Category Archives: Religious life

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.”

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.

They just keep going and going and…

At a dinner honoring religious women and men celebrating jubilee anniversaries, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien greets Oblate Sister of Providence Mary Alice Chineworth – a 93-year-old nun celebrating 75 years in religious life. (CR Photo/George P. Matysek Jr.)

May 14 was a special day for religious women and men in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien celebrated a Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, honoring those marking 25, 45, 50, 60, 65, 70, 75 and 80 years in religious life.  You can read about that special event here. Congratulations to all the jubilarians!  Thanks for your dedication and service to our community!

2011 Jubilarians:

25 Years
Sr. Mary Francis Altavilla, R.G.S.
Sr. Patricia Marie Barnette, R.G.S.
Sr. Teresa Leimbach, S.S.M.I.
Sr. Judith Murray, O.C.D.
Rev. Neville O’Donohue, S.M.

45 Years
Rev. Mother Christina Christie, A.S.S.P.

50 Years
Sr. Colette Ackerman, O.C.D.
Bro. James Bednar, F.S.C.
Sr. Mary Annette Beecham, O.S.P.
Sr. Eleanor Casey, D.C.
Sr. Catherine Francis Clemons, D.C.
Bro. Charles M. Cully, C.F.X.
Sr. Maureen Delahunt, D.C.
Sr. Frances Marie Demarco, R.S.M.
Sr. Andre Dembowski, R.S.M.
Bro. Phillip DePorter, F.S.C.
Sr. Helen M. Doherty, R.S.M.
Sr. Carol Durkin, D.C.
Sr. Mary Jane Elligan, R.G.S.
Bro. William Fealy, F.S.C.
Sr. Elizabeth Thorne Grant, A.S.S.P.
Sr. Mary Gilbart, D.C.
Sr. JoAnne Goecke, D.C.
Sr. Frances Haddow, R.S.M.
Bro. Eric Henderson, F.S.C.
Sr. Mary Francita Hobbs, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Marjorie Gallagher, S.N.D.
Sr. Miriam Jop, S.S.M.I.
Sr. Helen Marie Kling, D.C.
Sr. Mary Louise Kvech, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Kathleen Moore, R.G.S.
Sr. Virginia Muller, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Mary Aloysius Norman, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Maria Luz Ortiz, M.H.S.H.
Sr. Mary Margaret Pignone, S.N.D.
Sr. Mary Claudina Sanz, O.S.P.
Sr. Mary Anne Smith, R.S.M.
Sr. Mary Ian Stewart, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Alice Talone, C.B.S.
Sr. Mary Gabriel Walker, O.S.P.
Sr. Helen Wiegmann, S.S.J.
Sr. Dorothy Marie Young, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Mary Louise Zaworski, M.H.S.H.

60 Years
Sr. Mary Ellen Brodie, R.S.M.
Sr. Virginia Cotter, D.C.
Sr. Catherine Dolores Cress, S.N.D.
Sr. Mary Dicroce, S.N.D.
Sr. Rosemary Dilli, S.S.N.D.
Rev. John R. Donahue, S.J.
Sr. Kathleen Marie Engers, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Barbara Ann English, S.N.D.
Sr. Elaine Gentile, S.N.D.
Sr. Joanne Getzendanner, R.G.S.
Rev. Alban Harmon, C.P.
Sr. Mary Louise Herrmann, O.S.F.
Sr. Marie Carl Horn, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Mary Susanne Hughes, R.G.S.
Sr. Marion Agnes Jerzak, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Helen John, S.N.D.
Bro. Daniel Lynch, C.F.X.
Rev. Francis G. McManamin, S.J.
Sr. Doris Jean Miller, R.S.M.
Sr. Mary Eileen Morisroe, R.G.S.
Sr. Mary Lucia Quesada, O.S.P.
Sr. Mariel Ann Rafferty, M.H.S.H.
Sr. Cecilia Reilly, O.S.F.
Sr. Marthe Restrepo, L.S.P.
Sr. M. Jacinta Robson, R.S.M.
Sr. Carrie Schindler, M.H.S.H.
Sr. Jane Claire Simon, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Marilyn Spellman, S.U.S.C.
Sr. M. Delia Spitznagel, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Martha Starrett, O.P.
Sr. Clare Szlachetka, R.G.S.
Sr. Barbara Worn, S.N.D.
Sr. Mary Louise Zollars, D.C.

65 Years
Sr. Mary Jean Horne, D.C.
Sr. Francis Marie Lanasa, D.C.
Sr. Marie Veronica Maguire, S.N.D.
Sr. Regina Monahan, S.N.D.

70 Years
Sr. M. Aurelia Benedetto, R.S.M.
Sr. Angela Cool, D.C.
Sr. Margaret Gardner, O.S.F.
Sr. Naomi Grill, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Mary Xavier Linz, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Therese A. McMenamin, S.N.D.
Sr. Mary Eileen McNamara, O.C.D.
Sr. Marguerite Schaefer, S.N.D.
Sr. Frances Zeller, S.S.N.D.

75 Years
Sr. Mary Alice Chineworth, O.S.P.
Sr. Mary Helen Edelen, D.C.
Sr. Mary Lina Litvik, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Agnes Silvestro, D.C.
Sr. Edith Stricker, D.C.
Sr. M. Mark Walsh, R.S.M.
Sr. Beatrice Wise, D.C.
Sr. Marie Yetter, D.C.

80 Years
Sr. Bernita Hessling, S.S.N.D.
Sr. Bertha Robertson, D.C.

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.

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.

‘The greatest temptation of my life’

Dominican Father Carleton Parker Jones (CR/Owen Sweeney III)

Dominican Father Carleton Parker Jones calls it the “greatest temptation” of his life.

