Reflections by Patti Murphy Dohn on the Church, family, grief, saints, and hope amidst the storms in our lives... May you always find that God is in the clouds! 

Patti Murphy Dohn retired in 2014 after 33 years of service as Campus Minister, retreat director, and Religion teacher at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, Maryland. Committed to making a difference in the lives of our youth and their families, she has served the school community since 1981. Presently, she continues her ministry through bereavement outreach, coordinating the school's alumni prayer chain, while archiving the school's history.  

Patti was awarded the Medal of Honor in Youth and Young Adult Ministry by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2012. She served the Archdiocese on the Screening Board for the Office of Vocations under Cardinal Keeler, Cardinal O'Brien, and Archbishop Lori. She is also a past-board member for the Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks, MD. and Saint Margaret School in Bel Air.

Along with writing for "The Catholic Review," Patti is a member of the Catholic Press Association, as well as the Catholic Writers Guild and the Associated Church Press. She is available for speaking engagements, consulting, and retreat work.

Patti and her husband George split their time between their homes in Bel Air, Maryland and Singer Island, Palm Beach, Florida.

Email: pattimurphydohn@gmail.com

Twitter: @JCSMinistry

Facebook: Patti Murphy Dohn

Instagram: @PattiMurphyDohn

 God is good!! All the time!!

 

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Beautiful story! thank you for continuing to inspire us Patti.

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God is in the clouds

Remembering Father Brendan T. Carr and the three most important rules of life



I just posted this 2011 memory-photo on Facebook on November 29, 2015:

Four years ago today at Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House: 
"Junior Retreat closing Mass today with the fantastic Father Brendan Carr!!"
(Photo by Patti Murphy Dohn)


I was overcome with sadness when I learned Monday afternoon of the death of Father Brendan Carr, a good and holy retired Baltimore priest. Holy Trinity Church’s Youth Ministry had announced Father Carr's death on Facebook. 

He was a beloved priest who impacted the hearts and lives of people of all ages.
Father Carr could have been the “poster priest’ for this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“They poured out their hearts to him”

Father Carr had joined me and my John Carroll students on our junior retreats in 2011-2012, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation and their class Mass at the Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks, Maryland. 

He was one of the most effective priests that I ever worked with in my 30+ years of retreat work. Youth were drawn to him. They poured out their hearts to him. They waited hours to have him hear their confessions. 

Father Carr's true kindness and grandfatherly approach with my students, along with the twinkle in his kind Irish eyes, led to four hours of confessions and a joyful celebration of the liturgy each and every retreat. 

Taking a personal interest in each student:

I remember the first time that Father Carr joined us. My morning retreat session included a two-hour slot for confessions and Mass, the scheduled timing based on past experiences. After I led a prayerful examination of conscience, Father Carr spoke a few words of gentle encouragement to my students and went back to the the small Reconciliation room. 

When the first student came back into the Chapel after her confession, she was smiling ear to ear with joy. The other students looked at her with open mouths. She exclaimed, "He is so cool. And he asked me about my dog!” 

That sealed the deal... Students went to confession one by one for four hours. I had never had such a strong response for the sacrament. Father Carr took such a personal interest in my students. They, in turn, responded and God worked with His amazing grace, as He always does.

We were late for the 12:15 lunch that day, and the ladies in the dining room were concerned about what was going on. And we had not even had Mass yet! 

This required some quick reworking of the schedule and the need to start our lunch without the full group present.

His calling within a calling:

Father Carr joined us in the dining room about 50 minutes later after hearing the confessions of all those waiting in the Chapel. He reminisced with me about his days as a Christian brother in both Pittsburgh and at Calvert Hall, where we had several mutual brother-friends over the years, now departed. 

He spoke also of the joy of having his “calling within a calling,” serving God as a religious brother before heeding the call in 1972 to be ordained a diocesan priest. Father Carr’s impact on young people began in the schools and continued in parishes and during youth retreats. Father explained that he always enjoyed helping his close friend Father Tom Ryan who served as chaplain at Towson Newman Center and at Archbishop Spalding.  

The three most important rules of life:

The most powerful message that Father Carr left with my students, one that I'll never forget, was included in his homily. He gently challenged my students, imploring them to never forget the three most important rules of life:

Holding up his index finger, he said "Be kind." 

Then holding up his second finger, he said “Be kind." 

Immediately followed by three fingers held up, he said, "And... Be kind.”
 
Indeed, that simple and powerful message always made an impression on everyone who was present in that Chapel. 

Our first Mass with the new Roman Missal:

By the way, Father Carr was the priest who first celebrated Mass with us using the new Roman Missal in 2011. It was Monday of the First Week in Advent and the new Missal had just been implemented that weekend. 

Father kept apologizing to my students for not making more eye contact with them, since he had to read the new Eucharistic Prayers and turn the unfamiliar ribbon-lined pages. My students were quick to smile and put at ease the priest who had captured their hearts.

Memorial candle in the Retreat House Chapel:

When I learned of Father Carr’s death on Monday, I immediately texted my dear friend and retreat colleague Kellie Reynolds of St Stephen Church, Bradshaw. 

And where was she? 
At the Msgr. O’Dwyer Retreat House! God’s timing is impeccable.

Kellie lit a candle for me and my now-alumni students in the O’Dwyer Chapel, in memory of Father Carr and in honor of the huge impact he had on my students during their retreats. He was a wonderful priest and touched the hearts of so many youth on retreats from parishes and schools around the Archdiocese.



In loving memory of Father Carr:
Photo by Kellie Reynolds at the Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House Chapel


Remembering Father Carr:

"Father Carr was so sweet. He made every single person on retreat feel important and really wanted to know about us."

