Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Back from an amaaaaaazing trip to DC and Annapolis!

I recently returned from a wonderful 4-day adventure back east! 

The incredible powerhouse known as Kimberly Begg, a Bubble reader, wife, and mother of five littles -- oh, and Vice President & General Counsel of Young America's Foundation (YAF) -- asked me to be a speaker at a weekend conference for Catholic university students that began last Friday. The conference was held at their beautiful new headquarters in Reston, VA, just outside of Washington.

So, for the first time in 27 years, I was back in DC, one of my favorite places on earth, and where I met my husband. In fact, the last time I was there, Dean and I were students on our Washington Semester Program at American University, and we had just begun to date. He was a Jewish agnostic, pro-"choice" Democrat (and working for Democrats) at the time. But that's another story for another day. ;)

The night that my sister and I arrived, we were able to meet my daughter and her husband and baby son for dinner! They just happened to be in DC at the same time, and it was beyond amazing to see them! My grandson is huge and beautiful and perfect. What a joy to be with them, even for just a few hours!

The morning of my talk on Friday, I had the absolute thrill and privilege of meeting some of the awesome Catholic bloggers and Bubble readers in the area (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia). Two of them, Karey and Annie, I had met previously when they visited Arizona, but I was meeting the others -- Abigail, Sarah, Stephanie, and Corrie, for the first time! What a fun morning!! Made all the more fun by the fact that several of them brought their children along! That restaurant was teeming with life and laughter and spiritual friendship. We are sisters in Christ, which forges an instant and eternal bond.

Stephanie, Sarah, Corrie, Leila, Abigail, Karey, and Annie (with her darling little Joseph!)

I know I missed some of you in the area, but next time we'll work it out so we can have an even bigger party!

Just a few hours later it was off to meet Kimberly and give my talk. It was so amazing! I just love YAF, and I am blown away by the work they do, especially on the cultural wasteland that is most American campuses today. 

Here I am fielding questions after my talk, which was entitled, "Staying conservative on a Catholic campus". Unfortunately, most Catholic universities in America today send out the message (or I could say, the lie) that to be a good Catholic one must embrace the ideals of secular leftism. I was there to disabuse them of this notion, and to make sure they were armed with and encouraged by the truth of our popes, the Magisterium, and the Catechism

Here's to strong, faithful leaders on our Catholic campuses!

Thankfully, while I was way across the country, Matthew was having fun with Granny, eating at Arby's! Doesn't seem to be missing me too much here.... Hmmm....

Anyway, when I was originally asked to speak at YAF, my sister and I decided to make it a "sister trip", so that we could also go and see her son Grant (my nephew) at the US Naval Academy. I was thrilled, as I had never been there before. We left for Annapolis on Saturday morning, and I snapped this photo of a highway sign on the way, because I was born in Bethesda and my husband was born in Baltimore. Isn't that cool? Even though neither of us lived in Maryland for very long, I just think it's really neat that we both were born in "the land of Mary", a state with distinctly Catholic origins. 

Don't worry, my sister was driving as I snapped the pic!

And then we arrived in the charming, historic, beautiful town of Annapolis, and made our way to the US Naval Academy!

With my nephew Grant and sister Pauline

I don't even know what to say about the Naval Academy except that I am obsessed. I just loved it beyond anything I could have imagined, and I want to go back as soon as possible. These incredible young men and women really make me so proud to be an American and a patriot, and I was completely blown away by the history, strength, and dignity of this august institution -- the sense of connectedness, tradition, and transcendence was palpable. 

My nephew led us around the Yard (as the campus is called), and one of the first places we stopped was a small Catholic chapel tucked away in the Rotunda in Bancroft Hall. This chapel is home to daily Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the rosary, and a relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose son was a midshipman before the actual Academy was built. A young man whom I have  known since he was a boy, Simon Whitfield, joined us there. Our families are dear friends in the Catholic community here in Phoenix, and I was happy to make sure his mom and dad (himself a Naval Academy grad) got some pictures of their boy!

Midshipman Simon Whitfield and Midshipman Grant Zaro

I could not be prouder of these two young Catholic midshipmen who are so dedicated and accomplished, now serving their country. We are in good hands, folks! Please pray for these future leaders!

That was a tiny chapel, but the main chapel (i.e., huge church!) on the Yard, shared by Protestants and Catholics, is the centerpiece of the Naval Academy grounds, as it should be. The Academy was founded in 1845, when faith was understood to be essential in keeping our servicemen strong and virtuous, building men of true character. Despite those today who would love to deny the nation's religious roots and patrimony, I have found that love of God still exists at Annapolis, and I am grateful for the chaplains who take such good care of the souls in their charge. 

