The Pennsylvania Report: Sadness and anger…

As an immigrant son, growing up in the working class Bronx, I was grateful for my Catholic education…first with the Sisters of Charity and the Christian Brothers at St. Raymond’s and later with the Jesuits at Fordham Prep.

Gratitude is not without its limits.

When a Pennsylvania grand jury issued their report on August 14, 2018 charging that over 300 priests (in that state alone) have been credibly accused of sexually abusing over 1,000 child victims, memories returned. Those memories were rooted in the special and unlimited trust our families placed in the consecrated people of God who taught us. In many cases, that trust was well-placed. In some, it was terribly abused.

Here is a story from my 1962 eighth grade class…

On the first day of the school year our new teacher, Brother Bernard introduced himself with these words: Continue reading “The Pennsylvania Report: Sadness and anger…”

Perspective… A story of discouraged diagnosis

This is my first blog in over 10 months.  It is different from my previous postings. With the sharing of this personal story, I am hoping to continue blogging on a more regular basis.

Guidelines matter if you’re a horse.

They might kill you, if you’re a zebra.
Continue reading “Perspective… A story of discouraged diagnosis”

Fly the friendly skies of United…

This morning – like most other folks – I saw this video of United Airlines’ forced removal of a passenger for being on an overbooked flight.

It reminded me of two stand-out experiences I had had with United…among many.  It seems like a good time to revisit them.

The more recent took place a few years ago.  I was boarding a plane and saw a short older woman struggling to lift her bag into the overhead compartment.  She was a couple of passengers ahead of me and I couldn’t reach her to help.  There was a flight attendant directly in front of her, watching her.  I called out and said, “Can you help her?”  She looked at me calmly and said, “That’s not my job.”  I replied, “A perfect motto for United” while closer passengers realized the woman’s problem and began to help.

Below is an earlier letter to United, following a crew “mutiny”.  I should mention that United’s response union response and government response were minimal to non-existent.
Continue reading “Fly the friendly skies of United…”

Joshua Griffis: an appreciation

Josh Griffis died yesterday.

While working at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association for more than a decade and a half, I observed that one of two things generally happens when people get a serious and incurable illness. They are either destroyed or they become heroes.

Josh was one of the heroes.

I first heard about him when he had taken on leadership of PHA’s Omaha support group. Our staffer who worked with him, Debbie Drell, told me how the group was growing and how he was reaching out to the larger support group network to learn and to help.

Shortly after that Josh’s name came up again.  PHA was having a hard time engaging young patients.  Josh and several other became part of an advisory – and later leadership – group that defined Generation Hope.  PHA’s program for patients in their 20’s and 30’s quickly became wildly successful.  The model he helped develop was later used to build seven more special (hard to reach) population groups within our community.

When one of Debbie’s staff left, Josh applied. We knew hiring him would not be easy. Besides his pulmonary hypertension, Josh had a second illness…so rare that it was unnamed…one that caused aneurisms to develop in his body.

We did hire Josh – and never regretted it.   He was deeply respected by PHA’s support group leader network and his fellow staff and fully committed to helping other patients and their families.

One evening, Josh and I were talking about the days before we met and he told me that he had gone to Europe and lived in a monastery for six months, so that he could study their texts in the original language. I realized that, while PH shifted the path of Josh’s life journey, he did not let it change who he was…a bright, intense and committed human being.

Over time, it became clear to Josh and his doctors that the same medicines that were keeping his PH at bay were accelerating the progression of his unnamed disease.

He came to my office to tell me he had made a decision.
Continue reading “Joshua Griffis: an appreciation”

Thank you, John Glenn…

This Saturday morning, I walked the dog, sat down, opened the newspaper and read the headlines and sub heads

CIA: Russia Favored Trump
Secret Assessment of Hacking Effort
Goal went beyond undermining election, agency says


Transition Team Targets Energy
Memo seeks identities of many who worked on climate pact, carbon cuts

…and that was just above the fold

I read and thought there’s so much to expand upon here:

  • a president who didn’t react to the pre-election report because his White House “didn’t want to escalate tensions with Moscow…” and be “accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.”
  • a Senate Majority Leader who voiced doubts about the veracity of the CIA intelligence…and whose wife has now been announce as President-elect’Trump’s choice for Transportation Secretary.
  • a 74 question memo from the Trump transition team to the Energy Department to get details on individuals, political appointees, civil service employees and contractors who worked on an international climate agreement or were involved in efforts to cut U.S. carbon emissions.

Then I said, nah.

Either the conversation will move to alt-news efforts to discredit fact-based reporting on these studies…or, like Watergate, so many years ago, these and other stories will fester for a time and then explode.  In and case, there will be plenty of time to address them.

