The Irish Catholic Hajj Lived

The trek towards Middle America is daunting in an Econoline van, 700 miles and 11 hours long.  Yet the draw for a 17-strong contingent of Philadelphia area products from the Roman Catholic Church and school systems is irresistible, as witnessed by a core group that has made the South Bend trek to University of Notre Dame football games 17 times now.  

The underside of an obscure card table, inscribed with the names of past participants documents the participants from year-to-year.  Those making the Hajj for the first time dutifully add (R) to their names to signify their rookie status.  We also made habit of marveling at the precision organization, courtesy of Major General (Honarary) Edward Brady (Father Judge ’74), and execution.  Staying out of the way – unless called upon – for fear of ruining the mojo.

The group was not nearly as rowdy as might have been – and probably was – years ago.  Then again most of use are on the downhill side of 50 or below sea-level of 60!  It does seem to mute the wackiness.  The one exception being the call to “Huddle up!!” by Staff Sargeant (Hon) Lenny, a call to imbibe shots of intestinal fortitude.

You learn to celebrate Life more managably as you grow older.

Friday was for a tour of the Notre Dame campus, steeped in history not limited to football.  As a Philly guy, never quite bitten as badly by the ND bug, hearing the story of John Cardinal O’Hara (former Philadelphia Cardinal of the Archdiocese and President of Notre Dame) next to his marble crypt is one example.  The Battle of Gettysburg story of Reverend William Corey, steadying New York’s Irish Brigade in the hours before their date with Destiny at Little Round Top and the wheat field, is quite another.

As for the football experience, the pageantry and loyal following the Fighting Irish inspire is evident at every venue.  For me, the excitement generated by the Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish, on Friday particularly with the horn section warming up the crowd inside The Rotunda was simply spectacular!


Saturday, the focus was FOOTBALL … not to be overshadowed by perhaps the nicest stretch of weather shining down on the Best Tailgating Experience ever!  (OK … Honestly the guy with the satellite dish and 40+ inch screen might have an edge here.)  It’s difficult to imagine a better day.

The Miami of Ohio – Notre Dame game was anticlimactic, given the obvious talent gap and the Irish’s ability to step on Miami’ s throat in the 1st Quarter (Final: ND 52 – Miami 17).  But the highlight truly is that there’s much, much more to enjoy at the Notre Dame Football experience than just a lopsided victory!


View of our rental’s backyard in the vicinity of the University of Notre Dame

The Irish American Hajj

Sixteen men, one determined young lady, two Econoline vans (bench seats), 700 miles, 11 hours … A journey meant for the die-hard fans of The Golden Dome, The Fighting Irish, Knute Rockne, The Four Horsemen, and other Legends of the Gridiron ….

An American Hajj (Commitment)

A two-decade tradition expanded to include wannabes and hangers-on.  The planning intricate, resourceful, learned … Leadership the envy of military staffers ….

We depart at zero-dark-thirty for the University of Notre Dame with kisses from the women folk left behind. (Admittedly some of which are not all that worried about more spacious beds, cooking for one, and quiet evenings curled up with Netflix.)  The assault vehicles are loaded; GPS devices homed in; coffeed up and leisurely fed by one weekend widow, we are Oscar Mike!

Has anyone seen Bob Casey?!?

The only place to find Senator Bob Casey

In Pennsylvania, we’re deeply concerned.  It seems that one of our U.S. Senators is MISSING!!

At first, no one was very concerned.  After all, Senator Bob Casey wasn’t exactly a Public Presence anywhere in Washington, D.C. – let alone in Pennsylvania – for almost the entire SIX YEARS that he’s been Pennsylvania’s lesser light in U.S. Senate.

Go ahead and take a minute … Think back as far as you can over the past six years and ask yourself, how many times you have heard of Bob Casey accomplishing anything for Pennsylvania or anything for the country?  How many times have you heard Senator Zero speak out to you – as Pennsylvanians or as Americans – on the important issues of the day?  What has he DONE during his SIX YEARS in the U.S. Senate?

