Joe Franklin and Catholicism

UnknownSo radio and TV icon Joe Franklin died this week at the reported age of 88 (I don’t believe that for a second).  Joe was a real character and I met him a few times while working alongside him at the legendary WOR Radio in New York.

Fr. Paul Keenan’s show often preceded Joe’s and I remember that Fr. Paul, who brokered time on the station, was having a hard time coming up with the funds to keep his show on the air. (Editor’s note: Time brokering is when someone pays the station to host a show and they in turn, sell to their own advertisers, much like late night TV infomercials).  He considered cutting back and only brokering a half hour, but Joe Franklin told him, “Oh Father!  Don’t do that!  This is a time to expand, not contract!”   The advise was well-heeded and Fr. Paul ended up adding a few more sponsors and buying more time on the station.

Sr. Mary Beata Gerrity was a frequent guest on the television show, an Irish folk singer who often made the rounds at various Irish events and was known as the “Singing Nun.”

Joe Franklin was a true character.  If you did something for him, you might find a “Classic” TV Guide in your mailbox the next day as a thank you.  Or something else twice as bizarre.

And speaking of bizarre, you’d never know who you would find up in the studio. Rarely, would I have to be in the studio on the overnight (when Joe’s show aired on the weekend).  But I was up there once and it was crazy.  You never knew who would show up.  One night Billy Crystal came up and not far behind him was a random drag queen with a shopping cart full of his (her?) stuff who proceeded to offer me some chinese food.

I politely declined.

One of the biggest surprises that I found during my time at WOR was that Joe actually did that overnight show live.  He almost never recorded it when it would have been very easy for him to do so.  I once asked him why?  His reply was quick: “I dunno.  Keeps me outta trouble.  My other big problem is that I’m making too much money.”


But the two stories (both similar) that takes the cake for me were the following:

You see, Joe thought that he was a little bit of a bigger star than he actually was.  So one day, my colleague, who I’ll call, Steve, was working with Joe on an interview he needed to record.  At the end of the taping:

Joe: “Ah! Stevie, you’re the best!  The best! (Everyone was the best to Joe)  Stevie, what’re you doing tomorrow?

Steve:  “Nothing.  Why?”

Joe: “You wanna take your wife to a Broadway Show?”

Steve: “Well, I’m not married, but sure, I’ll go with my girlfriend.”

Joe:  “OK! Two tickets.  Phantom of the Opera.  The tickets will be waiting for you at the Box office.”

So Steve went down there….WITH A DATE….and….there…were…no tickets…waiting…for…him.

A second colleague that I’ll call Forest, was asked by Joe what his weekend plans were:

Forest: “Eh, I gotta paint my house.”

Joe:  “You need paint!  You go right down to Martin Paints and mention my name and they’ll give you all the paint you need!

So Forest did.  And the guys at Martin Paint had never heard of Joe.  (Martin Paint, in fairness sponsored Joe’s TV show for a long time–but that was about 10 years ago at this juncture).    They laughed Forest out of the store.  So Forest went back to Joe who was enraged!


Nope.  No paint then either.  Forest was crazy enough to go back the third time before Martin Paint threatened to put him on some kind of “we don’t do business with this guy” list.


But despite all of his craziness, Joe Franklin was a great guy and a very nice man to all who he encountered.  I don’t think I ever heard a mean word said about him.  I thought this video from the past with Gilbert Godfried summed up Joe’s character well.  Rest in peace, my friend.



Ripley the Dog RIP

My buddy Ripley had to be put down this week while I was away. She had been failing for some time. Ripley, was Fr. Jack’s Olde English Sheepdog here at the parish and I loved her. She was a 2 year old rescue dog from Indianapolis and she came with Quigley who left us last year. She lived to a very old age of 13, which for big dogs is very, very old.

Fr. Jack is in Hawaii and I imagine he is very sad along with Fr. Pat who was one of Ripley’s favorites.

For myself, I grew closer to Ripley who’d come by my office and visit, knowing she was always welcome. Some days she’d just lay down on my floor and snooze until I’d get up to leave. Sr. Jeremy had her in her later years as a constant companion and our parish office manager, Joanne would always find her laying in her doorway.

Here’s one of my favorite moments with Ripley from our 50 Day giveaway.

I believe that there are dogs in heaven, after all, what would heaven be without them (or any pets?)? And by that, I mean that the unconditional love that our pets have shown us (dogs especially) will be even more present to us in heaven. Once again, we’ll feel the love that these creatures of God have shown us and it will be a great communion of that love in the presence of God.

