Wuerl Pastoral Urges Catholics To Confront Racism

 

cardinal wuerl

Cardinal Wuerl.

Released in November 2017, “The Challenge of Racism Today,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s timely, welcome, and important pastoral letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington urges them to confront “the persistent evil of racism,” with renewed energy and dedication.

The Cardinal asserts today’s divisions are “not part of God’s plan.” He reminds believers all men and women were born in God’s image, and as such, possess an indispensable human dignity. Equal in dignity in God’s sight, we’re called to live as brothers and sisters in the same human family.

Racism is a sin because, as the US Bishops’ 1979 pastoral letter “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” says, it “divides the human family,” and “blots out the image of God among specific members of that family.”

More than fracturing the solidarity that ought to exist among people, racism is also a sin because, Wuerl says, it supports sinful “systemic social, economic, and political structures.”

The pastoral correctly asserts, racism manifests itself in several guises: personal, institutional, and social. And working to overcome racism requires we change the “attitudes that nurture” it in our own hearts and in our neighbors’ hearts and “the actions that express it.”

Working to overcome racism, Wuerl believes, should lead to greater human unity, which nonetheless acknowledges “each person should be seen in his or her uniqueness as a reflection of the glory of God and a full, complete member of the human family.”

To promote the unity, which disavows racism, Wuerl urges the faithful to “move to the level of Christian solidarity,” a fundamental and ancient Catholic principle, which reflects our persistent “commitment to oneness at work.”

To manifest their renewed dedication to oneness, the Cardinal wants Catholics to embrace Pope Francis’ challenge to promote a “culture of encounter, respect, understanding, and mutual forgiveness.”

Beyond our own hearts and homes, creating this culture will happen first, Wuerl correctly believes, in our parishes. We come to our parish home each Sunday to be restored in our faith.

And, sustained by the Eucharist and God’s words, we are then sent out into the world to live what we have heard in our encounters with our brothers and sisters.

We should also experience this when attempting to live what our Church teaches about racism. As Wuerl says, “the Sunday Eucharist offers a wealth of opportunities to reflect on this issue” for priests to urge parishioners to confront “racist behavior and prejudice.”

Parishes, he says, should also encourage dialogue on racism. Studying the pastoral would be a good way to begin that discussion.

These good suggestions will invigorate parishioners’ work to challenge racism, but more should be done. Acknowledging most parishes aren’t as diverse as they could be, pre-dominantly white parishes should enter into formal relationships with pre-dominantly African American, Latino, or Asian parishes.

These parishes could worship and socialize together and dialogue about finding ways to work together to address racism. Going through an Undoing Racism workshop together will challenge them to move further out of their comfort zones and enrich their relationships and their anti-racism work.

These partnerships will fortify Catholics for the work, which, as Wuerl correctly suggests, must be in done in the community to address racism in housing, the workforce, education, and the criminal justice system among other arenas.

When confronting racism, it’s especially important for Catholics to make the connection between poverty and racism. For instance, African Americans and Latinos are twice as likely to live in poverty as whites. As a consequence, persons of color are much more likely to suffer poor health, and experience shorter life spans.

A lethal combination, poverty and racism kill, which is precisely why the Church, which stands for life, should combat poverty and racism together. Our commitment to end poverty is unmatched, but in the past, our Church’s response to racism was often acquiescent, and inadequate.

Our religious orders owned slaves, our parishes and schools weren’t always fully integrated, and only this year did the USCCB establish its Ad Hoc Committee on Racism. While a welcome development, it should be a standing committee, and should have been established a long time ago.

“The Challenge of Racism Today” presents Washington Catholics an opportunity to demonstrate our Church can do better when fighting racism.

To capitalize on this moment, the Archdiocese should coordinate a campaign, which promulgates the pastoral fully to all parishioners, encouraging them to study and discuss it and reflect and act upon it.

This campaign could become a model, which inspires others to work for “a more perfect union.” This campaign won’t flourish, however, as Wuerl suggests, without God’s help.

And while prefect unity may elude us, we shouldn’t worry about that. As TS Eliot reminds us: “Ours in the trying. The rest is not our business.”

 

 

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With His Autobiography, The Boss Goes Long and Deep

“Born To Run”

By Bruce Springsteen

Simon and Schuster

$14.53 Paperback

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Now out in paperback, Bruce Springsteens’s autobiography “Born To Run” won’t disappoint the legion of Springsteen acolytes. It’s a largely revealing, consistently diverting and satisfying read.

