Maria Wiering moved to Baltimore from Washington, D.C., after joining the Catholic Review staff in 2012. A native of Minnesota, Maria takes every opportunity to explore Maryland’s history and culture as she makes the Charm City her home. Contact her at mwiering@catholicreview.org.

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Love the Little Sisters! Their work is God's work. thank you

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Thanks for the reminder Maria. It made me stop and think of my guidian angel. My mother had me recite the guidian angel prayer every morning before I left for school.

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Charmed

First Nun Run draws 4X expected crowd for Little Sisters of the Poor


Rain fell steadily on Baltimore City for most of Saturday, but mercifully held off until after the Nun Run, the Little Sisters of the Poor’s inaugural 5K race – a fundraiser they said was more of a “friend-raiser.”

Under overcast skies, more than 800 people gathered in the early morning under the spires of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen for the 3.1-mile loop or a one-mile walk. That was 550 more than the sisters expected – they were told a first-time race typically draws a slim crowd. The racers represented 71 parishes and 24 schools.

“It’s amazing how many people have supported the sisters from all over,” said Marcy Shea-Frank, the Little Sisters of the Poor’s development director. She said she hope the race helped people become more familiar with the Little Sisters’ work.

People may not know St. Martin’s, the Catonsville home for the elderly poor where the sisters live and work, but they likely know their name. There’s probably no other religious order in America who’ve been in the national news as often as they have. The Little Sisters of the Poor are among more than 100 businesses and organizations suing the federal government over its HHS mandate to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, and have been among the most visible plaintiffs.

Shea-Frank said she didn’t know whether the sisters’ lawsuit affected race turnout, but said it may have.

On race day, she did not yet know how much the race raised, she said. “Right now I’m just hoping for a couple thousand, really,” she said.

Before we runners gathered behind the start line, a trainer from Brick Bodies led us in warm-up aerobics and stretches. A few of the Little Sisters did the moves with the rest of us, their white habits contrasting our gray running tees and shorts. The mood was festive as Archbishop William Lori stood on the steps to welcome and bless the runners.

“No matter who wins, the real victors are the Little Sisters of the Poor,” he said, calling them “champions” in living the consecrated life, caring for elderly and defending religious freedom.

At precisely 8 a.m., we were off. At my side was my friend Meg, my regular race partner. Our last race, however, was before I was pregnant with my now 11-month-old son. Needless to say, this run was more social than competitive (confirmed by my finishing time, which reflected a “typical morning jog” pace). We chatted the entire 3.1-mile loop south on Charles, west on Wyndhurst, north on Roland and east on Northern.

I’m sure that some runners were solely focused on the finishing time, but it seemed most were like me – just happy to be supporting the Little Sisters. St. Martin’s includes independent apartments for low-income seniors, assisted living and skilled nursing care. They strive to make St. Martin’s not feel like a nursing facility, but a family home.

The sisters do their work without the benefit of an endowment, meaning that they “beg” for their funds, Shea-Frank said. They didn’t have to beg me very hard to get my $35 for the race, but I smiled at the idea of a lifestyle that still reflects the spirit of medieval mendicant orders, whose entire day-to-day survival depended on others’ benevolence.

“We hope that this really grows,” Shea-Frank said of the Nun Run. “We hope that this introduces more people to us, and that next year’s run is all that much bigger.”

The sisters have been praying for the runners, said Sister Lawrence Mary Pocock as she handed out “Run for the Nuns” shoelaces to kids and teens running the race. She saw the crowd as a sign of the “tremendous support” they receive from laypeople, priests and Archbishop Lori.

“We’ve very excited and very touched by the sign of support,” she said. “It’s a friend-raiser as much as a fundraiser. It is our hope that everybody who comes today becomes our friends and continues to support our work, because we need all the help we can get in caring for our elderly residents.”

According to the sisters’ website, caring for and accompanying the dying is the “summit” of their ministry. “At St. Martin’s it is our goal that no one die alone,” they state. They added that their staff, volunteers and benefactors “are the extended hands and hearts of the Little Sisters.”

Scott David, 48, said he was running because the commitment he and his wife, Kim, have to the sisters and St. Martins. Kim David sits on its board of directors.

“I’m so thrilled with the turnout,” he said.

Karrie Bangs and her children Hannah, 13, and Chad, 10, joined fellow parishioners of Church of the Ascension in Halethorpe for the run after two Little Sisters spoke about their work at their parish.

“They have a good cause,” she said. “They do such beautiful work.”

Charm City Run organized the event. Race results are here.

