Monthly Archives: March 2011

‘The greatest temptation of my life’

Dominican Father Carleton Parker Jones (CR/Owen Sweeney III)

Dominican Father Carleton Parker Jones calls it the “greatest temptation” of his life.

It happened 21 years ago in the library of the Anglican Centre in Rome, where Father Jones was completing research for his doctoral dissertation on Blessed John Henry Newman.

Blessed Newman, an Anglican priest who was received into the Catholic Church in 1845, was one of Father Jones’ greatest heroes. Inspired by Blessed Newman’s writings, Father Jones had followed in the Englishman’s footsteps – leaving the Anglican priesthood to become a Catholic priest in 1982.

Deep in the stacks of the acclaimed library, Father Jones pulled out a first-edition of Blessed Newman’s “On the Development of Christian Faith.” It was the very work that had most inspired Father Jones to become Catholic.

As soon as the Dominican opened the volume, a letter fell from its pages. Father Jones, then a student at Rome’s Angelicum University, stooped down to pick it up. His eyes widened as he read the old letter and realized it was a hand-written, signed note from Blessed Newman to a reviewer who had written some kind words about his book.

No one was watching and no one knew the letter existed.

“I could have simply taken it and put it in my pocket and no one would have known the difference,” remembered Father Jones, now the pastor of Ss. Philip and James in Baltimore. “It’s not that I was looking to sell it and make a lot money. It was just that Newman had become so dear to me that it would have been a wonderful keepsake to have – a kind of relic.”

Father Jones stood still in the library for about a minute staring at the letter and thinking, “shall I or shan’t I?” The temptation was overwhelming.

“I can still feel it now,” the priest remembered. “I can feel the tingling in my spine as I looked at it. I wish I could have seen the expression on my face.”

Honesty triumphed and Father Jones turned the letter over to the librarian. He was rewarded with a gift of 10 books.

“I overcame the temptation by the grace of God,” Father Jones said. “I thought at the time, ‘If I steal this, it undermines all the graces I had received that brought me there.’”

Father Jones said it would have been ironic to steal something of the man who had led him into the church.

“Oh, but I struggled,” he said with a laugh. “I stood there looking at it – coveting it. I went through the whole thing!”

Click here to read about what Father Jones and the Dominicans are up to at Ss. Philip and James.

Dr. Nancy Grasmick’s retirement is a loss for Catholic schools

Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, superintendent of Maryland public schools, meets with Dr. Ronald J. Valenti, former superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in 2006. (CR file photo/Owen Sweeney III)

Today’s announcement that Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick is stepping down as the longtime superintendent of Maryland public schools may well be a loss for Catholic schools as much as it is for public ones.

During her 20-year tenure, Dr. Grasmick has been a consistent ally of the Catholic school system – a rarity in a nation where public and private systems often view one another with suspician.

With her support, Maryland’s private and parochial school athletic associations approved standards of competition for athletics, with the state sanctioning Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association events.

Dr. Grasmick’s department has long administered the state program that provides nonreligious textbooks in nonpublic schools. She also supported a plan that allows teachers in the Catholic school system to process their re-certification requirements through the archdiocesan superintendent’s office.

For the last several years, Dr. Grasmick has served on Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Catholic Schools that has examined ways of strengthening Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick visited Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore in 2006. (CR File/Owen Sweeny III)

I interviewed Dr. Grasmick in 2006 after she spent some time visiting Archbishop Curley High School. She was investigating the Baltimore City school to gain insights that might be applied to the reform of public high schools.

Dr. Grasmick told me that some of her counterparts in other parts of the country react with “pure shock” when they learn of her cooperation with private schools.

“In most states, it’s a very contentious relationship between the public schools and the nonpublic schools,” she said. “There’s no communication and little respect. It’s like a competition.”

The superintendent said she believes that education, whether offered in public or private schools, must benefit all children. 

For the good of education throughout the state, let’s hope Dr. Grasmick’s successor feels the same way.

VIDEO REPORT: Grieving mother wants abortion clinics better regulated in Maryland

At the start of this year’s legislative session in Annapolis, I had a chance to spend some time with a Baltimore woman who is trying to bring some good out of a profound loss. Stephanie White’s 21-year-old daughter, Denise Crowe, died in 2006 after receiving an overdose of anesthesia while undergoing an abortion.

White, who is now raising her grandson, is convinced her daughter would be alive today if the state’s abortion clinics were regulated as ambulatory surgical centers and not merely as doctors’ offices as currently prescribed. She is working closely with the Maryland Catholic Conference to pass a law that would enact tighter regulations.  (Click here to read an in-depth story about White’s ordeal).