The story of Springsteen’s growing up in “the bosom of the Catholic Church,” in the Jersey shore town Freehold will intrigue Catholic readers.

Some of them will nod their heads in concord with Springsteen’s descriptions of nuns’ knuckle rapping, being smacked in the head, having his tie yanked and being shut into a dark closet. These experiences, he writes, “left a mean taste in my mouth and estranged me from my religion for good.”

But Catholics will also relate to Springsteen when he writes: “I came to ruefully and bemusedly understand,” he writes, “that once you’re Catholic, you’re always a Catholic. I know somewhere … deep inside … I’m still on the team.”

Springsteen’s heritage helps readers understand the man and musician he became. The name Springsteen is Dutch, but Springsteen’s father Douglas was Irish and mother Adele Italian.

And Springsteen has said his acoustic, more introspective music comes from his Irish side, and his rock music comes from his Italian side.

Veteran fans are well familiar with Springsteen’s concert introductions to songs such as “Independence Day” and “The River,” which recall difficult kitchen table conversations with his brooding father.

While not diminishing Douglas’ dark and troubled nature, Springsteen’s portrait of his dad in these pages is more well rounded and sympathetic than he previously revealed.

As a boy, Springsteen writes, of having to collect his father from local bars, which were “citadels of mystery, filled with mean magic, uncertainty, and the possibility of violence.” The Boss also recalls, when he was older, defending his mother from his drunken, enraged father.

Springsteen “let him have it between his square shoulders.” Beyond his dad’s rage, Springsteen acknowledges there was “a gentleness, timidity, shyness, and dreamy insecurity.”

One of three sisters, who “have screamed, laughed, cried, and danced their way through life’s best and worst,” his mom Adele set her son a better example.

“Joy in your work and a never-say-die thirst for life” are among the numerous things Adele taught Springsteen. “The love I missed from my father, she tried to double up on,” he writes, and purchasing his first electric guitar, she encouraged The Boss’ musical career.

The story of Springsteen’s formative ascent through several band incarnations to signing his first contract with legendary Columbia Records’ producer John Hammond in May 1972 will most interest readers. And it will surprise them to discover the songwriter closely identified with car songs once didn’t know how to drive.

One of “Born To Run’s” more memorable moments occurs when, in his pre- E St. Band days, the unlicensed Springsteen is enlisted to share the driving in a 72-hour drive to a California gig.

While driving his then manager Tinker’s big truck, he was “weaving all over the highway,” Springsteen writes. “We were lucky I didn’t kill us. But by the time we got to California, I knew how to drive, and Tinker had spent many a sleepless hour.”

15 years after that episode, by the time of 1984’s “Born in the USA” tour, Springsteen was a superstar beyond his fervent imagination. Although his life was, on the surface, glamorous, Springsteen, in “Born To Run” most revealingly discusses his mental health struggles.

In 1983, on another cross-country drive, Springsteen writes, “the ambivalence, trouble, and toxic confusion I’d had volcanically bubbling for thirty-two years would reach critical mass.”

Regular psychiatric consultations and prescription meds helped Springsteen manage his dark moods until after his 60th birthday when he says, “I slipped into a depression” that “would last for a year and a half.”

“During these periods, I can be cruel: I run, I dissemble, I disappear, I return, I rarely apologize.” Readers will welcome this candor from someone so prominent on issues, which unfortunately some still consider taboo.

Through the apogee of commercial and critical success and nadir of anxiety and depression, Springsteen remains grounded and relevant and inspirational as an artist because he understands and values music’s power to transform and bind and heal.

His experience playing with the Americana style backing group The Sessions Band testifies to Springsteen’s faith in music’s enduring power. He and the band were headliners at JazzFest, New Orleans’ legendary musical festival in 2006, the first year after Katrina devastated the city.

The band’s playing overcame a skeptical audience unaccustomed to hearing Springsteen play a new style. “There’s a coming together, and a lifting, a fortifying that occurs when people gather and move in time with one another. It’s a beautiful thing.”

“Born To Run” isn’t perfect. Springsteen frequently employs all caps prose, which mars an otherwise laudable work and will annoy and distress readers. Nonetheless, the engaging, thoughtful “Born To Run” proves The Boss of the short piece can also go long and deep.