Sunday mass in the chapel was stunning, reverent, sublime. We met and sat with my cousin's son, Brian (another strong, faithful Catholic midshipman), and my nephew served the altar that day. 

My nephew and godson. So proud of him!

The midshipmen in the Catholic choir sung behind us in the gorgeous choir loft and sounded like angels. The accompanying organ was at one time the biggest church organ in the nation, and it was powerful! The incredible priest who celebrated the mass is a Franciscan University graduate who gave a rock-solid homily. There is something so admirable about a man who dedicates his whole life and being to both God and his country.

My most treasured moment on the Yard was when I was walking alone on the brick pathways at dusk, in the misty haze after a rain, crunching on the fall leaves in the surrounding silence. I was coming back from the museum at the other end of the grounds, feeling like I was in a fairy tale of ethereal beauty, looking at the colorful trees, watching the occasional crisp, uniformed midshipman walk by in the semi-darkness as I moved past the main chapel, past the gazebo, and toward Bancroft Hall. 

Suddenly, I realized that I had stumbled upon colors (when the midshipmen take down the flags at sunset). The timing could not have been more perfect! With only about four others nearby, I watched quietly as the colors came down -- and I took a brief video before my camera space ran out. I watched the rest, blessedly, with no camera in the way. 

Note that the bugle is playing and then is joined in by the church bells pealing across the Yard. Seriously a divine moment for me. Stunning, stunning. The video cannot begin to do it justice, but here you go:

Like I said, I am obsessed. I just love it all. I can't wait to be back someday. God bless our military men and women. 

And now for your day-brightener, watch this video made just a week or two ago -- for $0 -- by midshipmen at the Academy. It's gone viral, and for good reason! So much fun! Enjoy!

And for a moving Veterans Day tribute made by the same young midshipman filmmaker, go here

God bless all our Veterans! God bless America!


  1. Wow Leila! What a great trip filled with family, friends, and great memories! I love the Maryland highway sign significance! Very cool indeed! I could feel your joy and enthusiasm of your trip through your post! You are blessed! Thanks for sharing and I'm sure your talk was awesome!!!

  2. I'm less than a half hour from Reston - would have loved to meet you! Glad you enjoyed your time in the DC area!

  3. Tracy, thank you!

    Beth B, darn! I will be back and we need to meet! :)

  4. So happy to see you! Come back soon!

  5. Leila-I'm so jealous. Being there is like being in another world. One can tell God is present, even in this secular institution. Its incredibly peaceful and gives an incredible ray of hope to all who take the time to take it in. So proud my son Brian and my cousin's son Grant (your nephew) decided to dedicate their lives to serving God and country. Non sibi sed patriae. (Navy's unofficial motto) Si Non Nos, Ergo Qui? (Class Of 2017 motto) God Bless them all. Thank you for this lovely painting from your weekend. Love ya cousin....

    1. Thank you dear cousin, Theresa! I love you, too! (Guys, this is my late, beloved cousin Michelle's older sister.)

      Now I have to ask Cecily what the Latin means! ;)

  6. That chapel-- holy fire. How reverent. Those grounds at the Academy are pretty incredible. We got the Navy, Air Force, and Marines covered in our family, here. Studliness. So I share your enthusiasm and gratitude for our service men and women.

    And your Matthew is too cute. Curly fries! Yaaas, please!

    Sounds like you gave a good talk. What was the main feedback they gave you regarding an overall attitude toward Catholics/Catholic beliefs on campus?

    Nice pics!

  7. Nubby, that is awesome that you've got the studlies in your family, too! Whoot!!

    As for the feedback, we didn't get a chance to do much chatting, since I took off right after my talk (yes, I even missed out on Raymond Arroyo's talk and some other great Catholic minds!), but they were clearly facing hostility on the campuses, because you know, conservatives are so "mean" and bigoted" and all. Unfortunately for those academics and students on Catholic campuses who insist that one must be a left-winger to be a good Catholic, nothing in the Catechism or teaching of the Magisterium backs up that assertion. I think folks are surprised to hear about the non-negotiables for Catholics when we act in the public square, the Catholic principle of subsidiarity ("which cannot be set aside or changed", according to Pope Pius XI), and the truth about following one's (formed) conscience.

    I hope to do some more work with students in the future and get more time to talk one-on-one.

    Oh, curly fries for sure, but also POTATO CAKES and ummmmm, ARBY'S SANDWICHES!!!! We took our midshipman, Grant, for Arby's on the trip. He was a happy man, and so was his Aunt Leila.

  8. I live in Annapolis and have been to the Naval Academy!! It really is a beautiful place. So glad you had a great visit! :-)


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