—Courtney Wilson, John Carroll Class of 2013

---

“I’m so sad to hear of Father Carr’s death. He was awesome! I was the one who went to confession first that day, and he was so cool and down to earth. I remember how he took his time and was very interested in each of us. He was so nice, making my confession time feel very comfortable and relaxed. He will be missed.”

—Sierra Fica, John Carroll Class of 2013

---

"I remember Father Carr also came to the rescue for us during an APYM (Association of Professional Youth Ministers/ Archdiocese of Baltimore) meeting day. I think our scheduled priest got sick. Father Carr was always so easy going and would go with the flow! He always had a smile on his face."

—Kellie Reynolds of St. Stephen Church, Bradshaw, recalling Father Carr's ongoing kindness



Funeral arrangements:

Father Carr will lie in state at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Glen Burnie, on Monday, January 18 from 3:00 pm until 6:30 pm, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 7:00 pm. 

Contributions can be made in Father Carr's memory to Archbishop Spalding High School, 8080 New Cut Road, Severn, MD. 21144;

OR:

Friends of Animals, 777 Post Road, Suite 205, Darien, CT. 06820.

God rest him!
May the angels and saints lead Father Brendan Carr into Paradise.
Amen.

January 14, 2016 12:46
By Patti Murphy Dohn


Remembering Archbishop John Carroll and his devotion to the Blessed Mother on the bicentennial of his death




December 3 has been an important day in my calendar for years now.
It was on this date in 1815 that the first bishop in our United States went Home to our Lord. 

John Carroll, a native Marylander and Jesuit priest, was born on January 8, 1736 in Upper Marlboro, less than 40 miles south of the site where he would later have the first Catholic cathedral built.

Father Carroll was appointed the first bishop of Baltimore to serve our newly-formed nation by Pope Pius VI in 1789. He was 53 years old.

Considered to be the patriarch of American Catholicism, John Carroll later became the nation’s first archbishop in 1808 when Pope Pius VII elevated Baltimore to the status of archdiocese when he created the Dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bardstown, Kentucky.
 
Archbishop Carroll’s final resting place is now located in the crypt of the Baltimore Basilica, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, America’s first Catholic cathedral. He had commissioned the building of this cathedral in 1806 with the design of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Though he never lived to see its completion, Archbishop Carroll's body was transferred there from the seminary crypt upon its completion. 

My life with John Carroll:

When I attended high school four decades ago at John Carroll in Bel Air, I did not yet realize that my life would be so richly influenced by the scholar and patriot for whom the school was named. Though other institutions of learning bear his name, this Harford County school is the only one located in the diocese where he served for so many years.

Returning in 1981 to teach Religion and later serve as Campus Minister at John Carroll (the school), I found John Carroll (the man) becoming part of the fabric of my life. 

As I taught about his life and influence on the American Church during the early years of our nation, I discovered more and more that John Carroll (the scholar) was both a pioneer and an early patriot. His zeal for the Faith and for our country was inspiring on so many levels.

But it was his deep devotion to our Blessed Mother that resonated most strongly with me. For years I shared with my John Carroll students that the best way to pay tribute to the man for whom our school was named was to imitate his devotion to Our Lady, reciting the rosary regularly, and visiting the cathedral that he named in honor of her Assumption. 

While on his deathbed, Archbishop John Carroll reflected,

“Of those things that give me most consolation at the present moment is, that I have always been attached to the practice of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that I have established it among the people under my care, and placed my Diocese under Her protection.” 
(From The Life and Times of John Carroll, by Peter Guilday, Encyclopedia Press, NY, 1922) 

Connecting at his cathedral:

For a number of years, I gave tours of the Baltimore Basilica to my sophomore students after we had served the lunchtime meal next door at Catholic Charities’ Our Daily Bread. The highpoint of our tour was always the visit to the crypt where Archbishop Carroll is buried. The marble cover to his burial spot is engraved in Latin with his name. It never ceased to amaze me how my students felt a kinship with our school’s namesake through this visit to his tomb.

Since my retirement in 2014, I have had the opportunity to read more from Archbishop Carroll’s writings and deepen my affection for the man whose name and initials have became engraved on my heart. 

As we remember Archbishop Carroll today on the 200th anniversary of his death, may we be inspired to rediscover our own connections to the Church in Baltimore and the roots of American Catholicism, and like him, deepen our devotion to Our Lady.


Read more:



December 03, 2015 02:08
By Patti Murphy Dohn


A new school year is here: Time to reflect and pray about the transitions




The photos are all over Facebook… 
Bright smiling faces (mostly), new book bags, shiny shoes, fresh haircuts, clean school buses, and some teary-eyed Moms (and Dads).

The new school year has started for most of the schools in our area. As a matter of fact, our grandson Tyler started third grade this morning at Piney Ridge Elementary School in Sykesville. Both Tracy and Stephen walked him to the bus stop with cameras in hand (from their smart phones). Even their sweet dog Stella was on hand to see all the children off to their first day of school.


Our grandson Tyler was back to school on Monday


I'm not going back to school...again:

For me, the start of the new school year, as always, brought the anticipation of new beginnings and challenges. 

And then I remembered… I’m not going back to school.  Again
This is the start of the second school year since my retirement from John Carroll in June of 2014. 

It was a new and strange experience last year to not be there for the first day of the new school year after 33 years on campus. My husband and I tried to fill up our newfound freedom. We even went to the beach.



Change, change, change:

But transitions can be tough. Not only for adults who may be experiencing change due to retirement or new jobs, but also for all the children who are experiencing new changes in their lives… Including those who are new to preschool or kindergarten, those starting elementary, middle or high school, and all those making transfers to new schools in new areas.

