Category Archives: Baltimore

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:


Mayoral candidate might be on to something with voucher proposal

Otis Rolley unveils an education voucher proposal June 13 in Baltimore. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Otis Rolley is trying to shake things up in his bid to succeed Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as the next mayor of Baltimore.

During a June 13 press conference outside public school headquarters on North Avenue, Rolley said he wanted to close the city’s five worst-performing middle schools and give $10,000 education vouchers to the affected students. The vouchers could be used at Catholic and other nonpublic middle schools in Baltimore. (See The Catholic Review story here).

During the news conference, I asked Rolley what he thought about the contributions made by Catholic schools in the city.  I was impressed that the former Baltimore City director of planning viewed Catholic schools as allies – not enemies – in the common goal of educating children.

“When I think of city kids in city schools, it’s public, parochial and independent schools,” he said. “All of these kids are our kids. All of these schools are our schools.”

That’s a sentiment that’s not always popular in some education circles – although Dr. Andres Alonso, current Baltimore public schools CEO, has gained kudos from Catholic school leaders for keeping lines of communication open between the systems and for serving on Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic education.

Rolley’s plan isn’t perfect, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Pamela Sanders, principal of St. Ambrose School in Park Heights, pointed out that it will face stiff opposition from teachers unions and others. Rolley will also have legal issues to overcome in appropriating $25 million from the city schools’ budget for the voucher program.

Ellen Robertson, associate director for education with the Maryland Catholic Conference, said there might be some challenges with the candidate’s requirement that enrolled children maintain a consistent level of achievement to be eligible for vouchers.

“These students are coming from underperforming schools to start with,” said Robertson, who was eager to see more specifics in the Rolley plan. “It might be putting a lot of pressure on them.”

Yet, as both Sanders and Robertson pointed out, it’s a step in the right direction for a candidate to put vouchers squarely on the line for public debate.

“At least people are talking about it,” Sanders said. “Putting the question out there raises awareness.”

Catholic schools in the city have consistently produced students who go on to earn college degrees and become productive citizens. Yet, because of increased expenses and declining enrollment, they have struggled to stay open in recent years. Vouchers could be a way of bolstering Catholic schools, while also improving educational opportunities for kids stuck in underperforming public schools.

It will be interesting to see whether Rolley’s proposal gains any traction. In the coming months, The Catholic Review will followup on the plan and explore where the other candidates stand.

Rolley deserves credit for including Catholic and nonpublic schools in his vision for making Baltimore a better place.

“I know defenders of the status quo will attack me and my ideas,” Rolley said. “My plan provides hope to parents of current students.”


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:


Oh, oh, oh — C’mon O-rioles!

After spending more than a decade in the baseball wilderness, long-suffering fans of the Baltimore Orioles have reason for hope on this Opening Day.

When the O’s take on Tampa tonight in Florida, they’ll do it with a solid lineup stocked with sluggers like Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Luke Scott, Brian Roberts and Mark Reynolds. They’ll have promising pitchers, and – perhaps most importantly, a hard-driving leader in Buck Showalter who proved last year how much he can get out of his players.

In this week’s Catholic Review, my good friend Matt Palmer has a cover story about the high hopes of O’s fans this year. You’ll want to check it out here. Also, a day after the O’s legendary Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson was admitted to the hospital, you might also want to look at this story I did last year on the great third baseman’s Catholic faith and how it helps him with his health challenges.

1997 was the last time the O’s had a winning season, when they went wire-to-wire in the American League East. It’s time the Birds got back in the game. I know this season ticket holder is as about excited as you can get. Let’s go O’s!


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.


Vlad brings big faith with his big bat

2008 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

With the much-anticipated signing of Vladimir Guerrero, the Baltimore Orioles are getting a proven slugger with a reputation for some amazingly freewheeling swings. (Two years ago in Baltimore, the Dominican superstar famously smacked a bloop single against the O’s by connecting on a pitch that bounced in front of the plate).

Yet, there’s something else the long-suffering birds might be getting with their latest signing: a man of deep Christian faith who says he takes his Bible with him everywhere he goes.

Check out these snips from a 2007 Los Angeles Times article when Vlad played for the Angels:

Two hours before taking the field for the game that would give his team the division title, the Angels’ best hitter is sitting on the floor in a tiny room behind home plate at Angel Stadium, a Bible in his lap.

Vladimir Guerrero may fear no pitcher, but he’s a little nervous about God.

“I comfort myself with the Bible,” Guerrero says. “It’s like having my family there.”

In that case, Guerrero is truly blessed on this morning because he has both: the good book and members of his extended family, namely the handful of Spanish-speaking teammates he gathers every Sunday for a short chapel service led by broadcaster Jose Mota.

Today’s reading comes from Galatians 2:20, in which Paul talks about commitment and example. So Mota asks the players to name the person whose example they’ve followed in life.

