There were whispers in the room that they were nuns, but in actuality they were approximately 20 congregants of the Sacred Heart Parish of Glyndon who jokingly call themselves “the Coffee ‘N’ Jesus Club.” They call themselves that because these women, nearly all in thick, cable-knit sweaters, attend morning mass every day and top it off with an hour of meditation and a visit to the McDonald’s in Reisterstown for a cup of Joe (with a 69-cent senior discount).
But last Tuesday morning, Dec. 14, the ladies found themselves in a fortuitous situation — they happened to be visiting the Jewish Museum of Maryland in East Baltimore to check out “A Blessing To One Another: Pope John Paul II And The Jewish People” at the same time that the traveling exhibition’s benefactors and curators held a special tribute to Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore’s archbishop from 1989-2007 and a leader in Catholic-Jewish relations.
Beaming and visibly moved, the women watched proudly as JMM executive director Avi Y. Decter and two of the exhibition’s curators — Rabbi Abie I. Ingber of Xavier University in Cincinnati and Dr. William Madges of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia — honored the 79-year-old cardinal.
“We were supposed to come here three other times, but it always fell through,” said Sacred Heart member Vickie Laubner. “This was not a coincidence but a consequence.” Added her fellow parishoner, Jeanne O’Connor: “He’s a very, very special man. We’ve all been blessed by him. In the Catholic community, his relationship with the Jewish community has been publicized a lot.”
Looking well, albeit using a wooden cane, Cardinal Keeler enjoyed muffins and coffee with Mr. Decter, Rabbi Ingber, Dr. Madges and Dr. Barry Lever, the museum’s special projects consultant, before touring the landmark multimedia exhibition on the late pontiff, which opened last September and concludes its JMM run on Jan 1.
At a brief press conference in the Samson, Rossetta and Sadie B. Feldman Gallery, Cardinal Keeler, who is the former moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was praised for his participation and influence on the “Blessing” exhibition. The cardinal served on the advisory board of the exhibition, which was originally developed by Xavier University in partnership with the Hillel Center of Cincinnati and the Shtetl Foundation.
(Among the exhibition’s local supporters are McCormick & Co., Simone and Ralph Brunn and Family, the Marion I. and Henry J. Knott Foundation, Von Paris Moving and Storage, and Hale Trailer Brake & Wheel Inc. Media sponsors are the Catholic Review and the Baltimore Jewish Times.)
“This has been a real privilege for the Jewish and Catholic communities, to celebrate a renewal of our relations,” said Mr. Decter, noting that more than 500,000 people have viewed “Blessing” around the country since its 2005 opening and that Cardinal Keeler helped “inspire” the exhibition. “This exhibition is a part of the bridge-building between the Jewish community and the Catholic community. We see this as an opportunity to intensify and deepen the relationship between the communities.”
Dr. Madges read a citation to the cardinal, praising him for “support and encouragement” that “opened the doors to create the exhibition. … Through words and actions, Cardinal Keeler gave powerful witness that Jews and Catholics can be a blessing to one another.”
Noting that he is a child of Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Ingber gave the cardinal a bronze medallion engraved with the papal crest of Pope John Paul II on one side and a relief image of the pontiff with the exhibition’s name of the other side.
“I have been fortunate to have this relationship that changed my life,” he said. “John Paul, for me and Bill and [fellow curator Dr.] James Buchanan, was a master bridge-builder. In celebration of your lifetime of work and love and affection of this exhibition, we give you this special bronze medallion.”
Cardinal Keeler kept his remarks concise but said, to lights, cameras and the gazes of onlookers, “The words I speak now come from the heart. I thank you, Rabbi Ingber, for the presentation and Bill for the citation. Thank all of you for coming. Peace and shalom, shalom.”
Exiting the gallery, the cardinal noted that this was his third viewing of “Blessing.”
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s all very good.”