 

 

 

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Remembering Miss Ellie on the 10th Anniversary of Her Death

Me and Miss Ellie 2

With my mom on my high school graduation day from Georgetown Prep in May 1978.

On the 10th anniversary of my mom Ellen Branson Byrd’s death – October 15, 2007 – one memory recalls her enduring influence upon my life: the day Miss Ellie, as we came to call her, brought me to a red brick row house at the corner of 5th St. NW and Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC in June 1976.

We were there to participate in the celebration for the House of Ruth’s opening: a new community residence for homeless women.

Now a sophisticated non-profit organization with a more than a $7 million budget, which provides housing, daycare and counseling services to 1,000 women and children annually, the House of Ruth back then promised to shelter eight homeless women.

But you wouldn’t have believed this was a modest undertaking by my mom’s enthusiasm, happiness, and pride that day. Like the others actively involved with the event, mom was especially pleased Eunice Kennedy Shriver would be there for the ribbon cutting. 16 then I knew it was a boon to have a Kennedy bless your event.

But I didn’t have quite the same kind of reaction when, with an almost reverential tone, mom introduced me to Dr. Veronica Maz, who founded the House of Ruth. Miss Ellie’s attitude was understandable.

Having also helped start So Others Might Eat (SOME), she was about to launch the House of Ruth and was later instrumental founding Martha’s Table: three organizations, which still fight poverty in the District.

But I didn’t know enough then to be impressed by what Maz had done or was trying to do. I was there because service was important to my mom.

Her devout parents, the Sisters of St. Joseph at Holy Comforter School, and the Visitation Sisters at Georgetown Visitation instilled Miss Ellie with her desire to serve.

The examples of her sisters Sisters Serena and Anna Marie Branson DC – the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Albany and a missionary in Bolivia respectively – also inspired her to act.

Years later, after my time in the Jesuit Volunteers Corps, and my continued work at Catholic non-profits, and opposing the death penalty, my mom proudly, invariably introduced me as her “peace and justice son.”

But I hadn’t necessarily revealed any inclination then to live a life of service, or expressed any interest in social justice. Perhaps, though Miss Ellie had seen something she wanted to nurture in me by including me that day.

Plus, on a practical level, young and healthy and strong, I was good for lifting and moving things. Which is what I was precisely called upon to do. I don’t possess many memories of that day, but I distinctly recall being asked to carry chairs out to the lawn for the ribbon cutting.

In more than 35 years of organizing conferences, meetings, fundraisers, forums, and celebrations, I have carried, set up, unfolded, and stacked countless chairs for numerous groups in several cities. That day, my mom’s invitation prepared me for my life’s work, and a life of service.

I’m profoundly grateful to Miss Ellie for the seeds she planted that day. They grew into a life lived for others, rooted in her kind of faith and always striving for justice. And, as the old song says: “I won’t take nothing for my journey now.”

JP and Miss Ellie Wedding 1

July 19,1949. Her wedding day.

My mom continued to serve. She was on the House of Ruth’s first Board of Directors, and soon after that she was one of the first graduates of the Archdiocese of Washington’s lay ministry formation program Education for Parish Service. For several years after that, she enjoyed teaching CCD at her parish, Little Flower.

In later years, mom’s focus turned toward re-entering the workforce, tending to my dad as his health rapidly deteriorated from emphysema, and caring for her grandchildren. That service limited Miss Ellie’s community service, but she remained curious about and engaged in the world.

She read “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times” and wanted to know what the Pope, the Bishops, leading Theologians, and political commentators thought of the day’s issues.

And mom often ran late for Sunday mass because she couldn’t tear herself away from “Meet the Press,” with “that nice Catholic” Tim Russert. While others preferred reading Stephen King novels before going to bed, Miss Ellie liked contemporary Theology books, and urged her children to read her favorites.

Mom also cultivated Jesuits as friends and advisors, and was particularly devoted to the Visitation sisters, often returning to Visitation to attend alumna events, Days of Reflection, and of course, mass in their chapel.

She finally took a special interest in my work. And compiling a scrapbook of my publications, she became my biggest fan. And, I trust, as she enters her second decade in her true home, Miss Ellie roots me on still.

 

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Their Last Game, Conclusion

At five, on the day of the Senators’ final game, September 30, as JP instructed him, Bobby waited for him at the corner of 49th and Mass near the Esso. Right on time, Bobby saw the van slow, and JP said loudly out the open window, “Come on, buddy, let’s hit it. This may be the only pro team you get to see, and I couldn’t let you miss this.”