Hopefully, we pray, the parents and teachers of those most affected by change this school year will provide much comfort and will guide our children in their transitions with patience and compassion.

What’s the toughest part of back to school?

I have heard from quite a few parents and children who share that the challenges in starting a new school year include:
 
-reestablishing a weekday/school night routine after the freedom of summer vacation, 
-having earlier bedtimes,
-packing lunches again,
-waking up to the alarm clock’s early call, 
-getting back in the habit of doing homework,
-balancing school, sports, and other outside activities,  
-and much more.

Every household is different and thus faces different challenges.




A prayer from the patroness of Catholic education:

One of the principal patron saints of Catholic education is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She started the Catholic school system here in the United States under the direction of our first bishop, Archbishop John Carroll.

The following prayer from her writings is a wonderful way to start each day this year, especially for teachers and older students. 
    
Prayer of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton:

O Father, the first rule of our dear Savior's
life was to do Your Will.
Let His Will of the present moment be the first rule
of our daily life and work, with no other desire but for
its most full and complete accomplishment.
 
Help us to follow it faithfully, so that in doing what
You wish we will be pleasing to You.
 
Amen.
 
 ---

Another great prayer for the new school year is from Sadlier Publishing Company:

It is excellent for teachers, parish catechists, and for families too:


---

May your first weeks of this new school year be filled with new adventures and a smooth transition to a new routine.
May God richly bless our families and our teachers!
Amen. 

September 01, 2015 02:47
By Patti Murphy Dohn


More Prayers for Austin and Perry: The power of hope and prayer



Perry Cohen (left) and Austin Stephanos of Tequesta, Florida have been missing at sea since they left on a fishing trip on a small boat last Friday afternoon.


It's Day 7 in the search for Austin and Perry...

And the family and friends of the boys from Tequesta, Florida who disappeared at sea on a 19-foot boat last Friday are not giving up hope that they will soon be found and reunited. 

The search has continued nonstop all week with coordination by the Coast Guard and the involvement of the Air Force. They have covered almost 40,000 square nautical miles since last Friday. 

As I wrote on Tuesday, the local Palm Beach County towns of Jupiter and Tequesta are tightly knit. The locals just won't give up on these 14-year olds. 

The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, which Austin and Perry cruised past on their way out to go fishing in the ocean waters, is not only the symbol of the town, but has also been called the beacon of hope for all who await the return of the boys from Tequesta. 
-------
2. The “Find Austin and Perry Facebook” page has been posting regular updates all week with over 143,000 followers as of Thursday morning. 

-------

The power of prayer: 

People of faith from around the world have turned to prayer for the boys and their families. Thousands and thousands of messages of encouragement and the assurance of prayers have flooded social media all week with the hashtags #findaustinandperry and #prayforaustinandperry. 

After Sunday night's gathering at Austin's school, Jupiter Christian School, there have been other prayer services and sunset vigils each night at the Jupiter Lighthouse and other locations along the beach. Anywhere from dozens to hundreds have gathered to pray with lighted candles. The local Jupiter/Tequesta community is steadfastly holding onto hope that the boys will be found and brought home safely to their families. 

A cousin's prayer:

Austin's cousin, Natasja, asked people to pray with her on a Facebook post on Wednesday morning: 

"Please join me in morning prayer:

Dear merciful Lord,
We know our boys have the skills, the will and the want. 
Please, give them the extra strength they need. 
We trust in your will. In your name we pray. 
Amen.

'I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.'
~Genesis 28:15"

-------

“This is a book that was found on Austin's night stand. If you look closely you will see that he wrote in the words "I WILL". His perseverance, determination, and love of life will bring him home. THIS IS A SIGN…."
~From the Facebook page of Austin’s aunt:
She shared this photo of Winston Churchill’s book Never, Never, Never Give Up

-------


Why my heart bleeds for these boys and their families:

Since our retirement last year, my husband and I have split our time between our homes in Maryland and here in South Florida on Singer Island. We are here just 12 miles south of Jupiter while rescuers are involved in the massive search for Austin and Perry. The local Florida news stations carry updates and send out news alerts around the clock.

For many years, I ministered to the needs of young people and their families at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, Maryland. Crisis ministry, sadly, became one of my specialties over these years. 

My students, though, grew up in a different culture than the youth in South Florida. I never worried about the fate of my school kids from being out on boats on the open sea. My biggest worries were centered around their driving, substance use and abuse, and those who were at risk of suicide. We had resources in place to help our teens when necessary. 

This situation here in the Jupiter/Tequesta area is completely different. Austin and Perry grew up on the warm turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean, fishing there and along the nearby Loxahatchee River. They had excellent swimming and boating skills. The variable in this tragedy centers around the boys heading unknowingly into a huge storm.

And that's why they have not been heard from since. Their capsized boat was discovered by the Coast Guard search-and-rescue crews far offshore on Sunday afternoon. And there have been no signs of the boys or any of the items that were not found on the capsized boat... their Yeti fishing cooler, one or two life jackets, and the boat's engine cover. No sign. Nothing.

These families have not given up hope:

The parents did not grant any interviews yesterday, as they were busy arranging private searches by volunteers with private planes and boats. A well-attended fundraiser was held at local Abacoa restaurant Gumby Bay Island Grill last night to fund these efforts.

Notably, hundreds of families and individuals have walked the beaches from South Florida and up north through the Carolinas looking for debris or lost items that might lead to clues to the boys' whereabouts.

My prayers for Austin and Perry and their families: 

May our Heavenly Father in His loving mercy be with Austin and Perry in their time of greatest need.

May He grant their families comfort and peace. 

