I confirmed tonight that the Bienville Club in downtown Mobile is preparing to close and take with it, a piece of contemporary Mobile history.
Since it opened in 1967, it was THE site for power lunches, featuring downtown business leaders. On the rare occasions I went there (always as the guest of a member), there were never any checks presented, just a receipt that the member signed. The late TV General Manager C.P. Persons had a favorite lunch of boiled, peeled shrimp, and the waiter knew that. It was a good choice.
The view was, and is, spectacular. Diners could look south down the Mobile River, north for miles and east to the USS Alabama and beyond. It was the closest you could get to heaven in Mobile, until the new RSA Tower was completed.
Another HiQ academic season is over with Davidson High School victorious. Click here to see the championship match, thanks to the Mobile County Public School system.
I told the audience who attended the championship at the Renaissance Riverview Plaza that I enjoy being in the company of those who strive to excel, and all the students who compete in HiQ certainly qualify.
I also appreciated the fact that Mobile County’s superintendent, Martha Peek took the time at the end of her day to come to the match, and so did the principals of all 3 schools who competed, Baker, Davidson and McGill-Toolen Catholic.
This was my 25th year asking the questions and over that time, I’ve noticed a distinction between those schools that succeed in HiQ and those who don’t.
All the schools who do well generally fill the auditorium or gym where we have the matches. Some even invite middle school students to try to recruit prospects. Those schools that traditionally do poorly usually only invite a few students to attend or even in some cases, do not allow any students to witness the matches. It’s hard for the students and for me to get pumped up about a competition that takes place in an empty auditorium. (For the record, I have never had a problem with crowd control. One focused stare toward noisy students is usually all it takes!)
A major reason for the competition is to recognize gifted students as role models.
Here’s my question. What does it say to students when you fill the auditorium for football signing day, but show no support for academic achievement?
To me, the answer is a sad one.
Some things stick with you.
- I learned President Kennedy had been shot when I was leaving class in elementary school.
- I found out Pope John Paul I died while I was living in an apartment on Dauphin Street.
- The news of Pope John Paul II’s death reached me as I got off an airplane in Madrid.
I will always remember I heard about Pope Benedict’s resignation the first thing on a Monday morning.
Granted, this Pope is 85 years old, having been elected Pope at an age that most people are enjoying their retirement. Lately, when approaching the altar at St. Peter’s Basilica, he used a moving platform rather than walk the 100 yards down the center aisle. Late last year, people who spent time with the pontiff said they found him weak and too tired to engage with what they were saying.
But his predecessor, John Paul II, suffered from trembling hands and slurred speech, an inability to walk or hold his head up, and other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease for years and still held the job until he died at the age of 84.
Perhaps this Pope realized he didn’t want his pontificate to end like that. Perhaps there is some underlying personal, medical reason for which we may never know.
Maybe the last two Popes represent different faces of humility. Pope John Paul II, despite displaying symptoms that would have given a lesser person reason to withdraw from public life, purposely used his appearance to show respect for life until the moment of natural death. Pope Benedict, knowing he could have occupied the position for life, in humility chose to renounce the papal throne, to open the way for someone else. As he put it:
… in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
Thanks to a Twitter friend, I read a new version of what happened during the successful rescue of 5 year old Ethan in Midland City this week. The story highlighted the work the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, known as HRT. They train to go into, what appear to be impossible situations, and rescue the innocent while, in FBI terms, stopping the threat.
I had my own experience with the Team during a visit to Quantico, Virginia with FBI sniper Charlie Spaht. I was in the Washington area with Charlie to do some stories about FBI training. While Charlie was visiting his favorite gunsmith at Quantico, he asked me to wait for him outside the HRT headquarters, which was just a short walk from where we were.
I strolled there, enjoying the view when, out of nowhere, a voice boomed out, “LEAVE THIS AREA”.
I addressed what sounded like the Voice of God telling Him I had clearance and was asked to meet another agent there, when I heard:
“LEAVE THIS AREA”.
I told Charlie about this later and he just laughed and said, “They mean business”.
It’s clear from what happened in Midland City, they know their business, too.
On my way back home from downtown Mobile this afternoon, I decided to take a closer look at some of the damage caused by the Christmas EF-2 tornado. I put my iPhone5 into a suction-mount on the windshield, and took a very short drive on South Carlen to Dauphin to North Carlen to Old Shell and back to Dauphin. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive look at all the damage caused, just a taste of it.
I’m still amazed by the power of nature. Some homes were fine while others look like they were destroyed by dynamite. Click on the link to watch the video…
Whenever I saw a tall, thin guy today I thought I had spotted one of my college roommates, Paul. I met him on the first day of freshman orientation when all of us were enjoying, if not independence, then our first taste of living away from home. I was immediately impressed by his integrity, outgoing nature and sense of humor.
He became one of the brothers I never had.
Paul was one of my groomsmen and we always stayed in contact through the years. Later, he and his wife Laurie traveled to Mobile for the wedding of one of our daughters. We have been friends for decades.