It happened 21 years ago in the library of the Anglican Centre in Rome, where Father Jones was completing research for his doctoral dissertation on Blessed John Henry Newman.

Blessed Newman, an Anglican priest who was received into the Catholic Church in 1845, was one of Father Jones’ greatest heroes. Inspired by Blessed Newman’s writings, Father Jones had followed in the Englishman’s footsteps – leaving the Anglican priesthood to become a Catholic priest in 1982.

Deep in the stacks of the acclaimed library, Father Jones pulled out a first-edition of Blessed Newman’s “On the Development of Christian Faith.” It was the very work that had most inspired Father Jones to become Catholic.

As soon as the Dominican opened the volume, a letter fell from its pages. Father Jones, then a student at Rome’s Angelicum University, stooped down to pick it up. His eyes widened as he read the old letter and realized it was a hand-written, signed note from Blessed Newman to a reviewer who had written some kind words about his book.

No one was watching and no one knew the letter existed.

“I could have simply taken it and put it in my pocket and no one would have known the difference,” remembered Father Jones, now the pastor of Ss. Philip and James in Baltimore. “It’s not that I was looking to sell it and make a lot money. It was just that Newman had become so dear to me that it would have been a wonderful keepsake to have – a kind of relic.”

Father Jones stood still in the library for about a minute staring at the letter and thinking, “shall I or shan’t I?” The temptation was overwhelming.

“I can still feel it now,” the priest remembered. “I can feel the tingling in my spine as I looked at it. I wish I could have seen the expression on my face.”

Honesty triumphed and Father Jones turned the letter over to the librarian. He was rewarded with a gift of 10 books.

“I overcame the temptation by the grace of God,” Father Jones said. “I thought at the time, ‘If I steal this, it undermines all the graces I had received that brought me there.’”

Father Jones said it would have been ironic to steal something of the man who had led him into the church.

“Oh, but I struggled,” he said with a laugh. “I stood there looking at it – coveting it. I went through the whole thing!”

Click here to read about what Father Jones and the Dominicans are up to at Ss. Philip and James.

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.

Religous habits inspire fashion rage?

(Getty Images) A model walks the runway at the Wayne Fall 2011 fashion week during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Milk Studios on February 10, 2011 in New York City.

Those who care about such things are abuzz that a modern fashion trend seems to be taking cues from some of the world’s oldest forms of clothing – religious habits.  It’s a bit ironic that garb that’s supposed to serve as a reminder of the sacred is being co-opted by the secular.

Forbes has this report:

One of the biggest trends in the first days of New York Fashion Week: hoods. But not just the sensible head covers attached to parkas and other outerwear designed to protect one from the cold. Today’s designers have incorporated them into snug dresses, asymmetrical leather jackets and even catsuits, and they have a distinct clerical vibe.

The first hooded garments appeared on the Wayne runway, where they sometimes recalled monks’ robes or nuns’ habits. (This was no mere coincidence: Designer Wayne Lee was inspired by the religious paintings of Renaissance artist Hans Memling.) The theme continued at the threeASFOUR show, where musicians played slightly menacing atonal music shrouded in Jedi-knight robes, and the models, in hooded bodysuits, suspended parachute dresses and deconstructed pinstripe cloaks, looked as though they belonged to a religious cult (in the best possible way). Even Victoria Beckham channeled the Vatican with her glamorous collection this weekend. In addition to the stunning hooded magenta dress that opened the show, the former Spice Girl had her models sport those snug little caps that Catholic cardinals always wear. Pope Benedict — himself a natty dresser — would be proud.

The religious clergy has intermittently inspired fashion designers for decades. In the 1930s and ’40s the designer Valentina brought monastic chic to the masses, dressing her famous clientele (including Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn) in long-sleeved, severe dresses with peaked caps or snoods. (Valentina liked to say that she thought nuns the most stylish people on earth.)

More here.

Obama picks outspoken sister for advisory council

Sister Marlene Weisenbeck (National Catholic Reporter Photo)

Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, a critic of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of American religious sisters, has been picked by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The appointment was announced today.

According to a Feb. 4 White House release, the advisory council “brings together religious and secular leaders as well as scholars and experts in fields related to the work of faith-based and neighborhood organizations in order to make recommendations to the government on how to improve partnerships.”

Sister Marlene, past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, made waves in September when she appeared on CNN and raised concerns about the apostolic visitation, which was announced in 2009 to look at the quality of life of U.S. congregations of women religious.

“We weren’t quite expecting to walk into this kind of process that would test our authenticity and our integrity,” she told CNN of the visitation.

Concerned that Rome may expect American sisters to return to a more traditional form of religious life, the Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration said “there is no turning back.”

“I don’t think that happens in any living organism,” she said. “God doesn’t turn the creation in opposite directions.”

Here’s a blurb on Sister Marlene’s appointment from the White House release:

Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, Appointee for Member, President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Sister Marlene Weisenbeck is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Sister Weisenbeck is an officer and past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a canonically approved membership organization which exists as a support system and corporate voice for leaders of religious institutes of Catholic Sisters in the United States. She also serves as Chairperson of the Catholic Health Association’s Sponsorship/Canon Law Committee and is a consultant in religious law. Sister Weisenbeck was president of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from 2002-2010. She is also past president of the National Conference of Vicars for Religious and Chancellor for the Diocese of La Crosse. Sister Weisenbeck holds a B.M. Ed. degree from Viterbo University, an M.M. from George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, a J.C.L. in Canon Law from Saint Paul University-Ottawa, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Click here for bios of the other appointees.

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