For comparison look to the public profile of Pennsylvania’s other U.S. Senator, Pat Toomey.  If you pay attention, you will see him cable and TV news outlets, advocating for those programs and actions he believes would improve the country. Whether you agree or disagree with Toomey is immaterial; he is out there putting his reputation and political future on the line!

Senator Zero – The REAL Bob Casey

Bob Casey?  His biggest contribution as a U.S. Senator has been as a Silent Supporter of President Obama’s policies and programs, including Obamacare, the Economy with its 12.3 million people out of work, the National Debt which is up from $10 Trillion to $16 Trillion, and the decisions to “distance” the U.S. from Israel.

Then ask yourself, Where has Senator Casey been on the important social issues of the day?  Issues like women’s choice or gay marriage??  As a devout Catholic, Bob Casey believes Rowe v. Wade should be overturned and is opposed to gay marriage.  Yet a review of Bob Casey’s website shows NOTHING on EITHER subject.

You want to know why you won’t find them?  You won’t find them because Bob Casey knows many Democrats, those who will vote this Tuesday for President Obama, would not normally vote for an anti-Choice, anti-gay marriage candidate!

Bob Casey would rather stay SILENT than take a public stand that would potentially damage his Political Prospects!


Tom Smith … Facing the Issues. Bob Casey? Not so much …

Tom Smith is a self-made man, who mortgaged everything he had to create Jobs and Opportunity in Pennsylvania.  He managed several successful Businesses through tough economies in highly regulated industries.

As a fiscal conservative, he wants to simplify the tax code and to reign in out-of-control Federal spending.  As a successful creator of energy jobs in Pennsylvania, Mr. Smith is in favor of developing American energy opportunities to provide jobs for Americans.

Visit the Tom Smith for Senate website to learn more or to make a donation to the American Red Cross for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  You can also check out Tom Smith’s DETAILED plans for the Country on his issues website.

You may not agree with Tom Smith on every issue; but at least he’s not shy about telling you where he stands!

Then, when you leave the Smith website, take a wander over to Bob Casey’s website for the three-sentence blurbs he provides on the important issues in this country.

Just don’t expect anything on Women’s Rights or LGBT issues.  They aren’t there, and for good reason.

Senator Zero – The REAL Bob Casey

Now ask yourself, is this the kind of Senator Pennsylvania needs?

Rick Santorum, Values over Politics

I have always admired Rick Santorum as a politician.  You know what he believes; what he values; and more importantly where he will stand next week, next month, next year.  He can not sneak up on anyone.  His positions are well-known; and he sticks to what he believes regardless of how unpopular those views and values are with certain segments of the electorate.

From a political point-of-view, Rick Santorum is a breath of fresh air. 

That is why this moderate Pennsylvania Republican has always found Santorum to be a sound choice among state and national politicians.  Santorum’s stance on social issues – whether you agree or vehemently disagree  – are honest to a fault; based on a foundation of personal belief; and never affected by the expediencies of political popularity. 

This is important because I have become disgusted with the nature of National Politics and National Politicians on BOTH sides of the aisle.  The vitriol, the skullduggery, the deliberate efforts to undermine progress on the National Agenda has exceeded my patience.  It has gotten to the point that I prefer to limit my political interests and activities to local issues and offices. 

So when it comes to politics on the National Level, I’ll take predictable, principled, and reliable over swaying with the breeze of Public Opinion.  The Best Man should win over The Best Politician every time!

You do not see this principled approach from Mitt Romney, who is universally recognized as a politician that moves effortlessly from one position to another depending on how the political winds blow.  

You will not see President Obama taking politically unpopular positions on issues such as gay marriage – despite his steep Liberal Inclinations – or the sacrifices needed to save Social Security and the National Budget in a re-election year.  Remember the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission???  President Obama wishes you wouldn’t. 

