Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Archive for February, 2010

One voice of support for our troubled gov02.26.10

As the snow falls and falls…

It’s interesting that just days before Gov. Paterson’s political world started truly collapsing, Archbishop Dolan offered kind words for the guy during a talk with NY1 (which we don’t get up here in the Burbs).

Among other things, Dolan said this:

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I’ve enjoyed the governor very much…We’ve had an exceptionally cordial relationship. I admire him very much personally. He goes out of his way to make sure that he acquaints me with things. He’s been gracious enough on occasion to say maybe “What do you feel about this?” There’s been times when I’ve called him to work on projects of mutual concern. So I hate to see him going through this because he has been a gentleman. I believe his heart is in the right place. But, he’d be the first to admit, these kinds of stories have to take a toll. And so my prayers are with him. In some ways, sometimes you shake your head and say “Boy, I wish we could get ahead with the business of governing and didn’t have all these side stories, these personal things that seem to muddy the waters. On the other hand, there is something to be said for our American way of doing things, that character, integrity, personality, have something to say, and that the American people kind of expect their elected officers—and, by the way, their church leaders; we’re not immune from it—to be people of integrity, of justice, of good character….

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Dolan has a way of putting a positive (or semi-positive) spin on anything, doesn’t he? Remember that Paterson introduced a gay-marriage bill during the week of Dolan’s installation as archbishop, which some saw as politically “inappropriate.”

The archbishop covered a lot of other ground. As Paul Zalonski, who is studying for the priesthood at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, summarized it on his blog:

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In a NY1 Exclusive interview with NY’s Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan the other day, the Archbishop distinguishes between being welcome to attend events and being honored at publicly sponsored Catholic events. A topic many Catholics are familiar with in recent years, especially at university graduation time. This is question is also on the plate since the St Patrick’s Day Parade is fast approaching at which the gay and lesbian activists normally cause a stir because of perceived anti-Catholic bias toward their lifestyle and then in fall there’s the Al Smith dinner where Catholics and politicos rub shoulders at a high profile dinner. People want to know what and how the Church is going to handle such situations; the Catholics need solid guidance and reasons for belief and hope. The Archbishop is clear that when it comes to faith and the public order people we need (want!) good leadership who live lives with honesty and that the public have an expectation that civil and religious leadership be questioned about their lives. Good governance depends on coherent life. Politically people are asking these questions in light of the recent troubles of NY governor David Paterson, a Catholic and yet pro-abortion, not to mention pro-liberal on all topics.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Gov. Paterson, Paul Zalonskiwith No Comments →

Arianna Huffington takes on religion02.25.10

At a time when many traditional news outlets are cutting back their coverage of religion, the Huffington Post has announced a new section of the website called HuffPost Religion.

It’s being edited by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, a Baptist minister and Associate Dean of Religious Life at Princeton U.

huffington-ap-4823549The queen herself, omnipresent liberal media pundit Arianna Huffington, explains:

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Religion plays a central role in American life. Yet, all too often, when talking about it, we end up talking at each other instead of with each other. This is a shame, especially at a time like this, when the economic struggle in many people’s lives has led to a deeper questioning of our values and priorities.  Whether you are a believer or not, this is an essential conversation to have, and I’m delighted we will be having it on HuffPost.

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Her line-up includes a good number of familiar liberal/moderate voices: Jim Wallis, Sister Joan Chittister, Deepak Chopra, Robert Thurman, Steven Waldman, Feisal Rauf, Yehuda Berg,  Tony Campolo, and many, many more.

I took a quick look at the site and found some interesting stuff, like music mogul Russell Simmons’ explanation of why he does Transcendental Meditation. (“At its depths, life is an ocean of energy, intelligence, and bliss. And that ocean lies within us all.”)

Liberal Christian writer Brian McLaren asks “10 questions that are transforming the faith” (for some), including these: “Who is Jesus and why is he so important? Why do Christians present such different visions or versions of Jesus? How do we sort through the different versions to get a more balanced and accurate understanding of Jesus?”

It’s not, ahem, for everyone.

I was struck by an essay by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton, called “The Black Church is Dead.”

He writes of the “routinization of black prophetic witness.” It’s something I’ve wondered about, but have rarely heard black Christians discuss.

Glaude writes:

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Too often the prophetic energies of black churches are represented as something inherent to the institution, and we need only point to past deeds for evidence of this fact. Sentences like, “The black church has always stood for…” “The black church was our rock…” “Without the black church, we would have not…” In each instance, a backward glance defines the content of the church’s stance in the present—justifying its continued relevance and authorizing its voice. Its task, because it has become alienated from the moment in which it lives, is to make us venerate and conform to it.

