For O'Malley, Jesuit Tradition of
'Man for Others' Guides Political Values|
By David J. Silverman
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006
BALTIMORE - Before entering the 1999 Baltimore mayor's race that he
ultimately won, Martin O'Malley admits he was tempted more than
once to jettison his career in public life.
He recalled thinking that a white, relatively obscure member
of the Baltimore City Council would have little chance of
winning in a predominantly African-American city. Besides, he
had inherited his friend's law practice and felt pressure to
resurrect his career as a lawyer, not least of all to pay the
mortgage and provide for his growing family.
"I had done my best in eight years of public service; it was
time to start building my castle," he told students in a 2002
commencement address at his Catholic alma mater, Gonzaga College
High School in Washington, D.C., a school which aims to instill
in its students the Jesuit tradition of public service.
But there was just one problem with giving up public life,
O'Malley concluded. "I had gone to Gonzaga."
The 43-year-old mayor says that a value system based on his
Catholic faith and honed by a Jesuit education at Gonzaga has
been at the heart of his political career. He says he learned
not merely to have faith in God and in his own ability to help
others, but to act on his principles and risk failure.
Now, after seven years as mayor of Baltimore, where he set
out to tackle notoriously high crime rates and a crumbling
public school system, O'Malley has trained his eyes on Annapolis
and decided to take on incumbent Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich.
Those who know him say it is no secret that if successful in
his run for governor, O'Malley perhaps sees even higher office in
his future. And whether he is propelled by mere political
ambition or the Jesuit credo of service to others, O'Malley
wears his faith on his sleeve and makes no secret of his deep
He attends church every Sunday and, before the gubernatorial
campaign crowded his schedule, he often went during the week to
St. Francis of Assisi church, not far from his home in Northeast
He says he prays both inside and outside of church, including
every morning when he wakes up.
His four children, Grace, Tara,
Jack and William, all attend Catholic school.
In a recent interview, O'Malley says he believes religious
values are essential to making his children good people. "What
are we if we can't raise good children?" he asks.
The template, O'Malley says, is the upbringing his parents
gave him, growing up the third of six children in a Bethesda
home within walking distance from Our Lady of Lourdes, where he
attended Catholic school until eighth grade. (His family would
later move to Rockville.)
'They were an Irish family that had really good, solid and
hardworking values," said Jane Brockman, a former neighbor whose
daughter attended Our Lady of Lourdes with O'Malley. "They were
very effervescent and moving, always on the go."
O'Malley's mother, Barbara, who works as an aide to Sen.
Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she and her late husband, Thomas,
raised the kids the same way other parents at Our Lady of
Lourdes raised theirs.
"We taught them the differences between good and evil, to
have discipline and self-discipline, to be honest and to help
others," she said. "It's kind of basic, but it seems like it's
gone by the board these days with a lot of families."
At school, where he was elected president of the student
government, O'Malley went to mass daily and took theology
Brockman said that the nuns and teachers at Our Lady of
Lourdes, aside from committing their students to public service
and faith, encouraged children to speak out about what they
believed in. "They were challenged and taught to think on their
feet, and I think you still see that in Martin," she said.
Daniel M. Kerns Jr., O'Malley's eighth grade teacher,
recalls that O'Malley was a class leader even in middle school,
gregarious and "very comfortable" in taking a prominent role in
The young O'Malley, Kerns said, was not afraid to take
positions that ran contrary to what might have been the
Indeed, in his present political life, O'Malley has not
hesitated to take positions that run contrary to Catholic
doctrine. He is pro-choice on abortion; he supports embryonic
stem cell research, and he has vowed to uphold the state's laws
on the death penalty.
Hari Sevugan, O'Malley's campaign spokesman, said the mayor's
faith informs his positions, but does not dictate them.
"He realizes that he's going to be a governor for all of
Maryland," Sevugan said. "As governor, he's supposed to enforce
the law, and he takes that obligation very seriously."
Well-versed in scripture, O'Malley readily invokes God and
his Catholic faith on the stump. He said the scene from the New
Testament where Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles has always
had a profound impact on him.
"Service to others is something noble and spiritually
fulfilling," O'Malley says. "That's what drove me into a career
in public service. I'm sure not doing it for the money."
Gonzaga, from which he graduated in 1981, put O'Malley in an
urban setting that exposed him to homelessness and economic
depredation. The school, O'Malley said, not only instituted a
rigorous Jesuit academic culture, but tried to produce "men for
"I remember coming in from the suburbs and seeing the blight
as we filed by lines of homeless people," O'Malley recalls. But
it was in that environment where he says he learned from one of
his mentors, the late Rev. Horace B. McKenna, what public
service was all about.
McKenna, who served as a priest at a Gonzaga-affiliated
church and founded a center for the needy in its basement,
worked tirelessly to "give aid and comfort to the area's
homeless," O'Malley said. If they had drug problems, he would
"challenge them to take control of their lives" by stamping out
But it wasn't from second-hand experience that Gonzaga
wanted its young men to learn to become good people. The school
pushed students to reach out to the local community.
O'Malley enrolled in a seminar that split time between
discussing issues of social justice inside the classroom and
tutoring inner-city children outside of it.
Even today, many see in his approach to public policy the
fruits of his Jesuit education.
"One of their mottos is to be a person for others, and I
think he really does believe that," said Rev. Msgr. William F.
Burke, pastor at O'Malley's Baltimore church. "He's totally
committed to his work and the demands of his office, and he
believes he's there to serve others."
This spirituality, in part, may have played a key role in
attracting a vital supporter early in that 1999 mayor's race.
That was the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, a prominent Baltimore
clergyman, community activist and pastor of Bethel AME Church,
an historic church in West Baltimore with one of the city's
largest black congregations.
Reid, whose 1999 endorsement of O'Malley gave the candidate
instant credibility in the black community, says he was drawn to
the mayor's spirituality as well as his desire to reach across
racial and economic lines.
The two have remained close, Reid says, and often commiserate
in time of adversity and tragedy, such as during the death
of a police officer.
"Mayor O'Malley takes his faith seriously, and it plays a part
in his everyday life and in his decision making," Reid says.
Acknowledged even by many of his critics as a gifted orator,
O'Malley has a polished and affable style that exudes
He tends to address audiences in measured tones and
routinely reaches into a bag of quotes from the likes of John F.
Kennedy. His message is invariably an ecumenical one, calling
for unity and the expansion of services and opportunity to all
O'Malley has an innate "spiritual ability" to
connect with people of all stripes and "make them feel how he
feels on a given issue," Reid says. That rare skill, he said,
cannot be faked and "comes from a sincerity deep down within
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