Many fear Rick Santorum for the personal values he holds and the potential for how those values would play out in the realm of social issues.  This anxiety is not new.  Every conservative candidate for President has been feared by their liberal counterparts for their stance on social issues.  In Santorum’s case, the reaction is more visceral because he will not abandon those positions when campaigning.  He did it in his unsuccessful bid to win re-election to The Senate in 2006; and he is doing it now as well.  

But Fear of Santorum is misplaced based on what I would refer to as The Oval Office Effect.

  • The Presidency changes you.  Just ask President Obama.  Examine what happened to his pledges to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as he entered The Office, or how quickly his promise to empty Guantanamo Bay of terrorists in order to try them on U.S. soil went by the wayside.  Then ask yourself, what did he learn in the intervening months of transition that undoubtably changed his “hard and fast” campaign positions?   
  • When one ascends to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, layers and layers of National Responsibility are revealed and the weight of those charges is enough to make any President mindful of ALL the People he is bound to protect and serve.
  • John F. Kennedy‘s candidacy in 1960 faced some of the same fears of Religious Influence.  Many in the country feared his ties to the Vatican – solely because he was an active, practicing Catholic – as an open door for The Pope to influence U.S. policy and international relations.  Those fears were never realized.
  • A President is a National Leader, yet he controls only one-third of the Government’s check-and-balance structure.  All Presidents enter The Office with their own sets of values, priorities, and bases of power … be they Liberal or Conservative, religious or secular, progressive or populist.  The effects these positions have on public policy are limited through parlays with the House and Senate, as well as the challenge of running the gauntlet of Judicial Review.        
  • Mid-term elections in the House of Representatives offer the possibility of drastically changing political coalitions.  The threat that an entire National Agenda can be waylaid by such shifts in the political orientation of Congress tends to reign in the more controversial tendencies of any President.

None of this would reflect a change in Santorum’s long-held values.  But it does speak to the practical political reality of affecting sweeping changes to social policy based on those values.  

This rationalization will mean nothing to those on the opposite end of the Political Spectrum from Rick Santorum.  But for those who are more moderate in their politics and in their views on social issues, it is important to consider the political realities of National Leadership and to resist the temptation to toss aside such a principled politician as Rick Santorum simply because his position on social issues is seen as controversial or unpopular.

A case of priest sexual abuse too close to home

I am sickened and disgusted … again.

News broke last night and was prominently reported in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer on a new sexual abuse case linked to children attending an Archdiocese of Philadelphia school.  In this case several individuals, including two priests and a sixth-grade lay teacher were indicted by a grand jury for the abuse of two male students – ages 10 and 14 at the time of the assaults – at St. Jerome Church and School in Northeast Philadelphia.

This is the same parish both my wife and I attended as a children during the late ’60s and early ’70s.  I graduated in 1970 … Carol in 1972, along with my brother and several other friends.  Almost everyone I grew up with was associated with St. Jerome.  And many of us have friends and family still living there.  Carol and I were married in the church.  And both my parents and Carol’s mother were buried after funeral Masses at St. Jerome. 

I think having so many personal connections to that parish – its neighborhoods and its people – makes this more personal.

I left St. Jerome in 1985, when Carol and I were married.  We then attended St. Martha’s, also in NE Philly.  Currently, we live in Horsham, PA and I have been an on-again, off-again member of St. Catherine of Siena.  More off-again – than on – for several years, mostly due to my failed faith.

But not my failed faith in God, or in the belief that His Son, Jesus Christ came to us as Savior.  No, it’s much more my failed faith in what the Church has become in its quest to minimize liability in cases of sexual abuse of children by members of its clergy. 

The Church’s reactions to these assaults is simply incomprehensible, unless it is placed in the context of a very wealthy plaintiff desperately scrambling to protect financial assets from victims’ need for closure and their righteous desire for justice.  In any other context offered by The Church, it makes absolutely no sense. 

