A Prayer for Sarah

This morning my friend and colleague, Sarah Signorino will likely give birth to a daughter, whom she has already named Clare. So I’ve dedicated my morning prayer to her and her family, Jarrod and her little girl, Mary who is going to be the best big sister ever.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s sometimes hard for me to be happy for people when they have children because I have none myself. With each new birth, I revisit the feelings of not being a father and it has made me weary at times. Ignoring the feelings isn’t going to help. So I have met them head on and prayed with them often this week.

Sarah is very clearly called to motherhood. One moment spent with her and her daughter, Mary betrays her vocation to motherhood clearly. A glance at her Facebook page shows literally hundreds of “Mom and Mar” pictures.

As she often notes, there are people who “live to work” and others who “work to live” and she is seemingly the latter, while I am very clearly the former. She’s one of my best workers on this staff and she makes us all look unorganized with her own sense of being hyper-organized, as only a working mom can be. I am grateful for her work and she does a great job for us. But she very clearly works in order to provide for her family. And when she is home with her family, work is very clearly in the background. She’s the mommy for Mary and now Clare and that is primary in her life.

Not being a father, provides me with the opportunity to really thrust myself into my work and my marriage. Sure, we have a dog, but he can be alone for stretches at a time and he gives us some of those “parental” feelings, but he is far from a human child. I love him dearly, but it is clearly different. I get to be as one of my favorite students, Kaitlyn calls me, “a campus dad” a surrogate of sorts, someone who is there when parents cannot be there. Someone who gets concerned when students seemingly make bad choices and helps to guide or pick up the pieces for someone else’s kid.

When people ask if Marion and I have children I usually say “Yes, 5000 of them and they are all in College.” That comes from a friend who noted that it is good that we don’t have children because indeed I have a bunch of students who depend on me, often at a moment’s notice.

I now also have a staff that depends on me. Fathering a group of people in a new way. Deciding what is best for us and negotiating for what I think the ministry needs with great colleagues who are often eager to help us.

As I sat an meditated on my feelings of loss an overwhelming feeling of joy came to me this week. I realized that the pain of not being a father has in fact led to understanding how great my life has become. How I wouldn’t have half the joys that I have discovered if life were indeed different and how God has shown me my vocation more clearly in reflecting on how well Sarah and other parents live out their lives.

I am grateful to those who parent and work. They do that balancing act with grace and with care for all they meet. But I am also great that there are those of us who have a different energy–who can dedicate time and effort in other ways. It is our way of being “life giving”. And for me, it is more than enough.

So today, I pray for Sarah and am filled with gratitude for her motherhood. She mothers many of us with her great skills of organization and with how she cares for our students and our colleagues. But that is only a shadow of her love for her daughters. And I find God deeply in witnessing that experience of her motherhood. It gives me the opportunity to find my own deep love for the campus, for my wife and for a furry puppy and I find that life is better than I would have designed. Somehow God knows what he is doing and Sarah and I have great trust in that.

So welcome to the world today, dear Clare. You are in good hands with your mother. She will care for you with great love and it will fill you with gratitude.

As Sarah “the mom” has done for us all.

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James Martin posted this beautiful reflection after attending the funeral for Fr. Dan Harrington, SJ, noted scripture scholar.

I’m on the last train out of Boston tonight after attending the funeral Mass of one of the holiest people I’ve ever met: Dan Harrington, SJ. A full Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, on the campus of Boston College, with hundreds of Dan’s former students, scores of his colleagues and friends, perhaps 100 priest concelebrants, and many beloved family members, gathered together to celebrate his entrance into eternal life. It was hard not to imagine him finally meeting Jesus, whom he had studied and taught and worshipped his whole life. I mentioned this to a friend before Mass tonight and she said, “Yes, and both of them will be joyful.”

Once again, I want to praise God for the privilege of knowing and studying with him, and say, with all who knew him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”

Who are the teachers and mentors and exemplars in your life? If they are alive, thank them and pray for them. If they are with God, thank God and ask for their prayers.

Is it not a blessing to know a saint?

