By Joseph Ryan, Assistant editor
STEVENSVILLE, Md. — Just days before the 14th Authors’ Luncheon, St. Martin’s Ministries annual fundraiser, Sister Patricia Gamgort discovered she was stranded at a London airport in need of money to get home.
That was especially upsetting and surprising to Sister Patricia, St. Martin’s executive director, because she actually was in Maryland at the time, with her Benedictine community in Ridgely. It turned out that an Internet scam was sending a phony message about her supposed emergency to the e-mail accounts of people she knew.
After about 50 phone calls in one day from friends concerned for her whereabouts, Sister Patricia recalled a morning prayer, “I look to you to be my strength,” and she weathered the e-mail swindle attempt enough to joke about it at the start of the luncheon on Saturday. “We have much better weather here today than on my trip to London,” she quipped.
Sister Patricia was speaking to about 250 people at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club on Kent Island in Stevensville, Md. The beautiful setting, on the banks of the Chesapeake just south of the Bay Bridge and even closer to Bay Bridge Airport, was the scene before lunch of a silent auction, where attendees could bid on items donated to benefit St. Martin’s, the Ridgely-based operation that serves the poor and homeless on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Jewelry, a wicker furniture set, baseball tickets, wine and even vacations at a hotel in New York, a house on the Outer Banks, or in a penthouse suite in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico were among the offerings.
“Last year I got a beautiful piece of pottery,” said Kathleen Gunther, who attends St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Denton, Md.
In 14 years, the fund-raiser has grown from several thousand dollars raised its first year to amounts in the $50,000 range now, Sister Patricia said.
The authors who spoke Saturday also attended the silent auction, signing the books they donated for sale at the event.
“It’s nice to be selling books for a worthy cause for a change,” said Evan Thomas, who has written for Newsweek for 25 years, teaches journalism at Princeton University and was signing his recent book, “The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearts, the Rush to Empire 1898.”
St. Martin’s Ministries includes St. Martin’s Barn, an outreach center that each year provides more than $55,000 to about 150 families to prevent evictions and power cutoffs and feeds about 3,000 people; and St. Martin’s House, a transitional residence for homeless women and children who work toward self-sufficiency. It has housed more than 600 women and children since 1993.
Another author at Saturday’s luncheon was David O. Stewart, a Washington lawyer who once defended a federal judge in an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. He spoke about his book “Impeached — The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy.” St. Martin’s snagged him for the lunch through his friend Jonathan Sallet, another D.C. lawyer, who is the longtime master of ceremonies for the Authors’ Luncheon.
The annual fundraiser has loyal fans. One visit and “you can’t stop coming,” said Jack Hughes of St. John Neumann Parish in Berlin. “The presentations they make at the lunch are jaw-dropping.”
“It’s also a good cause in support of women,” added his wife, Connie.
One author scheduled for Saturday — NPR commentator Bonny Wolf— had to cancel due to a death in the family. It was another snag in Sister Patricia’s busy week. But a friend of St. Martin’s, Terry Plummer, an oblate of St. Gertrude’s Monastery and a parishioner at St. John the Apostle in Milford, Del., had mentioned to Sister Patricia that her daughter was a writer.
“Do you think your daughter would come?” Sister Patricia asked.
So Terry and Joe Plummer’s daughter, Cecilia Galante, came down from Kinston, Pa., to talk about her young adult novels, including the Oprah Winfrey-endorsed “The Patron Saint of Butterflies.” She also revealed her unexpected connection to the work of St. Martin’s House.
“I was once a needy mother with an infant daughter in a battered women’s shelter,” Galante said. She told those at the lunch that their support of St. Martin’s was “a big deal. You’re making a difference in so many lives. You are (in the words of John Keats) making ‘something beautiful out of the ruins’ and I’m really privileged to be a part of it.”