As reported in today’s Catholic Review, it looks like White’s legislation is being stalled in the General Assembly. The grieving mother told me she won’t rest until the regulations are changed.  She believes the bill is worthy of support among pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike.  

At a time when South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard just signed a bill instituting a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion (the longest in the country), our representatives can’t even agree to require abortion clinics to enact the most basic emergency procedures and safety requirements. 

Maryland has no waiting period and no parental consent for minors seeking an abortion. Its parental notification law has such a big loophole that a 13-year-old girl can get an abortion without ever telling her mother or father. Maryland is one of just four states that do not collect any abortion statistics and one of 17 states that fund abortion with taxpayer dollars through Medicaid.

As White pointed out during emotional hearings on the regulation of abortion clinics, the bill she supports would not close abortion facilities. It would simply hold them more accountable. No matter your position on abortion, that seems like it’s not asking much.  Is it?

Here’s a video report taken from one of my conversations with White.

Extraordinary sacrifice

NPR has a truly remarkable story of self-sacrifice. 

Valentina Komarov, the widow of Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, kisses a photograph of her dead husband during his official funeral, held in Moscow's Red Square on April 26, 1967. (AFP/Getty Images)

So there’s a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he’s on the phone with Alexsei Kosygin — then a high official of the Soviet Union — who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die.

The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won’t work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.”

This extraordinarily intimate account of the 1967 death of a Russian cosmonaut appears in a new book, Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month. The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venymin Ivanovich Russayev, and previous reporting by Yaroslav Golovanov in Pravda. This version — if it’s true — is beyond shocking.

Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Kamarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space. The two men were close; they socialized, hunted and drank together.

In 1967, both men were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn’t back out because he didn’t want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.

You’ll definitely want to read the rest here.

Shock or awe?

Participants in the Maryland March for Life carried yellow balloons with a positive pro-life message. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

Kay Cole of Holy Family in Davidsonville distributes signs before the Maryland March for Life March 14. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

Moments before the Maryland March for Life kicked off March 14, I watched a handful of participants move to the front of the line and unfurl a banner with graphic images of aborted fetuses. It was a sharp contrast to the other images that were in abundance that day – pictures of smiling babies, banners with messages such as “Protect Maryland Women” and bright yellow balloons each stamped with a smiley face surrounded by, “Smile! Your Mom Chose Life.”

Someone discreetly told the holders of the graphic banner to step away from the front of the line. They complied, and I don’t think they carried their banners the rest of the day. At least, I didn’t see them as I marched through the streets of Annapolis.

It’s always a big debate in the pro-life community whether graphic messages are appropriate at pro-life events. Some argue that people must see abortion in all its horror for hearts to be changed. Others point out that gruesome images turn people away, preventing them from hearing a positive pro-life message.

The bishops of Alberta, Canada, have decided not to participate in their local March for Life this May precisely because they couldn’t be guaranteed the absence of graphic signs. According to a March 15 article posted on the BC Catholic website, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said the presence of images of aborted babies at the march is not consistent with the message the bishops wish to share about the dignity of human life.

“We think a far more effective image, that would be consistent with what we are proclaiming, would be the images of unborn living children,” Archbishop Smith said. “That says the same thing and it says it far more beautifully.”

The archbishop was right on track.

Baltimore Raven Matt Birk participates in the Maryland March for Life in Annapolis March 14. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

This year’s Maryland March for Life was beautiful. Participants were prayerful and enthusiastic. Baltimore Raven Matt Birk gave a compelling personal testimony on why he embraces the sanctity of life. (Check out The Catholic Review story on Birk here). Pro-life leaders laid out ways participants could work to change Maryland’s permissive abortion laws.  A local Christian radio host told the story of how she lived with the pain of having an abortion and how she now works to convince other women to choose life.

Thank God those uplifting messages weren’t marred by graphic signs.  Rather than shocking people, let’s awe them.

Theology on Tap kicks off new session in Fells Point

It’s time once again for young adults to get together for some great faith sharing (and maybe a beer or two) at the Greene Turtle in East Baltimore.

The Fells Point Theology on Tap group (formerly known as “Tap into Your Faith”) begins its next six-week session tonight.

The evening gets going with a ‘Happy Half Hour’ at 7 p.m.  A guest speaker will give a presentation at 7:30 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session and more fellowship and conversation.

Theology on Tap is geared to Catholic young adults (21-40), but older age groups and people of all faiths are welcome!

(In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the coordinators of the Theology on Tap – Fells Point program).

Here’s the lineup:

3/15 – Pete Ascosi, young adult coordinator for ChristLife. “Is God Really Real?”  Pete plans to explore common objections to belief in God. He promises that his talk will entertain and challenge believers and skeptics alike.

