Absence of Bob Flynn lingers longer than Ravens’ loss to Colts

The last time I saw Bob Flynn was in the summer of 2006, during Baltimore Ravens’ training camp at McDaniel College. Flynn was the men’s basketball coach there, literally had the keys to the gym, but he was like any other fan, excited to see professional athletes honing their craft.

Jan. 13 marks the fifth anniversary of the Ravens’ last home playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium, a 15-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning. The sidebar I wrote off the game was quickly forgotten, as it was not the most important story I prepared that day. 

That Saturday in 2007 was sour from the moment word came of the passing of Flynn. He had died the night before, of a massive heart attack, at age 49. Before he was the face of McDaniel basketball, Flynn was a fixture in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, coaching at Mount St. Mary’s and then Cardinal Gibbons, his prep alma mater.

Flynn bled the red of Gibbons, where he was a benchwarmer for Ray Mullis before he went to the Mount. He was a longtime assistant to Jim Phelan at the Mount, and that is a parlor game in itself, debating who was the bigger character of the two. 

The first time I set foot in St. Mark Church in Catonsville was for Flynn’s funeral. I’m not sure what left more of an impression, the legion of former players who packed the church, or the homily from Father Chris Whatley.

When the archdiocese closed Gibbons two years ago, Bob’s legacy became a rallying point for that community. Gibbons had named its basketball floor for its former coach and athletic director. His twin sons, Mike and Ryan, were basketball players there. They moved on to Archbishop Spalding, where Mike is a regular for the basketball team.

Flynn did not take himself seriously, and had a golden touch with the common man. The morning after Flynn died, Phelan told me, “Bob went out of his way to be nice to the fringe people, from the manager to the custodial help.”

Not a bad way to be remembered.

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In good hands with Catholic Relief Services

The Dec. 22 issue of The Catholic Review includes the fourth and final article from my trip in late October to Port-au-Prince Haiti with the leaders of Catholic Relief Services. Ken Hackett, Carolyn Woo and Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas were a delight, as were all the CRS workers in the field. Communications Officer Jean-Daniel LaFontant got me into the audience with Sophia Martelly, the First Lady of Haiti, and SUV companions Jim Stipe and Guito Morand, pictured at the top of the post, made a whirlwind trip go by even faster.

Jim is a photographer for CRS, which graciously allowed The Review the use of his very good stuff. He is good company. Guito was our driver for four days. He is fearless, highly skilled, and able to manuever roads that would intimidate most New York taxi drivers.

I made my first visit to Haiti in April 2010, three months after the earthquake. When I went back with CNS 18 months later, some halting progress could be seen. I saw my first trash truck, and more men in makeshift wheelchairs, earthquake amputees who were likely still immobile on my first  trip.

I’ll be heading back to Haiti next month with Deacon Rod Mortel and Archbishop O’Brien, who will dedicate the James Stine College in St. Marc.. It’s  the high school for kids who have outgrown Le Bons Samaritans, the grade school that has gotten strong support from the Archdiocese.

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Serendipitous visit to Bon Secours in West Baltimore

On this job, every day is a religious experience.

I’ve got an article in the Dec. 15 issue of The Catholic Review on Bon Secours Baltimore Health System.  In late September, the health care provider in West Baltimore launched a new branding and mission with an ecumenical prayer service at 31 W. Fulton St., at the Cathedral of the Burning Bush Saint Michaels Deliverance Ministries. I was late arriving for the service, which included Monsignor Ed Miller, and it was only until I was on the steps of the church and saw the placques honoring war dead did it dawn that this used to be St. Martin Church, where my parents were wed.

Their vows were not made on the altar. It was a mixed marriage, between an Irish Catholic from dirt-poor circumstances in Western Pennsylvania and a Scot-German Protestant from the north shore of Boston who eventually converted. Our keepsakes of the moment include a wedding photo on the steps of the church that includes a priest and my Uncle Bud, the best man, who was known as Shorty before he lost his legs in a mining accident, but I digress.

My Dad was 17 when the Great Depression brought him to West Baltimore, where he moved in with his oldest sister and went to night school at Poly until he fibbed about his age, enlisted in the Army, and served in Pearl Harbor before the Japanese attack. My Mom had been in the Women’s Army Corps, and the two met in Paris shortly after VE Day. Isn’t that romantic? They made their first home in Curtis Bay and settled in Brooklyn Park, but every Christmas day we returned to his first neighborhood in Baltimore, where we visited his brothers and their families on Eagle and Payson Streets.

Other than an aunt’s funeral at St. Benedict’s and the occasional Night of 100 Elvises at the Lithuanian Hall, I haven’t found much reason in recent decades to go back to those Baltimore neighborhoods. The loss of manufacturing jobs in Baltimore and white flight combined to shutter a lot of parishes in Baltimore, among them St. Martin, which in 2008 closed and became part of Transfiguration Catholic Community. It remains a gorgeous worship space.

My parents were married there on April 27, 1946. I hadn’t paid much mind to the date until 41 years later, when I called to tell my Mom that my Mary had just given birth to a son. Just widowed, my Mom was very happy indeed with the timing of the delivery, as it came on her first wedding anniversary without my Dad. She was thrilled to have a new Don in her life.

Thanks, Bon Secours, for the memories.

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Like the man in the song, Ken Hackett has been everywhere

Ken Hackett and I were passing time at Miami International Airport  Oct. 23, waiting for a connection to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when I asked how many nations he had visited.

“It’s easier,” he said, “to list the ones I haven’t been to.”

Hackett, a Peace Corps veteran, faithful employee of Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services since 1972 and its president since 1993, does get around. 

