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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cardinal Timothy Dolan.......

came to Gettysburg to say an open-air mass for the 4th of July weekend, so my father and I headed off to attend the event. Before the mass, we went to the Gettysburg town square and stopped off at our usual thrift store to hunt for blouses. Outside, a lady dressed in Civil War-era attire was playing period tunes on the fiddle, and I accompanied her by singing “Will Ye No’ Come Back Again?” and “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier”. Reenactors were everywhere to be found. The town was buzzing with tourism and a deep sense of shared history. A euphoric patriotism was also in the air, and an awareness that “We, the People” were still here, daring to live up to the fullness of our American heritage, in spite a war that almost tore us apart some 250 years ago, in spite of modern political turmoil, in spite of everything.

    Tromping through the streets and soaking up the atmosphere, we had the opportunity to interact with various denominational groups highlighting their respective involvement in the Civil War, including the Lutherans and the Mennonites. A Lutheran street-sweeper invited us to a Civil War memorial program involving music and reenactments at his church. Interestingly, a pro-Union preacher from that very church is remembered for confronting invading Confederates during the Battle of Gettysburg and being shot dead on the church steps by them. A plaque on the site commemorates his death.

    The Mennonites had there own story to tell about a peace-loving Mennonite farmer who refused to fight the invading Confederates but instead tried to treat them with Christian charity, providing them with the food and medical supplies as needed. One Southerner wasn’t particularly grateful and threatened to shoot the poor man, but one of his comrades intervened and spared the Mennonite’s life in token of mercy he had shown to them. So many stories welling up from such a small town…….

    Getting close to mass time, dad and I drove to St. Francis Xavier School Complex where it was to be held. I was amazed by the crowds of people turning out to see the Cardinal. The best of Catholica America was on display: The Knights of Columbus with their shining swords; The Irish Brigade Reenactors with their emerald harp-embroidered flag; the priests dressed in their long black cassocks; the acolytes and assistants of the Cardinal in their traditional garb; and press agents from as far away as New York with official-looking cameras draped around their sweaty necks. They all were in a state of eager expectation as the Cardinal prepared himself inside the air-conditioned complex to emerge into the blazing summer heat.

    Dad and I went to the front of the building and sat down on a bench about a stone’s throw away from where “conclave” of the Cardinal’s aides and lay assistants were waiting for their leader to come forth. Finally, he did just that. It was so amazing to see him in the flesh and hear his genial, down-to-earth voice in person. Back during Lent, we thought he might even be made first American pope! I had had mixed emotions about that possibility, since I thought he would make a great Vicar of Christ, but I also didn’t want us Americans to lose him on permanent overseas affairs. Even though he didn’t make it to the Big Chair, his even-keel orthodoxy, beaming personality, and live radio show still make him a very well-known and much-loved figure in the Catholic World.

    Anyway, as he came out of the complex doors, I nervously jumped up, made friendly eye-contact with him, and yelped “Hi!” in a high-pitched squeak. He responded with his characteristic warmth and gave me a hug as if he was a parish priest seeing one of his favorite parishioners. “I….I listen to your radio show all the time……” I managed to sputter. “Your Eminence, may we take a picture?” my dad inquired, priming our handy-dandy, out-of-date camera. “Sure, sure, of course!” the ever-obliging Cardinal responded, putting his arm around my shoulder. I blushed and made an embarrassed grin. Flash. We had done it!!!!

    Dad and I returned to the bench as the Cardinal proceeded to pray quietly off the side before the beginning of the mass. Then the grand procession, akin a mini papal event, began. For one who loves pageantry like myself, it really was beautiful to watch. It made me think about the contrast between the present state of affairs and the Civil War period, when Catholics were still viewed with contempt by the “No Nothings” (appropriate title!) and their ilk and treated like second-class citizens. We were mostly made up of Irish and Germans back then, who slaved to earn the dignity they sought to obtain as immigrants to the USA. And now look at us, with all our diversity and dignity and splendor. In spite of all our problems in the Church and in the Country, we seem to have done fair enough in the marriage between faith and patriotism.

    The mass itself was enlightening. Yes, I know, we should be equally enlightened by every mass we take part in, but God does sometimes give us a special burst of understanding at different times. I felt as if I was at the center of the Universal Church, militant, triumphant, and suffering. Looking at the men and women dressed as soldiers and camp followers, I felt as if the ghosts of the past swirling around me. The Cardinal spoke about how many of the soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg probably died with the words of the “Our Father” on their lips, and how we should remember them as we said the prayer once again at that mass. This identification with historical continuity is one of the keys to our faith and our ultimate hope. We dare to believe that death is by no means the end of all, and that the soul never dies. We believe that our predecessors live on and that we are connected to them by an unbreakable chain and obliged to pray for them. We believe that the faithful living and the faithfully departed are different parts of the same body.