Bobby noted JP was dressed in his chinos and a yellow button down, but he wore Tretorn sneakers. The Senators’ departure disillusioned Bobby unlike anything he had known. But being with JP may take some of the sting away.

The van chugged down Massachusetts Avenue and through Rock Creek Park. They came out of the park and on to Independence Avenue, and Bobby saw the Washington Monument and The Smithsonian and The Capitol, part of everyone’s Washington. When they passed The Capitol, the city seemed alien to Bobby.

“That’s the Library of Congress,” JP said, as they waited for the light at 1st and Independence. “Our great-grandfather supervised a work crew who built it.” “And dad,” JP said, as they waited for a light at East Capitol and 3rd St., “grew up in the next block.”

They were stopped at a light near a large park when JP said, “That’s Lincoln Park. Dad told me there was a great movie theater there – The Carolina – were you could go on a Saturday, and take in a double or triple feature. All for a quarter or something.”

They continued up East Capitol, and JP said, “Holy Comforter is on the right; dad was baptized, received his first communion, confirmed and graduated from eighth grade there.”

They turned left before RFK, and JP said, “That’s Eastern High. When dad was a senior at Jesuit he hit a homer in the top of the ninth to beat Eastern in the city title game.”

As Bobby learned about his family history and their connections to the city in which he was born and raised but didn’t know, Bobby realized how limited his world had been until that summer.

JP parked the van, and they walked to the stadium, and heard the crowd chant, “We want Short; we want Short; we want Short.” The brothers reached their seats in the right field corner.

RFK

RFK Stadium.

Voices buzzed, and people moved through the aisles carrying signs that said things like, “Good riddance, Bob Short,” and “Thanks for the memories,” and “Frank Howard, will you marry me?”

Bobby marveled as JP rested his feet on the seat in front of him and sipped his beer and ate peanuts, tossing the shells aside and watched the game. It surprised Bobby when JP spoke in the sixth inning.”Holy s***,” he said, “Morganna, the Kissing Bandit. Get a load of those tits.”

Bobby started to smile and look up, but he suddenly felt he shouldn’t be in on the joke. He knew Morganna was a stripper, who snuck up on and kissed celebrities. Big as volleyballs, her breasts bounced in her tight, short dress as she ran on to the field to kiss the Senators’ best player Frank Howard, standing at the plate.

Frank Howard

Frank Howard.

But Bobby believed Hondo, as he was known, didn’t want anything to do with Morganna, but Bobby watched him bend his massive body reluctantly, awkwardly to receive her kiss. After Morganna left, Bobby saw Hondo hit a majestic homer to left center that gave the Senators the lead.

At the end of the eighth inning, fans surged to the stadium’s railings. As it did during Redskins’ games, the stands bounced and swayed and pitched like they might collapse, and the people again chanted, “We want Short; we want Short; we want Short.

As if someone had given them a signal, when ninth inning began, people went over the railings, and JP said to Bobby, “Let’s go.”

Bobby saw others run in all directions, and he wanted to run around like them, but he followed JP, who headed down the fist base line. Converging from all sides, it felt as if people were swallowing Bobby. He felt clammy, and his heart was running all of the sudden, and he panicked he could lose JP.

The crowd’s momentum carried and jostled Bobby from side to side along the first base line, and two guys ran through and knocked him down. More people bumped and kicked against Bobby as if they were stubbing their toes.

When he didn’t feel anyone else hitting him, Bobby stood and turned and saw JP, trying to elbow past four other men, as they race walked down the first base line, but the men grabbed JP from behind, and holding him from all sides, the men stretched out JP above the ground as if he were a human battering ram.

Bobby ran and knocked the man who held JP’s right leg off his brother, but the man Bobby knocked down got up and pushed Bobby back into one of the other men holding JP, and that man said, “What the f***, buddy.”

Bobby stepped back and away, and the men, who had been holding JP dropped him and punched and pushed and elbowed each other.

Bobby saw JP wanted the first base bag. Bobby sensed JP’s experience lining the fields at Friendship served him well, as he loosed the base from the ground, and Bobby saw JP stand and come toward him with the base under his arm. “We’ve gotta run,” JP said.

