What I Did on My Day Off

Probably more than you want to know, but it was almost as much fun posting this as it was making the trip.

After having worked over three weeks without a day off, I was wore out, grumpy and in need of some positive diversion. I was thinking small…maybe an afternoon at the lake or something. My wife however, is a big thinker. She called me at work on Sunday afternoon and suggested that I leave the following day for my favorite place to visit….Emmitsburg, MD. Who was I to argue?

South Seton Ave. in front of The National Fire Academy

One of the old buildings at the Academy

We had two funeral services on Monday and shortly after the second service, I was in my F-150 and on my way to MD, stopping for the night in Blacksburg, VA, where they were still stinging from the recent football embarrassment.

I first visited Emmitsburg about thirty-six years ago when my parents took me to visit the son of their friend who was going to college at Mt. St. Mary’s. I could literally write a book about my subsequent love of “The Mount” and the role it has played in my life. My time there was not that of a normal college student. I worked almost full time in the emergency room at Gettysburg Hospital (15 miles away) and was an active member of the Emmitsburg Fire Company and Ambulance. I would have been voted the most obscure person on campus if anyone knew I existed. I hung out with nurses, firefighters and paramedics…not bad company.

Station 6

As I was making my way through VA on Tuesday morning, I called an old friend and invited him to lunch. His name is Jim Kittinger. Jim is a small town undertaker and while I was in college, he was also the captain, (the boss) of the ambulance company. I wanted to be like him when I grew up. (I will note that today s Jim’s 67th birthday). I stopped by and picked him up at the funeral home and then made our way to the Shamrock Inn where we enjoyed crab cakes, fish and chips, crab soup and a beer or two. While we were eating, someone behind me caught Jim’s attention and they had a brief discussion. Jim asked me if I had recognized the elderly man he was speaking to. I did not. To my surprise, it was one of my Philosophy professors from my days at the Mount…George Winnes.

George Winnes from my 1982 yearbook

What a surprise! I went over and we had a brief chat as he was with some guests, but it was great to see one of the men who trained me to think…and occasionally smoke a pipe.

We concluded our lunch and I dropped Jim off at the funeral home and then went on to my next stop, The National Fire Academy and the Fallen Firefighter Memorial.

Fallen Firefighters Memorial

It is both beautiful and sobering.

Capt. Patrick Brown, FDNY, murdered on 9/11

The academy is on the historic grounds of the former St. Joseph’s College, which was an all girls’ school when The Mount was an all boys’ school. I got through security and spent some time at the memorial, reading the names of some of my heroes.

Special memorial to the FDNY 343

Just up the road from NFA is the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born Saint. Sharing the grounds is the Mother House for the Daughters of Charity,

Main Entrance to the Seton Shrine

an order of religious sisters founded by Mother Seton and made somewhat famous by their caring for wounded soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg. The facility, along with its seven miles of hallways, serves as a nursing home for the order and until recently, was an often-used retreat center.

The Basilica at The Seton Shrine

Back in the truck and down the road to “The Mount” and up the Grotto Road

The Grotto

to the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes and “gold finger”

The beautiful mountain shrine is devoted to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year and is the oldest American replica of the Lourdes Shrine in France. The Grotto is marked by the “Pangborn Campanile”.

Pangborn Campanile, glowing in the afternoon sun

This bell tower was dedicated in 1965 as a gift from the Pangborn Foundation of Hagerstown, MD. It is 95 feet tall and is crowned with a 25 foot, gold leafed bronze figure of the Blessed Mother. It’s tolling bells can be heard miles away and the lighted statue can be seen for a great distance at night. When retuning to school from the North, we knew we were getting close to home when we could see “gold finger” reaching out from the mountain.

I refer to these trips as mini retreats and I really do spend a lot of time talking/listening to God when I am at “Mary’s Mountain”. I get very introspective and being Catholic, it would only seem natural for me to go to the sacrament of confession while I was there. You would think it would be easy to find a priest at the 2nd oldest Catholic University and the most traditional seminary in the Country…not at 4:30 in the afternoon it’s not. BUT..I remembered that another of my professors, Fr. Paul Redmond, although long retired, was still “in residence”. I rang him up and he agreed to see me.

Another yearbook photo

He lives in a little development on campus that is reserved for faculty and priests. We sat for about 30 minutes, in his yard, under the clear, Maryland sky and talked of life and our relationships with God. Fr. Paul is in his early 80’s and he is still the character he was way back then. It had been about three years since I last visited him and I am glad I thought to do so. I left with absolution of my sins and a list of books Fr. Paul suggested I read.

It was getting late so I went back to town and checked into the Sleep Inn that I have stayed at dozens of times over the years. It is comical in that after all these years, each time I show up and they look for me in the computer, some bit of information is wrong. This time it was my zip code.

Now, it was off to The Historic Ott House, located on the square in Emmitsburg.

The Historic Ott House, on the square

A favorite of visiting firefighters at the Academy, for as long as I have known Emmitsburg, there has always been The Ott House. Just a few doors down is the Vigilant Hose Co. #6…the Emmitsburg Firehouse and museum. I stuck my head in and much to my surprise; there were three guys there who I had worked with when we were all much younger (1978-1982). Frank Davis, Sam Cool, Cliff Shriner and I spent a few minutes catching up before they had to get to a meeting…and I had to get to Bobby Ott’s crab cakes.

As I get older, I seem to get great joy from simple things that before would not have appealed to me. Eating crab cakes and crab soup…with a glass of Yuengling at The Ott House is one of those joys.

A meal fit for a king

Back to the hotel and early to bed. What a great day!

Up early on Wednesday for the final stops.

There are several people who touch my life while was in Emmitsburg. Most of them were priests who have died and are buried on the mountain. Two other were firefighters who helped train me and who died young due to illness.

Brother Knight and firefighter Dave Copenhaver

I always make a point to visit their graves and pray for their souls. Emmitsburg Cemetery is on the outskirts of town.

Tom Topper was one of the first CRT's (paramedic) in Frederick County

After that visit, it was time to head back to SC…nine hours and back to work and my family.

Thanks honey, that was a great idea.

About Ray V.

Living between Aiken & Nashville, TN, USA, I like to share what I am looking at, thinking about or listening to. I refer to this as the view out my window. Thanks for stopping by.
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11 Responses to What I Did on My Day Off

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  2. Jim Sullivan says:

    Great visit Ray. Thanks for sharing. I hear Stavro’s is now open again, so guess you will have to plan another trip! Best. Jim Sullivan


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  6. Charlie Karl, Mount Class of 1970 says:

    Hi, Thanks for the glimpse of Emmitsburg. I’m recently retired and was thinking of some good books to read. I thought of a favorite from MSM, “The Sot Weed Factor”, that we’d read in one of George Winnes’ classes. It was great and I’m looking forward to reading it again. I had wondered about George W. I’ll try to contact him.


    • Charlie,
      I’m glad you found the article. If you were interested, you can put Mt. St. Mary’s or Emmitsburg in the search box on my blog and you will find dozens of stories, including a few tributes to Fr. Paul Redmond. Thanks for reading….Ray


    • Joe Doherty says:

      Charlie, Did you hear that George Winnes passed away on January 1st? Just heard the news from Pete Benninger. Hope to see you at our 45th reunion this June. Joe


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