May He open the eyes of those who search to see clearly that which will lead to their recovery. 

May He grant His grace to all those who worry and fear.

May He provide comfort for all of us in these days of uncertainty.

We trust in the Lord's providence.

We believe in His promises.

We resolve to remain open to His loving mercy today and each day. 

We pray to be people of hope today and every day.

Amen.

In good times and in bad, God is good... All the time.


This logo that was created for Wednesday night’s fundraiser at Abacoa’s Gumby Bay Island Grill in Jupiter, Florida. The donations are being used to contribute to private searches by volunteers with planes and boats.




July 30, 2015 11:47
By Patti Murphy Dohn


Prayers and good wishes: God bless the Class of 2015



Photos by Patti Murphy Dohn


It seems as though every year goes by faster and faster…
My first year of retirement from Campus Ministry has gone by in the blink of an eye.

Now that the John Carroll Class of 2015, as well as all their senior high school peers across this nation, have finished their studies and are ready to graduate, it is fitting that I share a prayer for them and for all the graduates of the Class of 2015.




Praying for God’s grace and blessings on the Class of 2015:

High School Graduation Prayer: 

Dear Heavenly Father,
We come to you with thankful hearts for all those near and dear to us who are graduating from high school.   
We thank you for giving each graduate the talents, abilities and self discipline required for this wonderful accomplishment.  
We are grateful to You for providing the teachers, mentors, coaches and youth counselors who have taught them, nurtured them and challenged them along the way. 
Now that their minds have been well equipped with the basic knowledge of many different subjects, we pray that their hearts and spirits will also be well equipped for successful living.  
Add heavenly wisdom and discernment to their knowledge.  
Infuse their ambitions and dreams with Your love.  
Help them to desire Your good way for their future.  
Remind them that you are only a prayer away when they meet obstacles, heartbreaks and challenges.  
May they always be courageous enough to ask for help, advice and support when they need it.  
May they never needlessly suffer alone without reaching out to You and to others who care. 
As they become independent adults, help them learn the secret of dependence on You.  
Give them a desire to know more about You.  
May they find you in the Scriptures, in the joy of new love, in the gathering of Your people, in the beauty of Your creation and in the strength of their youth. 
And now may Your blessings be theirs as they begin a new life full of joy and promise.  
Amen.





When I was Campus Minister, I invited the members of the junior class during their ring ceremony to place their new high school rings on their fingers with the open end of the embossed design facing toward them. This signified that the student still had more than a year left to learn and take to heart all the traditions of the JC school community and to be ready to represent that legacy as graduates at the end of the following year.

So today, on the graduation day for the Class of 2015, I invite the newest alumni, after receiving their diplomas, to take off their JC ring, turn it around, and place it back on their fingers with the embossed opening facing outward. 

This commissions the Class of 2015 to go forward and share with all those they meet along their life-journey the lessons they learned from their John Carroll experience. 

Lessons such as: 

~Go, make a difference; 

~Let your light shine; 

~To be “compelling, considerate, and uncompromising,” characteristics which were attributed to our patron, Archbishop John Carroll; 

And to always remember: 
~In good times and in bad, that God is good... All the time!!


May our loving God richly bless the Class of 2015!!


May 29, 2015 11:09
By Patti Murphy Dohn


Godspeed: A fond farewell to Catholic Review web editor Jennifer Williams



Jennifer Williams

This week The Catholic Review is saying goodbye and best wishes to web editor Jennifer Williams. And I am offering my own Kudos for a job well done to this former student turned friend. 

Since 1999, Jenn has been part of The Catholic Review team that brings news of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to our community and to the world. But I knew Jenn before she had an inkling that journalism was going to be part of her future vocational calling.

A 1995 graduate of The John Carroll School where I served for many years in the Religion Department and as Campus Minster, Jennifer first experienced the thrill of seeing her writings published while in high school. She worked on the staff of the literary magazine Pinnacle during her sophomore, junior, and senior years. (Also contributing to this magazine was her 1995 classmate Father John Rapisarda.)

Jenn moved into journalism during her junior and senior years, working on the newspaper staff of the Patriot while remaining a staff member of Pinnacle. It's hard to believe that she also found time to run cross country and track all four years, attain academic membership in the National Honor Society, all while achieving perfect attendance for those four years. That's a real accomplishment!!

After graduating from John Carroll, Jenn attended the former College of Notre Dame of Maryland, majoring in Communication Arts. A summer internship after her sophomore year with The Aegis in Bel Air led to a full-time position there as a staff reporter. And a post-graduate internship with Baltimore Sun features editor Mary Corey was a career highlight. Jenn later wrote about the impact of this successful editor as a mentor and a professional role model when Corey died at age 49 from breast cancer in 2013.

Joining the staff of The Catholic Review in 1999, Jenn rose through the journalistic ranks from staff writer to news editor to web editor, learning and implementing the latest technologies as the field of journalism changed to adapt to the culture of the times. She has received awards from a number of press associations along the way.

During her years on the CR staff, Jenn has written literally hundreds and hundreds of articles.

Among her favorites are:

~"Ravens' Justin Tucker talks football, faith" written during his 2012 days as a rookie kicker;

~"'Shear guts' - Maryvale grad shaves her head for charity," on a young woman who raised money by shaving her head in 2012 for the St. Baldrick's Foundation for childhood cancer research;

and:

~"Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter successfully closes on his Catholic faith," on his faith journey to the Catholic Church before his 2014 marriage.



