnifying glass, waiting for people to screw up so he can blast them with lightning,” Abramowitz says. “That runs counter to what most religions teach.”
There's much more here
December 11, 2010 08:12
By George Matysek
A tapestry at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore commemorates a performance by John Philip Sousa in the 1880s. The concert benefitted a new Baltimore hospital built by the Sisters of Mercy. (Mercy Medical Center Photo/Kevin Parks)
Nuns with a good cause are generally unstoppable.
Consider this fascinating story I learned Dec. 9 while on a media tour of Mercy Medical Center’s new $400 million Mary Catherine Bunting Center in Baltimore.
Back in the 1880s, when the Sisters of Mercy were building a new hospital in Baltimore, someone suggested they book John Philip Sousa and his U.S. Marine Band for a fundraising fair. The famed composer and “master of the march” was the Bono of his day, drawing huge crowds across the country for concerts.
The nuns hatched a plan to travel to Washington, D.C., where they intended to meet President Grover Cleveland and ask his permission for Sousa and his band to appear at the fair.
Sister Mary Borgia Leonard, one of the nuns who traveled to the capital, wrote in a letter that the sisters departed from Calvert Station in Baltimore without a clue as to how they would secure a meeting with the president.
The sisters somehow managed to get into the White House, where Sister Mary Borgia reported that a “liveried brass-buttoned official” informed them that the president was “out riding” and that it would be impossible to see him. Another official later suggested they consult the Secretary of the Navy, helping them set up the meeting.
Sister Mary Borgia wrote that the secretary “listened attentively to our story and responded to our request without the least hesitation."
Sousa performed on the opening night of the Baltimore fair, helping the sisters raise an astounding sum of $20,000 – the equivalent of about $440,000 in today’s dollars.
Sousa once said that “sincere composers believe in God.” Sounds like they also believe in God’s nuns.
December 10, 2010 03:23
By George Matysek
It is said that after German bombers destroyed an English cathedral during the Second World War, dedicated volunteers worked to repair one of the church's broken statues of Christ. Rather than restore the figure's missing hands, the artisans left Christ handless - replacing the artwork's "Come unto Me" inscription with "Christ has no hands but ours."
While the authenticity of that popular story is a matter for debate, the message it conveys is not: Christians are called to be Christ's presence in the world today.
Priests carry out that call in a special way - celebrating Mass, anointing the sick, absolving sins, helping the poor and serving in ways that often go unnoticed and unappreciated.
Stephen Golder Photo
Stephen Golder, a photographer who lives in Georgia, recently completed a powerful project focused solely on the hands of priests.
With the blessing of leaders of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Catholic convert devoted seven months to following priests in northern Georgia, photographing their hands as a project for the recently completed Year for Priests.
Stephen Golder Photo
As you can see from the photos posted in this blog, the results are stunning.
Here's how Golder describes the effort:
Stephen Golder Photo
Photographing these hands, especially focusing in detail on the movements and images of the Eucharist, has left us properly awestruck at the incredible beauty of our faith.
It is our hope that these images will remind the faithful of the enormous gifts our priests bring to us: not only Christ in the Eucharist, but Christ in all they do.
Deacon Greg Kandra, author The Deacon's Bench, was probably the first to call national attention to this innovative effort. He met with the photographer, who convinced the good deacon to allow his own hands to be photographed as well.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote a prayer that seems to fit perfectly with Golder's design:
Christ has no body now on earth , but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now. Amen.
Stephen Golder Photo
December 06, 2010 09:52
By George Matysek
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland's former lieutenant governor, is weighing in on Sarah Palin's new book, "America by Heart."
Townsend, a Catholic, is particularly concerned that the former Alaska governor has criticized President John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. It was in that landmark address that Kennedy asserted that he should be judged by his political views and not his Catholic faith.
Palin argues that Kennedy “essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are.” Instead of embracing faith as a part of what defined him, Palin argues, Kennedy ran from it -- failing to reconcile his private faith with his public role.
In a Dec. 5 opinion piece in The Washington Post, Townsend defends the assassinated president, her uncle. She says Palin's argument "seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office."
A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.
If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate's religious affiliation to be "reconciled." My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.
Kennedy cited Thomas Jefferson to argue that, as part of the American tradition, it was essential to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the political realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care. No one, Kennedy pointed out, asked those who died at the Alamo which church they belonged to.
But Palin insists on evaluating and acting as an authority on candidates' faith. She faults Kennedy for not "telling the country how his faith had enriched him." With that line, she proceeds down a path fraught with danger - precisely the path my uncle warned against when he said that a president's religious views should be "neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office."
