Category Archives: Inspiration

Community life inspires ‘miracle man’

Redemptorist Father John Murray walks outside his residence in Ephrata, Pa. (CR/Clare Becker)

Redemptorist Father John Murray is convinced he’s a walking miracle.

After suffering a fall that left him paralyzed from the chest down, the former pastor of St. Mary in Annapolis and St. Wenceslaus in Baltimore began praying for Blessed Francis X. Seelos – a former St. Mary’s pastor – to intercede on his behalf. As noted in this upcoming story in The Catholic Review, Father Murray is now walking on his own and will soon receive his first priestly assignment since the 2010 accident.

 After spending a morning with Father Murray in preparation for the article, I was struck by how the priest was inspired by his fellow Redemptorists. As he underwent rehabilitation at Stella Maris nursing home in Timonium, the priest lived with infirm and elderly members of his religious order and, at 63, was the youngest priest among them at the St. John Neumann Residence – a wing for retired Redemptorists.
 
“You are surrounded by your confreres,” Father  Murray told me. “You get to pray together. You get to eat together. You get to just walk the corridors with them and sit down in our community room – and you get to celebrate Mass.”
 
It was quite different from a former facility in which Father Murray lived after the accident – one in which he could sometimes go a day without seeing another person besides the medical staff, he said.
 
There were 18 Redemptorists living at Stella Maris with Father Murray, 13 of whom spent most of their priesthood in foreign missions.
 
“They were in the Dominican Republic and Brazil eating rice and beans down there with no electricity large parts of the day,” Father Murray said. “To see how they sacrificed and now, at the age of 85 and 90, they are still going strong – it really touched me.”
 
Five Redemptorists died while Father Murray lived at Stella Maris. He watched his brother priests gather in the room of  dying clerics, staying with them and praying with them before and after they died.
 
“It was just so touching,” he remembered.
 
Father Murray noted that the St. John Neumann Residence could not be more perfectly named. St. John Neumann had been a diocesan priest in New York in the 19th century. He became depressed because he was often alone, Father Murray said. The priest joined the Redemptorists because one of its great charisms is community life.
 
“John Neuman realized he needed the support of a community,” Father Murray. “That was one of the things I most learned since my accident – the importance of community living and how community living for Redemptorists brings new life. It certainly brought me life.”
 

Treat everyone as if they were good

Todd Whitaker speaks Aug. 22 at the Convocation of Catholic Schools in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Do you know how you come across to others?  If you do, there’s a good chance you are highly effective in your job and other areas of your life.  If not, well, you might want to make a few changes.

In an Aug. 22 keynote address to more than 2,000 educators from across the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Todd Whitaker talked about what makes great teachers – and people – different from others. He challenged  educators to treat everyone as if they were good — even the so-called “crummy” kids, teachers or parents.

Whitaker is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University and author of the best-selling, “What Great Teachers do Differently.”

Here’s an audio clip from his talk, which was delivered at the Baltimore Convention Center.  While directed at educators, the message applies to everyone.  It’s worth a listen.  Whitaker is an engaging and funny speaker.

Click here for complete Catholic Review coverage of the convocation.


VIDEO REPORT: Laughing with St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius of Loyola at prayer in Rome. (Father William Hart McNichols)

In honor of today’s Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola – founder of the Jesuits – here’s a video clip of Father James Martin, S.J. sharing some of his favorite Jesuit jokes. It’s taken from the priest-author’s July 29 talk at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. I know you’ll enjoy it!

Also, the image of St. Ignatius shown on this blog is one of Father Martin’s favorites. It shows the great saint at prayer in Rome – perfectly capturing his humanity. Father William Hart McNichols was the iconographer and you can learn more about his work here.

For more funny and insightful clips from Father Martin’s lecture on humor and spirituality, click here.

Happy Feast Day to all my Jesuit friends from a proud graduate of Loyola University Maryland!  Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

 

 


VIDEO REPORT: Colbert Report chaplain says God wants us to laugh

Father James Martin, S.J.

Being a faithful Catholic doesn’t mean you have to be a joyless one.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan knows that. When Archbishop Dolan was installed to his post in the Big Apple, an enterprising reporter asked the newcomer if there was anything he would like to condemn. Archbishop Dolan responded in the affirmative.

“I condemn instant mashed potatoes and light beer,” he deadpanned.

A few years ago, when Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl visited a Catholic bookstore, the owner approached him and said, “Oh!  You’re looking for a book, Father. You must be a Jesuit!”

“No,” Cardinal Wuerl replied, “but I’m literate.”

Back when Blessed Pope John XXIII enjoyed making surprise visits to Catholic institutions in Rome, he once stopped at a hospital run by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The superior of the religious community ran up to the Holy Father and announced that she was “the superior of the Holy Spirit.”

Without skipping a beat, the pope countered with: “Well, you outrank me. I’m only the vicar of Christ!”

Those were just a few of many stories of faith and good humor shared by Jesuit Father James Martin during last night’s Ignatian Day Lecture at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. The Jesuit priest, a bestselling author and culture editor of America Magazine, spoke on the important role of humor in living a spiritual life.

Well-known for his amazingly funny appearances on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, Father Martin is traveling the country to spread a message that might be summed up in two words: “Lighten up.”

Along with Matt Palmer – my good friend and colleague at The Catholic Review, I had the honor of interviewing Father Martin at the end of his lecture.  The priest was very generous with his time and gave us a lot of good insights into evangelization.

We will be sharing some of what he had to say in the next few days.  I will also be posting some interesting observations from Father Martin on what it’s like to be on the Colbert Report.

For now, take a look at some of these three video clips from last night.  Father Martin will have you laughing like you won’t believe.  Stay tuned for much more to come and check out The Welcome Matt to see what Matt Palmer’s posting about Father Martin’s appearance last night.

7/31 UPDATE: Click here to hear Father Martin share some of his favorite Jesuit jokes.


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.


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.


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.


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