(Photo: Tom McCarthy Jr. | CR Staff)


My earlier connection with Jennifer during her high school years came full circle in 2012 when she and former social media specialist Matt Palmer invited me to start blogging for The Catholic Review. Jenn and Matt, through our Facebook networking, knew that I was handling an extraordinary amount of pastoral care and grief crisis ministry that summer and they invited me to write about my experiences. What followed was the beginning of "God is in the Clouds."

I had lunch the other day with Jenn and "Open Window" blogger Rita Buettner. Jenn told us that one of the best parts of the past sixteen years with The Catholic Review has been meeting so many different people in her travels throughout the archdiocese.

I will surely miss working with Jennifer as I continue to write my blog. And it will be strange not seeing her name pop up in my email inbox twice a week with the latest CR e-newsletter. But I know that our longtime relationship is not over.

Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.”
Yes, times change. I can vouch for that as I have certainly changed and transitioned especially over this past year since my retirement from ministry at John Carroll. And now it's time for Jenn to experience her own new chapter.

Jenn wrote a poem during her junior year of high school in the John Carroll Pinnacle entitled "Future of the Graduate." Though it speaks of the collective group of high school seniors moving on to a future filled with college and the certain anxiety that accompanies that transition, it surely, on second reading, reflects the mixed bag of emotions that all of us face when confronting change.

My prayer for Jenn on the road ahead is that joy, laughter, and good health be part of the journey and that her abiding faith sustain her whenever the path gets rocky.

May she know the love and prayers of those who treasure being part of her journey.

Godspeed.

---

"Future of the Graduate"  
~Jenn Williams '95

Where are you going?
Who do you want to be?
I can't see into the future--
Only inside of me.

Secure- Maybe.
Everything changes when you ask me Why?
Afraid I won't make it-
or maybe that I will.

Success- Possibly.
Wondering if my success is your failure-
Sorry- if it is.
Worried that I'll somehow miss out...
Laughing if I do.

Call me. Ask me. Tomorrow.
It's the future that I dread.
Right now I'm feeling happy,
I've got daisies in my head!

Published in the 1994 Pinnacle, literary magazine of The John Carroll School
during Jennifer's junior year of high school.



May 20, 2015 11:17
By Patti Murphy Dohn


‘Planting seeds’ at the Msgr. O’Dwyer Retreat House: The impact of a retreat letter forty years later



Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks, Maryland
(Photo by Patti Murphy Dohn)


For over five decades, the Msgr. O’Dwyer Retreat House has served the spiritual needs of the young people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Affectionately called ‘the House’ by those of us who have ministered there, O’Dwyer hosts thousands of youth and young adults each year. 

Founded in 1963 as the CYO Retreat House, this archdiocesan facility was founded by Msgr. Clare O’Dwyer who envisioned a “spiritual powerhouse” for our youth. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan (the 12th Archbishop of Baltimore from 1961-1974) approved the purchase of an old lodge with twenty acres in the northern Baltimore County town of Sparks. Msgr. O'Dwyer directed the students from Mount St. Joseph High School on the first retreat in September of 1963. The House was renamed for Msgr. O'Dwyer after his death in 1982.

Having led junior retreats there for many years for my students at The John Carroll School, I can personally attest to the fact that lives are changed there. And for some high-risk youth, lives are saved… literally and spiritually.


A great story from the Director of the House:

Michael Downes has served as O'Dwyer's director since 2011. He shared with me this beautiful story about how retreats often impact lives many year later, sometimes in the most amazing ways. Enjoy this heartwarming story and his personal reflections that follow.


“God sending a note from her younger self to her older self”

“Last November, I received a completely unexpected phone call, and had the opportunity to hear another of those wonderful stories about the impact that being at the Msgr. O’Dwyer Retreat House had on someone’s life. It is a great story for all those who work in ministry and work with young people.

“Kathy, who lives in Oregon now, was on the phone. She let me know that she had attended a retreat here at the House as a teenager in 1972, and had greatly enjoyed being here. Kathy also let me know that during the retreat the participants wrote a letter to themselves, which after the retreat was mailed home to them. Kathy got her letter, but never opened it. The letter got put aside and forgotten about.

"Fast forward nearly 30 years later to 2000. Her mom is cleaning out the house and sends a bunch of Kathy’s things to her in a box. One of the things Kathy comes across is the letter from her retreat. This discovery came during a particularly trying time for herself and her husband. She didn’t go into a lot of detail of what was in the letter, but she did tell me a few things. 

“Kathy thought of it as God sending her a note from her younger self to her older self, reminding her of the important lessons from retreat. It contained things such as love yourself as God loves you, take time to be with God in prayer, that God is in the people you meet, and that you have much to offer. 

“…God giving her just what she needed when she needed it.”

“She (Kathy) also said it was God giving her just what she needed when she needed it. The letter was put away for safe keeping, and for a time, forgotten about again.

“Kathy then told me that a few months ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily it has been found early and her treatment is going well. It is also about this time Kathy rediscovered the letter from retreat in a jewelry box. Once again it was just what she needed to hear in a tremendously difficult time in her life. It was yet another, and now a familiar way, that God reached out to her and provided what she needed. 

“This time she felt compelled to call the House and tell someone about her experiences, and it was my good fortune to be that person. Kathy talked about what a special place the House is for young people, how she was so grateful for the experience she had here as a teen, and how grateful she is for the effect her retreat has had on her 30 and 40 years later! She told me she was praying for the young people coming here on retreat, for the staff, and for the work of the House.

“…so much of what we do in ministering to youth is planting seeds…”

“The call was such a blessing and another amazing example of God’s grace. It gave a clear reminder of how so much of what we do in ministering to youth is planting seeds, and that in God’s time it bears fruit. In the busyness and the sometime frustrations of the day, in the grind of the week, we might lose sight of what we’re trying to do in our ministry, of what our mission is, and what it’s really about. The fruits of our labors might be seen that day, or in a week, or a month, or a year; or sometimes 40 years from now! 