While sad (I cried all the way home from Long Island and when I passed Ripley’s yard this morning),I am also filled with gratitude. Fr. Jack rescued Ripley, as I did with my dog Haze and as he said, she in turn has rescued us. Ripley, now freed from her pain is in peace. I will miss her and she will always have a special place in my heart.

Now I’m off to play with Haze the Dog.

Greeting Sister Death

Condolence to Br. Dan Horan at the Dating God blog on the death of his grandfather and a close Franciscan friend. It has however, given him much to reflect on this Advent and for that I am grateful for being able to read his thoughts today.

Long before others will talk about the “existentials” of human existence — those aspects universally shared by all of humanity — Francis recognized in the good news (Gospel) of Jesus Christ that death is not something to be feared nor something to be glorified, but something that is part of human reality that leads into something beyond. In his famous Canticle of the Creatures, Francis calls death our “Sister,” a fundamental part of the created order. She, death that is, is something to be embraced because it is death that provides the condition for the possibility of eternal life with God.

Likewise, it is Jesus Christ who, as I like to say, “changed the game forever” when it comes to death. It is not the final word, it does not have the conclusive say, but is instead one part of our lifelong journey in relationship with God, others and all creation.

The Advent hope that Merton talks about urges us to confront head-on the challenges, darknesses, desperation and ignorance of our world, but to do so with the realization that they do not win out. Even death becomes subordinated to life in God. One of the things we are encouraged to consider is the way in which we as Christians hope to share in the victory over death and for life that Christ has won for us. That like Christ, we have been crucified in baptism and will share in Christ’s Resurrection.

Read some more. Good stuff.

Recently I had the opportunity to provide the medical students with a lunchtime lecture given by the acclaimed Dr. Pat Fosarelli< MD, DMin from the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. She reported that a teacher of hers in medical school would ask every time someone died "What role did you play in that death?"

Well, sometimes there was something to be said there but most of the time the answer was "None". People, after all, die every day. It is part of life and I often think that death tests our faith to the point where we really have to admit that we struggle with believing that there is more to life than what we see and experience. Can we believe that God can redeem even death and that life has the final word despite our earthly death?

I think that's what God calls us to struggle with. God is our redeemer and God always waits for us, just as we wait for God. A second friend noted that she was flustered today because she was the last voice that someone heard and the last kiss they ever received (she kissed their forehead on a hospital call). She fluctuated between being very moved by this and being disturbed by it.

As would we all. But perhaps that's the call of faith beckoning us to believe beyond the doubt that tempts us to not believe that God can make all things new again.

Can we believe that? Can we hold onto what our faith tells us is a sure and certain hope that God will redeem us into newness of life?

I hope we can. I pray that we can. Let us pray that Sister Death will come and comfort us as she leads us to God. And in that experience, may we be changed forever and redeemed by love.

Our Befores and Afters

Have you ever thought about how short our time is, and has been, on this earth? The earth has existed long before us and will (barring something cataclysmic) exist long after we are gone.

This is the stuff of Lent but it is also the stuff of God who has been the Alpha and Omega…our beginning and our end. We need to know that even though our time here is only a blink on eternity’s continuum it is also just a shadow of God’s love for us–which goes well beyond our graves to a sharing of God’s eternal reward for us.

At a funeral I once attended, the homilist asked “How many of us can remember our great-great grandparents?” Nobody could, of course, mention anything because they had not experienced a first-hand connection with them. The truth is that this will one day be spoken of us by those who come after us–and we know not those who will come well ahead of our time and those who went before us had no knowledge of us either.

And none of that matters.

Why? Because God can make all things new again. When we are united with God we are united with all the world for all eternity. When we turn to God we get in touch with ourselves and we allow God to change us into better people. Our own biases and shortcomings and indiscretions are not all that we are and we have a God who helps us get past all that. When everyone loses hope in us, we

God can change it all around and he cares for us for all time…

Even when everyone else has forgotten us.

Memento Mori

At every cemetery’s entrance, Fr Pat Keleher tells me, these words are inscribed: Memento Mori (Remember the Dead). Today I went with the good Father over to the medical school for their Memorial Service for those who donated their bodies to the Human Gross Anatomy Lab.

Indeed it was a moving day filled with an outpouring of gratitude for these people who have allowed these students access to their bodies, so that they might better understand and learn about the intricacies of the human body.

