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
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
Handel's Messiah is always big this time of the year and choirs around the archdiocese are probably working on "For Unto Us a Child is Born" and the "Hallelujah Chorus" for Christmas.
Here's what can happen when the organist accidentally hits the transpose button at a most unfortunate moment.
By the way, Ed Polochick and The Concert of Artists of Baltimore will perform a much better version next Friday at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore. Their performances are outstanding. You won't want to miss it.
November 28, 2010 12:13
By George Matysek