Guerrero breaks into a wide smile. It’s as if Mota has thrown a batting practice fastball right in his wheelhouse.

“My mother,” he says.

Teammate Erick Aybar says Guerrero is humble, likening him to a second father.

“He’s a good guy,” adds the Dodgers’ Wilson Valdez, who works out with Guerrero in the Dominican each winter. “Everybody likes him.”

Guerrero, who habitually speaks of himself in the third person, believing the pronouns “I” or “me” to be boastful, laughs off such praise.

For Mota, among Guerrero’s closest friends, such modesty is a product of the two most important things in his life: faith and family.

“He’s seen the examples of guys that have not been humbled,” he says. “They move away, they come back and they don’t even relate to the people they grew up with. That’s what Vladdy doesn’t want to do.

“If this ended for Vladdy right now, he’d be out in the fields doing the crops. Happily. If this ended today, Vladdy would be Vladdy. Just somewhere else.”

 Much more here.


Bishop Galeone, Baltimore’s gift to Florida, says farewell

St. Augustine Bishop Victor B. Galeone is shown in his Baltimore days. (Catholic Review file photo)

In the course of more than 13 years writing for The Catholic Review, I’ve interviewed thousands of people. Only one asked to begin with a prayer.

Monsignor Victor B. Galeone had just returned to Maryland in 2000 after leading a two-week archdiocesan mission to Gonaives, Baltimore’s sister diocese in Haiti. Before I could get out my first question, the humble pastor of St. Agnes in Catonsville bowed his head and asked me to join him. After making the Sign of the Cross, he prayed for God to bless the interview. He then called on the Holy Spirit to guide my questions and his answers.

It was a simple, but powerful moment – one I’ve never forgotten.  Although priests and parishioners had often told me of Monsignor Galeone’s holiness, that was the first time I experienced it personally. 

Almost exactly one year after that interview, I had the honor of covering Monsignor Galeone’s episcopal ordination and installation as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida.  Addressing his new flock after his installation, Bishop Galeone said his vision for the future was to “make Jesus better known and loved and imitated as the Lord of our lives.”

It seems Baltimore’s much-loved gift to Florida has fulfilled his mission.

Bishop Galeone submitted his resignation letter to Pope Benedict XVI last year as required by Church law when he turned 75. A farewell Mass was celebrated in November. The Diocese of St. Augustine has posted tributes to the bishop – a spiritual leader unafraid to speak up in defense of human life, in support of marriage and in solidarity with the poor.

Here is Bishop Galeone’s farewell homily, touching on the past, present and future:




Baltimore celebrates a saint

Catholic Review photo/George P. Matysek Jr.

Baltimoreans didn’t let today’s feast of St. John Neumann go by without a special celebration inside the downtown church he once served as pastor.

Following the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the Shrine of St. Alphonsus, dozens of worshippers formed a solemn line Jan. 5 to venerate a relic of the Bohemian-born saint. One by one, they prayerfully touched or kissed a piece of the saint’s bone that was encased in a gold reliquary.

St. John Neumann, a Redemptorist priest and provincial leader for his religious order, served as St. Alphonsus’ pastor from 1849-52.  Pope Paul VI proclaimed him a saint June 19, 1977.

An image of the saint peered out from the church sanctuary, where a one-of-a-kind statue was on display. Designed by Franco Alessandrini and specially commissioned for St. Alphonsus, the newly installed statue shows St. John Neumann vested in his episcopal garb and seated on an ornate wooden chair.

Catholic Review photo/George P. Matysek Jr.

Monsignor Arthur Bastress, current St. Alphonsus pastor, explained that the artwork hearkens back to St. John Neumann’s 1852 consecration at St. Alphonsus as the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia. It seems the chair used in the consecration had been borrowed from the nearby Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After lying prostrate on the church floor, the new bishop was seated by Baltimore Archbishop Francis P. Kenrick.

“We still have that chair,” Monsignor Bastress said with pride. He noted that Alessandrini used that exact chair as a model in designing the new St. John Neumann statue at St. Alphonsus.

In addition to marking St. John Neumann’s feast day, today was also the launch of a yearlong celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth. The saint is well-known for his humility, his promotion of eucharistic adoration, his outreach to immigrants and his support for Catholic schools.

Monsignor Bastress will present a 3 p.m. lecture at St. Alphonsus Jan. 8 on the “Missionary Spirit of St. John Neumann,” followed by a Tridentine Mass. Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien will celebrate a special 3 p.m. Mass at St. Alphonsus March 27, one day before the anniversary of St. John Neumann’s birth and the 159th anniversary of his consecration as bishop.

Check out this Redemptorist site for more on St. John Neumann and this year’s celebrations.


Archbishop O’Brien, Bishop Malooly extend Christmas messages

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien has an audio Christmas message here and Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly (former Baltimore auxiliary bishop) has a video Christmas message here.