Bobby struggled to keep up with JP, who held the bag close to his chest, and took two or three steps at a time, and he didn’t stop until he reached his van. Back in the parking lot, Bobby’s stance mirrored his brother’s: bent over, hands on knees, sucking air.

The base lay at JP’s feet, and Bobby looked at JP and felt they felt the same thing: that they couldn’t believe they had gotten away with it. Bobby watched JP stretch and shake out his bad knee, and he rose to his full height. And his brother smiled and raised the base high over his head.

With a depth of wonder and affection and gratitude he hadn’t experienced, Bobby beheld his big brother, who, like his hero Muhammad Ali, shuffled his feet, his prize held aloft.

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Their Last Game, Chapter Five

Two weeks later, Bobby sat in his unlit basement and watched the Senators-Indians game. At three- thirty just as the ninth inning was about to begin, Bobby saw JP walk in with an open Budweiser and stand over Bobby’s chair and say, “Watching the Senators?”

“Yeah.”

“Looks like they’re playing The Tribe. Is that Sam McDowell?”

“Yeah.”

“Sudden Sam, he’s something. How’s he doing?”

Sam McDowell

Sudden Sam McDowell

“Pitching a shutout. The Senators have two hits.” Bobby thought the sunlight seemed weaker in the black and white pictures, and the players seemed smaller and the late afternoon shadows seemed grayer. He watched the Senators’ second baseman Bernie Allen flail away at and swing under an incoming fastball.

“High gas,” JP said, “no way Bernie Allen is going to catch up with that.” Bobby noticed JP’s tired eyes, and brown smudges covered his white t-shirt.

“How was your job?” Bobby said.

JP’s not going to college was a touchy subject around the house. His dad seemed angrier about it than his mom, who believed JP would come around in time. Bobby didn’t know what to think, just not to bring it up.

“I’m learning a lot,” JP said, “about working for a living. The guys I work with don’t make it into Spring Valley that often.” Bobby turned to pay better attention to JP, who looked far away beyond the TV and took a healthy swig of beer.

JP appeared to snap out of it and looked at Bobby and said, “Did you know dad worked his way through Georgetown playing piano at The Carlton?”

Bobby had a difficult time seeing his dad doing something like that. “Nope,” he said at last. “What’s the Carlton? Where is it?”

“It’s a swanky hotel on 16th St. near Dad’s office. And get this: he once saw Howard Hughes there.” Bobby kind of nodded, and opened his mouth, but didn’t hear any words come out of him. He had heard the name Howard Hughes, but didn’t want to let on he didn’t know how significant that meeting was.

“He was pretty good,” JP said, “and those swells tipped well, and he made a lot of money. More than enough to pay his tuition and some left over to take mom out to a nice restaurant from time to time. His buddies envied him.”

“They couldn’t treat their girlfriends as well as dad. But dad had to work; granddaddy lost so much money at the track.” Bobby wanted to know about how and why granddaddy lost the money, but thought better about asking.

“He’ll tell you,” JP said, “he learned more about living at The Carlton than he did at Georgetown. I’ll go to college some day, but I want to find out how the world works.” Bobby heard Warner Wolf recapping the game, and Bobby got up and turned off the TV.

Warner Wolf

Warner Wolf

He didn’t know why JP told him these things, but he was glad he did. JP said, “I’ve got to let you know something, which may be hard for you to take, but I’m going to move out on my own, but don’t worry; we’ll still see a lot of each other.”

He knew JP had his reasons, but it was going to take some time before Bobby understood them. “And tomorrow,” JP said, “I’m going to buy a VW van. If you’re lucky, I’ll take you for a ride. Listen, buddy, I’m going to get out of these duds and hit the shower.”

Before JP left the room, Bobby felt JP place his hand on his back and smile at him in a way that told Bobby nothing could ever come between brothers.

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Their Last Game, Chapter Four

When Bobby arrived, the Tornado wasn’t in the driveway; his folks and Anna hadn’t returned from Uncle Finn’s. The Vista Cruiser was there, and if JP was home, he could drive Bobby to the hospital. But if JP was out, Bobby was screwed.

When Bobby entered the kitchen he saw JP standing by the stove, barefoot and in his boxer shorts and wearing an Ali- Frazier Fight of the Century t-shirt.

Ali Frazier fight

Poster for Ali – Frazier Fight of the Century.