But such a church loses it power. Memory becomes its currency. Its soul withers from neglect. The result is all too often church services and liturgies that entertain, but lack a spirit that transforms, and preachers who deign for followers instead of fellow travelers in God.

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(Evan Agostini/Associated Press)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Black church, Brian McLaren, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Huffington Post, HuffPost Religion, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Russell Simmons, Transcendental Meditationwith No Comments →

Catholic scholars ask pope to go slow on Pius XII beatification02.24.10

Still playing catch up from last week, I see that 19 Catholic theologians have signed a pretty provocative letter to the pope asking that he slow the process of possible beatification for Pope Pius XII.

The controversy over Pius’ efforts to save Jews from the Nazis is, of course, well known. I won’t attempt to restate it here.

APPOPEPIUSTWELVEBut the letter caught my eye because it was signed not only by several prominent Catholic scholars, but by Eugene Fisher, who for many years oversaw Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Fisher undoubtedly understands the dynamics of this very complicated, emotionally charged debate as well as anyone in this country.

The letter, in general, makes the case that the historical record on Pius XII is still far from complete:

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Currently, existing research leads us to the view that Pope Pius XII did not issue a clearly worded statement, unconditionally condemning the wholesale slaughter and murder of European Jews.  At the same time, some evidence also compels us to see that Pius XII’s diplomatic background encouraged him as head of a neutral state, the Vatican, to assist Jews by means that were not made public during the war.  It is essential that further research be conducted to resolve both these questions.  As scholars of theology and history, we realize how important the historical critical method is to your own research and we implore you to ensure that such a historical investigation takes place before proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII.

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The letter also offers a more nuanced argument that the Pius debate must be seen in light of broader anti-Semitism “propogated” by Christians throught the centuries:

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For many Jews and Catholics, Pius XII takes on a role much larger than his historical papacy.  In essence, Pius XII has become a century old symbol of Christian anti-Judaism and antisemitism, which, for example, the late Reverend Edward H. Flannery has documented and spelled out in his work The Anguish of the Jews:  Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism.  It is challenging to separate Pope Pius XII from this legacy.  Proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII, without an exhaustive study of his actions during the Holocaust, might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future.

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So the debate continues.

Not long ago, Dimitri Cavalli, a writer from the Bronx, had an op-ed published in the leading Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that defended Pius XII. Cavalli made the case that there is simply no evidence to suggest that the wartime pope failed the Jews of Europe.

Cavalli outlined some of the pope’s actions and concluded with this:

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Throughout the war, the pope’s deputies frequently ordered the Vatican’s diplomatic representatives in many Nazi-occupied and Axis countries to intervene on behalf of endangered Jews. Up until Pius XII’s death in 1958, many Jewish organizations, newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples, in his April 7, 1944, letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: “It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews … The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance.”

The campaign against Pope Pius XII is doomed to failure because his detractors cannot sustain their main charges against him – that he was silent, pro-Nazi, and did little or nothing to help the Jews – with evidence. Perhaps only in a backward world such as ours would the one man who did more than any other wartime leader to help Jews and other Nazi victims, receive the greatest condemnation.


Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Catholic theologians, Dimitri Cavalli, Eugene Fisher, Ha'aretz, Letter to pope, Pope Pius XIIwith 8 Comments →

One year and counting for Archbishop Tim02.23.10

One year ago today, the rumor became fact: Tim Dolan was the next Archbishop of New York.

He had been talked about as a leading contender for the job for at least several years. His name came up in every conversation I had with a priest or church “insider” about who might replace Cardinal Egan.

I always heard the same thing: He was funny, engaging, insightful and “just what New York needs.” I had met Dolan briefly a few years before—but even a quick chat was enough for me to know it was all true.

tjndc5-5otbe1et0us110m2skcb_layoutFrom the day the Vatican made it official, Dolan lived up to his rep. And he received about as much Good Press as any public person in New York could possibly expect.

The media gushed over him for a solid two or three months. Breathless stuff. We had a larger-than-life guy.

Dolan told reporters that he would spend his first year getting a sense of things and listening to people. True enough, he’s gone from parish to parish and talked with many priests and lay Catholics—often in his now-famous spot phone calls.

I’ve heard a few grumblings—not many—that it’s time for Dolan to act.