Indeed. And it gives me great pause to remember one of my teachers today, Gladys Stein who I blogged about here now more than two years ago upon her death. She was my high school English teacher and marched to the beat of her own drum. She had an “ain’t jar” on her desk where one quarter would be deposited as a fine if you used the word ain’t. Hysterical.

She encouraged my gifts for speaking and writing. And even after I had left high school she called when a rumor broke out that I had killed myself (a rumor that was untrue and nobody knew how it started) and told me that she knew it couldn’t be true but wanted me to know what was being said. I showed up at the high school when I could and people thought they had seen a ghost. Rumor squashed!

While we didn’t share a religion, she often encouraged mine. She always said that she found me to be a “healthy person” who shared emotions openly, showed empathy to others and who was faithful to his beliefs. The same can be said about her, in fact that’s probably where I learned much of that.

The truth is that Gladys Stein was a true mench. She was named New York State teacher of the year in 1994 and after a group of students suggested that they dedicate the yearbook to her because she was retiring, she was so moved that she called off calling it quits. (The yearbook advisor refused to ever dedicate a yearbook to her again!).

If you were one of her students, you probably dropped a quarter into that ain’t jar, or received a note written in purple ink (she hated red ink–said it reminded her of blood all over the page). She may have even made you clean her entire classroom with a toothbrush as she did to a group of my friends who showed up to class drunk. (The alternative was to tell their parents).

But most of all, she loved us. Every one of us.

Prayers today for all teachers and professors–especially my colleagues and friends at Canisius, Fordham and UB.

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Why People Hate Catholics and Others in the Pro-Life Movement

Perhaps you haven’t heard of the story of the teacher who was dismissed in Montana from a Catholic School for having a child out of wedlock.

It seems there is a morals clause in her contract to uphold Catholic teaching and in that instance the superintendent felt he had no choice but to dismiss her.

Several of my colleagues have thought this could have been handled better. Deacon Greg Kandra has a great take on this today in which he cited the need for the diocese to support her in a variety of ways and yet still uphold the right to terminate her as a teacher. The latter part of that I vehemently disagree with the good deacon, but he’s at least making an effort to be charitable.

I’m calling for the Superintendent to resign because he has failed to uphold three central Catholic principles:

1) It Violates Our Pro-life Principles: How is this decision pro-life? It isn’t. Which violates Catholic teaching in a variety of ways. He has places a pregnant women in danger of being in poverty and at risk of choosing an abortion over bringing her baby to term. He’s also failing to care for a child and mother beyond term and at this point even with pre-natal care. In short, he’s cut her off from her source of money and health care.

2) It Violates Our Call to Love: How is this a loving response? It is not. Which violates Catholic teaching by not responding to sin with love. As Deacon Greg notes:

…though she has violated her terms of the contract does not mean we abrogate our responsibility as Catholic Christians. To that end, we are going to pay Mary Jane the severance required by the terms of her contract. But we are also going to go beyond that. We will continue to pay her health care up to the time of her delivery. We will also work to help her find employment, so that she can fulfill her obligations to the life she is bringing into the world. None of this is required of us in our contract with her. But we are doing this, as I indicated, out of Christian charity and out of our support for the most precious gift of all, the gift of life.
It is our sincere wish that in taking these actions, our school will serve as a witness to the world, standing up in defense of the unborn and in support of women making this most difficult choice. It is important that these mothers know they are not alone.
Discussing this among parents and faculty, again and again people have said that this is a teachable moment. But what, exactly, do we want to teach?

We wish to teach LOVE.
I also find it interesting that the MALE chancellor could have gotten a woman pregnant and hid that fact and not a word would have been said. But that’s a whole other column.

3) It Violates Our Call to Mercy: Which the POPE reminds us is the CENTRAL teaching upon which our entire faith rests. Mercy, Mercy and more Mercy. Guess someone missed that memo.

On a personal note, my 7th grade teacher got pregnant after her husband had left her and she began a new relationship. She was not married to the father and indeed, she lived in fear of being fired when she discovered that she was expecting. In his wisdom, the Pastor of my church at the time, supported her and allowed her to keep her job. One would ask “How did the students and parents respond?” They responded with love and care for a new child in the parish and great concern for the teacher.