More important today is to remember an American hero, John Glenn.

Astronaut Alan Shepard had the first U.S. manned sub-orbital flight into space on May 5, 1961 (the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, flew a month earlier).

On May 21, 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke to a joint session of the U.S. Congress about a manned flight to the moon by the end of the decade.  He followed that with a speech to the American people at Rice University on September 12, 1962, setting that effort as a national goal.

On February 20, 1962, John Glenn took a huge step in that direction for us all with the first U.S. manned orbital flight.

Glenn understood that what he achieved was the product of a national effort.  He was the person in the capsule but teams of NASA workers and contractors, national leaders with a vision and U.S. taxpayers made it possible.

His death on December 8, 2016 came 75 years and 1 day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was because of that attack that he joined the Air Force, flying 149 missions in World War II and the Korean War.

The space capsule in which he orbited the earth was named Friendship 7, a name hard to imagine us using in today’s environment.

From 1974 to 1999, he served in the U.S. Senate.  During that time, in 1988, he joined the Discovery crew to become the oldest person ever to travel in space.

Alan Shepard and John Glenn’s flights took place when I was in elementary school and I remember how they and JFK’s We Choose to go to the Moon speech focused the nation and brought us together.  Scientific study became a national priority.  He brought out the best in us and we will miss him.

My friend Andy Field, posted a wonderful story about an interview he did with Senator Glenn many years ago.  I think it tells a lot about the man and am copying it for you.


Was lucky to cover and interview John Glenn as a Capital Hill reporter over the years….. great guy and an even better sport. We did a tongue in cheek piece about the goofy Weekly World News tabloid saying he and other Senators were actually aliens. I called his office to see if he would “comment” he played along and even spoke in an alien tongue on camera ..admitting the tabloid had finally exposed his secret..and the Mercury launch was his attempt to return to his home planet. He kept a straight face…i was holding back tears of laughter. What a thrill to have met and spoken with one of my childhood heroes!

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Thank you John Glenn for a great ride and your life’s lessons.  Go with humor.  Go with grace. Rest in peace.

The Monsters have Come to Connecticut Avenue…

On March 4, 1960, Twilight Zone aired an episode that spoke to Americans coming through the McCarthy era and continues to speak to us today. Titled The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, it was written by the show’s creator and host, Rod Serling.

The story opens on a typical middle class American community. People work together and play together in harmony. They are good neighbors who know each other well.

As the narrator says…

“Maple Street, U.S.A. Late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children and the bell of an ice cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 p.m. on Maple Street. This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street – in the last calm and reflective moment – before the monsters came.”

Continue reading “The Monsters have Come to Connecticut Avenue…”

Abdul Razak Ali Artan: An open letter



I don’t understand.

You came to the U.S. two years ago as a Somali refugee, after six years in Pakistan.  As refugees, your family wase no doubt leaving a bad situation, taking you – their future. At about the age of 10, you were old enough to remember why they left.

Within two years of arriving here with your family, you had graduated from a community college and gained entry to one of the great public universities in the United States.  Your arrival appears to have been assisted with temporary housing (and perhaps more) by Catholic Charities.

Your Facebook postings express your uncertainty about where to pray on the Ohio State Campus and worries whether, if you did pray publicly , there would be negative reaction.  You felt the U.S. was engaged in a religious war.

So, you drove a car into your fellow Ohio State students and, when you crashed it a student ran to see if you needed help and you came out with a butcher knife.  You injured 11 people you didn’t know.

Now, here’s what I don’t understand. Continue reading “Abdul Razak Ali Artan: An open letter”

The Sisters 2: Building Knowledge for Justice


My interview with Sister Marie Augusta Neal took place in 1998 on a rainy afternoon in a quiet kitchen in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Her spirit and what she achieved lit the room brightly.  I have interviewed many extraordinary people over the years and been e by their stories.  Sr. Marie Augusta Neal is certainly at or near the top.

One story she told me that was not included in the final publication was about her invitation to South Africa after she published the Sisters Survey described below.  The white Sisters there – all white at the time – were caught between the apartheid system (1948 to 1994) ‘ in which they worked and their own sense of justice.  They walked out of the white schools where they had taught for generations and opened new schools in the black neighborhoods.  Often that also meant walking away from their families. It was an important step to end apartheid.

Continue reading “The Sisters 2: Building Knowledge for Justice”

Fighting to change the Odds: Pat Paton

It was my privilege to work with Pat Paton at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association from 1999 to my retirement in 2016. The values she and her sister Judy and their husbands Jerry and Ed brought to the organization allowed for the creation of better and longer lives. 