In his left hand, JP held “The Washington Post,” creased and folded over, most likely to the sports page. Bobby knew JP paid too much for his shirt off a guy in Georgetown, but, for his hero, Ali, he said it was worth it.

Watching his brother turn strips of bacon in a large cast iron black pan filled with scrambled eggs, Bobby noted the lit cigarette resting on the countertop, and he watched JP bend and take a drag from it, drawing the paper closer to burner’s flame.

“Oh, crap,” JP said, and Bobby saw his brother look everywhere. The pan was on fire, and his brother sprinted toward the pantry door and opened it and threw the pan into the backyard. The door slammed, and Bobby saw JP, the fire apparently out, return to the kitchen.

“What the hell?” JP said. “Weren’t you supposed to be at Uncle Finn’s?”

“I … ”

“Jesus; I’m sorry. What the hell happened to you?”

“I was in a fight.”

“I guess so,” JP said, and Bobby saw JP approach him. “Take your shirt off so I can get a better look.” It stung Bobby when JP ran his hand over his wound. “You’re going to need a couple stitches. Keep that shirt on it. I’ll be right back.”

When JP returned, he held a tube of Neosporin, a gauze pad and some scissors and tape, and he was dressed in a navy golf shirt and chino shorts.

Bobby removed his shirt from his head and let his brother rub the ointment into his wound, and accepted the gauze pad JP handed him, and JP said, “Hold this on the cut while I cut the tape.”

Bobby said, “How do you know to do all this?”

“Guys at my job are always getting hurt, and they think I’m the smartest so it’s my job to patch them up. Okay. You can take your hand off.”

With the tape now applied to the gauze, JP said, “That ought to hold until I can get you to Georgetown. Hang on while I put this crap away. Then we’ll hit the road.”

Bobby sat in the station wagon’s passenger seat and waited for JP to adjust the seat. “Sorry,” JP said, his shifting the seat jarred Bobby. “I don’t know where anything is in this boat, and my legs are longer than mom’s.”

“Now. Tell me how all this happened. I’m not going to yell at you. I just want to know what happened.” They were waiting for the light at Nebraska and Nebraska to change, and when it did, JP turned left down Foxhall.

“I was shooting buckets at Friendship, and Harrison Bentley, the kid I slugged at Friendship and his buddy Rick Jenkins and these two goons I had never seen before ganged up on me. They got me down and started slamming me into the blacktop.”

Bobby’s voice was shaking, but he saw JP smile, and he said, “Take it easy.” They were at Foxhall and Reservoir now, waiting for the traffic on Foxhall to clear, and when it did, JP turned left down Reservoir.

“Okay,” Bobby said, “the worst part is this little weenie Bentley just stood back and let the others take their shots. After they’re through, the little snot acts like he’s been wailing on me all along.”

He looked up at JP, who smiled and said, “That Bentley kid was a girl to get other guys to do his dirty work, but that’s what guys like him always do. And no matter what, when you get into it with other guys, pay back is going to come, and you’ve got to ask: is it worth it?”

“And there’s nothing you can do about rich jerks like Bentley. They’re the worse kind. But jerks come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, and you can’t beat sense into them just because they look funny at you at a bar or you don’t like the pants they have on or something.”

When they pulled into the lot at Georgetown University Hospital, Bobby observed JP turn to him and look at him as if to ask if he got it, and Bobby smiled and nodded. JP parked the car. “Okay; we’ve got this boat docked,” he said. “Let’s get you patched up.”

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My Fairfield Years

In the fall of 1978, when I arrived at Fairfield University – a small Jesuit school in Connecticut – wanting to learn how to write I joined the staff of the school newspaper “The Fairfield Mirror.”

Interviewing Head Baseball Coach and Athletic Director C. Donald Cook about the upcoming baseball season was my first assignment.

Unproven and unqualified, having been on campus two weeks, I went to meet one of the more influential persons there. But, in Cook’s modest office in the Fairfield gym, an obscure freshman and the Athletic Director were on equal footing.

After years of playing their “home” games off campus, Cook’s enthusiasm furthermore for the baseball team’s new on campus home field taught me the first Ignatian lesson I learned at Fairfield: always cultivate gratitude.

Confident yet grateful after my experience with Cook, I covered the baseball, soccer, and rugby teams, and after a month, Sports Editor Steve Motta ‘79 gave me my own column, “Athlete of the Week.”

While writing for “The Mirror” was an education, I also appreciated the formal education I received.

