Category Archives: Narthex

2011 in review

Since this blog was launched in November of 2010, it has logged more than 35,000 page views.  In 2011 alone, The Narthex had about 29,000 page views.

As a new year gets started, I wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to read these posts.  I hope you find them interesting and I look forward to doing even more in 2012.  If you have any ideas for blog entries, please share them.  I’m always on the lookout for good stuff!

WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 29,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Narthex is open

Sorry for the light postings of late, folks.

Since this blog began, I haven’t gone longer than a few days without posting.  The last two weeks have been busy, however, and I haven’t had a chance to step into The Narthex.

The good news is that I’ve got lots of good stuff coming your way.   If you like to laugh, you’ll really like what’s coming later today and in the next few days.  I have also come across some really cool stuff that’s been sitting in my notebook.  It’s long past due for sharing.


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.


Thank you!

Just got word today from WordPress that The Narthex is among the fastest-growing blogs at WordPress.com.  It seems that it’s ranked #7 among blogs that are gaining in recent popularity.

Thanks to everyone who is stopping by!


CR goes all Hollywood

Check out this cool CR ‘blog preview’ put together by my good friend, Matt Palmer.  (Take a good look at the credits. Gotta love our casting director!)


Let’s get going

A narthex is the main gathering area or lobby of a church. It’s where conversation takes place, bringing together  people of all ages and backgrounds.

That’s what this blog aspires to be — a spot where you can join a conversation about news and happenings related to the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Catholic world at large.  

Stay with The Narthex for inspirational posts about people who live their faith every day. You’ll also get a frontline perspective on archdiocesan news you won’t find anywhere else.

I have to give a shout out to Matt Palmer, my good friend and colleague at The Catholic Review.  He came up with the name for this blog.  It’s the perfect fit for what I hope to accomplish here.  I hope this blog will be as fun as it is informational.

Let’s get going.


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