What I learned from Pat and so many others is that in the face of overwhelming odds, some people give up and become lost; others find a better self and become heroes.  Pat is one of the heroes.



In December 1987 Patricia (Pat) Paton was diagnosed with Primary Pulmonary Hypertension (PH). At that time, less than 200 cases had been recorded in the United States.

PH is a terrible illness. Described as a hardening of the arteries in the lungs, it leads to breathlessness and eventually death through right heart failure.

Diagnosis is difficult. In Pat’s case, after two years of constant fatigue, fainting and doctors who could not tell her what was wrong, her husband, Jerry, packed her in their car and drove 9 hours from their home in Zionsville, Indiana to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Forty-eight hours later, she had her diagnosis. She was told she had primary pulmonary hypertension and was NY Heart Class IV (the worst level). She was given six weeks to six months to live and was sent home.

Pat and Jerry looked at their lives and decided to make the most of their remaining time together. They sold their Indiana home and their business and moved to Florida.

An unexpected thing happened…Pat continued to stay alive.

Pat and her sister Judy began a two year search for another patient…a search to end isolation.

When she finally found two other patients, they met around her kitchen That meeting turned out to be the founding of the Pulmonary Hypertension Association.

Funding their little group out of their own pockets, they launched a newsletter which they gave to their PH doctors, who sent it to other PH doctors. The doctors gave the newsletters to their patients and soon they had been able to find more patients than NIH had located during its five year registry.

The level of patient-to-patient sharing and service inherent in the processes Pat and her sister Judy and others established (and often staffed as a volunteer) in the early years built the organization on bedrock values of loyalty and trust.

With less than $1,000 in their treasury, the little group took on the daunting task of organizing an International Conference.  For the first time, they drew together patients, caregivers and medical professionals.  Today, that risky Conference has become the largest PH meeting in the world.  The little organization they founded is now the second largest rare disease association in the U.S.  It has helped seed the founding and development of over 80 sister PH associations globally.  PHA has committed over $18.000.000 to research, so far. It publishes the world’s first medical journal dedicated to PH.  Recently, it has become the accrediting body for U.S. PH Centers., with a registry poised to improve the quality of medical care in this disease.

Since Pat was diagnosed, the disease has gone from no treatments to 13…more than all but two of the 7,000 identified rare disease.

Pat lives on and her style of leadership is deeply rooted in her attitude of hope. She says that many people on this earth never learn why they are here. That is not the case with her. She knows exactly why she is here and will not hesitate to tell you. Her job is to make the journey a little easier for those who suffer from pulmonary hypertension. She has done and continues to do her job well.

The Sisters 1: Immigrants


The U.S. has a long history of people  coming to our shores for a better life. 

The genius of our nation is that- despite the change immigrants bring, frightening some and breeding hostility – we have absorbed generation after generation of immigrants who have brought new thinking and ideas and the hard work required of people starting out in a new land. We are all better for this part of us.  This is a story of immigration and success well over 150 years ago. It is not an easy story,  forged by determination in the face of threats and reaction.  

As the son of a hard working man who came to this country the year before I was born, I know that my family’s American story was not so different from those who came before and those who continue to come today.  I thank those who came before and welcome those still to come.


In 1846, the Potato Famine began in Ireland. From farms, cities and villages, Catholic immigrants fled to America as an alternative to starvation. Through the last years of the 1840’s, many thousands of new Americans arrived in Boston.

Those who survived the raging illness known as “ship fever” arrived in weak condition into an often hostile environment. Meetings protesting their presence were common; anti-immigrant fliers were distributed throughout the city of Boston.

It was into this environment that the first three Sisters of Notre Dame came. On Saturday evening, November 12, 1849 Sister Louis de Gonzague, Sister Mary Stanislaus and Sister Magdalene arrived in Boston. For safety, the long trip from Cincinnati was made not in religious habit but, as Sister Mary Stanislaus expressed it, in “old ladies’ costumes”.

They had come to Boston at the invitation of Bishop John Bernard Fitzpatrick and Father John McElroy, S.J. who had sent a petition to Sister Superior Louise and Bishop Purcell in Cincinnati. Father McElroy was then pastor of Saint Mary’s parish and was anxious for qualified teachers for the parish school. At the time, St. Mary’s School was the only Catholic school in the city. (The only earlier Catholic school had been moved to Charlestown in 1826 and was burned by an anti-Catholic mob in 1834.)

On Tuesday, November 15 the three Sisters began to teach the children of Saint Mary’s. Over 100 children came that first day to fill the two small classrooms.

By September, the little community of Sisters in Boston grew to seven to serve the rapidly growing numbers of pupils.

In 1852, Sister Superior Louise brought another group of five Sisters from Cincinnati. They arrived at St. Patrick’s parish in Lowell on September 21.