I’d also say that I once heard the story of a parent who brought her 15 year old daughter to her pastor and told him “Well, she’s gotten herself pregnant, Father!” (which is an interesting term to begin with–it’s not like she acted alone in getting pregnant!) What was the pastor’s response?

“CONGRATULATIONS! That’s great!”

The mother nearly blew a gasket. And the priest pulled her aside and told her something very wise. “Look, we all know she made a mistake. And we’ll hold her accountable for that. But right now she cannot look at this child as a burden, because she will treat that child as something unwanted and burdensome for the rest of that child’s life. It will be unloved and unwanted and YOU will end up having to care for that child. Right now, we need to show her love and mercy and go back to her and say ‘Let’s go make plans for the Baptism!’”

Amen! And that’s what should have been the response here. Two things should happen. One is that the teacher should have been retained out of mercy for her and her baby. Two is that the community should have worked together to support this woman under the mantra of “We all make mistakes” and now we have to live with our mistakes with love that can always solve any situation that we may be in. We come to God sinful, sorrowful and yet, hopeful as forgiven people.

This was a teachable moment. And the superintendent chose the wrong lesson to teach. His lesson actually violates 3 Catholic principles. Perhaps he should be publicly shamed 3 times as much?

But that wouldn’t be very forgiving, now would it?

There’s a great scene from my favorite TV show, The West Wing where a politician is looking to shame the President’s chief of staff for his past use of alcohol and drugs. It was a mean-spirited approach used to gain political capital. Here’s a clip:

Superintendent Patrick Haggarty…”YOU ARE KILLING THE PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT, CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AND FRANKLY, MY FAITH THAT GOOD AND LOVING PEOPLE STILL EXIST IN THE WORLD.”

By the way, does anybody have an address for this mother, I’d like to send her $50 that I can’t afford because unlike you, Mr. Haggerty, I’m OK with being a bit uncomfortable while upholding my principles.

This is why people hate us. This is why some of my students won’t darken the door of Campus Ministry and I have to bend over backwards in order to get them to trust me and believe that I won’t have a judgmental attitude about them. This is why people assume that Catholics are right-wing nutters (which is different from being conservative or republican) who are fundamentalists and non-negotiable in their dealings with others that they consider sinners.

THIS is why.

One last note: I wonder what the Diocese’s pregnancy crisis centers think about all this. He’s just made their job ten times harder.

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman Found Dead

This just in from the NY Post:

Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead of an apparent drug overdose inside a Greenwich Village home on Sunday, cops said.
Hoffman’s body was found by a friend at 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning in an apartment at 35 Bethune St., sources said.
Cops are at the scene and are investigating, sources said.
Hoffman has admittedly struggled with drug addiction in the past, and reportedly checked himself into rehab last year for heroin abuse.

I loved him as a actor. He was brilliant. Apparently, that brilliance was muted by the demons of addiction. So sad. And tragic to lose someone so young and so talented. A true artist who touched the lives of so many.

My colleague, Fr. James Martin, S.J. got to work with him when Hoffman directed the play “The Last Days of Judas Isacriot” written by the great Stephen Adly Guirgis. Martin told of meeting and talking with Hoffman:

Martin: “My sister told me to tell you that she thinks you’re a genius.”

Hoffman: (Laughs) “I think I like your sister!”

Humble and yet evident of a man who was not totally comfortable with himself at times. Addiction is quite awful and masks what is truly painful, too painful for someone to deal with at times. I hope that Mr. Hoffman is now free of that pain.

While I have never struggled with addiction, myself, I know many who have. I thought it would be important to try to understand them as best I could. In doing so I have found much empathy for them and a greater understanding of the grasp addiction holds on people. It’s not that people don’t want to stop using. It’s that people are powerless to do so. Addiction’s grasp is that great. The admission of that powerlessness is indeed the first step in 12 step programs, the only thing that consistently has worked in keeping addiction at bay–along with the knowledge that one can fall easily and at any point along the way.