In the Western Hemisphere, he has never been to Belize, Chile or Peru. In Africa, he has not set foot in Gabon and Namibia. In Europe, he has never seen Azerbaijan, what was once part of the Soviet Union. He hasn’t seen much of the Himalayas, as his passport still lacks stamps from Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet.

“There’s another one in Asia I haven’t been too, can’t remember the name, king married a commoner, the country has a very high standard of living,” Hackett said. “When I had responsibility for the Pacific, I couldn’t figure out how to get from  Kiribati to Tuvalu without taking a week, so there were places there I didn’t get to either.”

On what was expected to be his last overseas field trip, Hackett spent one hot morning hiking through a Port-au-Prince neighborhood CRS is helping stabilize, and the same afternoon was part of a delegation that visited the first lady of Haiti, Sophia Martelly. One CRS staffer (thanks to Jim Stipe for the accompanying image) asked Hackett how he kept his suit jacket fresh.

“Hang it in the bathroom when you’re showering,” he said. “Removes the wrinkles.”

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Read (kindled?) any good books lately?

The Catholic Review had its annual Summer Reading issue a few weeks ago, and putting it together gave me an opportunity to review my recent reading list and give thanks for good writers, and the family, friends and co-workers who keep giving me good reads on Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day, etc. Moving backward, here’s what has provided me with refreshment and relief from screens and keyboards in recent months.

WHAT IS THE WHAT. Dug into Dave Eggers’ rendering of the life of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, just after Independence Day for Southern Sudan. Powerful stuff from author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Thank you, sister Sharon and brother Bernd.

ALPHA BETTER JUICE or THE JOY OF TEXT. Roy Blount Jr. is a great man of letters, and loves picking apart the origins of their combinations. First encountered Blount with About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, his take on the absurd world of pro football and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the mid-1970s. Funny man. Thanks, Kate.

BORN TO RUN. A HIDDEN TRIBE, SUPERATHLETES, AND THE GREATEST RACE THE WORLD HAS NEVER SEEN. Courtesy of my son, Don, I finally got around to Christopher McDougall’s 2009 analysis of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, high-priced footwear, North American diets and my favorite way to move. McDougall’s anthropology of running and strong narrative makes for one of the best sports book I’ve enjoyed since Babe, The Legend Comes to Life, Robert Creamer’s 1974 classic on Baltimore’s favorite son, Babe Ruth.

NATIVE AMERICA, DISCOVERED AND CONQUERED. THOMAS JEFFERSON, LEWIS AND CLARK and MANIFEST DESTINY. In late May, during vacation in the Northwest, my wife Mary helped satiate my obsession with Lewis and Clark with a visit to Fort Clatstop, where their expedition spent the winter of 1805-06 outside present day Astoria, Oregon. A park ranger mentioned that American – and before it, European – expansionism can be traced to a 15th century papal bull, so I picked up this work by Robert J. Miller, a lawyer, professor and Native American. It includes the wincing reminder that the Declaration of Independence includes reference to “merciless Indian savages.”

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS. My jet reading for flight out west was Rebecca Skloot’s best-seller on the ethics of medical research, against a backdrop of Baltimore in the 1950s. If you haven’t read it yet, do so. Now.

BOB DYLAN IN AMERICA. Thank you, editorial staff, for the birthday present of Sean Wilentz’s take on the life and times of my favorite poet. Bob borrows only from the best, and makes no bones about it. We’ve got very good seats for his Aug. 16 show in Columbia.

What books are on your recommended list?


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John Mackey added to poignancy of funeral for John Unitas

On Sept. 17, 2002, I ignored the request that media not attend the funeral of John Unitas, tucked a note pad into my blazer and entered a pew in the back of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. I’m not sure if it was during a reading or one of the many spoken tributes to the great Baltimore Colts quarterback when a large man in a cowboy hat began to wander the aisles of the Cathedral, like a small child separated from his parents.

What I do recall, is that for most in the congregation, it was our first realization that John Mackey’s battle with dementia was very real, and accelerating. Mackey died July 6, at age 69. He revolutionized the tight end position in pro football, continued to break ground as a labor activist, and alas, also reminded us of the delicacy of the human brain – and condition.

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Schaefer would do anything to put Baltimore in a good light

William Donald Schaefer made the rounds in Baltimore City for the last time April 25, when a number of Baltimore pastors made it a point to be outside the Basilica on Cathedral Street, when a touring motorcade stopped for a brief blessing and prayer from Bishop Denis J. Madden (see photo below).  Monsignor Ed Miller, the pastor of St. Bernardine (see photo above, courtesy of Deacon Wardell Paul Barksdale), talked of the example Schaefer set during his years as mayor, from 1971-87. “He did so many things that insprired people. He energized people. He really cared.”

Father Dick Lawrence, the longtime pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, remembers the lengths – figuratively and literally – Schaefer went to to cast the city in a good light.

“We had the (church) tower lit, but then money became an issue,” Father Lawrence said, warming to a circa 1980 anecdote. “I ran into the mayor, and he said ‘You don’t have it lit, why?’ I told him, we couldn’t afford it, ‘$50 for each light bulb, $50 for the guy to put in each one, $900 for scaffolding.’ I get a call from the fire department, Battalion Chief No. 6, Ladder No. 1. ‘Father, can I borrow your tower for a training drill?’ The fire department replaced the lights, and the tower was lit again. That was Schaefer. He would do anything for his city.”

Between his stints as governor and state comptroller, Schaefer donated his time to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mayfield, during its “Raise the Roof” campaign, which added a third floor to its parish school. Monsignor Bill Burke recruited Schaefer to be honorary chairman of the campaign. In spring 1997, Schaefer pressed the flesh at a fundraiser on Erdman Avenue. The roof was raised, and the school is open and thriving.  

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