Books and models just don’t tell the whole story when it comes to the human body. Being able to see a touch and probe an actual human body allows these students to gain not just hands on experience with the body but to examine and see how disease effects the body as well.

An anonymous letter from one student said it perfectly: “The gift of these bodies makes Human Gross Anatomy truly ‘human.'”

I’ve never really thought about this type of gift before, but it truly is one of the more altruistic things one can do. The overwhelming sentiment of the day was that these people had this type of altruism in mind. The letters read by students from family members expressed that very clearly. Their generosity went well beyond, heck, it even literally transcends the grave, avoiding it altogether. Truly death could not hold their gift of self, a gift that might transmit life to another.

I decided to be a donor of my organs some time ago, but now I think I have been inspired enough to consider the good I can do beyond this life with my old bag o’ bones.

Besides, it’s not going to be of any use to me once I return home to God.

Next semester I plan to volunteer at the lab as someone who assists the students when they get queasy or uneasy or even come to the realization that they’re not cut out for medicine. As a minister to medical students it provides me with an opportunity to help them get in touch with their own existential questions, which undoubtedly will come up when time is spent amongst the dead.

Pray for these students today and pray for those who help them be the best doctors they can be.

For even death cannot hold back our desire to give life. And in gross anatomy labs around the country, we see a place where “death delights in helping the living.”

R.I.P. – Rev. Joseph A. Novak, S.J.

The Novak brothers Joe and Vin are Jesuits who have dedicated most of their lives to the cause of mentoring and educating those who teach religion to others. They founded the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham along with Dr. Jack Nelson, an institution that I hold a Master’s Degree from and which was instrumental in the publishing of my book, Googling God.

At the flourishing excitement of the Second Vatican Council, these three men had the great wisdom to see that religious education was going to soon be in the hands of lay people, alongside religious and that they needed training. Many in the church didn’t have that foresight and thus, much of those in the Gen X demographic received their religious education from in Fr Joe’s words: “someone who was very nice to the pastor and didn’t make waves and who kind of knew the catechism, but had no idea about how to teach!”

So the religious education that was offered to many at this time in the church’s history in the United States was the equivalent of ‘God is love, now draw a rainbow.’ These three men would not stand for that. They knew that the church and moreover these “teachers of traditon” were deserving of a honorable training program, a master’s and doctoral level school was their dream and they lived that dream.

Thinking back, my own parish’s Director of Religious Education, a Deacon, went to school to be trained at Fordham, so I have benefited from the wisdom of these founding fathers since I was a child. Surprisingly enough, I felt my religious education was pretty good. My older sister was a CCD teacher and went through a rigorous training program a the hands of two different DRE’s, both Fordham trained.

But sadness is with our school now as yesterday, after a brief illness, Fr Joe Novak, S.J. passed from this life into his eternal reward.

Father Novak served most of his life as a Jesuit superior, meaning he was either as Provincial, Vice Provincial or the Rector of a community. In the mid 1960s, Father Novak, also coauthored a series of groundbreaking high school religion books.

One of the gutsier things he did as Provincial, was that he willingly sent several Jesuits to the Nigerian missions. Despite the danger and the advice he got to the contrary, he decided that Jesuits from the United States indeed needed to go to Africa and that it would make a huge statement if they did so. It’s because of his wisdom and foresight, that Nigeria has a thriving mission today. Moreover, I would say that because of his dedication, the majority of students in the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham are indeed NIgerian priests, sent here to study often with no winter coats and no place to stay. It has been the long standing commitment to their education that enables these men to be able to study, live and serve as priests in the Archdiocese of New York and elsewhere.

Personally speaking, I didn’t know “Joe” (as he often insisted on being called) all that well. We had one or two conversations at the annual Sapientia et Doctrina awards dinner for the grad school. The school’s motto stood for Wisdom and Knowledge and indeed that is what he shared with us. What he also shared was an unbridled optimism and an encouraging nature. He recommended retreats to my wife and I for married couples and they always were outstanding. “You and Marion should go on this.” he’d say. “Great, great people run this. You’ll love it.” And he was always on target with his recommendations and people knew he stated his reputation on their work and more importantly, their hospitality.

I only remember one extended conversation with Joe. I had congratulated him on receiving the first “Founder’s Award” at the Graduate School of Religion’s Dinner along with his two founding colleagues. I asked him what those early days were like. He responded simply with two words: “Great! Exciting!” He went on to say that they saw a need and they filled it and that the school continues to serve that need. His simplicity was humbling and while proud of his work, he sought no glory in it for himself, but simply was happy to fulfill Ignatius’ great demand of being a “man for others.”