It was no surprise then that he was on my mind, since I had just attended his funeral.
During the Christmas tornado in Mobile, I was already on my way to New Hampshire to attend Paul’s wake and funeral Mass which was celebrated by another of our college roommates, Father Bill.
Celebration is the proper term and it was especially appropriate in Paul’s case,. While his widow, daughters, son, Paul’s father and the rest of us grieved our loss, there was also plenty to celebrate. Paul had been married for 34 years. He had seven brothers and sisters. He loved the outdoors, having been an avid cyclist and cross country skier. Just months before his diagnosis, he participated in the world’s largest two-day rowing event called the Head of the Charles’ Regatta with a group of men appropriately named, The Good Guys. Oars occupied a place of honor at his wake.
After Paul learned he had cancer, he was expected to live 3 months; he lived for 11 months. The extra time gave him the chance to enjoy the love of his family and friends and especially his granddaughter, Molly.
The homily during his funeral Mass highlighted hope, a belief that buoyed Paul, his family and friends during the ups and downs of his illness.
Father Bill’s meditation read in part,
Optimism is the feeling that everything will work out for the best. Hope is something more. Hope is the desire that everything will work out for the best and the expectation that it will. Hope requires a plan; hope requires a story that explains why we should be optimistic. Hope is much more than a feeling. Hope is a virtue.
Paul Junior delivered a wonderful tribute to his father, who worked in manufacturing and had a lifelong habit of sending postcards. He concluded with what he expected his father would be writing now.
Quite the Christmas celebration here. Lots of lights. Visited with my mother and Aunt Alice today, lots of family still to see.
Beautiful day here. The roads are smooth for riding, there is fresh snow on the skiing trails, and the river is always calm.
Meeting with the EPA today regarding the gilding process for halos. Fun!
Study. Be good. Drive safe. Behave yourselves. Do good for other people. Balance work, life, family, and fun. I miss you.
As we reported this week, Robert Nouwen, a deacon assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Mobile, pleaded guilty in Mobile Federal Court to child pornography charges. Court documents claim that on 7 occasions between January 17, 2011 and April 26, 2011, he ordered child pornography from a company based in Toronto. Nouwen now faces up to 10 years in prison and must register as a sex offender.
To learn more about the response of the Archdiocese of Mobile to the admission, I turned to Rev. James Cink, the pastor of St. Dominic Church and the Director of Child Protection for the Archdiocese. Here are my questions and his responses:
- Did he have contact with children at St. Vincent’s (either the school or the parish)?
- Bob Nouwen served at Mass but had no involvement with children or the school.
- Did his interest in child sexual matters extend beyond ordering videos from Canada?
- The investigation was conducted by federal authorities, through the US Postal Service and prosecuted by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama Southern Division. I believe you received their press release yesterday. I have no other information than what was released by that office.
- Had there been any complaints about him, prior to the videos?
- There have been no complaints regarding Bob Nouwen.
- When did the parish and/or Archdiocese learn of his involvement with child pornography? What action was taken then? Police tell me they knew nothing about the case.
- We learned of Nouwen’s involvement once the US Postal service obtained a search warrant. On the day of the execution of the warrant [according to court documents, the search warrant was executed on September 19, 2012] Nouwen was placed on Administrative leave, which means that he was prohibited from all ministry. Since the Federal Authorities were conducting the investigation, I do not believe that it was my responsibility to notify other law enforcement offices of a federal investigation, least my actions be seen as interference in an official investigation. The local District Attorney was notified before we approached the affected parish community.
- Have the parents at St. Vincent been notified about the reason for his retirement/resignation?
- Yes on Monday December 17 a meeting of parishioners and parents of children within our school was held at the parish. Notification of that meeting was announced at all the weekend Masses on December 15 & 16.
- How did he manage to make it through the child protection training? Is the process being re-examined now?
- Before Nouwen pleaded guilty to the possession of Child Pornography, he had no criminal record. Nouwen was cleared by both FBI and ABI background checks.
It’s hard for me to understand how today’s school shooting happened in my homestate of Connecticut.
Newtown is a nice, little town about 40 miles from where I grew up. It’s the kind of place where people live their entire lives, or move there to escape crime in the big cities.
Today, crime came to Newtown.
Outside of its big cities like Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and where I grew up in New Britain, most of Connecticut is like Newtown. The state is dotted with small, rural towns, run by Town Councils, where homes are protected by volunteer firefighters. In general, folks are neither poor nor rich. They live in moderately-priced homes (for Connecticut standards) and lead quiet lives.
Violent crime simply doesn’t happen in places like Newtown. That all changed today.
Back on Election Day, I told you about the problem I had when I went to vote..
I’m just glad I didn’t need my voter registration card, which arrived in the mail on Friday, November 16.
Now, I can’t blame the Postal Service for late delivery, because the postage wasn’t printed on the card until November 15. Take a look for yourself…