Monthly Archives: April 2011

Letters that made a difference

Father Milton Hipsley holds his rosary at his Mercy Ridge residence in Timonium last year. (CR/Owen Sweeney III)

Father Milton Hipsley’s letters started arriving on my desk in the summer of 2009. Very neatly written in all capital letters, the notes always seemed focused on the importance of kindness and of taking time for spiritual reflection. A new message appeared every two weeks or so.

What struck me the most about the correspondence was that I knew the letter writer was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Father Hipsley, a longtime Western Maryland prison chaplain and pastor of St. Mary in Cumberland, had recently moved into Mercy Ridge Retirement Community in Timonium. Wearing a special electronic bracelet so medical staff could monitor his location, the priest who had often visited prisoners was suddenly faced with his own kind of confinement.

To me, the priest’s letters were a very tangible demonstration of Father Hipsley’s determination to continue his ministry in one of the only ways left to him – through the mail.

George P. Matysek Jr. meets with Father Milton Hipsley and Ann Pugh in 2010. (CR/Owen Sweeney III)

About a year after I received that first letter and a year after Father Hipsley was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I called Ann Pugh and asked her how she would feel about me writing a story about her brother.

Naturally somewhat hesitant about how I would portray her sibling, Ann agreed to my proposal after I assured her that the story would highlight Father Hipsley’s ministry of pen and paper. She graciously accompanied me on a visit to Mercy Ridge so I could spend some time with the retired pastor.

The story that resulted from that meeting is one I will always cherish. I was moved by the simple, sincere faith of a man who knew at some level that his mind was leaving him – but who didn’t let that stop him. He remained focused on faith and helping others.

Father Hipsley no longer sends me letters. I recently called Ann and her husband, Frank, and they confirmed what I had suspected: the priest’s condition has deteriorated in the last year. He no longer speaks of his beloved Cumberland. Sadly, he’s even given up writing letters.

“It’s taken a toll,” Frank told me. “He asked how his brother, Bob, was doing. He gave him last rites last August.”

Ann reported that the head nurse at Mercy Ridge believes Father Hipsley has found a sense of peace. He no longer agonizes about not being able to serve his parishioners at St. Mary or the prisoners in Western Maryland.

“He often talked about the letters he got and the letters he wrote,” Frank said. “That was an important part of his life – a tiny piece of his ministry that he still had. It filled an important void in his life. I think it’s a tribute to him that people still write to him.”

The “long goodbye” has been difficult for Ann and Frank, but the parishioners of St. Joseph in Cockeysville believe God must have a purpose in it.

“I guess it’s part of God’s plan,” Frank said. “It gives people like us the privilege of being a caretaker. So, maybe that’s part of the plan that we will never understand.”

God bless you, Father Hipsley. Thank you for your priesthood and thank you for your courage in allowing me to share your story.  Your letters are in a special folder that I keep on my desk. I plan to save them and return to them often.

The story on Father Hipsley was recently awarded first place in the feature category of a journalism competition sponsored by the Maryland, Delaware, DC Press Association. I was fortunate to also win first place in the religion category for a story an a survivor of sexual abuse

Click here for a full list of all the honors that were awarded to The Catholic Review.

What’s your favorite Easter hymn?

Christmas carols certainly seem to get a lot more attention, but there are plenty of terrific Easter hymns out there.  Here are some of my favorites.  Which ones do you like?

Jesus Christ is Risen Today

Ye Sons and Daughters/Filii et Filiae

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Come Christians, Join to Sing

Now the Green Blade Riseth

What if the pope was overwhelmed by his job?

A film about a newly elected pope overwhelmed by his responsibilies is a hit in Italy, but drawing a mixed response from Catholic leaders.

The Associated Press has the story:

Director Nanni Moretti’s movie about a panic-stricken pope who can’t cope with the enormity of his task is a hit across Italy. Within the Catholic Church, the film has drawn some criticism, though not the anathema that “The Da Vinci Code” has incurred, and even a little praise.