I have failed long ago in trying to comprehend the need of some adults to prey on the trust, innocence, and vulnerability of children.  If this was the extent of the problem, I could live with my sense of disgust and the compelling urge to clamor for state-sponsored castration in these cases.

Unfortunately, it goes way, way beyond my tolerance level to witness the continuing actions of The Church when confronted with priests (and now a teacher) who prey on kids.  How is that The Church can claim that its people ARE The Church when they consistently refuse to protect their flock from the wolves that abuse?!?  How many times can you transfer an individual, against whom credible accusations of abuse exist, from church to church, from and to positions of authority and trust, without performing the only decent actions required … turning the accusations over to law enforcement for investigation and getting the abusers out of The Church and away from children?!?           

The grand jury report, resulting from the Philadelphia D.A.’s investigation,  states that one of the accused, serving as Secretary for Clergy, “… was acutely interested in shielding abusive clergy from criminal detection … and … the Archdiocese from financial liability.”  

This is the crux of the problem, a church more interested in protecting assets than in protecting the true Church – the people who worship there. 

I have made two attempts since turning 40 to return to The Church.  In one attempt I even went beyond my usual apathetic attitude towards spiritual involvement in a way that made me feel good about myself and what The Lord meant – and could mean – in my life.  But in each attempt, renewed allegations of clergy abuse of children and the more infuriating revelations of inaction or outright cover-up by the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. has smothered whatever flickering flames my attempts rekindled.

It is no longer worth the effort.

Sister Mary Elephant

Sister teaching a class 1960'sCertainly my experiences in the parochial schools of Philadelphia were no different from anyone else in the late 60’s/early ’70’s.  We had nuns we loved and respected.  And then there were those we resisted with every fiber of our being, in many cases for no other reason than they expected way more from us than we were willing to give them, with no appreciation for their efforts to prepare us for the outside world.  The clarity of hindsight forces us to recognize that those Sisters – despite our rebellions and organized disobedience – always had our best interests at heart.

But that’s beside the point.

Whenever opportunity provides for a group of Catholic grade school products to gather, their stories and laughter inevitably address those unforgettable experiences at the hands of the more colorful creatures in dark-colored habits.  They tend not to dwell on those less-than-memorable nuns who were simply great teachers.  No, the best stories involve those blessed religious figures with the unique personalities, quirky mannerisms, and – in some cases – borderline psychoses that rendered them unforgettable.

Of these I had a few …


“None” looked like this though …

My fondest memory by far was of saintly Sister Ann David in the first grade at Immaculate Conception (1962-66) in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.  (The school was located on E.Chelten Ave, but was lost years ago to a fire.)  She had me hook, line, and sinker as a wide-eyed, overwhelmed fledgling.  She was kind and gentle … an excellent choice for the task of quelling my grade school terrors.  Another sterling example of what Sisters could offer in terms of positive childhood experience was Sister Bartholomew, who taught at my second parochial school, St. Jerome (1966-70) in the Holme Circle section of Northeast Philly.  She was the perfect mix of grandmotherly love, combined with a stern refusal to put up with the antics of a herd of prepubescent teens.

The characters-in-habit that I remember most – however – were those in my later grades at St. Jerome.  There was Sister Cecelia in the fifth grade, whose seemingly non-stop lotion-rubbing hands were always held almost prayerfully at chin level, as if preaching her lessons to her flock.  There was also the bent-over Sister Mary Magdalene, always short-tempered with a face reddened by boiling blood pressure.  She once beat a fellow student so crazily she actually peed herself … or so the legend goes.


… more like this.

Needless to say, said fellow student probably got what he deserved; and it’s hard to look back on those days, when kids our age enjoyed expressing our independence and testing the limits of religious patience, without a good bit of guilt.  Exasperating the tender inclinations of the good Sisters (Okay … To be perfectly honest, not all of them had tender inclinations.) as they tried to instill in us the favorable qualities of the Palmer Method, the Baltimore Catechism, and long division were not our most Catholic of moments.

But I digress …

By far our most “Sister Mary Elephant experience” came in the classroom of Sister Margaret Leonore, a droopy-faced, ruddy-complexioned saint.  She was so clearly over-matched by the rebellious miscreants who swept through her classroom every day.  Her venue was the vehicle for my only foray into the realm of class clown, which may have been the height of my grade school rebelliousness.  For I was not brave enough to try it with any of the other nuns.  But Sister L always seemed like such a push-over, almost incapable of discipline.  And that was a recipe for classroom disaster!

So the patients ran the asylum.  Every possible disruption, class delaying tactic, and sophomoric stunt was trotted out to howling laughter and a slowly building pot of boiling frustration in the good Sister.  But it could only go on until the limits of Sister Leonore’s patience were breached and explosively overwhelmed.  If you listened closely, you could hear the tension rising in her voice; her aggravation level bubbling over.  You knew it was just a matter of time.

“Children …. Be Quiet.  OK … That’s enough.  Sit down, please.  OK, class, Let’s get back to work.  Class … Class … Please be quiet!  Class … Class …

“SHUT UP!!!”

Ah … the memories …


Of course, I’m sure we drove them a bit too far from time-to-time.


(I hereby pledge – despite this blog’s name – to keep the lawn references to an absolute minimum.  Having said that, I think “Roots” best describes a discussion of where one comes from … a sort of “from the ground up” perspective.  Apologies to Alex Haley!)

Product of lower-middle-to-middle class, blue-collar Irish-American parentage … More American than Irish in a time when most adults in my version of the ’60s and ’70s more readily identified themselves with their hyphenated semi-European ethnicity.  Fact is, they were probably the last generation that relied so heavily on hyphenated Americanism to describe who they were.  But back then in Philly, it was still easy to identify sections of the city as having been at one time predominantly German, Polish, Italian, etc.

Dad was a World War II vet and worked in a steel processing plant – not in one of those huge, imposing steel mills that dotted much of Pennsylvania, making steel from raw ores.  It was more a facility processing steel into finished industrial products (wire, sheet metal, washers, fasteners, etc.).  He worked very hard in a dirty, sweaty environment.  But despite working in a union shop, it often seemed he could barely keep our financial heads above water.  He was a strongly committed and active Roman Catholic, insisting on maintaining his tithe to The Church even when he had trouble making ends meet.  Dad had his faults, but being anything other than a good father wasn’t one of them. 

Mom was a mom, and solely a mom.  Nothing other than wife and homemaker was necessary in describing her.  She stayed at home.  She never held outside employment.  Didn’t have much of an outside life period.  Never even drove a car.  Relied on Dad for everything.  It was remarkable in a way you NEVER see today.  But in the end, it was extremely limiting to her sense of self outside the family.  I never really appreciated what she gave up until Dad passed away, and she was left with no way to do anything for herself.  But as a mom, she was always there.  We always had that presence in the house.  And I honestly can’t recall more than a day here or there when she wasn’t there for us.  It was a sacrifice that’s impossible for me to adequately put to words.

Both Mom and Dad came from HUGE families … the Irish-Catholic way!  It mattered not which side of the family was involved; extended family gatherings were incredibly loud and crowded affairs.  To a kid it was both intimidating and wondrous. Who were all these people?!?

Of course, my parents were also products of The Great Depression (These stories alone could shape a few posts here!) and World War II, which had to be extremely difficult circumstances for large families.  So I often wonder whether that was why – despite their standing as “good Irish-Catholics” – there was only me, my brother Patrick, and my sister Joanne.  But I sure do remember many references to “the rhythm method”!

There is so much more I could go into here … some other time perhaps.  But going only this far, serves my purposes for the moment.