 

September 13, 2014 10:47
By Maria Wiering


One woman’s nesting yields another woman’s treasure (maybe)


My husband and I are in that final “nesting” period before the baby comes. OK, maybe it’s just me, because his desk is a mess, and clearly no nesting is happening in that corner of our living room. (I told him he had to tidy it before the baby saw it, because the baby would not be impressed.)

As part of this nesting, we’ve cleaned out our closets and filled bags for donation. Because these bags have been known to sit around our house or in our car for unnecessarily long periods of time, I insisted that we drop them in a clothing collection bin ASAP.

There used to be one in our neighborhood, but it strangely disappeared several months ago. So, now the only one I know of is on Cold Spring Lane. My husband thought that was too far out of the way from last evening’s errands, so instead we cruised the parking lots between Charles Village and our place in Bolton Hill, hoping to find a bin.

No luck.

Which means that despite my ardent desire to donate these clothes, they’re sitting in my living room.

Thankfully, I’ve discovered that Planet Aid, a nonprofit that collects shoes and clothes, has a bin finder at planetaid.org, and there are several bins much closer than I thought. Find the nearest bin to you by typing in your ZIP code.

Much easier than driving around North Avenue playing spot the yellow box.

September 30, 2013 04:19
By Maria Wiering


Grazie, Papa


 

 

I join the rest of the world today in complete disbelief about the news I heard the minute after my alarm radio went off: Pope Benedict plans to resign. As the historians assess his legacy, I'm reflecting on the blessing of a few encounters with the man who benefited from the love his predecessor garnered for the papacy, but who attracted an affection all his own.

Humility is what I think of when I think of Pope Benedict. I shook his hand once (and then awkwardkly tried to kiss his ring, as is the custom), as he walked down the aisle of the Vatican's Hall of Pope Paul VI during a regular Wednesday audience. Like everyone else who gets asile seats, I got there two hours early and rushed for the chairs when the doors opened.

What struck me as Pope Benedict made his way to the front of the hall was everyone's enthusiasm -- 50-year-old men losing all sense of decorum as they stretched their hands out, hoping they will grasped, and the quiet awe of others, who wanted deeply to convey their respect. (The photo above is my pittiful effort to capture the atmosphere.)

As as people shouted, cheered, sobbed, Pope Benedict XVI walked with his head down slightly, as if all this attention was a little bit much. 

A few years later, I was back in Rome with my parents, and we happend to be in the right place at the right time, the Popemobile whizzing past us and not many others, long enough to really see Pope Benedict and wonder if we really did make eye contact. My parents were thrilled, and I still relish that moment, remembering their faces.

Every Catholic who has the chance seems to treasure that "private" moment with the pope, a personal memory of a singlar encounter with a saint-in-the-making. I lived in Rome during the papacy of John Paul II, and I have friends who heard then-Cardinal Ratzinger preach in English at the Lent pilgrimage churches. They said he was so approachable, so kind.

And then of course, he is also brilliant. What a beautiful example, this marriage of incredible gifts, but the humility that knows they are only in service of God. Thank you, Pope Benedict, for the gift of these eight years.


February 11, 2013 10:38
By Maria Wiering


It's Christmastime in the City


 

Maybe it's some psychological attachment to its Star-Spangled history, but Baltimore is not shy about fireworks, I learned last night at the annual Washington Monument lighting. Bombs burst in the air all around the monument, which is the centerpiece of the Mount Vernon neighborhood and an icon of the city.

Each year, the city strings lights from the top of the monument (where Geroge Washington keeps his watch over the city) to its base, making a sort of Christmas-tree shape. Getting in on the action was Baltimore must, I was told. We were down for the pre-lighting events, which for us, included hot wassail. Venders lined monument street with food and drink, and different choirs put on a concert on the main stage. When the monument was eventually lit, fireworks went off for a good five minutes, much to the delight of the cookie-stuffed kids standing in front of me.

There may not be snow on the ground (and there may be highs in the 60s forecasted for Saturday), but this convinced me that the holiday season has begun!

 

December 10, 2012 10:22
By Maria Wiering


My latest fun finds in Baltimore

The lengthy Thanksgiving weekend provided yet one more thing to be grateful for – the opportunity to explore a few new things in Baltimore. My husband and I ducked into a back alley near Johns Hopkins, tooled around on bikes in Hampden, and explored an architectural treasure trove near the M&T Bank Stadium. At the end, even more turkey couldn’t have left us with feeling any more satisfaction than a few days well spent.