“Habemus Papam” — Latin for “We Have a Pope,” the expression with which the election of a pontiff is announced to the world — opened April 15 to a strong showing at the Italian box office. The movie will be shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival next month.

Avvenire, the influential newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference, printed a letter by a Vatican expert last week calling for a boycott of the movie, saying “hands off the pope” and asking readers “Why should we finance those who offend our religion?”

But no such call has come from Vatican officials. And Avvenire itself said in its own review that the film is well-made and clever, though it faults Moretti for representing “the death of an old and confused church” and missing the crucial point of the church’s faith and communion with Christ.

Some Catholic commentators praised Moretti for offering a humane portrayal of a troubled pope, played by the 85-year-old French actor Michel Piccoli.

“There’s no sarcasm, no caricature,” wrote Vatican Radio.

The movie opens with scenes of a papal funeral — including footage from the real funeral of John Paul II in 2005 — and subsequent conclave. Upon his election as pontiff, the cardinal played by Piccoli panics, shouting desperately and running away as soon as the words “Habemus Papam” are pronounced from a St. Peter’s balcony to an awaiting crowd.

“A quality is seen in me which I don’t possess,” the pope tells a psychoanalyst, played by Moretti, who is brought inside the Vatican to help the paralyzed pontiff. “I can’t do it!” he screams at another point, under mounting pressure. Before long, the pope, whose identity is not yet public, escapes the Vatican and starts roaming the streets of Rome looking for answers.

Much more here.

The two William Donalds

In this undated file photo, Archbishop William Donald Borders meets with Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer at the Inner Harbor. (CR/File)

Is is mere coincidence that William Donald Schaefer – the legendary Baltimore City councilman, mayor, Maryland governor and comptroller – died almost exactly one year after Archbishop William Donald Borders?

The two namesakes were good friends and consulted with one another on important matters related to making the city and state a better place.
In personality, they couldn’t be more different. The mayor was a grand showman who famously wore funny hats and took a dip in the seal pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  Impatient and impulsive, Baltimore’s greatest champion lived by the slogan: “Do it now!”
Archbishop Borders, on the other hand, was a mild-mannered priest who always seemed to wear a warm smile. His leadership style was all about listening and cultivating a sense of collegiality. He was just as strong as Schaefer, but prefered to avoid calling attention to himself.
In 2008, I asked Archbishop Borders about his relationship with the fiery Baltimore mayor.
“When I was appointed to Baltimore, the second person I heard from after Cardinal (Lawrence) Shehan was Schaefer – in a telegram,” Archbishop Borders told me. “It said: ‘Welcome to Baltimore. We William Donalds will have to stick together.’”
Today is the first anniversary of Archbishop Borders’ death.  You can learn about Archbishop Borders’ legacy by reading The Catholic Review’s coverage of his passing.
For more on what Schaefer meant to the Catholic community – both positively and negatively – read this story that just went up on The Catholic Review website. 
May the two great William Donalds rest in peace.

VIDEO REPORT: Baltimore remembers the first bloodshed of the Civil War

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:

How your tax dollars are really spent

Ever wonder how your federal tax dollars are really spent?

Third Way, a Washington think tank, has come up with a “Federal Tax Receipt Calculator” to help taxpayers discover where their money goes – right down to the last penny.

It’s an absolutely fascinating idea. You simply enter your federal tax bill and an instant “receipt” is produced with a line-by-line accounting of your tax dollars.

It shatters some myths about all our money going to other countries for foreign aid.  It also will open your eyes to how much is going to military operations and how little to other areas.

Suppose you paid $4,000 in federal taxes this year. Here are some of the interesting results:

* 20.4% or $817.98 went to Social Security

* 20.2% or $806.86 went to defense spending, including $188.25 for Iraq and Afghanistan operations

* 2.9% or $115.86 went to education, including $58.73 for elementary and secondary school education

* 1.0% or $39.62 went to environment protection and natural resources

* 0.7% or $29.66 went to space and science

* 0.6% or $22.65 went to foreign aid

* 0.2% or $9.43 went to support Native Americans

* 0.1% or $2.93 went to arts and culture, including $1.07 for the Smithsonian Institutions and 5 cents for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

A day after taxes were due, check out the calculator here.  You’ll be amazed at the results.