Walter Petry’s Western Civilization classes my freshman year were my most memorable academic experiences at Fairfield.

His legendary quizzes were learning crucibles, unlike anything we had ever experienced. My heart sank when I received a 63 on the first quiz, but my mark was stellar compared to another classmate’s 29.

Mr. Petry paced the floor, pleading with us for a good answer, with his left hand scrunched up as if to snatch up the first decent one, which came his way.

His ardor for knowledge impressed my increasingly restless soul. One spring night freshman year, unable to concentrate on the books assigned to me, I walked to Nyselius Library and took out Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

thomas wolfe

Thomas Wolfe.

Wolfe’s writing about a young writer establishing himself in Manhattan fueled my desire to take advantage of Fairfield’s proximity to the city. I visited my brother Jim and sister-in-law Susan there a couple times a year.

Accompanying them to art galleries, museums, movie theaters, bars, and restaurants dramatically enlarged my world. I wanted to absorb the visual, gustatory, and auditory sensations I experienced even if they almost overwhelmed me.

I studied Jim’s practical lessons. When you hail a cab, step off the curb and shoot your arm straight in the air. And he taught me how to handle cabbies to get where I was going without being taken for a ride. Jim finally taught me one last memorable lesson: never eat at a Needick’s.

Better equipped to live in the “real” world, I didn’t feel like an adult until I was the “Mirror” Sports Editor my senior year.

Striving to achieve the high standards “Mirror” Editor-in-Chief, the estimable Michael “Doc” Dougherty ‘79 established our freshman year, my good friend Carl Gustafson ’82 nonetheless carved his own trail as Editor-in-Chief.

Brimming over with enthusiasm, always running at full speed and volume, challenging us to reach higher, Carl brought out the best in us.

Encouraging us to play softball, go to dinner, support fundraising efforts, enter group academic and athletic contests together, Carl fostered a camaraderie, which brought us closer to each other than we had been to any other group of people.

That camaraderie informing us, and doughnuts, pizza, and Coke fueling us, each Sunday we worked into Monday morning and put out one of the best college papers nationally.

My time as a “Mirror” Editor finally prepared me to live in the world, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Although journalism seemed a natural progression, I sensed I wanted to do something else with my life.

What that could be began to emerge during my senior year when I rediscovered my profound appreciation for what I took for granted; Fairfield is a Jesuit school. Its Jesuitness drew this Georgetown Prep graduate to it.

And the Jesuit Volunteer Corps’ (JVC) Jesuitness encouraged me to apply to the JVC: to do a year of service living and working alongside poor people.

But I believed going into the JVC was buying me time until I figured out what I wanted to do.

However, after a year working at a Latino parish in San Antonio and second year working at a homeless shelter in New Orleans, I was on a journey I couldn’t have anticipated taking as a white male, who grew up in relatively affluent circumstances.

This journey has taken me from the St. Thomas Housing Projects in New Orleans to lean-to shacks in Pickens County, AL, from marching from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to protest the death penalty alongside Sister Helen Prejean to working to overcome racism in Birmingham, AL with people, who marched with Dr. King, from working with undocumented immigrants in Houston to working with African Americans in Washington, DC’s storefront churches.

If Campus Minister, the late Kim McElaney, herself a JVC alumna, hadn’t invited a JVC recruiter to campus in the fall of 1981, none of this would have happened.

But when you promote justice in the service of faith, you encounter more opposition than support, more defeats than victories, and you rely upon your steadfast friends’ unconditional love to remain faithful.

In my case, I rely upon my “Mirror” family. We’ve celebrated weddings and births. We’re happy when our friends’ children do well, but listen compassionately when our friends’ children struggle. We comfort each other as our parents’ health declines, and consoled each other when these parents finally gave up the ghost.

Numerous reunions have strengthened our bonds, and our Fairfield experience just gets better. At our most recent reunion in October 2015, something magical happened when I re-connected with Mary- Margaret Walsh ’84. A past Alumni Association President, she was a “Mirror” Arts and Entertainment and Executive Editor.

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Mary- Margaret and I in a Cleveland Hotel, en route to Chicago for Jim and Susan’s oldest son Ian’s July 2016 wedding.

We took a chance. And traveling between Connecticut and Washington, DC, 35 years after we met, we fell in love, and are engaged to marry.

In the end then, after all these years, Fairfield gave me love and companionship. Who could ask for more?

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