Jogging to church with Teddy Roosevelt

I went to Oyster Bay, Long Island, yesterday to tour Sagamore Hill — Teddy Roosevelt’s home — with a bunch of history teachers from Westchester and Putnam.

There was no religious element to my story. Or so I thought.

After lunch, we walked a few blocks to Christ Episcopal Church, where Roosevelt was a parishioner from 1888 to 1919.

The rector, the Rev. Peter Casparian, was used to seeing Teddy groupies coming through town. He said the locals call them “Ted Heads.”

Casparian, who was off-duty and was wearing sandals, told us that Roosevelt came from a Dutch Reformed Church background. But there was no Dutch Reformed church in town.

Plus, Roosevelt’s second wife, Edith, was already a member of Christ Church.

So, “He sat dutifully in the back pew,” Casparian told us.

He also told us that Roosevelt would have his children trot 2-and-a-half miles to church and then back home.

I’d like to see some modern suburbanites have their children jog to church or synagogue. That would be a story!

Although the church building we visited was not the same one that Roosevelt worshiped in (it was built in the 1920s), Teddy’s old pew is still there, right where he left it.

The teachers crowded around to see where the 26th president sat and kneeled.

This being a modern-day Episcopal church (i.e. liberal), Casparian couldn’t resist a pretty funny one-liner: “I always invite people to sit in Mr. Roosevelt’s pew and to pray for the Republican Party.”

Roosevelt, who read and wrote A LOT, apparently wrote down the reasons that a man should go to church.

I made the trip with a group of history teachers who are part of a terrific program funded by a federal grant to Northern Westchester/Putnam BOCES. My article should be up tomorrow or in a day or two.

Photo: Library of Congress

The new National Museum of American Jewish History

A new National Museum of American Jewish History is being dedicated on Nov. 26.

Vice President Biden will lead the ceremony.

Jerry Seinfeld and Bette Midler will perform (yes, she’s Jewish).

Historians will talk, talk, talk about Jewish history.

But…it won’t take place in New York.

The museum is in Philadelphia, near Independence Hall and that bell.

When I got a press release about the dedication, I quickly skimmed it to see where in NYC the museum would be. I was surprised I hadn’t heard about it.

But New York can’t have everything, right?

It looks like a beautiful place.

Dolan vs. NYT, Round ?

Archbishop’s Dolan ongoing criticism of the New York Times is getting a lot of attention this week.

As I’ve pointed out before, Dolan has been going after the Times since he came to New York, often using his blog to point out examples of what he believes to be anti-Catholicism.

In a blog post last week, the big guy pointed to an “insulting photograph” of a “nun” that accompanied a write-up of an off-Broadway comedy. And he strongly objected to a review of an art exhibit featuring posters produced by ACT UP, the anti-AIDS advocacy group that often attacked the Catholic Church. The review included a photo that showed a poster denigrating Cardinal O’Connor.

Dolan opened his blog by acknowledging that he’s been there before:


I know, I should drop it.  “You just have to get used to it,” so many of you have counselled me.  “It’s been that way forever, and it’s so ingrained they don’t even know they’re doing it.  So, let it go.”

I’m talking about the common, casual way The New York Times offends Catholic sensitivity, something they would never think of doing — rightly so — to the Jewish, Black, Islamic, or gay communities.


Numerous Catholic blogs have supported Dolan’s stance.

One said: “Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice it seems to me in America.” Another: “It seems every time you open a paper or scan the news, there is someone else misunderstanding or mocking the Catholic Church.”

The producers of the play, called Divine Sister, actually responded to Dolan. Their response in part:


Charles Busch is a wonderfully talented playwright who for decades has lovingly parodied classic Hollywood films in his work. His newest play, The Divine Sister, continues that tradition as a comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns: “The Song of Bernadette,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “The Singing Nun” and “Agnes of God.”

The image the New York Times ran on Friday, October 15, 2010 of The Divine Sister shows Mother Superior teaching Timothy how to properly hold a baseball bat. This scene references the classic 1945 film “The Bells of St. Mary’s” where Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict gives a young boy boxing lessons.

The Divine Sister is not a commentary on religious faith; it is a joyous look at these films. While our show is indeed irreverent, it is a celebration of the nuns in those iconic works, with a wink and a smile.


Mark Silk, a prominent analyst of media coverage of religion, caused somewhat of a stir by dismissing Dolan’s criticisms as off-the-mark, if not silly.

He writes: “I don’t exactly know what it is the Dolan would have the Times do. Avoid reviewing plays that deal with nuns and popular culture? Bar from its pages any organization that disrespects his church? Do penance by urging the Empire State Building to light itself up for Mother Teresa?”