He faces many of the same issues that Egan and Cardinal O’Connor before him faced. There aren’t enough priests. Many pastors are up there in age. Northern parishes are growing and many city parishes are not. Many Catholics schools are struggling. The archdiocese is becoming increasingly Hispanic, even as many Hispanic Catholics attend separate Spanish-language Masses or worship at largely Hispanic parishes. There are certainly a large number of illegal immigrants going to Mass in New York—who the church stands up for, even if many white Catholics will not.

Then there’s the economy. Demands on the church are greater. Resources are fewer.

As Dolan said in Poughkeepsie the other day: “Number one, more people come to us because you usually come to people you know, and most people know and feel comfortable with their church. If they’re short on rent, their kid’s tuition or grocery money, guess where they are going to go? Their parish.”

Dolan will mark his first anniversary in New York (he was actually installed on April 15) by spreading some more good cheer.

He told ABC News: “The number of people who have come to me, from the mayor’s office on down, and said, ‘Archbishop, we kind of like having you around. We’re worried about you. You better work on your weight.” They’re right, and I really, really have to watch the intake because I love to eat. I love being with people.”

Last night, Dolan held court at a “Theology on Tap” program at a NYC bar.

Whispers in the Loggia’s Rocco Palmo was there and typed a blow-by-blow account that you can read today.

There were about 900 people, Palmo wrote, and it took Dolan 20 minutes just to get across the room.

The boss had plenty of jokes, like “assure me I’m not picking up the tab tonight.”

He talked primarily about the “Petrine ministry”—the papacy.

He said “all we believe is Jesus Christ—alone—is the center and source of unity and authority in his church… he designated Peter as his vicar.”And “we believe Jesus gave Peter the privilege of being his earthly representative…”

And this: “Jesus is the head of his church… but—in case you haven’t noticed—Jesus just so happens to be invisible, alright?”

That’s Dolan.

My guess is that Dolan will soon begin making his mark in the Archdiocese of New York. It will be keenly interesting to see what he really thinks about what needs to be done.

If you want to know more about him, I came across an Oct. 19 release date for a new book from John Allen, Catholic journalist extraordinaire. It is to be called “American Pope: A Biography of New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan.”

American pope, huh? He’ll have a lot to live up to…


Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Archdiocese of New York, John Allen, One year, recession, Theology on Tap, Uncategorized, Whispers in the Loggiawith 1 Comment →

In the news: Scientology!02.22.10

Back from furlough.

Watched some Olympics. Read many magazines. Taking my time through Democracy in America.

I’ve been playing catch-up today. One thing that caught my eye:

A real interesting story in the Wash Post today about the Church of Scientology hiring three prominent journalists to “study” how the St. Petersburg Times covers Scientology, which is based in Florida.

The St. Pete Times has written extensively about Scientology—much of it less than flattering—and the church has been quite critical of the paper.

Apparently, Scientology may not make the report public. Depends what it says, I guess.

Two of the reporters said in a statement: “We were hesitant. That’s why we insisted on being paid in full before we started our work, total editorial independence and having someone with the reputation of (investigative reporter) Steve Weinberg involved. Every entity has the right to receive fair treatment in the press.”

The Church of Scientology has received some international attention of late for sending a bunch of volunteers, including John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston, to Haiti, where they are providing a “form” of therapy to survivors.

A few months after 9/11, when Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” were quite visible at and around Ground Zero, I wrote about widespread criticism of their treatment methods. The mental health establishment has long been at odds with Scientology over a bunch of things (including Scientology’s dismissal of much of what makes up modern psychology and psychiatry).

At the time, I wrote:

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Volunteer ministers must only read a Scientology textbook and pass a short exam to be certified by the church. They are not ordained ministers.

But they have worked with Oklahoma City survivors, Kosovo refugees, earthquake victims in Kobe, Japan, and many other disaster victims around the world since Hubbard created the volunteer program in 1976.

Scientology uses technical terms to describe counseling techniques that, on the face of it, sound impossibly simple. At Ground Zero, for instance, volunteer ministers often offered “touch assists,” which involve touching injured body parts as a way to open communication between the brain and the injured area.

For someone still focused on Sept. 11, volunteer ministers may perform a “locational.” This involves having someone focus on something in the present.

“If someone keeps seeing the image of the World Trade Center falling again and again, you ask the person to look into the environment – at a clock or whatever,” said Beth Salem, 22, of Ossining, a volunteer minister. “Instead of looking into the past, they look into the now. That’s not to say they won’t think about the past again, but they’re not as stuck on it.”

