Pope to Visit New York as well as Philly and D.C.

As rumored, Pope Francis will likely make a trip to New York as well as Washington, D.C.

Newsday has the scoop, quoting Joe Zwilling, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese.of New York.

Zwilling said a visit to New York makes sense for a number of reasons. This year is the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s address to the United Nations in 1965, when he was the first pope to visit the United States.

One of the more exciting things in this story is that Pope Francis may be making a trip to Fordham, my alma mater.  Some have said that the Pope wants to visit some areas where people struggle with poverty.  The Bronx is certainly an area where poverty is evident and I spent a good deal of time at POTS, the Fordham soup kitchen called Part of the Solution which serves many of the hungry in the borough.

So pack your bags.  I’m planning to try to be there.

She Will Go Lord, If You Lead Her

It is with a mix of sadness and joy that I bid farewell to my short-time Campus Ministry colleague, Julianne Wallace (pictured in the center flanked by Niagara Campus Minister, Kristina Schliesman and yours truly) today from our UB Campus Ministry staff. Julianne will become the Campus Minister for Liturgy, Worship and Faith Formation at St. Bonaventure University–where her Franciscan heart will be fed with the charism that has formed her for so many years.

As a friend often says about job opportunities, “When they call, you’ve got to go.” Yesterday’s readings reflected that very theme. God calls us to do great things but, many times we shove away the call that God sends to us, making excuses because we’re afraid to make a move or simply don’t want to upset the apple cart and start over risking our comfort.

The truth is that I know St. Bonaventure will be a wonderful place for my friend and colleague to be a minister and she’ll be a great addition to the place where her gifts will be used wisely and with great joy. Besides Jules looks better in Franciscan brown than in UB blue anyway.

So in bidding her adieu, I spent the morning in prayer for Julianne and for all those who discern their role in life, especially those students who are seniors and graduate students who are starting their last semester tomorrow. As a new semester starts, I’ve been feeling that I’m being called to do more spiritual direction with people. I’m excited about getting more training from my Jesuit friends at Canisius High School where I’ll be taking a class on spiritual direction and the spiritual exercises with some of their faculty. For Julianne, who has discerned her gifts for helping people worship well reflecting that Franciscan spirituality she loves to students, my prayer for you is that you are able to do that and be joyful as you serve others.

So this post is dedicated to Julianne along with this song which many parishes I’m sure sang at mass yesterday. A hat tip to Deacon Greg for this you tube version.

See ya at the diocesan vicariate meeting. And Fordham takes on the Bonnies this Saturday in basketball. Get ready to feel the wrath of Ignatius. I’ll be the one in Maroon.

You Won’t Convince Me Otherwise…

So on the anniversary of the death my college buddy, Dave Connors, I was recounting old stories to my wife as I drove her to work. I regaled her with stories of Dave’s stand-up comedy act. He did a killer Katherine Hepburn impression and claimed that Axl Rose from Guns and Roses was Katy in disguise. (Picture Katherine Hepburn singing “Whooooooaaaa….OOO…OOO…Sweet child o’ Mine!”

Ya had to be there, I guess.

He’d tell a bad joke on purpose and he’d set up the sucker punch:

“Well…THAT went over like a fart in church!”

Dave may have been 100 pounds soaking wet…so when he’d claim that he was taking the night off from his other job to do stand up…the crowd would roar. His other job, sayeth him, was at Chippendales.

I often backed him up there by the way. Hey, we needed the money!

After talking about his great wit, I dropped my wife off at work and then, turned the car around and started to get weepy. As I turned into the driveway, feeling sad and laughing at the memories at the same time the most amazing sunrise flowed all over my car amid the snowflakes and frigid air. And because Dave loved music I hit a random radio station and the words of Glass Tiger bellowed through the speakers….

“Dooooooon’t Forget Me When I’m Gone…Or my heart will break….
I have loved you for so long…It’s All I can Take.”

Coincidence…I think not. And you won’t convince me otherwise.

And so I leave you with the cheesy 80s video of Glass Tiger performing the aforementioned song. For those who knew him…remember. For those who don’t… remember those you loved who have gone before us.