Our favorite finds:

1.       The Book Thing. If you visited our apartment, one thing would be immediately clear – we love books. There’s definitely some his-and-hers on our massive bookshelf (His: Aristotle; Hers: Wendell Berry) but we’re proud of our growing collection (largely still in boxes in our parents’ Midwestern basements), which is mostly comprised of second-hand or library-sale copies. It is no wonder then that we enjoyed the hunt at the Book Thing of Baltimore, which is shelf after sagging shelf of free books for the taking. Free books are a great way to indulge learning whims -- I picked up a copy of Dan Buettner’s “The Blue Zones” after talking about the concept with a friend the day before, and book of Michelangelo’s letters. It’s opened every weekend, even on holidays and in blizzards – and, according to store signs, the apocalypse or the rapture. 3001 Vineyard Lane, Baltimore. (Look up directions before you go – it really was in an alley.)

2.       Birroteca. This Baltimore restaurant is still so new that its website isn’t finished, and it’s worth staking your claim now. We tried it out for Wednesday night happy hour – and were back on Friday. Located in Hampden near the Fallsway, this too is off the beaten path, but an easy bike ride from our place. They do $3 drafts from Evolution Brewing, which recently relocated to Maryland’s Eastern Shore from Delaware, from 5 to 7 p.m. And, as we thankfully learned the first night, their grilled calamari is perfect. It made a man who typically races me for the best bites put down his fork and savor each piece. 1520 Clipper Road, Baltimore.

3.       Housewerks. For me, this is next to heaven. I have ALWAYS loved old architectural elements. My parents taught me to love old craftsmanship – my dad for the quality, and my mom for the beauty. I’ve also always had a soft spot for old houses, even in severely dilapidated forms. Housewerks struck all of my heartstrings. This place definitely has some beautiful and quirky things salvaged from decline: stained glass lunettes, heavy large doors with wrought iron detailing, and industrial shelving, saved for projects yet to be devised or dreamt.  Housewerks also have drawers of old architectural and mechanical blueprints that, famed and hung, would make for a trendy conversation piece. Also, they have a decent stash of Catholic kitsch.  I told my husband I wanted to come here for my birthday, just to look. 1415 Bayard St., Baltimore.

November 26, 2012 05:34
By Maria Wiering


Angels on the running trail

 

I did something stupid the other day – I threw on my running shoes and left the house as the sky was already streaking with orange. I was in the mood to run, and run far. As I wound my way down the Jones Falls Parkway, I told myself it wasn’t a big deal that it was getting dark, that it was no different than running along the Mississippi at dusk, which was completely safe in Minnesota.


But remember, this is Baltimore.


You’ve seen The Wire, right?


By the time I was halfway done, the sky was navy, and I no longer felt safe. Because it had rained earlier in the evening, few other runners were out. Instead of retracing my route, I decided to take a “shortcut” home, which involved a route through an old neighborhood that had never struck me as particularly dangerous.


As I navigated an overgrown sidewalk, a car slowed down beside me, and a woman leaned out the window. “Get home!” she yelled at me. “Get home now!”


I wasn’t sure I understood her. Is that what she said?


“Get home NOW!” she shouted.


Yikes! That is what she said!


“I’m trying!” I yelled back.


She drove off, and I picked up the pace. Really picked it up. It deeply disturbed me that this woman was insistent I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was still a mile or so from home. What could I do? My husband was at class, and no taxi was going to come my way.


I realized my pride and stubbornness – I’m not naive to the city. However, that night, I didn’t want it to be THE CITY. I wanted it to be a city of my own, where I was in control. And my pride was putting me at risk.


Half a mile to go, but the street seemed unending. So I prayed. “Guardian Angels!” I yelled. “And St. Michael!” for good measure.
I crossed North Avenue, and was back in my neighborhood. A cop drove by. A few blocks later, I was locking my front door.


I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. Was I really ever in actual danger? I won’t go running past dark again to find out. However, the whole situation reminded me of a talk a priest gave the night before the Feast of the Guardian Angels, Oct. 2.


Don’t under-employ your guardian angel, he said -- giving the all-too-familiar example of calling upon it only for help finding a parking space. Guardian angels are meant for service, he said.


As a little girl, I was obsessed with angels. I loved to read books with stories about people who thought they encountered one. My mother would pray the guardian angel prayer with my siblings and me every school day before we left for the bus.


As I’ve gotten older, it’s been easy to relegate guardian angels to the realm of childish things. It was easy to think of a them as Tinkerbell-sort-of-beings, and that hardly seemed appropriate for someone coming up on 30.


I’ve been reconsidering.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church states is paragraph No. 336, “From infancy to death, human life is surrounded by their (angels’) watchful care an intercession.” Quoting St. Basil, it adds, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”


If that’s true, and the Catholic Church teaches that it is, it kind of changes the game, doesn’t it?