For those who stay beyond initial counseling, there is the world of “dianetics,” the heart of Scientology. The goal of dianetics is to help people overcome negative experiences stored in the mind so they can reach a level of enlightenment that Scientology calls “clear.”

Scientology rejects traditional forms of mental health treatment and particularly disdains the use of medication to treat mental illness.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in 9/11, Church of Scientology, Haiti, Mental health, St. Petersburg Times, Steve Weinberg, Volunteer ministers, Washington Postwith 2 Comments →

Tales of furlough02.18.10

I’m still on furlough—and out of posts that I could write last Friday.

So that’s it until I get back Monday.

Have a good weekend. I hope I am.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Uncategorizedwith 3 Comments →

It’s Chabad vs. a congregation near you02.17.10

Many times in recent years, I’ve heard rabbis or synagogue officials express concern over the growth of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect in the northern suburbs.

The concern is always the same: Chabad offers cheap religious programming—holiday celebrations, schools for youngsters, etc.—that is very attractive to unaffiliated Jewish families that don’t want to pay pricey synagogue dues.

That don’t want to pay pricey synagogue dues.

That’s the key.

Something like half the Jews in Westchester don’t belong to synagogues. Therefore, synagogues are always plotting how to attract a small percentage of all those available families.

The biggest obstacle for many—not all, but many—is the dues. We’re talking several thousand dollars a year.

For many families that could go either way, then, Chabad presents an attractive and affordable alternative.

The Chabad movement, based in Crown Heights and located around the world, is committed—in an existential way—to bringing home Jews who have lost their way. In numerous New York communities, Chabad rabbis and their wives work fulltime to provide accessible programming for Jews who might otherwise stay home and watch Seinfeld reruns.

So I was fascinated to read a long piece in The Jewish Week that teases out one such showdown between Chabad and established Jewish congregations.

It’s in Oceanside, Long Island, where a weekly Chabad school for Jewish youngsters has taken a lot of kids away from more traditional synagogue programs.

The ironic part is that the synagogues say that Chabad offers a less intensive, less well-rounded Jewish education—just so it can get Jews through the doors.

One “competing” rabbi explains: “Chabad has led to a diminution of Jewish education in this community. I still have a two-day Hebrew school and I’m under attack from my members [to cut back to one day a week]. … I’m not blaming Chabad for everything bad in the community, but Chabad was a catalyst.”

Chabad Rabbi Levi Gurkov did not mince words: “When I came to Oceanside I placed a phone call to every rabbi here. Some were receptive; some were not because they felt I was coming to shake up the community. They had had a great run, and now someone new was coming and they couldn’t do their job and their sermons by rote anymore.”

Ouch. This could get ugly.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Chabad Lubavitch, Inexpensive programs, Jewish school, Long Island, Oceanside, Synagogue dues, The Jewish Week, Unaffiliated Jewswith 2 Comments →

K of C: Young Catholics interested in faith, but open to relativism02.16.10

I am always way leery of polls or surveys done by special-interest groups or groups with a clear point of view.

Almost every time, the poll happens to show public support for whatever point of view the group has or promotes.

That’s life, right?

So when I got an email promoting a “new survey of young Catholics” from the Knights of Columbus, I expected to open a press release proclaiming that all is right with the Catholic world from the point of view of young Catholics.

But no.

When I clicked on the email, I got this headline:

“New Survey of Young Catholics Shows Promise and Challenges for the Catholic Church: Believe in God, interested in the faith and clear on personal morality, but see morality overall as relative”

The release explains that high percentages of Catholic Millennials (ages 18-29) believe in God, see religion as at least “somewhat important” in their lives and believe that “commitment to marriage is under-valued.”

At the same time, pretty high percentages accept the kind of religious relativism that Pope Benedict has railed against.

61% believe “that it is all right for a Catholic to practice more than one religion (although 57% of practicing Catholics disagree). And 82% of Catholic Millennials see morals as “relative” (with only 54% of practicing Catholics disagreeing).

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson says: “It is very important for the Church to understand the outlook of the next generation of adult Catholics. Catholic Millennials support Church teaching in a wide variety of areas, including contentious issues like abortion and euthanasia. In other areas, the cultural relativism that Pope Benedict XVI has spoken so much about is very evident, and it confirms the wisdom of his attention to this question as central to the New Evangelization.”