Hoffman knew this well:

If that’s not a disease, I’m not sure what is.

And it’s taken too many lives. Too many healthy lives. Too many young lives that are over before it starts.

And addiction has taken too much talent out of our world.

So today, friends, let’s pray for those who suffer from addiction. That they might be humble enough to admit their powerlessness over their choices and seek help frequently. And that they might be free of any pain that has led them down this road. We all try to fill up that hole in our lives with something that helps us endure and be resilient when we are unable to cope. Let us pray that people can find a healthy answer to that need when they seek assistance from others.

Let’s also pray for understanding. We often give short shrift to the addicted and blame them for their lot in life. Truly, we need to open our hearts to understand addiction and the addicted just a bit more.

And let’s pray for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Here is my favorite clip from Hoffman’s work in the movie Doubt:

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The Saint of Beer

Today is the feast day of St Brigid of Ireland, the second most popular saint in the Emerald Isle and I’d argue a much more Irish saint than St Patrick could ever hope to be.

St. Brigid is often known as the patron saint of hospitality, first and foremost for her love of the poor, lepers especially and she would welcome them when nobody else would and care for their suffering.

She is also known for this because one of her miracles is that she turned water into beer. Could any saint be better?

Probably the best known Irish saint after Patrick is Saint Brigid (b. 457, d. 525). Known as “the Mary of the Gael,” Brigid founded the monastery of Kildare and was known for spirituality, charity, and compassion. St. Brigid also was a generous, beer-loving woman. She worked in a leper colony which found itself without beer, “For when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed the water, which was used for the bath, into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty in plenty.” Brigid is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. Obviously this trait would endear her to many a beer lover. She also is reputed to have supplied beer out of one barrel to eighteen churches, which sufficed from Maundy Thursday to the end of paschal time. A poem attributed to Brigid in the Brussel’s library begins with the lines “I should like a great lake of ale, for the King of the Kings. I should like the family of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.”

She’s one of my favorite saints and I keep a great picture of her in my home that the great Brother Mickey McGrath gave to me many years ago.

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Under the Knife

So I’m having surgery on my hand tomorrow.

It should be fine. It’s only a ten minute surgery on a tendon that is hooking on a bone and needs to be trimmed. A common ailment known as “trigger finger.”

Regardless, no fun. As you know I have been a chaplain for a medical school so I’ve seen tendons and the like up close. How doctors tell one from the other, I’ll never know. It confirmed my vocation as a minister when I watched them take their tests. I enjoyed being in the gross anatomy lab and wasn’t at all grossed out by the experience. It was a sacred place and I regard my doctors as sacred professionals who care not merely for bodies, but also for souls.

With my gross anatomy experience, I said to my friend Beth, a physical therapist,

“I really want to watch them work on me!”

Beth: “ARE YOU NUTS!?”

Mike: “What? I’m not gonna freak out! They can strap my hand down and give me a local.”

Beth: “Um, no! They knock you out not because they think you’ll freak out but rather because they KNOW you will flinch during the surgery.”

Mike: “Oh…yeah…didn’t think about that.”

Now you know why I didn’t go to medical school.

But regardless, I can’t say that I’m totally calm about this. After all I type and write often and the finger in question, the right index finger, is crucial to that process. One false move could be a bad situation.

But I trust my doctor and I’m sure this will be the right thing to do. I have to relinquish some freedom for a day or so and not drive and stay home. But that’s pretty much the worst of it. Hoping for no pain as I get pretty sick from strong pain killers.

And that kind of reminds me of a story.

My dad had hernia surgery and needed to get the staples removed on the same day that I had a tooth extracted. The doctor gave me Vicodin and said if I had pain to take one but only if the pain got pretty bad and to try some tylenol first.

So my jaw started to throb a few hours after the extraction and I took a tylenol. Nothing. Pain now radiating all over my jawline. So I took my first vicodin and then went with my father to his appointment to keep him company. He drove and was fine to do so.

I was fine in the car and went into the office and sat in the waiting room with my father and then the room suddenly started to spin.