On fire for the faith

Chief James S. Clack

When Baltimore City Fire Chief James S. Clack first came to Charm City more than two years ago, I had a chance to profile him for The Catholic Review. Toward the end of the interview, I asked the Catholic fire chief if he had a devotion to St. Florian, patron saint of firefighters.

The tall and lanky Minnesota native smiled politely, unbuttoned his right shirt pocket and pulled out a holy card emblazoned with the Roman saint’s image.

“Absolutely,” he said.

St. Florian must have been looking out for Chief Clack last week.

In less than 24 hours, the city department head and his firefighters battled back-to-back five-alarm fires – one on The Block and another in historic Mount Vernon.

Exactly one week after those huge blazes — both squelched without any loss of life — Chief Clack will address Catholic young adults about fire of a different sort.

Speaking at the Greene Turtle in Fells Point Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Tap into Your Faith series, Chief Clack will talk about his own journey into the Catholic faith, his work in emergency services and his role as a deacon at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown.

Below is a sneak peek from the 2008 Catholic Review profile:

Chris Krueger of Peter J. O’Connor Fire Station on Fort Avenue presents Baltimore City Fire Chief James Clack with an Orioles hat in 2008. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

After arriving on the scene of last year’s I-35W bridge collapse, then Minneapolis Fire Chief James Clack had a hard time believing it was real.

Peering down on the frenzied scene from a neighboring bridge overlooking the Mississippi River, the tall and lanky veteran firefighter was stunned that a quarter-mile stretch of bridge had been reduced to jumbled piles of rubble.

Flames engulfed some cars. Mangled steel, concrete and rebar jutted from the murky water. At least 50 vehicles carrying dozens of rush-hour commuters were plunged 60 feet into the swiftly flowing river.

“It was almost like a Hollywood movie set,” remembered Chief Clack, now the newly appointed chief of the Baltimore City Fire Department who began his position in April and was sworn in at City Hall May 14.

“It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen in my career,” he said. “There were tremendous opportunities for people to get hurt trying to help others.”

As the unified incident commander overseeing rescue operations, Chief Clack was in charge of making sure hundreds of agencies worked together.

By paying attention to safety and maintaining a steady hand in his management of the disaster, Chief Clack won a lot of credit for preventing a dire situation from getting worse. Thirteen people died and about 100 were wounded in the collapse – far fewer than had been initially expected.

With Baltimore’s fire department still reeling from last year’s death of a cadet in a training exercise and other incidents concerning safety, many are looking to the new chief to demonstrate the same confident leadership he showed in Minneapolis.

In an interview with The Catholic Review, Chief Clack said he knows what the expectations are. He pledged to make safety his number one priority and promised to find ways to increase diversity in the department and to address other concerns.

A convert to the Catholic faith and a permanent deacon ordained for the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., the 47-year-old chief believes his faith will help him meet his new challenges in Baltimore.

Journey of faith

Although born in the far reaches of northwestern Minnesota, Chief Clack spent his childhood and teen years in California where his family relocated soon after his birth.

His father operated a 160-acre plum farm near Fresno and sold heavy construction equipment. His mother had been a basketball player on an all-women’s team modeled on the Harlem Globetrotters. She toured Minnesota in the 1940s playing professional men’s teams.

Sitting in his modest office in the unassuming mezzanine of the Baltimore City Fire Department headquarters near City Hall, Chief Clack credited his parents for quite suddenly laying the groundwork for his faith development when he was 12.

It happened one day at the kitchen table, where he and his four younger siblings were eating fried chicken and, as usual, he said, “raising hell.”

His fallen-away Lutheran mother turned to his agnostic father and announced that it was time to “get these kids into church,” Chief Clack recalled.

Since his father had grown up in Utah, he knew Mormons had strong youth programs. So, after some lessons in the faith from Mormon missionaries, the Clack children and their mother were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

With the genes of a basketball player firmly imbedded in his 6-foot-6-inch frame, Chief Clack went on to play basketball for the University of Minnesota, Crookston, an NCAA Division II institution. It was there that he started attending Mass with his Catholic roommate rather than drive 100 miles to the nearest Mormon temple.

The future fire chief said he fell in love with the Catholic Church, attracted by the richness of the liturgy and the solid structure of the church. There was a sense of authenticity he longed for, he said.

After completing Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and joining the Catholic Church while still in college, Chief Clack married Rose Marie, his Catholic sweetheart, in 1981. He slowly became more active in his parish, lectoring and serving as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Chief Clack went through several years of diaconal formation before his 2004 ordination.

In his 22 years in the Minneapolis Fire Department, Chief Clack often depended on his Catholic faith to get him through stresses on the job. He has delivered babies and held the hands of dying people.

“It’s really a grace to be allowed to be at those things,” said Chief Clack. “You see the whole scope of life from beginning to end and everything in between.”

Read the full story here.


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