CBS New York followed up on the story (as GetReligion points out). CUNY Prof Paul Moses — former religon writer for Newsday –told CBS: “That’s a really scathing image of Cardinal O’Connor. I think that was a lapse with the Times, not that they’re anti-catholic. Maybe it’s more they simply didn’t do a very good job on that story.”

Dolan wrote a second post today.

He’s standing by his guns. But he promises: “No more comment from me on this spat.”

We’ll see.

Maryknoll nearing centennial

It seems like just yesterday that I wrote about Maryknoll’s 90th birthday:


OSSINING – A family reunion of sorts has been taking place here, bringing together men and women from the poorest, most desperate regions of the world.

Many haven’t seen each other in years, but they’ve shared remarkably similar tales about the fallout from globalization, the continuing spread of AIDS, unabated threats to the environment and the basic plight of the oppressed, illiterate and hungry.

A depressing scene, perhaps, one without hope. But these are Maryknoll missioners, the heart of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, and they have been trying to bring light to the darkest corners of the world for 90 years.


Now here we are, on the cusp of Maryknoll’s 100th anniversary, which will be celebrated through all of 2011.

Here’s the anniversary logo (it’s kind of small, I know):

Is the Tea Party a Christian party?

So 81% of Tea Partiers say they’re Christian.

Nearly half say they are part of the “Christian conservative” movement.

According to a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute, most Tea Partiers are socially conservative (as opposed to libertarian) and identity with the GOP.

Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network is hailing the link.

The study is getting a lot of media attention. But can anyone be that surprised by the results?

Did anyone really think that the Tea Party was made up of secular humanist Democrats? There probably are 5-10 secular humanist Democrats out there, between the various Tea Party groups.

Anyway, the Jerusalem Post looks at whether the Tea Party/conservative Christian link will alienate Jews from the Tea Party movement.

Jewish paper: Worries of ‘violence’ in East Ramapo

The venerable Jewish newspaper The Forward looks this week at the tensions in the East Ramapo school district — including the possibility of “violence.”

The article, while not terribly long, gives you a pretty good sense of what’s at stake:


Although Orthodox Jews in the predominantly Jewish upstate New York villages of Monsey and New Square send their children to private religious schools, six of the eight elected members of the Board of Education of the East Ramapo Central School District are Orthodox. A ninth, who recently resigned and has yet to be replaced, is also Orthodox. Some non-Orthodox community members allege that the Orthodox members of the board support the religious schools at the expense of the public school system — claims that the Orthodox board denies. But people on both sides agree that anger over the issue is running high.


The article focuses on whether the school board sold the Hillcrest Elementary School building to a yeshiva at a below-market rate. But it looks at this question in light of all the strange, internal pressures building up in the school district.

The writer, Josh Nathan-Kazis, quotes board President Nathan Rothschild, an Orthodox Jew, extensively. Rothschild says a few notable things, including that he sees himself as a representative of the private-school community.

About the non-Orthodox community losing control of the school board, he says “If you don’t get up and vote, then you deserve what you get.”

Nathan-Kazis writes that several people he interviewed are concerned about the possiblity of violence breaking out. He also quotes Antonio Luciano, a retired New York Police Department lieutenant who was defeated in the May school board elections, as saying that students have been reprimanded for blaming East Ramapo’s problems on “the Jews.”

The district is 56% black and 27% Hispanic.

It’s a pretty bleak picture overall.

Rothschild, who has served on the board for 15 years, explains why he is not running again: “You have no idea how demoralizing it is to sit at a meeting and be beat up by everybody. They say things that have parts of truth in it, and maybe more than just parts of truth. It’s a demoralizing thing. I don’t think anybody wants to go through that. I think we’d all love peace.”

He’s still Archbishop Dolan to you

It’s official: Archbishop Dolan will have to wait.

Pope Benedict this morning named 22 new cardinals, including the two Americans who were considered to be favorites: Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, head of the Vatican’s highest court, and Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

Dolan is on the outside looking in because Cardinal Egan is only 78 and is eligible to vote for a pope until he turns 80. The Vatican does not like to have two cardinals from the same diocese voting in a conclave.

Wuerl has been archbishop of D.C. since 2006, but had to wait for his red hat because his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, didn’t turn 80 until July of this year.

Dolan should be a sure thing to see red in the next cardinal class, probably in two or three years.

He’s only 60, so he should have plenty of time to wear his eventual red vestments.

I didn’t see any predictions that Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore, a New Yorker with Westchester roots, would get a red hat. He’s already 71, but his predecessor, retired Cardinal William Keeler, will turn 80 next March.