So, congratulations to the K of C for being direct and honest and producing a poll that seems to jive with what’s going on out there.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Catholic Millennials, Catholicism, Knights of Columbus, Pope Benedict XVI, relativism, Religion polls, Survey, Young Catholicswith 2 Comments →

Mainline denominations still…you know what02.15.10

I’m on furlough this week, meaning that I can’t work.

Can’t blog. Nothing.

But I wrote a few posts on Friday that will pop up over the next few days.

Including this one.

The National Council of Churches has released its annual list of the largest denominations in the country—including which ones are growing and which are doing the opposite.

The headline on the release I received looked like this: “Catholics, Mormons, Assemblies of God growing; Mainline churches report a continuing decline”

In other words, more of the same.

Here’s the new Top 15:

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1. The Catholic Church, 68,115,001 members, up 1.49 percent.

2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,228,438 members, down 0.24percent.

3. The United Methodist Church, 7,853,987 members, down 0.98 percent.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,974,041 members, up 1.71 percent.

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no membership updates reported.

6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5,000,000  members, no membership updates reported.

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,633,887 members, down1.62 percent.

8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

9. Assemblies of God (ranked 10 last year), 2,899,702 members, up 1.27 percent.

10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1(ranked 9 last year), 2,844,952 members, down 3.28 percent.

11.  African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

11. National  Missionary Baptist Convention of America,  2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

11. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

14. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,337,349 members, down 1.92 percent.

15. The Episcopal Church, 2,057,292 members, down 2.81 percent.

16. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, no membership updates reported.

17. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

17. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

19. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000 members, members, no membership updates reported.

20. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1,331,127  members, down 2.00 percent.

21. Baptist Bible Fellowship International (ranked 22 last year), 1,200,000 members, no membership updates reported.

22.  Jehovah’s Witnesses (ranked 23 last year) 1,114,009members, up 2.00 percent.

23. United Church of Christ (ranked 22 last year), 1,111,691 members, down 2.93 percent.

24. Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), (ranked 25 last year), 1,072,169 members, up 1.76 percent.

25. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (ranked 24 last year), 1,071,616 members, no membership updates reported.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Catholics, Largest denominations, Mainline Protesants, Membership, National Council of Churches, Top 15with No Comments →

Go Red Storm!02.12.10

I’ve written about football several times lately, thanks to the Super Bowl and all, but I have a quick note today about basketball.

I’ve never been much of a basketball guy, although I’m watching a lot more hoops these days because my 11-year-old loves it.

I was driving home from an assignment yesterday and was listening to Michael Kay’s show on ESPN radio. Yeah, I like sports talk radio. I miss Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN and really like Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN. Kay’s real good on the Yanks.

Anyway, Kay was talking about how far St. John’s basketball has fallen since its heyday in 1985, when the team made the NCAA’s Final Four. I know you don’t hear much about St. John’s basketball these days, but I didn’t realize the team had fallen on consistently hard times.

A lot of St. John’s alumni called up. Sure, they’d had it with the team’s coach, Norm Roberts.

d0872a0f3a8e4a8ba9672bda852b157fBut many were also calling out St. John’s president, Father Donald Harrington, a Vincentian priest who has run the university since 1989. Skimming the guy’s bio, it seems that he has done quite a lot for the school.

But callers were complaining that Harrington is unwilling to pay a coach about $5 million a year, as several basketball powerhouses do. Roberts makes about $600,000.

I couldn’t help feeling bad for Harrington, a priest I’ve never met.

You have to figure that St. John’s, like every other college, is hurting financially. They’re probably trying to hold tuition down so that students can afford to attend. And it’s a Catholic school, with a presumably religious mission.

ab1347880a5d4fdcb35ab5b443deb258Just a couple of weeks ago, Harrington gave Archbishop Dolan an honorary doctorate.

Harrington said:

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I had the pleasure, in a sense, of watching the State of the Union Address earlier this week. It was very striking to me how often one side stands and the other side doesn’t. Very rarely does that audience, which is typical, stand together. Tonight, both figuratively and literally, we stand together with no hesitation – because in each individual (honored) we see the face, the vision and the heart of St. Vincent de Paul himself.

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And yet, Harrington may face the choice of having to spend millions on a big-name coach to keep his team competitive—or risk the displeasure of alumni and the New York media.

I’ve never rooted for a college hoops team (except on rare occasions when I’ve filled out a March Madness sheet—to miserable results).

But, as of today, I’m rooting for St. John’s.

Hey, we beat Louisville yesterday!

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Basketball, Catholic colleges, Coach salaries, College sports, Father Donald Harrington, Sports radio, St. John's Universitywith No Comments →

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