“Reminders like Kathy’s help us to know that our work with young people does bear fruit even though we realize many times we’ll never get to see it, or hear about these types of experiences. I am so grateful to Kathy for being God’s messenger in this instance. 

“God wants us all to know that the work we do with youth every day is important and does matter. It helps to provide us the strength and hope we need to continue on in our ministry.

“This is but one of literally hundreds of thousands of stories of young people who have experienced the ministry of the Retreat House. Young people, now adults, who were given the opportunity to come on retreat, and to deepen their relationship with the Living God through activities, games, talks, prayer, reflection, Reconciliation, and Eucharist. Young people who today still continue to deepen that relationship with their Savior, who are this generation’s disciples. We pray they develop what will be a lifetime relationship with Jesus, and spread the Good News to others.
May God continue to bless us all, and continue to bless our ministry to youth!”

—Mike Downes, Director, Msgr. O’Dwyer Retreat House
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Read more about the Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House here:

1. Read about what the House has meat to John Carroll students since the late 1970s:



4. Welcoming new director Michael Downes in 2011:

February 26, 2015 03:00
By Patti Murphy Dohn


The impact of a Catholic education lasts a lifetime: Part 2


Catholic Schools Week: January 25-31, 2015

 

On Sunday I kicked off Catholic Schools Week (CSW) with my best memories from years past during my ministry at John Carroll and some reflections by grads of Catholic schools in Harford County.

In Part 2, I'll continue to share more reflections from Catholic school grads on the impact that this education had on their lives.


More reflections on our Catholic schools: 


"...her words come back to me."

 Mrs. Susan Fisher, retired John Carroll English department chair, attended grade school at St. Charles Borromeo in her native Toledo, Ohio.

She reminisced,

"An Ursuline sister, Sister St. Simon, my teacher for fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, held me accountable and didn't allow easy A's.  She treated her students as adults with intelligence instead of as children.  She also boosted my confidence by publishing an essay about me as an example of why students should be trusted and given the freedom of their own ideas."


Susan later attended Mary Manse College in Toledo, a women's college which opened in 1922 and was also operated by the Ursuline Sisters. She reflected,

"Years later, I had the good fortune to attend a women's college where this same sister had transferred; I enrolled in her philosophy course, Metaphysics.  Every time I'm in an existential mood, her words come back to me.  I hope I became a teacher who was like her in that I tried to find the best in my students and to avoid talking down to them."

(Note: Mary Manse College eventually went coed in 1972, but when hard hit by economic times in the 1970s, declared bankruptcy and closed in 1975.)


Mrs. Fisher’s AP English class hosted Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz in 2011.

Bretholz was the author of “Leap into Darkness: Seven Years on the Run in Wartime Europe.”

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Read more about their extraordinary classroom experience here.

Bretholz died in March of 2014 at age 93.

Read more about Leo Bretholz's impact on John Carroll students here.

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"...beacons of morality and inspiration."

 

2014 John Carroll grad Lindsey McCumber is now a freshman at UCLA. She shares about the impact that John Carroll had on her life:

"After attending public schools during elementary and middle school grades, John Carroll was a breath of fresh air. The teachers stood not only as instructors, but as beacons of morality and inspiration.  

"Throughout my four years, I developed a higher moral compass and became a part of a strong community full of love and support... that way in part because of the community's shared faith. I can't believe that it was sheer chance that just about every faculty member and student was happy to come to school.

"I feel that because faith served as our school's foundation, somehow it made the experience more pleasant and enjoyable, and it always made me feel safe. I never realized this in its entirety until I spent time at a non-religious institution (at college now at UCLA)... There is definitely a difference.

"Another thing that really touched me was how whenever I would discuss my career aspirations with my teachers, they would refer to God's purpose/calling for me. That was unbelievably comforting, knowing that I wasn't pursuing a silly job, but rather finding out what I was meant to do.  

"It also made me feel like my teachers actually cared about me... And I can text some of them still today about everyday problems or trials. I don't know if my friends from public schools can do that."


 

Lindsey (center) performed in “Singing in the Rain” November of her junior year (2012).

Seen here with friends and castmates Karly (left) and Kyleigh (on right).

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Lindsey and her classmates enjoy Senior Field Day which was held the week before graduation in May, 2014.

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“...truly blessed to have such amazing students over the years”

Marie Prosser, a graduate of St. John the Evangelist School in Hydes, John Carroll in 1998, and then-College of Notre Dame of Maryland for her masters in teaching, shares about the strong impact that she experienced during her Catholic school days which led to her commitment to service and education.

Marie's service include teaching science first with the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps, then teaching physics and religion at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore in 2002-2003, chemistry at the Institute of Notre Dame, and biology at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. Marie also taught Spoken English as a Salesian Lay Missioner in 2012-2013 at Don Bosco Catholic High School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. ;8

She reflected on teachers who made a difference and on her own years in the classroom:  

"As you know, Catholic education has had a tremendous impact on my life.  All of the teachers who encouraged, inspired (and sometimes even challenged) me certainly gave me something I would not have gotten any other way.  Here are some examples:

"Sr. Ann (SSND) was my English teacher from fifth through eighth grade.  Because of Sister Ann, I have always known more about grammar than most people I interact with.  I think of her when I pedantically correct posts on Facebook. 