You would think that O’Brien could have been slipped into this class. But some think that the archbishop of Baltimore may no longer be an automatic cardinal, with the country’s Catholic base redistributing itself, largely to the Southwest.

Anyway, Cardinal Egan released the following statement this morning:


It was with the greatest of pleasure that I learned today that His Excellency, The Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and His Excellency, The Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, are to be raised to the dignity of the Cardinalate by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.  I have known Archbishop Wuerl since his seminary days when I was serving on the faculty of the Pontifical North American College.  He was an outstanding seminarian and has proved to be a most zealous and dedicated priest, Bishop, and Archbishop.  Archbishop Burke I have also known for many years.  When he was doing his doctoral work in Canon Law in Rome, I was a Judge of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota and had many occasions to discuss with him Canon Law and his doctoral dissertation during its preparation.  He is a brilliant canonists and a most devoted Prefect of the Church’s highest tribunal on which I have the honor to serve.  Today I contacted both Archbishop Wuerl and Archbishop Burke to express to each of them my heartfelt congratulations and prayerful best wishes.


The new cardinals will be elevated at a consistory on Nov. 20

Will Dolan see red?

The Catholic blogosphere is buzzing with reports that Pope Benedict will name a new class of cardinals tomorrow morning.

Most folks don’t seem to think that Archbishop Dolan will be among those getting a red hat next month.

Why not?

Cardinal Egan is only 78. He’s eligible to enter a conclave to vote for the next pope until he turns 80. The powers that be may not want two archbishops of NY voting at once.

So Tim may have to wait for the next class.

But we’ll see.

One American, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, head of the Vatican’s highest court, is considered something of a sure thing to become a cardinal.

A second, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C., has a shot. His predecessor, retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, recently turned 80.

Where is God on ‘Mad Men?’

I’m a Mad Men fan and watched the season finale Sunday night with great interest.

I look forward each week to dissecting the show with my mad colleagues at the JN.

But, honestly, it never occurred to me that religion is an afterthought on the show until I read a blog post today by Diane Winston, a religion scholar who holds the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC (not a bad gig).

She starts off:


Religion never registered in this season’s installment of Mad Men. It didn’t need to. The implications of faith, morality and Protestant privilege echoed through the episodes, delineating expectations about work and family, gender roles and even child-rearing. Off-screen in 1965, the Supreme Court Case Griswold v. Connecticut upheld women’s right to contraception, the Rolling Stones spread “Satisfaction” and the Roman Catholic Church absolved present-day Jews for the crucifixion. LBJ declared the Great Society, Vietnam escalated and Watts burned. In each instance religious tropes and taboos that had seemed immutable were summarily overturned.


She’s right on, I think. The show deals largely with the social transition from the ’50s to the ’60s. And part of that transition was the loosening of religious observance in the U.S., across traditions and denominations.

I don’t think a single character on MM attends church — or, at least, mentions it. I have to assume that most are Protestants.

The character Peggy did have an interesting relationship with a Catholic priest during the first few seasons. I couldn’t possibly summarize it here.

Winston notes that Don Draper, the show’s central figure, has had relationships with two Jewish women (among a cast of thousands). She writes:


n 1960, Don Draper never seemed fully comfortable with Rachel Menken, the Jewish department store heiress with whom he had an affair. Seeing her as another “Other,” his uncomfortable kinship climaxed with a surprising proposal that they run away together. But five years later, Faye Miller’s Jewish identity barely rates a mention. When she compliments Don’s handsome punim (Yiddish for “face”), Don barely arches an eyebrow. Could it be that the Herbergian trinity–Protestant, Catholic, Jew—has, ten years after the publication Herberg’s seminal essay, finally taken hold?


The season just ended with Draper, recently divorced, getting engaged to his secretary.

I wonder if they’ll marry in a church.

(AP Photo/Evan Agostini for Chase Sapphire)

Rabbi calls archbishop to apologize for rabbi (even though they all kind of agree)

The repercussions continue from Carl Paladino’s attempted buttering up of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community.

Paladino, of course, appeared with Flatbush’s Rabbi Yehuda Levin to denounce gay marriage and try to build support in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Paladino wound up backtracking a bit — even though he still opposes gay marriage. And Levin pulled his support for the Republican’s candidacy for governor.

Levin, who has worked with evangelicals to oppose gay marriage and abortion, decided to denounce Paladino from outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

As a result…Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, called Archbishop Dolan to apologize.

Levin is not a member of the Orthodox Union.

The Orthodox Union surely opposes gay marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes gay marriage.

But Weinreb didn’t think that it was right for Levin to take his stand outside St. Patty’s.

So there you go.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)