    After the mass, I actually managed to get to the Cardinal again, this time to have an antique holy medal of Our Lady and the Angel Gabriel blest by him. This blessing was photographed by one of “the press”, a young man who purposely dressed to look like Clark Kent………well, not exactly Kent per se, but rather a well-dressed reporter from the ‘20s or ‘30s! We chatted for a while afterwards, and I gave him a coffee-flavored hard candy I picked up at an antique shop in town, since I figured he was probably parched from the weather. I already had a butterscotch candy in my mouth to help my own dry throat!

    Soon after, my father and I drove off in the direction of the Lutheran Church for the Civil War event, but unfortunately we only made it for the last song, aptly, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, and boy, did it have an amazingly powerful ring against the rafters of that historic church! The sound of it was so inspiring it sent chills up and down my spine. Dad and I went outside and indulged in the tray of refreshments, tangy red punch, salty pretzels, and sugary cookies. We then managed to get a picture with a reenactor dressed as General Lee who was in the process of exiting the church with a Southern Belle on his arm. Deciding a change of scenery was in order, we headed across the street for a peek inside Lord Nelson’s Gallery.

    Now, the funny thing about Lord Nelson’s is that it has absolutely nothing to do with Lord Nelson, and was apparently named after the owner’s dog as opposed to the Victor of Trafalgar. However, it does dabble in a different aspect of British history: The French and Indian War, with General Braddock as the star player! In keeping with their chosen theme, they make available some really interesting paintings, figurines, knick-knacks, and books having to do with Colonial times, which is a welcome relief for one feeling overwhelmed by Civil War apparel and needing to get back to British basics. Plus, I wanted to get a business card for my Nelson-loving friend……she knows who she is! ;-)

    As we meandered at the Gallery, we weren't expecting anything super-galactic, and an employee of the gallery only casually mentioned that there was an author in the back room signing books with another tray of refreshments laid out, the latter being what enticed us into the room to begin with! (And the refreshments were really tasty.....cheese, crackers, and carrot cake. What could be better?) Then, surprise of surprises, who should we find behind the folding table hawking piles of historical novels but Jeff Shaara of Gods and Generals fame! I greatly enjoyed the films based on his and his father’s writings about the Civil War, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.

    However, I must add in my historically nerdy way that I was disappointed by the way Shaara portrayed King George III in his book Rise to Rebellion. He was depicted stomping around, shouting for tea, and bullying General Gage like some sort of maniac during a royal audience. This would have been totally out of character for King George in his years of sanity, and we know he was sane during the early days of the American Revolution. He was usually quite dignified at meetings, and he was particularly sympathetic to Gage, leaving no logical reason why the king would have given the general such a hard time. But nevertheless, I think Mr. Shaara does try his best to give good coverage to both sides in the American Revolution, as he did when dealing with the Civil War, and I admire him for his prolific historical authorship.

    Realizing this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I went up to the table and introduced myself to him. It was the end of the night and Mr. Shaara was in a bit of hurry to pack up his material and be off, but I managed to mention that I was working on a historical fiction book about the American Revolution myself and that I had been in contact with Dysart, Scotland where Major Pitcairn grew up. He responded that he’d been to Edinburgh, but never Dysart. I must admit a slight smirk of satisfaction on my part. No wonder he had portrayed the Pitcairn as being emotionally bent out of shape at every twist and turn in his book! He had never interacted with the real “never-say-die” Dysartians! Mr. Shaara did inform me that Margaret Gage lost her reason to some extent after the death of her youngest child and that she would go down to Boston Harbor and wait the ship bearing her child to come in…….which of course never did. I plan on integrating this bit of information into my own story now.

    Before parting ways, Mr. Shaara’s assistant tried to hawk me one of his very expensive hard-cover books which I politely declined, and Dad managed to snap a picture of me standing alongside the famous author to add to the day’s photo album. Then I took the liberty of writing down the titles of a few books for sale involving General Braddock’s March and the Highlanders in the French and Indian War. I also took down the names of some very striking paintings and their painters. One, called “The Wounding of General Braddock” depicted Braddock, shot through the lung, slumped against a tree, with Washington and several others gathered around him as he gave a final command, the light shining through the trees and casting shadows across the scattered British and American troops caught in the French and Indian ambush in the background.