"Mr. Ralph Trautwein (Deacon at St. Ignatius, Hickory) taught my AP Bio class at John Carroll the year his wife was undergoing cancer treatment. He had to miss a lot of time to care for her, but he always made a point of being there for our AP class as much as he could.  The first chance I had, I "stole" his genetics lesson about the Blue People of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky 

"I always worry that I will run into an old student, and not know his or her name.  So far, that has not happened, thank goodness!  I have been truly blessed to have such amazing students over the years, and it has been great to watch them grow up. High school goes by very quickly, and the students graduate before you know it.  The students have always been the best part of the job of teaching. 

"I left teaching this year.  I'm not as young as I was when I started, and I didn't have the energy to keep up with teenagers any more.  I now work in an office, where it is much quieter and less stressful.  My second career as an engineer suits me well, and I do not miss the classroom...yet.  But I know the time will come when it is back to school time and I will wistfully think back to my own time as a Catholic school teacher. Should I ever have kids of my own, I'd hope to have the opportunity to send them to a Catholic school."


Read more about Marie's ministry in Ethiopia here. 

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“Come, Live Life”

Our National Catholic Schools Week has parallel commemorations in nations all over the world.

Enjoy ‘Come, live life’ was written by Michael Mangan, an Australian Catholic school grad and former Catholic school teacher, for the Australian 2014 Catholic Education Week. Mangan served as co-ambassador for the annual celebration which was held last July 17 to August 2 and themed “Come, live life in all its fullness”.






January 29, 2015 10:34
By Patti Murphy Dohn


The sad impact of suicide: Honoring the memories of those we lost too soon


Part 3 of my series on grief and mourning:

"Suicide does not take away the pain; it passes it on to the person's friends and family."

-Rachel of the John Carroll Class of 2015


Remembering a JC patriot on December 11:

One year ago today is a day that I'll never forget. I learned that one of my junior girls had taken her life and, as John Carroll Campus Minister, I had the difficult task of putting together the response plan for notifying our students and school community, preparing prayers for this beautiful girl and her family, and assisting in any way that I was able to facilitate our students who would attend and participate in her funeral service.

The loss of this sweet girl was devastating in so many ways for so many people. The youngest of six children, she came from a multi-generational John Carroll family. I knew all her alum-siblings from their JC days, and I grew up with her Dad since we were nine years old, as we were both students at St. Margaret School.

Her school friends were just devastated. There were just no words to ease the pain.

This past November 22, on National Survivors of Suicide Day here in US--always held the Saturday before Thanksgiving--one of her friends wrote:

"Suicide does not take away the pain; it passes it on to the person's friends and family."

Though now retired from my ministry at John Carroll, I'm wearing green today in solidarity with her classmates, the Class of 2015. And I've united my prayers for her friends and family as we grieve together a life ended much too soon.

"Once a patriot, always a patriot."


Justin's story:

"I know that Justin is in heaven, and he is safe and happy. 

I know I will see him again one day when it is my time to leave this earth."

-- Kimberly Bennett


Kimberly Bennett of Forest Hill has also been a dear friend since our early years at St. Margaret School. Kim too knows the excruciating pain and anguish that a parent experiences when they lose a child to suicide.

Kim's 27-year old son Justin took his life twenty months ago and the heartache that followed has known no end. Kim shares his story with our "God is in the Clouds" readers both to honor his memory and to give hope to those who experience the same sorrow.


Kim shares the heartbreaking story:

Justin, his girlfriend, and their six-month old daughter were living at his parents' home at the time in order to save money for a home of their own. He had recently started medication for depression, which coupled one evening with alcohol and an argument with the girlfriend, led to Kim hearing what she thought was his bedroom door slamming. Instead, it was the gunshot that led to his final hours.


Justin with two-month old baby Michelle  (Photos: the Bennett Family)


Kim's husband broke down the bedroom door where they found their son with the self-inflicted gunshot wound. Paramedics confirmed a pulse, transporting Justin to Shock Trauma by helicopter, but ensuing tests found no brain activity.

Kim shares, "This is the hardest thing my family and I have ever been through.  If it wasn't for our strong, close-knit family and my Catholic faith, I would not be able to even get out of bed in the morning."


Praying Justin into Heaven:

Kim's family was particularly comforted by the Catholic chaplain at University of Maryland's Shock Trauma unit who prayed the litany of saints as each family member placed their hands on Justin. The litany response to each saint's name was "raise him up." As Kim, Don, their older son Rob, and daughter Sarah prayed together, they were comforted by these prayers and the inclusion of St. Justin in the litany.

Kim shares that the chaplain, Fr. Bill Spacek, "was so caring and kind." He held Kim's hand and reassured her fears and worries about her son's death.


What has been helpful?

Kim responded from the heart: "What helps me is talking about what happened. My daughter and I went to counseling for eight weeks."

As we know, people grieve in different ways; Kim's husband and older son were not as comfortable talking about Justin's death.

Kim and Sarah have become involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

"My daughter ran last year's Baltimore Marathon, raising $5,000. in Justin's memory. This year Sarah and I did the Out of the Darkness Walk in Baltimore, raising more money for the cause."


"Suicide claimed 39,518 lives in 2011 in the United States alone, with someone dying by suicide every 13.3 minutes. A suicide attempt is made every minute of every day, resulting in nearly one million attempts made annually.

When you walk in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walks, you join efforts with thousands of people nationwide to raise money for AFSP’s vital research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives. The walks raise awareness about depression and suicide, and provide comfort and assistance to those who have lost someone to suicide.

SUICIDE CAN BE PREVENTED. YOU CAN HELP. JOIN THE MOVEMENT."

--American Foundation for Suicide Prevention


Getting through holidays and birthdays:

Kim told me, "I was really worried about going through the holidays last year, as well as Justin's birthday in January.  For Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, we lit a candle in honor of Justin and read a special prayer before we ate.