Townsend contends that her famous uncle "was courageous in arguing that government funds should not be used in parochial schools, despite the temptation to please his constituents." She argues that although many Catholics would have liked the money, Kennedy "wisely thought that the use of public dollars in places where nuns explicitly proselytized would be unconstitutional."
When Townsend ran unsuccessfully for the governor's office in 2002, my former editor and I had a chance to interview her for a profile in The Catholic Review. Interestingly, back then, although Townsend vehemently opposed vouchers that could help parents choose which schools to send their children, she favored providing public funds to continue a state program that earmarked money for nonreligious textbooks in Catholic and other nonpublic schools.
"It's proved helpful to the citizens of this state, to the children of this state," she said, "and I think when we see programs that help the kids I think we should continue them."
Townsend has often been a lightening rod within the Catholic Church. An incredibly staunch supporter of keeping abortion legal, she has spoken dismissively of American bishops who defend the sanctity of life and who hold politicians accountable, saying they have "lost their way."
In the election issue of The Catholic Review eight years ago, Townsend said she favors "choice" because she believes "women can make the best decision on what they should do with their bodies." Asked twice whether there are any restrictions on abortion -- any at all -- that she would support, she dodged the question by saying repeatedly, "I trust women."
In that interview, Townsend said her call to public service grew out of the Catholic commitment to reaching beyond oneself.
"I was always taught by the nuns to do your duty and to figure out what your talents are and how best to use them," she said. "Part of it is to figure out how you can, as the Bible says, love your neighbor. And I think I've discovered that public life and public service is the best way to use my talent."
What do you think?
Is asking a candidate about his or her faith laying down a religious test for office? Was it fair for us to ask Townsend and other candidates about how their faith shapes their approach to leadership and public life? Is faith such a fundamental part of what defines a person that it makes it fair game in evaluating a candidate? Where do you draw the line?
I really want to hear from you.
December 05, 2010 08:41
By George Matysek
The Redemptorists of the Baltimore Province are making it about as easy as it gets to read snippets of daily Scripture this Advent. Every day, they are sharing a short Bible passage on Twitter, Facebook and their website. Twitter only allows messages of 140 characters or less, so these messages are short and sweet! In this hectic time of year, take a few seconds (really, that's all it takes!) to reflect on the true meaning of the season.
December 04, 2010 10:20
By George Matysek
When you're sending your Christmas cards this year, don't forget the pope.
A website sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications has a link where users can write a Christmas message or share a photo with the Holy Father. The greetings will also be shared at the Pope2You website.
What would you say to the pope this Christmas season?
12/10/2010 - Update: Lots of folks are taking a look at this post! Be sure to visit www.catholicreview.org/matysekblog for similar posts.
December 02, 2010 04:36
By George Matysek
Susan Crane is no stranger to prisons.
The longtime anti-nuclear peace activist, a resident of the Jonah House community in West Baltimore, has already served five years for various peace actions – including a 1999 protest at the Warfield Air National Guard base in Middle River, where she and three others hammered and poured blood on two A-10 Warthog aircraft. The demonstrators tried to raise awareness that the planes had the capacity to fire depleted uranium.
Crane is at it again. One year ago on All Souls’ Day, she used a bolt cutter to rip open chain-link fences at a U.S. Navy nuclear weapons storage depot in Bangor, Wash.
Working with two Jesuit priests, a Sacred Heart Sister and another lay woman, Crane helped sprinkle blood on the property and symbolically hammered on roadways and fences. The Catholic peace activists unfurled a banner that declared Trident missiles to be “illegal” and “immoral.” They also scattered sunflower seeds – the international symbol of nonviolence.
Charged with conspiracy, trespass, destruction of property on a naval installation and depradation of government property, Crane and the others await the start of a Dec. 7 federal trial in Tacoma.
I had a chance to talk with Crane for a story in this week’s Catholic Review. She was as passionate as ever and not in the least bit remorseful for what she did. She knows she’s facing the possibility of a long prison sentence.
No matter what you think of her tactics or position on the issue, I'd encourage you to check out the story and consider her reasoning. She is convinced that her Catholic faith compels her to oppose nuclear weapons.
Here are some questions and answers that didn’t make it into the story:
Matysek: Have you given any thought to what you will do if you have to spend time in prison?
Crane: I’m a special education teacher, so I would probably teach GED classes. The women are very interested in learning. There’s no lack of work to do. I’d try to get a Bible study group going. The conditions in federal prisons aren’t made to encourage people. They are made to degregate people who are considered throw-aways in society.
Matysek: How can you raise awareness about nuclear weapons if you are in prison?
Crane: Certainly, inside the prison, there’s a lot of work that can be done and a lot of listening that can happen. A lot of people have written to me and I’ll be able to write to some of them.
