Monthly Archives: October 2011

Baltimore sculptor honors Brooksie

A statue of Brooks Robinson is unveiled Oct. 22 outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Before the new statue of Baltimore’s beloved Brooks Robinson was unveiled last weekend beneath a blast of black, orange and white confetti outside Oriole Park, the bronze behemoth rested in a foundry in Pietrasanta, Italy. Standing right next to the likeness of the Hall of Fame third baseman was a replica of Michelangelo’s David.

Joseph Sheppard, the Baltimore sculptor who crafted the Robinson statue, remembered that a friend noticed the neighboring artwork and made a prescient observation:

“Florence has their David,” the friend said. “Now, Baltimore has their Brooks.”

Baltimore does indeed have its Brooks – a 1,500-pound, nine-foot homage to a man many consider to be the greatest third baseman of all time and one of Charm City’s most beloved adopted citizens.

Sheppard, the man who sculpted the statue of Blessed Pope John Paul II in Baltimore and who painted a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI, called it an honor to be chosen to work on the figure. He examined nearly 100 photos of Robinson in action – choosing to depict Number Five standing at third base with ball in hand, ready to gun down a runner at first. The statue is aligned with the actual third base of Oriole Park, with Robinson facing first.

In recognition of Robinson’s 16 Gold Gloves, a glittering glove of that hue is fitted over the figure’s hand.

Sheppard told me that the baseball statue was “much more difficult” than the statue of Blessed John Paul II because it was so much bigger. By contrast, the papal figure is 850 pounds and stands seven feet tall.

On seeing the statue for the first time after its unveiling, an emotional Robinson declared it “beautiful” and called Sheppard “truly a genius.”

A convert to Catholicism who has supported the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Baltimore charities, Robinson thanked a long string of supporters that included civic leaders, his wife and fans he described as “friends.”

“God has blessed me abundantly,” Robinson said.

And God has blessed us with Brooks.

Check out these photos and excerpts from Robinson’s speech:

Deacon Flamini lived call to service

Deacon Michael Flamini prays at his May 17, 2003 ordination at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (CR File)

When Redemptorist Father Robert Wojtek invited mourners to pray the Our Father at the end of a short prayer service the day before Deacon Michael Flamini was laid to rest, a beautiful cacophony emerged inside Kaczorowski Funeral Home in Dundalk.

About half the congregation prayed in Spanish while the rest spoke the words in English – the ebbs and flows of the familiar prayer’s rhythms interflowing between the two languages.

It was a touching and fitting tribute to a man who gave his life to both communities.

Raised in the East Baltimore neighborhood of Little Italy, Deacon Flamini answered a call to religious life and was ordained to the permanent diaconate May 17, 2003.

Wanting to reach out to the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, he learned Spanish and became a much-loved figure at the bilingual Catholic Community of St. Michael and St. Patrick in Fells Point – the parish he served throughout his ministry until St. Michael closed in July and its parishioners (along with Deacon Flamini) relocated to Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown.

I knew Deacon Flamini for the eight years he was at St. Michael and St. Patrick. At the end of the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass each week, he always stood at the church door greeting every person who passed through. He wouldn’t make an attempt to lock up until everyone who wanted to talk had a chance and until every last laugh from his many jokes had subsided.

In his homily at Deacon Flamini’s Sept. 30 funeral, held at the 62-year-old deacon’s family parish of St. Leo in Little Italy, Father Wojtek recalled how his friend helped in the RCIA program and later taught catechism lessons to First Communicants. Deacon Flamini showed a spirit of welcome to all, no matter their race, age, language or ethnicity.

Father Wojtek, former pastor of St. Michael/St. Patrick and current pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus, recalled Deacon Flamini’s quick wit and sense of humor. Few believed the deacon, the priest said, when Deacon Flamini joked that his girlfriend was Jennifer Lopez.  Once, Father Wojtek remembered, Deacon Flamini asked children if anyone among them had ever considered becoming a priest. After one boy raised his hand, Deacon Flamini informed him that priests are not allowed to get married.

“That’s fine,” the boy replied, “because women always make me late for everything.”

More than any specific task that Deacon Flamini completed, Father Wojtek said, it was his constant presence that made him so beloved.

“He set up for Mass as the deacons did in the early days of the Church,” Father Wojtek said. “He greeted people as they did. As deacons of the early Church knew people by name, he knew people by name and by need.”

During his homilies, which he preached in English and Spanish, Deacon Flamini often encouraged Catholics to love one another. Sometimes he challenged his congregation to be more welcoming to immigrants or to take a stand in defense of the sanctity of life. If he could find a way to incorporate some lessons from his favorite saint, Padre Pio, he would.