Fordham: 50 Years Later

Joonmo Ku and Amy Murphy, two of my Fordham classmates sent this piece in the USA Today from a Fordham grad who attended his 50th reunion. How he describes Fordham is exactly how I remember my experience.

Some Fordham buildings were ivy-covered, but comparisons with the Ivy schools stopped there. Most of us were the sons of middle-class Americans. The island we summered at was Coney, not Nantucket. Our dads’ clubs were the Knights of Columbus and VFW. My father was a NYPD beat cop. My mother worked the four-to-midnight shift at Kings County Hospital.

No, we didn’t walk to school barefoot in the snow. We commuted three hours each day on subways. After classes, we went to work. We were waiters, delivery boys, even toll collectors on bridges. My main job was as an ABC page, hawking tickets to Times Square tourists for TV programs. One game show I was assigned to usher at was Who Do You Trust, hosted by a 34-year-old Johnny Carson.

Fordham can’t claim any U.S. presidents. There was no secret Skull and Bones society. No fraternities at all in the traditional sense. What Fordham did offer was a fine education. Its methodology: a liberal arts cocktail that paired a mandated major in philosophy with a chosen major and the traditional college curricula. Plus Theology, Latin and Greek.

Jesuit classes were not passive. They challenged us to challenge them, and their teaching went beyond textbooks. They showed us the connection between hard work and success, between discipline and personal satisfaction. We learned that if we fully participated in life, we could make a contribution….

It was my good fortune to connect with men who shared a common educational adventure, we surviving members of the last bottle club.

As what is left of my hair begins the early middle age graying, I remind myself that my college graduation was nearly 20 years ago. And there’s lots to recall. I remember close-knit dorms like Queen’s Court my freshman year, which was billed as “not just a place to come home to and sleep”–and it wasn’t–I literally cried when the year was over. I’m still friends with my Resident Director, namely Steven DiSalvo (now President of Marian University in Font-du-lac, WI).

I remember the countless hours I worked at WFUV and the stress I endured as the sports director, an early sign that radio and I didn’t agree.

But mostly, I remember Campus Ministry, (a sign that did agree with me!) especially the retreats, where I was able to explore who I was, how I was relating to God, whether priesthood was in my future and where I formed a lot of close friendships. To date, I still say that Fr. John Mullin, SJ taught me how to do retreats well and Sr. Jeanne Hamilton taught me how to be a pastoral minister. The hours upon hours that I spent with them were certainly “God moments” in my life. Jeanne (now a canon lawyer in Wilmington) and I would sometimes talk all afternoon between classes and dinner and it was always time well spent. I was the acolyte at the 10PM mass, the perfect time for a campus mass, even today. Candlelit and mellow it was a lovely way to wind down from a long weekend.

I wasn’t a great student back then, more focused on a radio career than sticking my nose in library books. The social scene would grab my attention easily, Clarke’s Bar was a favorite and in our Senior year a small wine bar named Jax was opened and thus came the Wednesday afternoon calls from my friend Kristin.

“Hey we’re going to Jax for a happy hour. Wanna come?”

Me: “Well, I have this test…”

Kristin: “Look if you don’t know it by now, you never will. Stop cramming and start drinking.”

Good point, thought I. And so off we went. A whole crew of us who did retreats together. A great senior year with God and Ignatius and a nice bottle of wine at our center.

One of us became a priest in an obscure religious order that I can’t remember. Most of us married, a few divorced and others have children.

One went on reality TV and he happened to be my roommate. Another does play-by-play for the New Jersey Nets. Sadly, a few died. One, Dave Connors (another roommate) from a long illness at only 25, another, Firefighter Tom Cullen, died heroically, in the towers of the World Trade Center and a third, Sue Costello, who didn’t even make it to the graduation line before cancer got the best of her. May you all rest in peace.

And then there’s me. After radio and marriage, I wrote a book, founded a website, got a second Fordham degree and dare to show dog pictures along with the pictures of my classmates’ kids at our reunion. Most can’t believe that I turned “our little retreat ministry” into a career. Fordham magazine even did a nice spread on me some time ago.