Condolences to the Jesuit Community in New York and especially at Fordham where Joe served as the alumni chaplain. Joe’s brother, the Rev. Vincent Novak, S.J. indeed needs our prayers today as these brothers were very close and lifelong friends.

I know I stand on the shoulders of giants and we lost one of the bigger ones to whom I will always be indebted yesterday.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Joe’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Remembering Dave

14 years ago, my college classmate and junior year roommate Dave Connors died after battling a long illness. It was tough for us to see someone so young die at 25. We all were afraid and confused and frankly angry.

I was a producer at a NYC radio station and upon hearing the news of Dave’s death I promptly took an old school reel of tape and chucked it across the studio. I was angry at God, at death, at heart disease and at the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye to Dave.

But time provides reflection after tragedy and when I look back at the time I shared with Dave I’m not filled with sadness but with joy. Dave provided us with much laughter during his stand up comedy routines. It was his way of disarming people. His sickly body would make people treat him differently. People would pity his situation and Dave hated that beyond belief. He knew that he was probably not going to live very long and he wanted to spend that time having fun and not being sad. He’d cheat death with what he called sick humor. He’d offer to play the “dead pool” where you draft famous people who you’d expect to die within the year for points. Dave would always draft himself.

“I guess I’ll have the last laugh if I win, sorta.” he said to me. We’d all cringe but it made us more sensitive to the fact that Dave was conscious of his limited time.

That was a huge awakening for me. It’s easy for me to immerse myself in busyness and ignore the needs of those around me. In college I was driven to be a successful broadcaster but I was missing spending time with friends, family and other mentors who engaged my passions that i misdirected towards radio instead of ministry.

Dave’s illness got me on track. And I hate that. Why did it take tragedy to wake me up? I nearly wasted friendships like Dave’s and when I look back at our time in college together, I don’t remember feeling sorry for Dave but rather, I see all of our friends rallying around Dave and his family and a young man rallying us not towards death but towards a greater appreciation of life itself.

Dave was not particularly religious. He struggled a lot with his faith and with God. A seminarian had a big influence on him towards the end of his life and helped him gain a greater awareness of God in his life. For me, God was always around Dave for like Jesus, Dave gave us all of Himself and held nothing back. His parents gave their very lives to him, supporting their only child all the way to his death, a tragedy that no parent should ever have to live through. And lastly, Dave gave us a reminder that we all really need to support one another in those dark hours. Despite his illness Dave was one of the most giving people I ever met. He always had time for people and for helping and serving others. He loves his family and reveled in bringing joy to others.

It is no surprise to me that Dave died on December 8…the feast of the Immaculate conception. Like Mary, he accepted his lot in life despite knowing that pain was on the other side. Today I hope he is able to not merely be free from his pain but also to be free to laugh with great abandon and understand how much he was loved by all those he touched.

The Worry of Death

My friend from college Nancy Keelin Tannucilli, posted a brief note on facebook tonight saying how much she misses her dad, who died 21 years ago when we were just freshmen at Fordham. You might find it hard to believe that I remember that event so clearly (I didn’t even have to do the math to remember when it was) but, Nancy was the first person I knew that was my own age who had a parent die.

For most of my adult life I lived with the anxiety of thinking that my mother was going to die…and die sooner rather than later. Always with a myriad of health problems, my mother has shuttled in and out of hospitals since I was about 9 years old.

“How’s your mother?” was an oft-heard question to me as a child.

“Well…she went into the hospital…”

“AGAIN!?” was the exasperated response from my questioner who found it hard to believe that mom had been hospitalized for probably the fifth time that year.

So when Nancy’s father died, our freshman year, I kinda thought I would be the next college student who would be experiencing the loss of a parent.

But through the grace of God, mom made it to graduation. I didn’t take a few out of state jobs that I had opportunity to venture into, so that I would be near home, just in case something went wrong with mom. Although continually making her frequent hospital visits, mom muddled through. It takes a toll on her, but she continues her battle with rheumatoid arthritis (which is a dreadful disease that is a killer and we are only recently finding out more about this disease today), severe asthma, anxiety, colon problems and more that I won’t bore you with.

Suffice it to say that she’s gone through a lot. And for a good portion of my college and young adult life, we suffered along with her emotionally.