    Another painting that I found particularly touching showed a little girl in 18th c. attire, apparently adjusting the collar of redcoat officer. It was entitles “A Daughter’s Love”, and it struck me as symbolic of a powerful I try to put across in my own writing. The fact is that many of the hardened veterans in powdered wigs and scarlet jackets who shouted orders and oaths and thundered their way into the history books were also human beings, many of them with a softer side that is rarely exposed. And this holds true for the soldiers of the Civil War, who died with the “Our Father” on their lips. And it holds true for the famous and talented among us in our modern day, whether they be cardinals or authors or reenactors or fiddlers. Human contact is a universal need of mankind, planted in each of us by the hand of our God.

Cardinal Dolan Shaking Hands with a Civil War Reenactor


  1. O Most Excellent Pearl,

    Thanks for sharing the visit!

  2. Wow, what an exciting day - how thrilling that you had the opportunity to meet Cardinal Dolan and hear him say Mass! By the way, did you know he's originally from the St. Louis archdiocese? My dad met him once a long time ago, when he was still Father Dolan, and my uncle (who briefly attended the seminary) knew him before his ordination. Furthermore, his mother lives in a town just 10 miles from here - you can imagine all the speculation in the local paper during the papal conclave. Anyway, I'd love to see that picture of you with him sometime!

    Also, our neighbors, avid Civil War re-enactors, were at Gettysburg this year; who knows, you may have seen them:).

    - Ellen

  3. @Mack: Your most welcome, and thanks for taking the time to read over my "wild n' wooly" adventures!

    @Ellen: Wow! You certainly have some fascinating Cardinal Dolan connections! I think I did hear in passing that he used to be from Missouri, but I never really connected the dots! What parish did he serve in as a priest? That's so neat that your dad met him all the way back then, and that his mother is almost a stone's throw away.....well, almost! ;-) Who knows? He might yet become pope, and your have the mama of the vicar of Christ almost on location! :-D

    Pics will be forthcoming as soon as I get the chance at the library!


  4. Only you, Pearl, would have the nerve to introduce yourself to Cardinal Dolan and ask for a photo with him - I certainly wouldn't! : ) I actually attended a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan once myself - it was the year before last, when I was a member of the "Young Catholic Musicians," a choir and orchestra open to jr.-sr. high school students across the archdiocese. We sang for a certain parish's 150th anniversary celebration Mass, and Cardinal Dolan, who had some kind of historic connection with the parish - I don't remember whether he grew up there, or served there when he was just a priest, or exactly what the connection was - came all the way from New York to be the celebrant. It never occurred to me to ask for a photo or to even attempt to speak with him, but I had an excellent view from the seats reserved for the choir - my main memory was of watching him twirl his round cap (I'm sure there's a technical term for it, but I don't know what it is) on his finger during the rather lengthy post-Communion speeches and announcements. : )
    Anyway, half a continent apart and we've now attended Masses celebrated by the same Cardinal. I enjoyed reading about your adventures and will look forward to those pictures!

    - Katherine

  5. I'm afraid I don't know which parishes Cardinal Dolan served at when he was in St. Louis. My dad met him when he was visiting our parish for some reason; it must have been over 20 years ago.

    I'm looking forward to those picture! And I have to echo Katherine - only you would have the courage to introduce yourself to Cardinal Dolan!

    - Ellen

  6. Sounds like you had quite the productive day!

    @Katherine, the term for a cardinal's round cap is "zuchetto". A public service announcement brought to you by the Home for Random, Pointless Facts That is My Brain.

  7. Thanks for this great report Pearl, it sounds like an awesome day out!

    And lucky you, getting to meet Cardinal Dolan. He is a very charismatic and gregarious character alright - deservedly popular.
    (I gotta see the picture you got with him!)

    The only Cardinal Ive ever met is the now-disgraced Cardinal O'Brien of Scotland (just my luck!). I met him twice and got to chat with him at length on one occasion.

    But for what its worth, he did strike me as a gentle and caring man, genuinely interested in what ordinary people had to say. Both times I met him he was involved in day-long events for the good of others, and struggled through the days with a smile and words of encouragement, despite his advanced age and failing health.

    It is a shame his personal battles led to his disgrace - but in a way this showed that he is only human, like the rest of us.

    I hope you and your Dad had a great day out! And I like those civil war movies too - great films! I would love to visit Gettysburg one day.

    Take it easy!