The first Superior of the Lowell foundation, Sister Desiree wrote:

“Our arrival was a source of rejoicing for the Catholic inhabitants. The house was surrounded by a great many good persons. Two days after our arrival we opened our school, without having it announced in the Church. We called together all the children who lived in the neighborhood and on the first day we had one hundred and fifty. Three days later our number was three hundred. As no school rooms had been prepared, the rooms in our house had to be used and we were obliged to send the little ones with their teacher to the basement of the church. Father O’Brien has commenced to build a school for the accommodation of the classes.”

“The 15th of June we were exposed to a great trial, at the door a group called the ‘Know-Nothings’ said they were determined to burn us. The alarm was so great that we were many nights in our clothes and our effects were packed for more than 15 days so we would be ready at the first word. The good Priest O’Brien had a guard of 60 men guarding the church and house for a month…the women and girls did not stay behind, they were charged with prayers for our defense. Little by little we got back to preparing our students.”
The Annals
Lowell, 1854

During her twenty-seven years as Superior, Sister Desiree made sure that the Sisters of Notre Dame not only educated the children of the poor but that the adult poor were fed as well. No one who came to the Sisters’ door was turned away.

As the years passed and the Lowell Foundation grew, a priest asked Sister Desiree – who, by now, had come to be called Good Mother Desiree – how she could erect so many buildings and be responsible for such a large family. She replied:

“Reverend Father, we do all this by the blessing God bestows on us in return for feeding the tramps.”

On May 8, 1854 Sister Mary Aloysius, Sister Mary Joseph, Sister Mary Clemence, Sister Stanislaus Kostka and Sister Mary Ignatius arrived from Cincinnati to begin the Roxbury Foundation. Since St. Joseph’s parish had no building for a school, the Sisters opened classes in the unfinished basement of the Church. They started out with forty students, amid the hammering of carpenters and other workers. By the following September, one hundred and thirty children were enrolled.

The Sisters came to Lawrence in 1859, opening a school at St. Mary’s on August 29. The three Sisters had over 300 girls the first day.

The first postulant from Lowell was Johanna Coughlin. She entered in Cincinnati on May 2, 1860 and, after a short stay, it was suggested that she return home for medical reasons. Besides an apparent frailty, the doctors said she was threatened with blindness. Before leaving, she asked for time to make a novena to Blessed Mother Julia for her cure. Her request was granted and when the doctors examined her after the novena, they declared her completely healthy with no danger of impending blindness. She took the religious habit with the name of Sister Mary Ignatia.

Also in 1859, two Sisters began teaching 180 children at Our Holy Redeemer in East Boston. By 1860, the Sisters’ community had grown to seven. In September of 1860, the seven Sisters who made the foundation in South Boston, came to the basement of Saints Peter and Paul Church expecting 300 children; twelve hundred were present. They began by instructing the children twelve years and older.

In 1867, the Sisters came to teach the children of Holy Name Parish in Chicopee and after a year added an evening school for the benefit of the girls who were obliged to work during the day. On to Worcester (St. John) in 1872, Cambridge in 1876, Springfield (Sacred Heart) in 1877, Salem (St. James) in 1878, Lynn (St. Mary’s) and Somerville (St. Ann’s) in 1881. Everywhere, the Sisters where welcomed with hundreds of students. Thousands of children were taught, sodalities were formed and buildings were built. The immigrant church in Massachusetts was flourishing and the Sisters of Notre Dame were offering education as a door to a better future.

In 1884, Sister Superior Louise, whose efforts spanned so much of the pioneering work in New England, completed arrangements for the Sisters house in Woburn. It was to be her last foundation. But the work did not stop. New waves of immigrants were coming to New England from many new countries and the Sisters who never had enough resources were becoming stretched even thinner. In the face of such difficulties, Sister Superior Louise’s successor, Sister Superior Julia sent seven Sisters to Waltham (St. Joseph’s) in 1888 and in 1891 six to open Saint Teresa’s school in Providence, Rhode Island.

Between 1900 and 1927 the Sisters continued to expand into new areas of Massachusetts. The began teaching in West Lynn (1902), Andover (1914), Hudson (1918), Dorchester (1921), Brighton (1924), Beverly (1927),West Newton (1927) and Tyngsboro (1927). In 1919, Emmanuel College, the first Catholic college for women in New England was established on the Fenway in Boston. Also during this period, six Sisters of Notre Dame left Waltham in 1924 to begin the first foundation in Okayama, Japan.

The New England journey of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur continued on the path of growth set in 1849 for well over a century, leading generations of children into the American mainstream and imparting faith and trust in a good and loving God.