Monthly Archives: February 2011

103-year-old nun dances the polka

Sister Cecilia Adorni (Left) dances on her 103rd birthday (credit: CBS 2)

Born into a Polish and Czech family, I’ve danced plenty of polkas in my life.  I’m hoping I’m as good as Sister Cecilia Adorni when I’m 103.

The Connecticut nun just celebrated her 103rd birthday by dancing a lively polka at the nursing home where she still works.  CBS New York has the video footage here.

I’d like to say ‘Sto Lat!’ to Sister  Cecilia (“May you live 100 years” in Polish), but it looks like she’s more than beat us on that one.

So what’s the secret to living over 100 years? As she celebrated her 103rd birthday, Sister Cecilia Adorni attributed her long life not to a healthy diet or clean living, but rather to attitude.

“I think that’s one of the best things in life is to be happy and to be cheerful, and people see you being happy and cheerful, and they become happy and cheerful,” she said.

Her birthday party was held at a nursing home in Hamden, where she still works nearly five hours a day. Of course on that day, she showed what positive attitude is all about, by dancing the polka.

First African-American priest takes step toward sainthood

Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest, took a step closer to sainthood this week when Chicago Cardinal Francis George announced that the priest’s sainthood cause has been introduced in the Archdiocese of Chicago. According to an archdiocesan press release, the cardinal will appoint a historical commission to assemble the facts about Father Tolton’s heroic virtues.

Some time after 1889, Father Tolton made a speaking appearance in Baltimore at the invitation of Cardinal James Gibbons. In 1899, Father Tolton celebrated a Mass with Cardinal Gibbons during the Black Catholic Lay Congress in Washington, D.C.

ABC7 in Chicago has more on Father Tolton’s sainthood cause:

The cause for the beatification and canonization of Fr. Augustus Tolton of Illinois is moving forward.

On Thursday, the Archdiocese of Chicago began a process that could lead to sainthood for Father Tolton. At the St. James Chapel at the Quigley Seminary, a prayer service was held and the decrees were signed to examine the priest’s life, virtues and reputation of holiness.

 “A man, a priest, a Christian who somehow survived all of that and remained loyal to his people, a devoted priest,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago and postulator for Fr. Tolton’s cause for sainthood.

“It is significant because the Catholic Church in this moment is recognizing the fact that a man, the descendant of slaves, his life is a testament of holiness, is a testament of perseverance,” said Vanessa White, Catholic Theological Union.

White says they need to show proof that Fr. Tolton was responsible for miracles and it can take years.

Tolton, born the son of slaves in Missouri, studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept him.

More here, including a video.

Marriage can’t get a break

It seems that what’s now known as “traditional marriage” can’t get a break these days.

At the same time Maryland is on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage (see this story about how some local Catholics feel about that), the Obama administration announced today that it has instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act.  The law, which reiterates that marriage is between a man and a woman, was passed 15 years ago by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops isn’t pleased with President Obama’s stance.  Here’s part of a just-released statement from the bishops’ Office of General Counsel:

The principal basis for today’s decision is that the President considers the law a form of impermissible sexual orientation discrimination.

This decision represents an abdication of the responsibility of the Executive Branch to carry out its constitutional obligation to ensure that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed.  It is also a grave affront to the millions of Americans who both reject unjust discrimination and affirm the unique and inestimable value of marriage as between one man and one woman.  Support for actual marriage is not bigotry, but instead an eminently reasonable, common judgment affirming the foundational institution of civil society.  Any suggestion by the government that such a judgment represents “discrimination” is a serious threat to the religious liberty of marriage supporters nationwide.

Dutch priest meets his American liberator from WWII

A touching story from The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington.

Lying in a hospital bed, his heart failing, Allan Wood met a priest.

The two were sharing a room at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center when Wood discerned the priest’s Dutch accent. They struck up a conversation, and soon these two men, ages 89 and 88, uncovered a shared experience from decades ago that molded their lives.

They had never met until their chance encounter in the hospital last Nov. 11 – Veterans Day. But they spoke intimately of Sept. 17, 1944, in Nijmegen, one of Holland’s oldest cities.