Last week, Pope Benedict XVI declared the opening of a Year of Faith. Right and left, Catholics are making spiritual resolutions, such as reading the entire Catechism cover to cover (it’s also its 20th anniversary) over 12 months.


My resolution is not to under-employ my guardian angel – and I know I don’t have to seek out perilous situations do call on him.
I tend to need extra intercession every day, for one reason or another.

October 17, 2012 10:34
By Maria Wiering


Oh Say Can You See ... Baltimore's top 6

 

The Catholic Review is featuring Vincent Vaise, a Catholic and chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry, in this week’s issue, which gave me a reason to visit Fort McHenry for the first time. Vince’s enthusiasm for the fort is unparalleled, but it’s clear that his deep interest in history extends far beyond those fortified walls.

I asked him to list the top historic sites everyone visiting (or living) in Baltimore should see, and without hesitation, he suggested the following:

1)      Fort McHenry, of course! It’s the birthplace of the National Anthem. In September 1814, during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write what would become The Star-Spangled Banner after spying the American flag still waving after the fort endured an overnight bombarding from the British in the Battle of Baltimore. (2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore)

2)      Hampton National Historic Site. Vaise is also chief of interpretation for this mansion and its grounds, just north of Baltimore. He described it as “63 acres of pure awesome,” and a local fix for a Downton Abbey addiction. (Guilty!) Each of the mansion’s rooms is decorated in a different historic period to give visitors glimpses into how a house adapts over time. A lot of the outer buildings are preserved, and it has formal gardens. Vaise recommends visiting at 10 or 11 a.m. on a Sunday, when tours are typically smaller and you can pretend the house is yours. (535 Hampton Lane, Towson)

3)      Maryland Historical Society. The quintessential museum for understanding the state with plenty of interesting artifacts. (201 West Monument St., Baltimore)

Battle Monument (Tom McCarthy Jr., CR Staff)

4)      Battle Monument. “Oh, you mean that column with the lady on the top?” I asked when Vince brought this one up. “That’s Lady Baltimore!” he cried. He told me not to feel too bad – a lot of natives don’t know that the city’s allegorical figure has such a signature spot. The column is a Roman fasces with Lady Baltimore donning a victory crown and clutching a laurel wreath, commemorating the War of 1812 and honoring the fallen from the Battle of Baltimore. Keep your eyes open for her image to show up on anything official from the city. Also, you'll be able to see her at closer range after she's moved to the Walters Art Musuem; a replica will be take her place up high. (Calvert Street between Fayette and Lexington Streets, Baltimore)

5)      The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yes, that name is a mouthful, but why not? It’s America’s first Catholic cathedral and was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect who designed the U.S. Capitol. Since the Captiol’s design has evolved over the years (and because the British burned it in August 1814, before heading up to Baltimore), the Basilica is the best example in the country of Latrobe’s work. (408 N. Charles St., Baltimore)

6)      Shrine of St. Alphonsus It’s clear that this church has a special place in Vince’s heart. The interior is a feast for the eyes, but it also has some above-average ties to the Communion of Saints --- two of its former pastors are St. John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. (114 W. Saratoga St., Baltimore)

 

September 05, 2012 10:47
By Maria Wiering


Letting go and letting God … find me a table

 

I can’t say I actually prayed for a table, so my title might be misleading. However, I think Providence was at play when I spotted a table on a sidewalk after bunch with friends this past weekend.

“Go around the block!” I commanded to my husband, who was piloting our Volkswagon.

He did, because he’s used to it

I jumped out of the car to examine the specimen. It was mid-century, blonde and drop-leafed. That last quality was key. I wanted a table that could fit nicely against the wall when it’s just two of us dining, but could easily expand to accommodate guests (and the dreams of dinner parties that dance in my head).

My husband expected me to scurry back to the car to tell him what I thought, but the thing was already bought and paid for when I got it to the car – a very reasonable $35, exactly the cash I had in my wallet.

Upon a brief examination, the table revealed it was a Heywood Wakefield, which happens to be his grandparents’ favorite furniture, and which also means it is worth much more than we paid.

So, there was a lot to make us feel like the table was meant to be, including the fact that it fit through our apartment’s narrow door.

This is an unexpected blessing, considering that just a week before I had experienced a deep table-related disappointment. I had been Craigslist surfing for awhile for a table, and we had been “picnicking” on the floor while we waited for the right one to turn up.

“Right one” = cheap, drop-leafed.

I found it on a Sunday evening – chestnut, claw-footed, drop-leafed and $25. “Be mine!” my heart cried, and I swiftly e-mailed to claim. The owner called me the next day and we agreed that I would pick it up that evening.