So classmates, know that you are in my prayers and know of my continued love for all of you and for the memories that you gave me.

And most of all, GO RAMS!

What’s the Strangest Thing You Believe?

Last night I had a group of friends over and someone brought up a belief in paranormal activity. My wife tends to believe in certain aspects of that while I remain skeptical of much of this.

Gloria, one of our dinner companions, asked a great question: “What’s the strangest thing you believe in? Like the most out there kind of thing that would make others say hmmmm, I’m not sure I can believe that.”

After reading the book, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, I have come to believe that exorcism and possession is real. So I talked about the findings in that book. Another talked about haunted houses.

What might it be for you? Surely there are lots of things we can’t explain, but what universals might have sprung from your own experiences?

A quick spooky story that has been told in Fordham circles. The old Rose Hill library now serves as the home for the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies and the Theology department. When I was an undergrad it was still the University’s main library though. The legend was that the place was haunted by a kindly old Jesuit who was a philosophy professor. One night a young freshman was writing in the North Stacks for a Philosophy paper and a Jesuit walked in and asked him what he was studying. The student admitted that he was struggling with the subject and the kind old Jesuit pitched in to help him finish his paper.

The following week the young man was called into the professor’s office and accused of plagiarism. “You couldn’t have written this paper, these ideas are a bit antiquated but brilliant.” the professor said.

The student admitted that an older Jesuit helped him but that all the ideas were his own.

When he revealed the Jesuit’s name, the professor told him it was impossible that he could have helped him because he had been dead for over 50 years!

So is this the story of a ghost or a crafty student trying to weasel his way out of an assignment?

Who knows? What might you think?

And if I go before ye, play this at my funeral…and remember all those who made a difference

This is from a 1997 tour of Ireland of the Notre Dame Folk Choir and it was their last song of the tour. I’m not a grad but I’ve always admired the student’s and their dedication to the liturgy. You can see the realization from some of the seniors that it’s all over–they won’t be singing together after this moment. Look at the faces of these young lads and see the exchanges of hugs and the hand holding and the tears shed. This is a Campus Minister’s dream to forge such a bond.

In many ways they bring me back to my own college days at Fordham when I was part of the Emmaus Retreat Team with their campus ministry. I’m beginning to put together retreat teams in Buffalo and I hope I can create a similar bond like the one that was created amongst my classmates. I can remember after leading a year’s worth of retreats (6 in total), that our student team members travelled up to our retreat house for one final evening together. We held hands as we prayed and sang and laughed and remembered a great year, a year that would not have been the same without the experience of being “on the road to Emmaus.”

While the miles separate me from many of those people, I’m in touch with almost all of them to this day. They clearly made a difference in my life as a Catholic, as a minister today and as someone who hopes to make a difference in the lives of others. I’ve been a retreat director for years and have had strong bonds with many of the team members but none could ever equal the kind of bond that we had that wonderful Senior Year of college at Fordham. It’s hard to equal the kind of bond we had living in close proximity and then sharing on such a deep level with one another.

Have you had a group like that in your life? A grouo that was so tightly connected that you almost couldn’t think of doing something without calling at least one of them and even today when you get back together with them, it is like the hours were few since you last got together. Who are those people in your life that touched you so deeply and brought you to that place where you realized that not only were you there with one another but you were there with Christ?

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.

Yes Fordham, There is a Santa Claus


A retroactive Hat Tip to my classmates Joe Squillace and Tracy Crimmins from Fordham University where this story originated at Christmas 1991.

Joe and Tracy were students at Fordham and spent a good deal of their time doing what some would say was a thankless job: Running the Community Service Organization’s “Give A Child a Christmas” campaign. They would gather hundreds of toys by asking the college students to simply go out and buy a toy for children who lived in the poorer section of the Bronx.

The job of organizing and preparing for the huge Christmas party was gargantuan. But Joe and Tracy in the midst of their studies and activities would somehow spend lots of sleepless nights getting all the gifts together and they’d even plan the party that would bring much joy to a bunch of children who were often jaded and skeptical that Santa could ever exist.