3/22 – Dominican Father Carleton Jones, pastor of Ss. Philip and James, Baltimore. “My journey into the Catholic Church from Anglicanism”

3/29 – Therese Wilson-Favors, director of African-American Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. “Under the Impulse of the Holy Spirit”

4/5 – Redemptorist Father Robert Wojtek, pastor of the Catholic Community of St. Michael and St. Patrick, Fells Point. “The Changing Face of the Church: A look at immigration”

4/12 – Rachel Harkins, campus minister, Mount de Sales Academy, Catonsville. “Glamour or Glory? My Experience in Pageantry and in the Real World”

4/19 – Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Topic TBA.

New at The Narthex: Catholic Review RSS & Twitter feeds

You might notice that this page looks a bit different.  In the far right column, you will now find an RSS feed of stories from The Catholic Review, along with a Twitter feed of Catholic Review tweets. 

Pretty much everything you need to stay in the loop!

Carney parish explores Bach’s St. Matthew Passion

“Monumental” is the word often used to describe Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

Written to be performed at Good Friday services, the spiritually haunting work retells the story of Christ’s arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial as presented in St. Matthew’s Gospel. It also incorporates other poetry and chorales. 

Unveiled in 1727 at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, the composition is believed to have been performed only three other times while Bach was alive. The masterpiece was then lost to virtual obscurity until a young composer named Felix Mendelssohn revived it in 1829.

Katherine Scott, a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore who now serves as the very talented music director of St. Isaac Jogues in Carney, will lead a small faith-sharing group over the course of the next few Sundays that will explore the St. Matthew Passion. Participants will listen to and discuss the sacred music, and Scott will provide the full text and translation.

Scott said she plans to look at how Bach uses musical devices to bring out the text’s meaning.

“If you have never heard this work,” she said, “prepare to be floored!”

The discussion group will meet Sundays March 13, 20, 27, and April 3 from  7-8:30 p.m. at St. Isaac Jogues’ Cronin Center, 9215 Old Harford Road.

Get tweeted updates on today’s big vote on same-sex marriage

Today, the Maryland House of Delegates has its final debate on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.  If the delegates vote in favor of the measure, the bill will become law since it has already cleared the Senate and Gov. Martin J. O’Malley has promised to sign it.

Supporters of traditional marriage plan to have a major presence in Annapolis while the delegates do their work. A peaceful prayer vigil is planned at the State House beginning at 10 a.m.  (See story here).

I will be in Annapolis all day covering this critical issue.  I’m going to do some live tweeting as events unfold.  You can follow me at

Calling St. Polycarp

When Marilyn Szewczyk was about to launch a network of pro-life pregnancy centers in Maryland, she turned to St. Polycarp for help. Reasoning that the obscure early Christian martyr didn’t have many people asking for his intercession, Szewczyk figured she’d have easy access to his ear.

Lynn Anne Sukeena, one of Szewczyk’s daughters, told me that her late mom put St. Polycarp to the test before selecting him. When a pro-life lobbying group was looking for office space in Annapolis, Szewczyk prayed to St. Polycarp. Sure enough, a prime spot was located in the State House. That was enough for Szewczyk, who officially named him the patron saint of her outreach network, Pregnancy Center, Inc.

Thirty years later, the network is thriving – as noted in this story in last week’s Catholic Review.

St. Polycarp is apparently more busy than people think.

Barbara Dean, former parish relations manager for The Catholic Review, e-mailed me last week to tell me of her own encounters with the saintly bishop of Smyrna (in what is now Turkey). Ben, her youngest son, decided to take St. Polycarp as his confirmation name. He will receive the sacrament in June at St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park, where Barbara Dean works in the parish office.

When Ben told his mother of his selection, Dean looked at him quizzically and told him to stop making up names.

After discovering from co-workers at St. John that St. Polycarp was indeed real, Dean apologized to her son and read a report he had written on St. Polycarp for his confirmation class.

“I went to daily Mass on his feast day (Feb. 23),” Dean said, “to show my respect to this wonderful saint and ask for forgiveness since I didn’t think he was a real saint at all when my son mentioned his crazy name.”

Dean said St. Polycarp is now constantly popping up in her life.  She recently received an unsolicited mailing at work that contained a plastic tab for a key ring. On one side was an image of Christ on the cross. On the other was a quote from St. Polycarp that read, “If we pray to the Lord to forgive us, we ourselves must be forgiving. We are all under the eyes of the Lord.”

“It is now hanging on my key ring,” Dean said, “and I am finding that St. Polycarp is a very special saint. I wish more people knew about him.”

Time to put St. Polycarp on my list of intercessors.

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