Wood was among more than 40,000 U.S. Army soldiers who boarded a fleet of C-47 airplanes in England, flew several hundred miles on a crisp clear day, and parachuted into a daring military plan drawn up to liberate the Dutch, outflank the enemy and seize the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany.

The priest, Arnold Schoffelmeer, was a seminary student at the time. He lived quietly, sometimes hiding to avoid being conscripted into the occupying German army or sent to labor camps.

The two elderly men shared their memories of those momentous days. Wood told of his jump and tough mission. Schoffelmeer, who struggles to speak, recalled the joy of liberation and street celebrations. And he offered thanks.

“You saved my town. You saved my life,” Schoffelmeer told Wood as he held his hand tight.

The meeting has been cathartic for Wood, who received the Bronze Star for combat valor and a Purple Heart. He has struggled all his life with his memories and role in the war.

“I really wept. It was such a powerful statement from him, and to think I had a part in that was just unreal,” he said.

“He lived in that city and he saw our chutes opening and us coming down.”

Holland would be Wood’s first jump, and he steeled himself for battle.

He had missed parachuting into Normandy three months earlier. Commanders had sent him to cadet training in Vermont instead.

He felt guilty about missing the invasion of France where his unit, like so many others, took heavy casualties.

With 80 pounds of guns, grenades, bullets and extra gear strapped to his body, he drifted into the Dutch countryside as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Inside the city, the drone of hundreds of airplanes brought townspeople to their windows and into the streets. Among them was Schoffelmeer, who gazed into the sky as the paratroopers descended “like angels.” They represented freedom to the Dutch, who had lived under Nazi occupation for five years.

“We were so happy,” Schoffelmeer, a Spokane priest for decades, told close friends who are supervising his care in a North Side nursing home. “We wanted to be saved. To be free.”

Much more here.  Be sure to check out the video.

Senate committee sends gay-marriage bill to floor

On a 7-4 vote, the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee agreed to send a bill legalizing same-sex marriage to the Senate floor. The full chamber is expected to debate the measure the week of Feb. 21, with the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) projecting a final vote to take place Feb. 28.

In a written statement released after the Feb. 17 committee vote, the MCC said the measure (Senate Bill 116) would “redefine marriage in our state and drastically alter a social institution that derives from our human nature as men and women.”

The MCC said that although the committee added limited religious exemption amendments, the bill continues to provide no protections for an individual’s religious freedoms, “such as those of a clerk forced to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.”

“More importantly,” the statement said, “our fundamental concern about redefining marriage is for the sake of our whole society, and particularly for children and their elemental desire to know and ideally to be raised and loved by their biological mother and father.”

The MCC said that “stripping marriage of its unique connection to parenthood erases from law the right of a child to a mother and father and ignores an essential question of why government favors marriage between one man and one woman over all other relationships.”

Catholic leaders have taken a strong stance against same-sex marriage and Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien has repeatedly called on Catholic voters to contact their lawmakers on the issue.

An intense debate is expected in the Senate, where the bill is one vote short of approval. There are only a handful of senators who have not stated their position on the issue.

If the measure is approved in the Senate and wins support in the House of Delegates, Gov. Martin J. O’Malley has promised to sign it into law.


Mystery of George Washington’s missing (and recovered) letter to Catholics

Part of a 1790 letter to Catholics written by President George Washington is shown in this photograph. The letter is housed in the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Baltimore)

In honor of President’s Day, tomorrow’s issue of The Catholic Review will feature an article on a very valuable letter housed in the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Written to Catholics of the United States by President George Washington, the March 12, 1790 note was in response to an earlier message sent to the new president by Baltimore Bishop John Carroll on behalf of American Catholics. The bishop had congratulated the new leader on his election and asked him to promote religious freedom.

“I hope ever to see America among the foremost Nations in examples of Justice and Liberality,” Washington wrote in reply.

In researching the historic letter, I was surprised to learn that the precious artifact had gone missing for an unknown period of time early in the 20th century. Neither the current archivist nor her predecessor knew the circumstances of the departure. Not even Father Michael Roach, an esteemed professor of Church history at Mount St. Mary’s University Seminary in Emmitsburg, knew of the mystery.

According to a 1922 biography of Carroll, written by Peter Guilday, the letter had been housed until 1865 in the archives of what then was the Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore. It  was loaned to John Gilmary Shea, a layman, that same year before it was returned  Sept. 7, 1866.