"For his birthday, we all went out to eat steamed crabs (his favorite). And then we went to Justin's grave and wrote messages on eco-friendly helium balloons. 'We let our messages float up to heaven' is how we explained it to Rob's sons, our 6-year old and 2-year old grandsons."


What else has been helpful?

Kim recalls, "What was most helpful at the time was the hundreds of friends who came to the viewing and funeral. Afterwards, friends would just stop in to sit with us. We loved hearing stories from Justin's friends."


Was anything not helpful?

Kim shared, "What bothered me after the first few weeks was that people seemed to walk on eggshell around us.  I was so happy when we were able to go to our boat at River Watch in Middle River where everyone finally treated us as 'normal.' 

"Also, I got really tired of hearing how strong I was. I might have appeared "strong," but I was a mess when I was home.  I found that I could not be alone on a Wednesday (the day it happened) at 5:40pm (the time on the police report).  My daughter and I would go out to dinner. My husband found that working long hours was more helpful to his grieving."



Justin with six-month old baby Michelle on Easter Sunday 2013, just three days before his death (Photos: the Bennett Family)

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"I have so many wonderful people in my family and my life who depend on me and love me.  I carry on for them and I know that is what Justin would want me to do." --Kim Bennett


Some good that has come about through the sorrow:

Kim shares, "Since our son's passing, I have become so empathetic when a person dies.  I even stood up and spoke at a funeral service for a young man that passed away two months after Justin. I told that young man's mother that my close family and my faith are what allowed me to continue."

Kim and Don are now little Michelle's full-time guardians, raising their precious granddaughter in their son's memory. Kim reflects, "It is bittersweet. Sometimes I hug her so tight. Michelle has her Daddy's eyes and inquisitive nature. I know Justin would want us to take care of her. I ask him for guidance and help all the time."

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Read more from my series on grief and mourning:

Part 1: Grief and mourning: Words of comfort and advice: Part 1

Part 2: Remembering Hannah Kriss, John Carroll Class of 2012:

Grieving the loss of a young person: Words of comfort and advice from her Mom


December 11, 2014 05:11
By Patti Murphy Dohn


Grief and mourning: Words of comfort and advice: Part 1


Image credit

"The great and sad mistake of many people...is to imagine that those whom death has taken, leave us. 

They do not leave us.  They remain! 

Where are they?  In the darkness? 

Oh, no!  It is we who are in darkness. 

We do not see them, but they see us. 

Their eyes, radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes...Oh, infinite consolation! 

Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent...

They are living near us, transfigured...into light, into power, into love."

--Karl Rahner, SJ (1904-1984)


With the arrival of November, we realize anew how quickly time does go by. Before we know it, the holidays will here again. Such is the cycle of life.

From the day we are born, we are on the journey Home toward our everlasting life in Heaven. We try to live our lives as people of faith and hope.


"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

--Ecclesiastes 3:1-2


November prayer intentions:

The first two days of November offer us times to pray and remember with the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1) and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day on November 2). And as we know, the entire month of November is a special time to focus on remembering those who have gone before us.

For some people, it is not easy to remember their loved ones without experiencing anew that overwhelming sense of grief and mourning.

Crisis ministry:

In an interview with The Catholic Review in 2012, I told then-Social Media Specialist Matt Palmer,

"It seems that crisis ministry has become my calling within a calling."

During my many years at The John Carroll School, I was often called upon to "walk" with families who were in crisis-mode and in need of pastoral care. Many members of the school community still turn to me now in my retirement when they are in need, or call and text when they become aware of another family who is in crisis.

It is always a humbling privilege to be there for families who are going through their darkest days, experiencing worry, fear, grief, sorrow, and a flood of other emotions.

Three summers ago, while I was in Florida for five weeks, three deaths occurred within JC families. It was important that I found new ways of ministering to the needs of my students and their families from across that distance. Creative uses of social media, along with phone calls, texting, and the use of Facetime and instant messaging became my lifelines with these families. Networking with our parish priests and youth ministers across the miles made this long-distance ministry work while I was out of town.

In actuality, this blog came about in 2012 as a result of this work ministering to families who were suffering. I call my blog "God is in the Clouds" as I write about life, faith, and Church history with a focus on God's presence with each one of us on our life journey. 

As many of you know, I have always declared:

In good times and in bad, God is good... All the time!!

 
Part 1 in a series on grief and mourning:

During this coming month of November, I will share with you reflections from people of all ages and backgrounds on how they have experienced grief and healing from the loss of a loved one. Included will be advice and wisdom on what has helped and what was not so helpful.

Just as the circumstances of one's death are so different, so too are the ways that persons experience the death of a loved one. There are no rules and "normals" when it comes to grief. Each individual person must determine what is best for him or her. But it does help to hear about what others have gone through and how they learned to heal their hearts.

As those in grief have found, life goes on around us even when they are experiencing deep sadness and sorrow. It is my hope and prayer that this November series on grief and mourning can offer helpful insights for both those who have lost loved ones, as well as those who are trying to support others who are experiencing loss.


This series will include entries on the loss of:

--Babies and young children;

--Adult children;

--Spouses;

--Parents;

--Siblings and dear friends;

--Loss due to suicide.

--Loss stemming from non-death circumstances.


Want to share your experiences?

If you would like to join in and offer your personal input on your experiences of grief and mourning, please email me at:

pattimurphydohn@gmail.com


I will then share with you a series of questions for you to reflect upon before sending back your comments.

You might offer an insight or piece of advice that would help another person. That's my hope for this series.


"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

--St. Augustine, "Confessions"

October 30, 2014 12:02
By Patti Murphy Dohn

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