Two hours later, she called me to tell me someone else had bought it, and it was no longer available.

Now, I have my theories of why this deal bombed, and they all revolve around aggressive antique dealers upping my price and offering to pick it up immediately. Needless to say, my decorator’s heart was broken. And I resolved to out-Craigslist anybody who wanted to stand in my way of a table again.

This is when my husband said I was becoming addicted to Craigslist and he wanted me to stop before he had to admit me someplace (probably the same kind of place that serves chronic Facebook cases).

“But how will we find furniture?” I asked. Real furniture stores were out of our price range, and Ikea exhausts us.

“We will,” he said.

So, I reeled in my Craigslist searches, and decided that picnicking was fine. Seriously, we have had much greater housing adventures, such as when we lived in a homemade fort for our first month of marriage in a friend’s living room while looking for our own place. (I am not even kidding, even though you think I am.)

I decided that Craigslist was making me focus a little too much on things, at the expense of time with people and living life.  And I think that God may have rewarded me for that small act of detachment with that roadside find.

Because I’m pretty sure God wants me to practice hospitality and throw dinner parties.

 

August 22, 2012 08:39
By Maria Wiering


Grazie, Little Italy revelers, for a great Sunday

 

My husband and I were angling toward the harbor on Sunday afternoon when red, green and white bunting caught our eye. A $1-each entrance fee later, we were part of the crowd for the annual St. Gabriel Festival, which consumes the streets intersecting at the Church of St. Leo the Great in Baltimore’s Little Italy.

Some things we learned:

1) The party honors St. Gabriel Possenti, who died as a young Passionist seminarian in Gran Sasso, Italy. Because he believed the Blessed Virgin Mary healed him of a childhood ailment, he developed an intense devotion to her and took the religious name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. He died at age 24 after an illness. His feast is actually Feb. 27; no word as to why St. Leo holds the festival in August.

2) In an intriguing twist, it seems there’s a group in Arlington, Va., advocating that St. Gabriel become the patron of handgunners, because he defended Piedmont, Italy, with a gun. (I don’t think he actually shot anybody.)

3) There is some awesome food in Little Italy. My husband is still raving about his meatball sandwich, and I was spoiled with the best-ever eggplant parmesan. 

4) Bocce ball is a serious sport, with serious players, in serious matching shirts.

5) Cannoli sell out fast. Get in line early, and stay in line.

6) Baltimore's Little Italy knows how to celebrate a saint. My husband said it was the best parish festival he's ever been to.

Italy is close to my heart. My husband I met in Rome 10 years ago while studying abroad, and I’ve had the pleasure of returning several times, most recently for my cousin’s diaconate ordination (he’s now a priest in Minnesota) in 2010. I’ll take a reason to reminisce any day.

Or a reminder to start saving up for another trip.

August 21, 2012 11:01
By Maria Wiering


Go world!! (Or, how I came to love watching the Olympics with strangers)

On Friday night, two hours before the Olympic Games’ opening ceremonies, my husband and I dug our tiny TV out of storage and plugged it in, hoping beyond hope that somehow we would get a signal.

Of course, we didn’t, since the thing is a relic from those analog days of yore.

Since a converter box and rabbit ears were going to cost the equivalent of 12 pints of craft beer, we decided to get the beer instead. Our Olympics-watching has thus been confined to stints in local pubs and the limited coverage on NBC.com.

At first, I was dismayed. I am in awe of these athletes, who demonstrate the incredible capabilities of the human body. (I especially love the gymnastics, and I’ve decided that my favorite American is Gabby Douglas, who has completely melted me with that always-present winning grin.)

Two nights ago, my husband and I were at Turp’s watching Michael Phelps race. We didn’t know anyone around us, but we found ourselves joining in the audible reaction as the whole bar turned toward the screens. There was cheering, there was sighing and a few chants of “USA! USA!”

And it occurred to me – THIS is the way to watch the Olympics.

For me, one of the great things about the games is the camaraderie it builds among countries, along with a healthy competition. For 16 days, we have a tangible common bond with people across the globe. It seems like a celebration of being human – that’s why I’ve been known to get a little choked up over those VISA commercials that culminate in “Go World.”

Yeah, I think! Go world!!

And that’s why it’s really great to watch the Olympics with a crowd of strangers. The Olympics are unifying across class, race and political persuasion. For a moment, we can raise our glass and celebrate our country with someone inclined to a completely different array of bumper stickers. Especially during an election year, it’s good to find something that brings us all together.

July 30, 2012 11:14
By Maria Wiering

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