The story told after the last great mob riots in Washington was that Gino Barone had the single white face that could walk unscathed through the arsonists and looters. The occasion for the riot was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Patrick Aloysius O’Boyle had brought Gino down from Scranton, PA; the hometown for both. Patricio Luigi O’Boyle, as the Vatican renamed him, was a cardinal; I went with him to Rome, to pick up his red hat.
Before his death, the cardinal-archbishop of Washington managed to snag Gino a monsignor’s fuschia trim for his biretta and cassock. I never saw him wear the colors he donned only for ecclesiastical ceremonies. He usually appeared with rumpled coat, jacket with Roman collar that should have been thrown away, and sweating-up a storm. I can’t remember now when we first met; probably through the cardinal.
But since I was in television news at the time, he was always under the media’s feet; looking for space and time not for himself, but for causes that finally did his great heart in. The sweat was a natural result of his overweight; he was still in middle-age an Italian doughboy. Gino loved to eat.
While still a priest, before the promotion, the Reverend Barone organized an ethnic center at Catholic University; you could wonder why they never had one before. Italians, Poles, Slavs and Germans had been the church’s most devoted and faithful members; lighting candles, bulging the collection plates and crowding the confessionals long after Irish numbers dwindled in city churches.
When asked why their absence from his mix, Gino replied along the line: The Irish all moved to the suburbs, become doctors or lawyers, and they’re Republicans now.
When Barbara Mikulski campaigned for wannabe governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the senator’s aide said his boss had given the same explanation, learned from Gino. On that trip to Frederick, Maryland’s senior member of the U.S. Senate said she didn’t know me. Maybe the beard? I wore none in Washington.
In fact, Gino introduced the brand new Baltimore councilwoman to me, at the same ethnic conference. That was a considerable time before I moved to North Market Street, several blocks away from Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias, whom I admired from my times on Capitol Hill. His decision to bow-out opened wide the door for then-U.S. Representative Mikulski, who rode her native Baltimore ethnicity into his seat.
Like most people, I pay the carryings-on in Congress scant attention. The only times I’ve caught her act on television, she has not been particularly happy. On the other hand, there’s little going-on to be happy about for any politician, Republican or Democrat; they’re wounding each other for various noble reasons, according to their supporters and the media.
My old friend is literally above the fray. Gino received his heavenly wings four years after I moved to Frederick. I went down for Cardinal O’Boyle’s funeral; the Scranton man he brought to Washington wasn’t there.
However, Msgr. Gino Barone lives still in memory as one of the most selfless and humble human beings I’ve bumped into on this road of life.
Gino, the world misses you.