And spin.

And I knew what was going to happen. So I said to my dad, “I will be right back, if they call you in just go and I’ll meet you in there.”

I just barely made it to the bathroom and lost my lunch….violently.

When I got back my dad was already in with the doctor. I went in, bad breath and all.

I’m sure the doctor thought I was drunk.

Since then, I refuse vicodin. So I’m hoping I’ll not need a strong painkiller as my body doesn’t always like them and the only thing I hate more than being in pain, is throwing up.

So for now, let’s pray a bit:

Lord, help me to be a good patient. Help me to be patient. To heal completely and to be patient with my recovery.

Help my doctor with his work. Guide his hands to do good work with my surgery and help him advise me well.

Bless those who help me in my need. My wife. My colleague, Joe, who will drive me to surgery and back home. Those who pray for me.

But most of all, Lord, I pray for those who don’t have it as great as I do. Who have no access to health care and no doctor to tend to their needs. I pray for those who are in pain and who refuse medical care out of stubbornness or fear.

Watch over us, Lord. And help us to know that no matter what happens tomorrow, your love and your grace are enough to redeem all that we suffer. Amen.

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Solidarity and Dignity

One of my colleagues woke up this morning to no heat in subzero wind chill weather. He escaped to a Starbucks with his family to get warm and to use the internet on a morning where a major project was due.

It reminded me of a Winter Service Break where we had to spend just one night in a drop in Center (by ourselves). We served a bunch of people at the center for dinner and fun in the late afternoon. Essentially the place is a living room atmoshphere where people can “drop in” to get a shower, a meal and some companionship. We served food, played cards and generally made conversation. After the guests left we locked doors and settled in for the night. It was then that we noticed.

One mouse.
Two mice.
Three mice.
Four mice.

I stopped counting at 12.

So sleeping on the floor was no longer an option. I propped myself up on two chairs in my sleeping bag and drifted off. My daring colleague called us a bunch of wusses and threw his sleeping bag on the floor and got inside throwing one arm outside of it.

“Those mice are more scared of you then they are of–AHHHHHHH!”

We jumped to attention at his scream as a mouse ran over his arm.

I looked down and saw about 4 or 5 of the critters circling my chair-bed as if I was in the mouse version of Jaws.

Ed, my aforementioned colleague said it best:

“Dude, I’m all for solidarity with the poor, but how about dignity?”

Wise words. And since then I’ve taken them to heart. It moved me to write to my colleague this morning: “Solidarity always leads to dignity. Use this experience to lobby for the poor.”

I’ve also noticed that in the more progressive Catholic circles there often are people who bend towards one pole or the other of solidarity or dignity. There are some who say, live in Catholic Worker homes in solidarity with the poor and literally pick people up off the street and treat people the way Jesus would. They live in relative squalor. Sometimes they have bedbug issues and cleanliness is not at an all time high. And they are willing to live like this because poor people often have to. There are volunteer communities who live in homes with broken appliances or other household issues because “poor people don’t get to fix their homes–they can’t afford it.”

Then there are those who are leaning towards the dignity end. Some go to the extreme of merely doing charity. They raise money, they promote advocacy, maybe even they do a habitat project. They recognize that people in the world have problems and that they can help. So they do so. But they never quite understand at a deep visceral level what the plight of the poor is like. It is always a “them” and “us” polarity.

The truth is that we need both of these drives. We need to have experiences of solidarity in order to remind us deeply that people are being robbed of dignity. We need to feel their indignity to see that we are not so different.

We need not abandon dignity altogether however. Experiences of solidarity need not result in choosing to live indignantly. Rather all of this needs to result in our living for one another joyfully. Can we look at our luxuries and live without them in order to more gratefully provide for others? “How little can we live with and retain our dignity?” is a great question to ask ourselves.