Occasionally there would be glimmers that would make it all worthwhile. Like the time when someone donated a huge teddy bear to the campaign. It was one of those huge bears that you win for throwing 150 balls into the clown’s mouth in a row at the fair. They kept that bear unwrapped in the back room thinking it was too “off the charts” in comparison with the other gifts. But when one little girl came forward and said: “There ain’t no Santa Claus and I ain’t even gonna get what I asked for at this stupid-ass party,” Joe sprang into action. “Well what do you want?” he asked. She simply said, “A teddy bear, not that it matters.” Poised in the closet almost magically behind her was the giant bear. And just as magically, Joe, dressed in Santa’s big red suit, asked his compatriot elves to open the door. There stood her bear. Just as she had asked. She hugged that bear longer than I ever had seen anyone hug anything. Pure magic.

But the next story takes the Christmas Fruitcake…

At the end of that very same party, when all of the other students had put in a long hard day’s work, Joe and Tracy gathered up the remaining toys and lugged them all to the subway to bring them down to another children’s home so that they could distribute them to other needy children in the area.

On the subway, after their long journey, Joe and Tracy were enjoying a scenic ride on the elevated #4 train back to Fordham. They spied a little girl of about 5 or 6 years old sitting across from them. A child of the Bronx, she rode the subway with her mother, back home this day. “She had big beautiful eyes,” Tracy told me. “The kind you can’t ignore!” They made pleasant conversation with her.

Tracy: “So are you ready for Santa Claus to come?”
Little Girl: “Nope! Santa doesn’t come to my house.”
Joe: “What? C’mon! What do you mean?”
Little girl (with mom looking nervous): “Well…my mommy told me that the South Bronx is too far from the North Pole for Santa to come all that way. So Santa doesn’t come to our house because it’s just too far, even for flying reindeer!”

Joe and Tracy knowingly looked at the child’s mother and played along.

Joe: “Oh I see. That’s too bad, huh?”
Little Girl: “Nah, it’s OK. I already got my gift from Santa anyway.”
Joe: “Now wait a minute! What do you mean? Santa doesn’t come until Christmas Eve, everyone knows that!”
Little Girl (giggles and says): “I told you silly, the South Bronx is too far! So what Santa does is he gets a bunch of his helpers together at this place called Fordham and every year he makes sure that the gifts get there EARLY. So we get our Christmas a bit earlier than everyone else! We go every year for my gift there.”

At this juncture Joe and Tracy were desperately trying not to openly cry.

Joe asked her one last question:

“Did you get what you want?”

“I ALWAYS get exactly what I ask Santa for!”

And in unison, as they walked out of the subway car, Joe and Tracy responded tearfully together:

“So do I.”

As we await the magical season of giving, may we be reminded that God, sometimes might not give us what we want, but always gives us exactly what we need. In fact God holds nothing back from us and gives us his very self.

May we be able to recognize that gift this Christmas and may we be able to give that same gift of love to others.

Merry Christmas.

Addendum: A bunch of my classmates just informed me that Virginia O’Hanlon (yes, THAT Virginia) is also a Fordham graduate. They granted her a doctoral degree sometime after 1912. Surprise, surprise!

When your deadly serious, you’re seriously dead…

That was the line of the night at the Sapientia et Doctrina dinner where Jesuit Father and all around good guy, Fr James Martin, SJ was the keynote speaker. From Fordham’s website

The school honored 11 people and agencies for their excellence in doing the day-to-day work of the church, and bestowed a special Gaudium et Spes award on James Martin, S.J., award-winning author of My Life With the Saints (Loyola, 2006).

Father Martin, an associate editor at America magazine and media commentator familiarly dubbed the “Colbert Report chaplain” for his appearance on the popular show, spoke to the value of expressing more liveliness and laughter, or “salt and light,” among Catholics today.

“We’ve all met Catholics who seem to think that being religious means being deadly serious,” he said. “But of course, when you’re deadly serious, you’re seriously dead.”

Fr Jim killed and I wasn’t so bad myself as I was the preacher during the reconciliation service.

If you’ve never heard Fr Jim before…check him out on the Colbert Report here:

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Father James Martin
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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