Transgendered teacher takes on Catholic school district

Further evidence that we live in unusual times: A Catholic school district in Canada is in trouble for firing a transgendered teacher who intends to ‘transition’ from female to male.

Jan Buterman (CBC Photo)

A transgendered teacher fired by a Catholic school district is rejecting a settlement offer because it would require him to keep quiet and drop a human rights complaint.

Jan Buterman says he will proceed with his complaint against Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, which wrote him a letter in 2008 praising his abilities but dismissing him for not being aligned with the values of the Catholic Church.

Buterman, who was a substitute teacher in St. Albert, just north of Edmonton, says the publicly funded school district can’t buy his silence with an offer of $78,000 cash or a one-year teaching job.

“I don’t want to be muzzled,” says Buterman, who has worked as a teacher elsewhere since he was fired. “They don’t want me to talk about the fact that they, as an employer, claiming authority from the Catholic Church, have discriminated against me because of my medical status as a transsexual person.”

Buterman says he expects the Catholic school board will ask the Alberta Human Rights Commission to dismiss his complaint. The commission has the right by law not to send a case to a hearing if a “fair and reasonable settlement” is offered.

David Keohane, superintendent of the Catholic school district, says the board has been working with the human rights commission to try to ensure the offer is seen as fair and reasonable.

Full story here.

Baseball cards get nun hooked on national pastime

NPR has a story about nun who’s crazy about Dodger baseball. Sister Vincent Cecire, a 94-year-old Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, has been rooting for the Dodgers ever since they won their first World Series in 1955. It seems that third graders with baseball cards are responsible for getting Sister Vincent excited about the national pastime.
Cecire tells her friend Sister Catherine Garry how she became interested in baseball while teaching third-graders in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1950s.
“The boys would come in with their baseball cards and I’d say, ‘It’s not time for baseball. Now put them on my desk.’ And of course, while I gave them work to do, I would look at the baseball cards,” she says.
Read more here

BTW, I wonder if Sister Vincent held onto any of those baseball cards?  Late last year, the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Baltimore fetched more than $220,000 for a donated Honus Wagner card. Sister Virginia Muller – who grew up rooting for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field – received the donation and called it a “gift of heaven.”  You can read about that here in The Catholic Review.

Note: Sorry about the weird formatting on this post. WordPress is acting up and I can’t get it to format properly.

Spring is here!

You know it’s spring in Baltimore when the buds are blooming on the trees outside The Catholic Review!

Trees bloom outside The Catholic Review building in Baltimore April 6. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Crane is behind bars, again

A longtime Baltimore peace activist who has already served five years in prison for anti-nuclear peace protests across the country is now spending even more time behind bars.

Susan Crane, a 67-year-old resident of Jonah House in West Baltimore, was sentenced to 15 months in prison March 28 for breaking into a U.S. Navy nuclear weapons depot in Washington state as part of a “peace action” with the “Disarm Now Ploughshares” group.

Four others also received jail time for assisting in the action, but only one – a Catholic priest – was sentenced to a term as long as Crane’s.

On All Souls Day in 2009, Crane worked with two Jesuit priests, a Sacred Heart Sister and another lay woman, to break into the naval facility. They sprinkled 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.

Late last year, I spoke with Crane about her actions and possible prison sentence. She expressed no remorse for what she did, but hoped it would raise awareness about the devastation that can be caused by nuclear weaponry. (You can read the story here and a related blog here).

During the trial, Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson, described the protest as a form of “civil disobedience.” According to a report from protest supporters, Clark said: “Their consciences tell them they have to do it. God will bless them for it and the courts of the United States should too.”

Prior to her sentencing, Crane appeared on a radio program with Jesuit Father Bill “Bix” Bichsel, who was sentenced to three months in prison and six months of electronic home monitoring for assisting in the action.  Check it out below.

What do you think? Is Crane a naive idealist who is getting what she deserves for breaking the law? Or is she a peace prophet for our times? Share your thoughts below.

%d bloggers like this: