Monday, September 28, 2009

John Brown, the Abolitionist: Hero, Villain, Madman, or Saint?

I was surprised to learn that John Brown, the abolitionist who led the raid on Harper's Ferry (and who was executed because of that raid) spent most of his life in Northeastern Ohio. Brown was born in Connecticut but moved at an early age to the Ohio frontier, living in Akron, Hudson, Richfield, and Franklin Mills, which is now called Kent (the site of Kent State University). Brown was a man of action who addressed the most terrible sin of American history, the sin of slavery. His raid on Harper's Ferry and previous actions taken by him and his cohorts were certainly among the cause of the Civil War--and, you might say, of the abolition of slavery. Despite my admiration of Brown, I'm deeply conflicted by his resort to deadly violence in pursuit of his cause.[more coming]

For more on this, see today's Plain Dealer, "Abolitionist Brown Had Northeast Ohio Ties" (28 September 2009), B-1 and B-3. Also, there is a historical marker on the town square in beautiful Hudson, Ohio, and lots of other resources on John Brown in the Greater Cleveland area. The Plain Dealer article might be available online at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Potato Blight in North America This Year

The vector that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s made an appearance in my
Northeast Ohio garden this year. But in my case, it didn't attack potatoes (I hadn't planted any potatoes), but my tomatoes. Because of cold, wet weather this summer, tomatoes all over the Northeast of the United States (and I imagine Canada) have suffered from "Late Blight," as it is called.

Wikipedia's article on "Late Blight" or Potato Blight begins, "Phytophthora infestans is an oomycete or water mold that causes the serious potato disease known as late blight or potato blight. (Early blight, caused by Alternaria solani, is also often called 'potato blight'). It was a major culprit in the 1845 Irish and 1846 Highland potato famines. The organism can also infect tomatoes and some other members of the Solanaceae." For the complete article click on this link:

I have written about the Irish Potato Famine, An Gorta Mor, at other times in this blog. So there is a biological or genetic basis for the blight. But there also was a human basis for the starvation and suffering that followed. The almost unbelievable human suffering could have been mitigated. Famines are often human inventions.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mary Travers--American Treasure. Rest in Peace.

Mary Travers, an American Treasure, passed away on Wednesday, September 16th at age 72. Mary, along with Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, consituted the singing group "Peter, Paul, and Mary" and gave to America and the World iconic songs and brave witness. When I think of Mary and her group I think of the likes of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Judy Collins. We will miss her voice, her artistry, and her social conscience. Rest in Peace, Mary Travers.

Wikipedia link:

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Poem to Honor 9-11 Hero, Fr. Mychal Judge OFM

A poem I wrote 16 years ago:

Fr. Mychal Judge, FDNY, Requiescat in Pace
Blunt force facts smack us in the face,

proclaim this martyrdom,
raise up this simple priest—

68-year-old Franciscan, Father Mychal Judge,
at an age when he should be easing into retirement,
maybe visiting hospitals twice a week
saying a couple masses on Sundays
taking long vacations to Killarney and Lago di Como . . .

rushes from St. Francis of Assisi Church
in the shadow of Madison Square Garden,
across the street from Engine Co. 1/ Ladder 24,
to the World Trade Center Towers and Armageddon:

Fr. Mike removes his helmet to whisper prayers,
anoints a dying brother fireman with the oils of the Last Rites,
the final comfort . . .


whacked by flying debris, bodies,
steel, glass, paper,
hopes, dreams,

breath punched out, life snuffed.

When his brothers in the Department
see the lifeless body, recognize Fr. Mike,
their chaplain,

Five of them lift him up on their shoulders,
carry him to a nearby church,
place him at the altar.

They cover him with a white cloth and his stole,
lay his helmet and FDNY chaplain’s badge
on his chest
kneel down and

Thank God for Fr. Mike’s life.

Then they hurry back to the Pile, the rubble, the Disaster,
Ground Zero,
the End of the World.

* * *

Life and love will overcome
the furious hatred and darkness

Fr. Mike will not be forgotten:

“His light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness will not overcome it.”

(Robert M. Coughlin September 25, 2001)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Saints of 9-11; Fr. Mychal Judge OFM

There were many heroes and saints on September 11, 2001--many whose names will never be widely known. One only has to think of the policemen, firefighters, and other official and non-official rescuers and helpers on that day and the days that followed.

One great hero, really a great saint and martyr of that day, was Fr. Mychal F. Judge OFM, a Franciscan priest and chaplain of the FDNY. When the WTC was struck, Fr. Mychal immediately rushed to the building, where he offered last rights to the dying. When the South Tower began collapsing at 9:59 AM, Fr. Mychal was killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. His colleagues and friends in the fire department carried his body from the WTC site to a nearby church. The NYC coroner determined he was the first victim of the disaster, Victim #0001. A famous photograph captured the image of the firefighters and rescue workers carrying the lifeless body of the saint from the wreckage. To see this photo and to see the many articles, books, movies, and other related materials on Fr. Mychal can click on the following link:

St. Mychal Judge, Pray For Us!

Here is the homily from Fr. Mychal Judge's funeral:

Fr. Michael Duffy's Homily For Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM
September 15, 2001
by: Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM.

Your Eminence, Mr. President, our provincial Father John, family and friends of Mychal Judge, good morning everyone and welcome to this celebration. And it is a celebration. My first thought would be for Michael’s sisters, Dympna and Erin. Our hearts are with you all these days and in the days to come.
After all that has been written about Father Mychal Judge in the newspapers, after all that has been spoken about him on television, the compliments, the accolades, the great tribute that was given to him last night at the Wake Service, I stand in front of you and honestly feel that the homilist at Mother Teresa’s funeral had it easier than I do. [LAUGHTER]
We Franciscans have very many traditions. You, who know us, know that some are odd, some are good. I don't know what category this one fills. [LAUGHTER]
One of our traditions is that we’re all given a sheet of paper. The title on the top says, "On the Occasion of Your Death." Notice, it doesn’t say, in case you die. [LAUGHTER] We all know that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. But on that sheet of paper lists categories that each one of us is to fill out, where we want our funeral celebrated, what readings we’d like, what music we’d like, where we’d like to be buried.
Mychal Judge filled out, next to the word homilist, my name, Mike Duffy. I didn’t know this until Wednesday morning. I was shaken and shocked … for one thing, as you know from this gathering, Mychal Judge knew thousands of people. He knew, he seemed to know everybody in the world. And if he didn’t then, they know him now, I’m sure. Certainly he had friends that were more intellectual than I, certainly more holy than I, people more well known. And so I sat with that thought, why me … and I came down to the conclusion that I was simply and solely his friend … and I’m honored to be called that.
I always tell my volunteers in Philadelphia that through life, you’re lucky if you have four or five people whom you can truly call a friend. And you can share any thought you have, enjoy their company, be parted and separated, come back together again and pick up right where you left off. They’ll forgive your faults and affirm your virtues. Mychal Judge was one of those people for me. And I believe and hope I was for him …
We as a nation have been through a terrible four days and it doesn’t look like it’s ending. Pope John Paul called Tuesday a dark day in the history of humanity. He said it was a terrible affront to human dignity. In our collective emotions, in our collective consciousness, all went through the same thing on Tuesday morning.
I was driving a van in Philadelphia picking up food for our soup kitchen, when I began to hear the news, one after another after another. You all share that with me. We all felt the same … It was at 2 o’clock in the afternoon that I came back to the soup kitchen, feeling very heavy with the day’s events. At 4:30, I received a call from Father Ron Pecci, my good friend. I was, we were serving the meal to the homeless. And I was called to the phone. And he said, "It’s happened." And I said, "What?" And he said, "Mychal Judge is dead."
At that moment, my already strained emotions did spiritually what the World Trade towers had done physically just hours before. And I felt inside … my whole spirit crumble to the ground and … turn into a pile of rubble at the bottom of my heart. I sat down on the stairs to the cellar, with the phone still to my ear and we cried for 15 minutes.
Later that day, I was in my room. I had my head in my hands, on my desk, and a very holy friar, whom I have the privilege to live with, Father Charlie Finnegan, just gently slipped a piece of paper in front of me and whispered, "This was written thousands of years ago in the midst of a national tragedy. It’s a quote from the Book of Lamentations." "The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies are not spent. Every morning, they are renewed. Great is his faithfulness. I will always trust in him." I read that quote and I pondered and listened, contemplated. I thought of other passages in the Gospel that said, evil will not triumph, that in the darkest hour when Jesus lay dying on the cross, that suffering led to the resurrection.
I read and thought that the light is better than darkness, hope better than despair. And in thinking of my faith and the faith of Mychal Judge and all he taught me and from scripture … I spiritually began to lift up my head and once again see the stars. And so, I had the courage today to stand in front of you to celebrate Mychal’s life. For it is his life that speaks, not his death. It is his courage that he showed on Tuesday that speaks, not my fear. And it is his hope and belief in the goodness of all people that speaks, not my despair. And so I am here to talk about my friend.
Because so much has been written about him, I’m sure you know his history. He was a New Yorker through and through. As you know, he was born in Brooklyn … He was born, well, some of you may not know this, he was a twin. Dympna is his twin … He was born May 11th, she was born May 13th. [LAUGHTER] Even in birth, Mychal had to have a story. [LAUGHTER] He just did nothing normally, no. [LAUGHTER]
He grew up in Brooklyn playing stickball and riding his bike like all the little kids then. Then, as you’ve heard the story so many times, he put the shoe polish, the rags in a bag and took his bicycle over here, and in front of the Flatiron building, he shined shoes for extra money, when he was a little kid. But very early on in his life, when he was a teenager, and this is a little unusual, because of the faith that he believed, that his mother and his sisters passed on to him, because of his love for God and Jesus, he thought he would like to be a Franciscan for the rest of his life. And so, as a teenager, he joined the friars. And he never left. He never left because his spirit was truly, purely Franciscan, simple, joyful, life loving and laughter. He was ordained in 1961 and spent many years as a parish priest in New Jersey, East Rutherford, Rochelle Park, West Milford. Spent some time at Siena College, one year I believe in Boston.
And then he came back to his beloved New York, whose heart really never left the city. But I came to know him ten years after he was ordained. I was ordained and this is a little ironic … My 30th anniversary of ordination was Tuesday, September 11th . This always was a happy day for me, and I think from now, it’s going to be mixed. But my first assignment was very happy. I was sent to East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Mychal was there working in parochial work. And of course, if you know in the seminary, we learned a lot of theory. We learn a lot of knowledge but you really have to get out with people to know how to deal and how to really minister. So, I arrived there with my eyes wide open, my ears wide open. And my model turned out to be Mychal Judge. He was, without knowing it, my mentor and I was his pupil. I watched how he dealt with people. He really was a people person. While the rest of us were running around organizing altar boys and choirs and liturgies and decorations, he was in his office listening. His heart was open. His ears were open and especially he listened to people with problems.
He carried around with him an appointment book. He had appointments to see people four and five weeks in advance. He would come to the rec room at night at 11:30, having just finished his last appointment, because when he related to a person, and you all know this, they felt like he was their best friend. When he was talking with you, you were the only person on the face of the earth. And he loved people and that showed and that makes all the difference. You can serve people but unless you love them, it’s not really ministry. In fact, a description that St. Bonaventure wrote of St. Francis once, I think is very apt for Michael. St. Bonaventure said that St. Francis had a bent for compassion. And certainly Mychal Judge did. The other thing about Mychal Judge is he loved to be where the action was. If he heard … a fire engine or a police car, any news, in the car he’d go and away he’d be off. He loved to be where people were active, where there was a crisis, so he could insert God in what was going on. That was his way of doing things.
I remember once I came back to the friary and the secretary told me, "There’s a hostage situation in Carlstadt and Mychal Judge is up there." So, I said, "Oh, gosh." Well, I got in the car … drove up there. There was a house and there was a man on the second floor with a gun pointed to his wife’s head and the baby in her arms. And he was threatening to kill her. When I got there, there were several people around, lights, policemen and a fire truck. And where was Mychal Judge? Up on the ladder in his habit, on the top of the ladder, talking to the man through the window of the second floor. I nearly died because in one hand he had his habit out like this, because he didn’t want to trip. So, he was hanging on the ladder with one hand. He wasn’t very dexterous, anyway. [LAUGHTER] I was fearful and he was, you know, his head bobbing like, "Well, you know, John, maybe we can work this out. You know, this really isn’t the way to do it. Why don’t you come downstairs, and we’ll have a cup of coffee and talk this thing over?" I was there, we’re all there, saying, "He’s going to fall off the ladder. There’s going to be a gunplay." Not one ounce of fear did he show. But he was telling him, "You know, you’re a good man, John. You don’t need to do this." I don’t know what happened, but he put the gun down and the wife and the baby’s lives were saved. But, of course, there were cameras there. [LAUGHTER] Where … wherever there was a photographer within a mile, you could be sure the lens was pointed at Mychal Judge. [LAUGHTER] In fact, we used to accuse him of paying The Bergen Record’s reporter to follow him around just to … [LAUGHTER]
Another aspect, a lesson that I learned from him, his way of life, is his simplicity. He lived very simply. He didn’t have many clothes. They were always pressed, of course, and clean but he didn’t have much, no clutter in his room, very simple room.
And he would say to me once in a while, "Michael Duffy," he always called me by my full name, "Michael Duffy, you know what I need?" And I would get excited because it was hard to buy him a present or anything. I said, "No, what?" "You know what I really need?" "No, what Mike?" "Absolutely nothing. [MURMURING] I don’t need a thing in the world. I am the happiest man on the face of the earth." And then he would go on for ten minutes, telling me how blessed he felt. "I have beautiful sisters. I have nieces and nephews. I have my health. I’m a Franciscan priest. I love my work. I love my ministry." And he would go on, and he would always conclude it by looking up to heaven and saying, "Why am I so blessed? I don’t deserve it. Why am I so blessed?" But that’s how he felt all his life.
Another characteristic of Mychal Judge, he loved to bless people, and I mean physically. Even if they didn’t ask … [LAUGHTER] A little old lady would come up to him and he’d talk to them, you know, as if they were the only person on the face of the earth. Then, he’d say, "Let me give you a blessing." He put his big thick Irish hands and pressed her head till I think the poor woman would be crushed, and he’d look up to heaven and he’d ask God to bless her, give her health and give her peace and so forth. A young couple would come up to him and say, "We just found out we’re going to have a baby." "Oh, that’s wonderful! That’s great!" He’d put his hand on the woman’s stomach, and call to God to bless the unborn child. When I used to take teenagers on bus trips, he would always be around when we left. He’d jump in the bus, lead the teenagers in prayer, and then bless them all for a safe and a happy time, wherever I was taking them. If a family were in crisis, the husband and wife, he would go up to them … and sometimes take both their hands at the same time, and put them right next to his and whisper a blessing that the crisis would be over.
He loved to bring Christ to people. He was the bridge between people and God and he loved to do that. And many times over the past few days, there’s been several people who have come up and said, Father Mychal did my wedding, Father Mychal baptized my child. Father Mychal came to us when we were in crisis. There are so many things that Father Mychal Judge did for people. I think there’s not one registry in a rectory in this diocese that doesn’t have his name in it for something, a baptism, a marriage or whatever.
But what you may not know, and I’d like to tell you today because this may console you a little, it really was a two-way street. You people think he did so much for you. But you didn’t see it from our side, we that lived with him. He would come home and be energized and nourished and thrilled and be full of life because of you.
He would come back and say to me, for instance, "I met this young man today. He’s such a good person. He has more faith in his little finger than I do in my own body. Oh, he’s such good people. Oh, they’re so great." Or, "I baptized a baby today." And just to see the new life, he’d be enthused and enthused. I want just to let you know, and I think he’d want me to let you know, how much you did for him. You made his life happy. You made him the kind of person that he was for all of us.
It reminds me of that very well known Picasso sketch of two hands holding a bouquet of flowers. You know the one I mean that there’s one bouquet, a small bouquet, it’s colorful and there’s a hand coming from the left side and a hand coming from the right side. Both of them are holding on to the bouquet. But the artist was clever enough to draw the hands in the exact same angle. So, you don’t know who’s receiving and who is giving. And it’s the same way that Mychal related to people. You should know how much you gave to him, and it was that love that he had for people, and that way of relating to him, that led him back to New York City and to become part of the fire department …
He loved his fire department and all the men in it. He’d call me late at night and tell me all the experiences that he had with them, how wonderful they were, how good they were. It was never so obvious that he loved a group of people so much as his New York firefighters. And that’s the way he was when he died.
On Tuesday, one of our friars, Brian Carroll, was walking down Sixth Avenue and actually saw the airplane go overhead at a low altitude. And then a little further, he saw smoke coming from one of the trade towers. He ran into the friary. He ran into Mychal Judge’s room and he says, "Mychal, I think they’re going to need you. I think the World Trade tower is on fire." Mychal was in his habit. So, he jumped up, took off his habit, got his uniform on, and I have to say this, in case you really think he’s perfect, he did take time to comb and spray his hair. [LAUGHTER]
But just for a second, I’m sure … He ran down the stairs and he got in his car and with some firemen, he went to the World Trade towers … While he was down there, one of the first people he met was the mayor, Mayor Giuliani, and he, the mayor last night, said, Mychal Judge ran by him and he, the mayor, just put his hand on his shoulder and said, "Mychal, please pray for us." And Mychal turned and with that big Irish smile said, "I always do." And then kept on running with the firefighters into the building. While he was ministering to dying firemen, administering the Sacrament of the Sick and Last Rites, Mychal Judge died. The firemen scooped him up to get him out of the rubble and carried him out of the building and wouldn’t you know it? There was a photographer there. That picture appeared in The New York Times, The New York Daily News and USA Today on Wednesday, and someone told me last night that People magazine has that same picture in it. I bet he planned it that way. [LAUGHTER]
But you know when you step back and see how my friend Mychal died, I’m sure that when we finish grieving, when all this is over and we can put things in perspective, look how that man died. He was right where the action was, where he always wanted to be. He was praying, because in the ritual for anointing, we’re always saying, Jesus come, Jesus forgive, Jesus save. He was talking to God, and he was helping someone. Can you honestly think of a better way to die? I think it was beautiful.
The firemen took his body and because they respected and loved him so much, they didn’t want to leave it in the street. So, they quickly carried it into a church and not just left it in the vestibule, they went up the center aisle. They put the body in front of the altar. They covered it with a sheet. And on the sheet, they placed his stole and his fire badge. And then they knelt down and they thanked God. And then they rushed back to continue their work.
And so, in my mind … I picture Mychal Judge’s body there in that church in the sanctuary, realizing that the firefighters brought him back to the Father in the Father’s house. And the words that come to me, "I am the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ... Greater love than this no man hath than to lay down his life for his friends. And I call you my friends." …
And so I make this statement to you this morning that Mychal Judge has always been my friend. And now he is also my hero.
Mychal Judge’s body was the first one released from Ground Zero. His death certificate has the number one on the top … and I meditated on that fact of the thousands of people that we are going to find out who perished in that terrible holocaust … Why was Mychal Judge number one? And I think I know the reason. I hope you’ll agree with me. Mychal’s goal and purpose in life at that time was to bring the firemen to the point of death, so they would be ready to meet their maker. There are between two and three hundred firemen buried there, the commissioner told us last night.
Mychal Judge could not have ministered to them all. It was physically impossible in this life but not in the next. And I think that if he were given his choice, he would prefer to have happened what actually happened. He passed through the other side of life, and now he can continue doing what he wanted to do with all his heart. And the next few weeks, we’re going to have names added, name after name of people, who are being brought out of that rubble. And Mychal Judge is going to be on the other side of death … to greet them instead of sending them there. And he’s going to greet them with that big Irish smile … he’s going to take them by the arm and the hand and say, "Welcome, I want to take you to my Father." … And so, he can continue doing in death what he couldn’t do in life …
And so, this morning … we come to bury Mike Judge’s body but not his spirit. We come to bury his mind but not his dreams. We come to bury his voice but not his message. We come to bury his hands but not his good works. We come to bury his heart but not his love. Never his love.
And so, I think … we his family, friends and those who loved him should return the favor that he so often did to us. All of us have felt his big hands at a blessing that he would give to us. I think right now, it would be so appropriate if we called on what the liturgy tells us we are, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. And we … give Mychal a blessing as he returns to the Father.
So, I’d ask you now could you all please stand. And could you raise your right hand and extend it towards my friend Mychal and repeat after me.

FR. DUFFY Mychal, may the Lord bless you. CONGREGATION Mychal, may the Lord bless you. FR. DUFFY May the angels lead you to your Savior. CONGREGATION May the angels lead you to your Savior. FR. DUFFY You are a sign of his presence to us. CONGREGATION You are a sign of his presence to us. FR. DUFFY May the Lord now embrace you. CONGREGATION May the Lord now embrace you. FR. DUFFY And hold you in his love forever. CONGREGATION And hold you in his love forever. FR. DUFFY Rest in peace. Amen. CONGREGATION Rest in peace. Amen. FR. DUFFY Thank you.

*—Delivered by Fr. Michael A. Duffy, O.F.M., Director of St. Francis Inn, Philadelphia, Pa., at the Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Mychal F. Judge, O.F.M., 10:30 a.m., Saturday, September 15, 2001, St. Francis of Assisi Church, 135 West 31st Street, New York, N.Y. Edward Cardinal Egan, Presider. Vested concelebrants: Fr. John M. Felice, O.F.M, Provincial Minister, Holy Name Province; Fr. Peter V. Brophy, O.F.M., Pastor; Fr. Myles P. Murphy, St. Gabriel Church, Bronx, N.Y. (cousin).

Dr. Tom Dooley's Letter to Fr. Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame

This past summer I stopped in South Bend, Indiana, and visited my Alma Mater, the University of Notre Dame. Linda and I visited the famed Grotto of Our lady of Lourdes while on campus, saw the statue of Dr. Tom Dooley, and read the famous letter he wrote about 49 years ago to Fr. Ted Hesburgh, then president of the university. Here is the text of that letter. Hardly a more beautiful thing has ever been written:

Hong Kong, December 2, 1960

Dear Father Hesburgh,

They've got me down. Flat on the Back . . . with plaster, sand bags and hot water bottles. It took the last three instruments to do it however. I've contrived a way of pumping the bed up a bit so that, with a long reach, I can get to my typewriter . . . my mind . . . my brain . . . my fingers.

Two things prompt this note to you, sir. The first is that whenever my cancer acts up . . . and it is certainly "acting up" now, I turn inward a bit. Less do I think of my hospitals around the world, or of 94 doctors, fund raising and the like. More do I think of one divine Doctor, and my own personal fund of grace. Is it enough?

It has become pretty definite that the cancer has spread to the lumbar vertebrae, accounting for all of the back problems over the last two months. I have monstrous phantoms . . . as all men do. But I try to exorcise them with all the fury of the middle ages. And inside and outside the wind blows.

But when the time comes, like now, then the storm around me does not matter. The winds within do not matter. Nothing human or earthly can touch me. A wilder storm of peace gathers in my heart. What seems unpossessable I can possess. What seems unfathomable, I fathom. What is unutterable, I utter. Because I can pray. I can communicate. How do people endure anything on earth if they cannot have God?

I realize the external symbols that surround one when he prays are not important. The stark wooden cross on an altar of boxes in Haophong with a tortured priest . . . the magnificence of the Sacred Heart Bernini altar . . . they are essentially the same. Both are symbols. It is the Something else there that counts.

But just now . . . and just so many times, how I long for the Grotto. Away from the Grotto Dooley just prays. But at the Grotto, especially now when there must be snow everywhere and the lake is ice glass and that triangular fountain on the left is frozen solid and all the priests are bundled in their too-large too-long old black coats and the students wear snow boots . . . if I could go to the Grotto now then I think I could sing inside. I could be full of faith and poetry and loveliness and know more beauty, tenderness and compassion. This is soggy sentimentalism I know. Cold prayers from a hospital bed are just as pleasing to God as more youthful prayers from a Grotto on the lid of night.

But like telling a mother in labor, "It's okay, millions have endured the labor pains and survived happy . . . you will too." It's consoling . . . but doesn't lessen the pain. Accordingly, knowing prayers from here are just as good as from the Grotto doesn't lessen my gnawing, yearning passion to be there.

I don't mean to ramble. Yes, I do.

The second reason I write to you just now is that I have in front of me Notre Dame Alumnus of September 1960. And herein is a story. This is a Chinese hospital run by a Chinese division of the Sisters of Charity. (I think) Though my doctors are British the hospital is as Chinese as Shark's Fin Soup. Every orderly, corpsman, nurse and nun know of my work in Asia, and each has taken it upon themselves to personally "give" to the man they feel has given to their Asia. As a consequence I'm a bit smothered in tender, loving care.

With a triumphant smile this morning one of the nuns brought me some American magazines (which are limp with age and which I must hold horizontal above my head to read . . . . .) An old National Geographic, two older Times, and that unfortunate edition Life . . . and with these, a copy of the Notre Dame Alumnus. How did it ever get here?

So Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame is twice on my mind . . . and always in my heart. That Grotto is the rock to which my life is anchored. Do the students ever appreciate what they have, while they have it? I know I never did. Spent most of my time being angry at the clergy at school . . . . . 10 P.M. bed check, absurd for a 19 year old veteran, etc., etc., etc.

Won't take any more of your time, did just want to communicate for a moment, and again offer my thanks to my beloved Notre Dame. Though I lack a certain buoyancy in my bones just now, I lack none in my spirit. I must return to the states very soon, and I hope to sneak into that Grotto . . . . before the snow has melted.

My best wishes to the students, regards to the faculty, and respects to you.

Very Sincerely,
Tom Dooley

(Tom Dooley died on 18 January 1961)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jimmy and Kevin's Fishing Odyssey: A Homeric Tale

[This is a work-in-progress; I'm getting the true story from some of the guilty parties and will periodically add to and correct this story]

"Why didn't we think of this before?" chuckled Jim.

"Because we're not the sharpest tools in the shed," cracked Homer as he grabbed another 16-inch trout out of the narrow stream. "This is like taking candy from babies!"

When you really want to catch some fish, you go where the fish are. And when you really really want to catch fish, you go to the Pennsylvania Fish Hatchery just outside Indiana, PA. That's what my brothers Kevin and Jimmy and several other friends, including Homer, did some 30+ years ago, when they were young and foolish--or just plain crazy.

After grabbing about 20 beautiful rainbow trout, they figured they had enough for a terrific supper. And then, as they say, things went terribly wrong. They heard a booming voice from a PA Department of Natural Resources cop yell, "Stop what you're doing, boys, and put your hands in the air!"

They were caught red-handed--20 rainbows plucked from the hatchery stream. Within minutes, Kevin and his cronies were cuffed and seated in the back seat of the police car, and Jim and Homer were handcuffed to the steering wheel of Jim's old junker. They'd have to wait for another police car for their trip to join Kevin in the Indiana PA jail.

Jim and Homer began to wiggle the steering wheel back and forth, back and forth. And to their amazement, it began to break off the steering column. "Holy smoke," Jim said, "we're gonna break this sucker off. "And then suddenly, snap, it was off, and the boys slid out of the car, still cuffed to the broken steering wheel.

"Let's get the hell outta here," said Homer. And the boys began to run, holding the wheel out in front of them, speeding in the dark in the general direction of Homer's family's home. It wasn't two minutes when they came to a roaring creek. And if they wanted to get to Homer's house, some thirteen miles away, they would have to cross that creek. So they waded in, in the black night, on the slippery rocks, into the raging water. Wow, what a dumb move, Jim thought immediately. And then suddenly, they were swept into the creek, off their feet, both still handcuffed to the wheel, swallowing water, almost expecting they would drown. Then just as suddenly, the water dumped them on a rocky bank on the other side of the creek. They were alive, freezing cold, and soaking wet.[story will continue soon]

[I've embellished a basically true story with some fictional details. To the extent possible, I'll correct any embellishments as I get the straight dope from my brothers.]