Matysek: Do you have any regrets for the actions you have taken?
Crane: I don’t have regret for going in and saying no to these weapons. I wonder if I can do enough. I do hope other people will think about these weapons and realize how devastating they are. Every president except Johnson has threatened to use weapons against another nation. That’s staggering. We have to stop threatening to use them to get our way.
Matysek: If you had not been stopped and arrested after you entered the naval property, what would you have done?
Crane: Probably put up our banner and symbolically hammer on the bunker. It's a symbolic action, yet it's real. We are saying as clearly as we can we need to disarm these weapons.
December 01, 2010 11:40
By George Matysek
In the nearly 14 years I've covered the State House in Annapolis, I've heard a lot of arguments for and against the death penalty. Proponents often insist the ultimate punishment deters violent crime and exacts justice. Opponents say it's inhumane and unfairly targets minorities.
Few people have provided more powerful personal testimony against the death penalty than Vicki Schieber, the mother of a murder victim whose Catholic faith propels her to forgive.
Vicki and her husband, Syl, will share their story tonight at the Greene Turtle in Fells Point beginning at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Tap into Your Faith series for young adults.
Below are excerpts from a story I wrote a few years ago in The Catholic Review, along with a CR video clip featuring Vicki. The Schiebers will discuss much more at tonight's talk and answer questions. Everyone is welcome.
When police arrested the man who brutally raped and murdered Shannon Schieber in 1998, the Schieber family faced unrelenting pressuring to seek the death penalty.
The district attorney, prosecutors, members of the media and others in Philadelphia assured Shannon’s parents that putting their 23-year-old daughter’s killer to death was the only way to serve justice and bring them “a sense of closure.” Some even implied that failing to pursue the death penalty was a sign they didn’t really love their daughter.
Reflecting back on those heart-wrenching days, Vicki Schieber, Shannon’s mother, said her family was “re-victimized” by the debate surrounding the death penalty. Knowing the Catholic values her daughter embraced, Mrs. Schieber said there was no way she could demand the taking of another life. “The death penalty wasn’t going to honor Shannon’s life and it wasn’t going to bring her back,” said Mrs. Schieber, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., who spoke at a Nov. 7 forum on the death penalty sponsored by the archdiocesan respect life office at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.
“I thought about everything we ever taught Shannon to believe — to turn the other cheek, to show compassion and to be forgiving,” Mrs. Schieber said. “If you have a set of principles and then don’t live by them when you are tested, were they ever your principles to begin with?”
Mrs. Schieber’s request for a sentence of life without parole was ultimately given to Troy Graves, who also pleaded guilty to 13 other sexual assault in two states.
What Shannon would have wanted
Mrs. Schieber said it wasn’t an easy decision. She and her family struggled with tremendous anger that someone would snuff out the life of a daughter she described as the “joy of our lives.”
Shannon was gifted “beyond belief,” according to her mother. At 18 months, she was already reciting the alphabet — forward and backward. By the time she was 3, she was reading at a second-grade level. In school, Shannon earned top grades, serving as president of her high school and president of her freshman class at Duke University, where she graduated in three years with a triple major in mathematics, economics and philosophy.
Shannon was also very committed to social justice. She earned a full scholarship at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia — not with the intent of making boatloads of money for herself, Mrs. Schieber said, but to have a successful career in finance so she could help the poor.
“After her death, Shannon was sitting on my shoulder, telling me, ‘Don’t let him kill all of you, too,” said Mrs. Schieber. “She was telling me to take all that energy and do good with it.”
To pursue the death penalty would have put her on the same footing as the murderer himself by being willing to take a life to satisfy one’s own ends, Mrs. Schieber said.
'No such thing as closure'
It is wrong to suggest that executing people brings a sense of closure, according to Mrs. Schieber. Every time she sees a beautiful young family in church, she is reminded that her daughter will never have the chance to marry and raise a family of her own. Even if the killer were executed, those reminders will persist throughout her life, Mrs. Schieber said.
“There is no such thing as closure when a violent crime rips away someone you love,” she said.
Mrs. Schieber pointed out that the death penalty is a human institution and subject to mistakes. More than 120 people have been exonerated for murders they did not commit, she said. At a practical level, the death penalty is also a waste of money, according to Mrs. Schieber. Sustaining the death penalty infrastructure and appeals process costs millions of dollars per case, she said. “It only costs about $50,000 (annually) to keep my daughter’s murderer in prison,” she said.
As the Maryland General Assembly is expected to debate a bill replacing the death penalty with sentences of life without parole, Mrs. Schieber urged Catholics to sign petitions in support of the effort to help convince lawmakers to support a culture of life.
“All life is sacred,” she said.
November 30, 2010 06:31
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