Guilday wrote that the letter went missing in 1908. It’s not clear how long it was gone or when it was returned.

According to a 1916 article in the New York Times, the letter had last been kept in a “fireproof vault beneath the sanctuary of the cathedral.” Archdiocesan leaders realized it had vanished as they were indexing the many thousands of historic documents at the time.

“The envelope which contained it, marked ‘Original Letter of G. Washington to Catholics U. States,’” is in its usual place,” the New York Times reported. “But it is empty. A thorough search is being made, for the loss is a matter of great concern.”

If anyone  knows more about the history of the missing and recovered letter, let me know.  I’d love to be able to unravel the mystery.

Religous habits inspire fashion rage?

(Getty Images) A model walks the runway at the Wayne Fall 2011 fashion week during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Milk Studios on February 10, 2011 in New York City.

Those who care about such things are abuzz that a modern fashion trend seems to be taking cues from some of the world’s oldest forms of clothing – religious habits.  It’s a bit ironic that garb that’s supposed to serve as a reminder of the sacred is being co-opted by the secular.

Forbes has this report:

One of the biggest trends in the first days of New York Fashion Week: hoods. But not just the sensible head covers attached to parkas and other outerwear designed to protect one from the cold. Today’s designers have incorporated them into snug dresses, asymmetrical leather jackets and even catsuits, and they have a distinct clerical vibe.

The first hooded garments appeared on the Wayne runway, where they sometimes recalled monks’ robes or nuns’ habits. (This was no mere coincidence: Designer Wayne Lee was inspired by the religious paintings of Renaissance artist Hans Memling.) The theme continued at the threeASFOUR show, where musicians played slightly menacing atonal music shrouded in Jedi-knight robes, and the models, in hooded bodysuits, suspended parachute dresses and deconstructed pinstripe cloaks, looked as though they belonged to a religious cult (in the best possible way). Even Victoria Beckham channeled the Vatican with her glamorous collection this weekend. In addition to the stunning hooded magenta dress that opened the show, the former Spice Girl had her models sport those snug little caps that Catholic cardinals always wear. Pope Benedict — himself a natty dresser — would be proud.

The religious clergy has intermittently inspired fashion designers for decades. In the 1930s and ’40s the designer Valentina brought monastic chic to the masses, dressing her famous clientele (including Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn) in long-sleeved, severe dresses with peaked caps or snoods. (Valentina liked to say that she thought nuns the most stylish people on earth.)

More here.

Baltimore archbishop remembers his mentor

Hansky Santos Photo/The Hoya

“The priest I am today is largely due to his example.”

That’s how Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien remembered the late New York Cardinal John J. O’Connor during a panel discussion at the 12th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life Jan. 23.

Archbishop O’Brien paid tribute to his mentor’s courage in speaking out for truth and the cardinal’s pastoral sensitivity in serving priests and laity alike.

“To accompany him to the bedside of a priest in the hospital  who was dying was a retreat for me,” said Archbishop O’Brien, a former New York clergyman who served as Cardinal O’Connor’s first priest-secretary.

“He’d speak to the priest about this bed … now (becoming) your altar,” Archbishop O’Brien remembered. “There’s nothing more wasted than wasted suffering.  Christ saved the world not by his miracles, he would say, not by his words but when he was helpless on his cross. That’s when salvation came to us.”

Archbishop O’Brien recalled that Cardinal O’Connor’s first prayer upon waking each day was, “Lord never let me get in the way of someone trying to do good.” 

The archbishop said he would love to see Cardinal O’Connor’s homilies published — especially the ones he preached at ordination liturgies. They captured what the priesthood was all about, Archbishop O’Brien said, and they always ended with the same advice for new priests: “Be kind to the people. Be kind to the people. Be kind to the people.”

“He meant that,” Archbishop O’Brien said, “and he was that in his life.”

Held at Georgetown University one day before the March for Life, the O’Connor Conference on Life also featured Helen Alvaré, professor at George Mason University School of Law; Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life; and Bridgeport Bishop William Lori.

The panel discussion was recently posted online.  Check it out here.

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.”


Heavenly handbells

Want to hear one of the best handbell choirs in the Baltimore area?  Listen to this recently uploaded presentation from the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.  Very impressive.

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