“He was a just man,” Father Wojtek said. “He was a part of us precisely because he first belonged to God and sought to serve God to the best of his ability.”

Deacon Flamini, like so many other good people in our church, was unheralded in life. As his good friend, Deacon Richard Novak pointed out, Deacon Flamini “always put other people first” and “never tried to outshine anyone.”

Deacon Flamini’s sudden death when he still had so much to give was a shock. Yet, Father Wojtek reminds us that there is more to life that what is lived on Earth.

“At a time like this,” he said, “Mike himself would be one of the first to remind us not to question, but to console – not to doubt, but to deepen our faith. We are invited to proclaim, ‘Yes, Lord, we believe you are the resurrection. We believe you are the life.’”

Rest in peace, friend.

Forrest Gump of Catholicism began humbly in Baltimore

Archbishop Philip M. Hannan as a seminarian at St. Charles College in Catonsville. (CR/File)

A friend once referred to the late New Orleans Archbishop Philip M. Hannan as the “Forrest Gump of Catholicism.”

Just like the Tom Hanks’ character, Archbishop Hannan always seemed to be at the right place at the right time – making history as much as witnessing it.

Just consider some of the roles the native Washingtonian so ably filled in his 98 years: paratroop chaplain during the Second World War, Catholic newspaper editor, counselor to President John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights and pro-life advocate, attendee of all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council, shepherd to the New Orleans archdiocese and broadcast journalist.

A day before one of the American Church’s greatest figures is laid to rest, it’s good to recall that Archbishop Hannan’s spectacular priesthood began humbly in Baltimore.

Before receiving a master’s degree from The Catholic University of America and studying in Rome for four years, the young Phil Hannan was a student at St. Charles College in Catonsville, a minor seminary for boys considering a call to the religious life.

After his Dec. 8, 1939 ordination in Rome, Archbishop Hannan’s first assignment was as assistant pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore.

In his 2010 memoir, “The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots,” Archbishop Hannan recalled that although he had been the recipient of a “brilliant academic preparation” for the priesthood, he knew little of the practical “soul-to-soul work of helping other human beings walk in the grace of God.”

Baltimore gave him that experience.

One of Archbishop Hannan’s primary duties as assistant pastor was to help take the census and contact parish couples who were married outside the church. In the 1940s, of St. Thomas’s 400 registered families, about a fourth were not in a valid marriage.

One day, Archbishop Hannan recalled in his memoir, a “tall, strongly built” Appalachian man with a “surfeit of missing teeth” knocked on the rectory door. He wanted then-Father Hannan to convince his wife to return to him. The priest visited the woman’s address the next morning, receiving a curt greeting from a woman who said she didn’t know where her mother was.

Archbishop Hannan recalled that he told the woman that her father wanted her mother to return home, adding that he would guarantee that the man would neither bite nor harm her. Another woman suddenly appeared at the head of the stairs, Archbishop Hannan recalled, and asked how Father Hannan could make such a guarantee.

“Because he has lost his teeth,” Father Hannan replied.

Humor won the day and the woman returned to her husband.

“A priest’s most important task is to know the spiritual needs of his parishioners,” Archbishop Hannan wrote in his memoir, “which requires getting out among them. You learn how to be a priest by doing the work of one – most importantly, listening.”

Census-taking ended up being “just the spiritual-engagement short course needed by this rookie,” he said.

While at St. Thomas, Father Hannan’s greatest achievement was launching a pioneering youth ministry. He spearheaded the renovation of an old school building to host dances and other events for area parishes.

The future archbishop organized an inter-parish moonlight cruise for young people, using his own money as a down payment on the boat. The event was the first of many activities of what would become the Council of Catholic Social Clubs, later to be renamed the Catholic Youth Organization. Father Hannan headed the group until he entered the armed services in 1942.

In a 1992 interview with The Catholic Review a few days before the archdiocese celebrated the 50th anniversary of Archbishop Hannan’s historic youth cruise, the archbishop said young people were a priority because he knew they needed a place to gather and grow into responsible, faith-filled adults. He recalled that one of his techniques for attracting crowds was picking the “prettiest girls” to be members of the welcoming committee.

“That way,” he said, “we didn’t have to worry about boys coming. It’s a law of nature.”

Archbishop Hannan said the dances were opportunities for catechesis. He would field questions from young people regarding the doctrines of the church, he said. Archbishop Hannan told The Catholic Review that combining catechesis with attractive activities is the formula for a successful youth group.

“Young people have greater needs today and face bigger challenges because of things like premarital sex and drug use,” he said in the 1992 interview. “There is an even greater need today for outreach to young people. Priests also have to be active in meeting with young people.”

From Baltimore to the world, Archbishop Hannan was a man of great wisdom and vision. Our church has been greatly blessed by his life.

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