On the day of my wedding, when she should have been dancing with me, mom was getting prepped for major colon surgery. I thought surely thought that was going to be the end. But she rallied, given only a 29% chance to live, she somehow, someway, recovered. She and my father struggled with her recovery, as some of you may have read about on Busted Halo® but with some help from Fr Jim Lloyd, CSP, who calmed my mother’s anxiety and got her to believe that she indeed was going to live much longer, mom was still with us.

Last year, mom turned 80. My college roommate, Joe Patane called me up on her birthday.

“Hey isn’t it your mom’s 80th birthday today?”

“Yep, I’m headed there right now.”

“That’s awesome! You know, Mike, for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve lived with the anxiety that your mom is going to die. And I’ve known you now for 20 years!”

“Yeah, you’re probably right about that..”

“Mike, I think you can let that one go now…”

I laughed and then of course, I cried. Because he was right. Nancy and all those whose parents died much too young have had it much worse than I have. My mom, though sick, is still here at 81. And my dad, also 81, has had a rich life, filled with much joy, some pain, some sorrow, but much love.

And now that they are in their 80s, I have to be OK with the fact that every day for them is gift. And there are more days behind them than ahead of them to be sure.

And therein is the point for all of us really. Each day is gift and for some of us, we may not be here tomorrow. We need to bless each day with the joy of life in Christ, which gives us hope for our death, that we might live with him forever.

For Mom, each day is grace and has been for nearly 30 years.

And for each of you who have lost their parents, each day is also grace in which you remember a life that blessed you with the very gift of life itself. Let us remember the joys of our parents, for upon our birth, we were such joy for them (perhaps not in our teen-age years but hey…that’s another story). Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

And Nancy, your dad is very, very proud of the woman and mother that you have become.

A horrible baseball season…but we still look good

Here I am with my college buddies Victor (the dope wearing the Phillies shirt and hat) and Kevin. While the Mets had a terrible season, I rather enjoyed their new park, Citi Field, albeit it took them forever to at least make it look somewhat like the homefield for the Mets and not some homage to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I grew up a Mets fan as many of you know but after covering the team as a beat reporter I stopped rooting for them because Fred Wilpon really treated us media types poorly as did most of the players at that time (Jeff Kent was by far the surliest guy I ever met). So I vowed that I would never root for them again until Wilpon sells the team.

Still waiting…

I will miss going often to major league baseball games after I move to Buffalo. But the Mets triple A affiliate is in Buffalo and I am considering getting a partial season ticket plan to those games. Toronto is not far away and so I will travel to some Blue Jays games and Cleveland is also not that far and I have not been to a game at their ballpark.

Lastly, please pray for the brother of our friend Phil Guibileo. Kevin and his wife Jen joined us for the final game at Citi Field under unfortunate circumstances. They were Phil’s tickets and his brother died suddenly on Saturday night at a rather young age of an apparent aneurysm or something similar. Sad. Phil is a great guy and a broadcaster for a minor league hockey team and was just recently married. So it’s tough on him during this so-called honeymoon period.

“Eternal rest grant unto him and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Finding Someone “Wonderfully Imperfect”

Over at a thought provoking blog “In Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being,” we find some wonderful reflections on marriage all this past week. However the capstone of these posts came down the pike today. Take a look and a listen at this:

In marriage we all find out each other’s flaws very quickly and part of marriage that I think a lot of people don’t understand is that we need to do our best to blow off the behaviors or tendencies or quirks that someone has that really aren’t that big of a deal. Somehow my wife overlooks my morning grumpiness and the fact that I’m often a slob who leaves clothes where I’m not supposed to. I know I snore sometimes and I can’t count the number of times my wife has “kneed” me in the back in the middle of the night, or pulled off the covers. She once fell asleep mid-sentence late at night when I was talking to her and she was exhausted and I was troubled by something.

But God do I love her. And her me.

We’ve both worked hard on our more rougher edges and have really come to understand what it means to work at relationship–and it always has paid off great dividends for both of us and our relationship.

It seems to me that this is what we call commitment and it is a reflection of how God also stands by us no matter what we might do. That all we need to do is utter those two simple words “I’m sorry” and the slate is always wiped clean. And God does this perfectly, unlike me who always tends to keep just a slight bit of resentment lingering–something I’m trying to work on that is challenging and never easy.

But fortunately for me, I have a wonderful woman by my side, who often teaches me much about unconditional love.

May you find someone as “wonderfully imperfect” as I have. And may your wonderful imperfections be tolerated and loved by someone who loves you.