However, we can’t let our own dignity slip away. Everyone should have a comfy bed, shelter, enough to eat, access to health care. I’d argue that a computer and good internet access is getting close to being needed in order to keep up with society. I once chastised a student who said he saw a guy with a nice phone but he spent a lot less money on clothing for his kids. Certainly priorities need to be in order, but we also need to think about what that phone provided him with. A status symbol like a nice smartphone might get him a better job. What if he said that he doesn’t own a cell phone or didn’t have an email address? How would the person interviewing him regard him? What if he didn’t have an address? You can see the downward spiral in our elitist minds. Dignity is all too easily robbed in our developed world where Americans are clearly the 1% by global standards.

“Nobody should have to live like this.” I said to my colleague and indeed that experience has charged my energies in lobbying for the poor. It’s not enough to allow yourself to face day to day indignities and in doing so claim solidarity as your prize for being above it all. Rather, we need to experience solidarity and take steps towards restoring dignity. The reverse is also true. It’s not enough to recognize dignity is what’s needed and to throw money at the problem. What’s needed is solidarity as well. We need to see the other as ourselves and in doing so also see Christ in our midst. That should be enough to recognize that the other indeed can easily be ourselves. It’s not about how others are different but rather it’s about how we are all the same.

Solidarity needs to keep its cousin dignity close by. Otherwise we will always keep those who live in poverty on the outside. And dignity needs solidarity to keep providing all of us with the experiences of poverty, for that empowers us to feel for others and to treat them as we would like to be treated.

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Nun: I Had No Idea I was Pregnant

Fans of Discovery Health’s “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” will love this: a Salvadoran nun gave birth in Italy this week, claiming she had absolutely no idea she was pregnant.

She said she was in her convent in Campomoro when she felt stomach cramps and was rushed to a hospital in the nearby city of Rieti, AFP reports. She ended up giving birth to a boy.

Italian news agency ANSA reported that the 31-year-old nun named her son Francesco, which also happens to be the name of the current Pope.

I’m not buying this. The Nun in question is 31.

Her superior said “It seems she was not able to resist temptation.”

Apparently. I’m glad they are caring for mother and child. Hoping that we don’t find out that the nun was assaulted.

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Shepherd Me, O God

Well, 2014 is off to a fantastic start.

Sarcasm will get you everywhere.

It’s been a wild ride to the start of this year. I’ll spare you most of the details, but let’s just say that I’m not exactly feeling 2014 yet. I’ve also taken note that years ending in a four are often simply craptastic years for me.

But here’s hoping that this will change. Just because the year has started bad with some weather issues, traveling challenges, a need now for vocational discernment for my wife, the death of two friend’s close family members and some trepidations about other issues that I shall keep close to the vest for now…does not mean that the year must go the way of the Tidy-Bowl-Man.

And regardless of the fact that crap happens to all of us, the great Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, has given me a mantra by which to live my life. Simply put:

“Life is hard. Get over it.”

To add to that…I would say that because life is hard it indeed is a reminder that we do not journey it alone. That we have need of God. That we are not God and that on occasion we need some help along the way.

In fact, we need it often.

Psalm 23 is often read at funerals. It should probably be read each day because it reminds us of God’s shepherding love for the world.

So today let us pray:

That God will indeed shepherd us in troubled times and that we will be able to see God’s guidance in our lives and feel the tender embrace in our painful times.

For it is in faith that we walk, comforted by the fact that God never leaves us alone, makes a way out of no way and always can redeem our suffering, even in the face of hopelessness and death.

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If You Haven’t Been Watching Hoops Star Billy Baron

You’re missing something. He’s been amazing here at Canisius.

And his dad is also the Coach at Canisius and is a great guy. I’ve forgiven him for breaking my heart when he was the coach at St. Francis of Loretto in PA and he beat Fordham to stop their run for the NCAA tournament.

A side note: This year in Campus Ministry we launched a new initiative collaborating with the Lutheran Churches here in Buffalo called “Feed Hungry Kids” where we put together 10,000 meals for kids at risk in a few hours. We invited several members of the Canisius College community to come out and the basketball team came out in force that day, including Coach Baron and all his assistant coaches as well. A great show of support for the event and for Canisius.

Keep it up, Barons. I’ll be using the #baroned whenever Billy leads the Griffs to another win. As in “You just got Baroned.”

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