Before the age of Catholic magazines as I have known them for 40 years vanishes altogether into a blizzard of bells and digits, and Catholic periodicals assume their future form as shining holograms arising not unlike angels from your computer screen, let us remember and celebrate some of the sweet wild insane moments of the past, writes Brian Doyle.
Let us remember so that our children’s children will know that once there were small giants like Robert Burns of U.S. Catholic magazine, whose suit was always gray and whose face always a shining rosy colour especially when he lost his temper, and Peggy Steinfels of Commonweal magazine, who looked cherubic and warm but who was eight times more acerbic than any nine bishops.
And the Reverend George Hunt of America magazine, whose opening essay was so lyrical and funny and eloquent that I knew a man who subscribed to America only for George’s essay, which he cut from the magazine with a steak knife, sliding the rest of the issue into his parakeet’s cage, where he said Jesuit philosophy would for once for God’s sake be useful.
And there was Father Louis Miller of Liguori magazine, a brief cheerful energetic soul whose secret dream, I think, was that his beloved Redemptorist order would convert all of Latin America and then move slowly and surely north to reclaim the Lutheran enclaves of the upper Midwest; and there was Father John Reedy of Ave Maria magazine, who sailed across the campus of Notre Dame accompanied by a black dog the size of a municipality, on which, no kidding, you could have easily placed five small children with room to spare.
And there were the harried editors of Franciscan and Maryknoll and Dominican and Paulist and Marianist periodicals, whom I met occasionally at conferences; I could never remember their names, as they seemed silent and bedraggled, and had been sent to the conferences, which were always held in rooms painted orange, to recruit advertising which they knew would never come their way; and so they went home after the conferences on long, silent buses, clutching their melancholy satchels.
I made a point of watching them board the buses, the poor creatures, always in a gentle rain, or a graying snow, if we were north of Kentucky.
Then there were the editors of diocesan newspapers, another harried and slender bunch; they were always hungry, and would attack the breakfast buffet with grim intent, storing away muffins in their satchels, and drinking so much orange juice their skin grew brighter as the conferences went on.
It seemed to me they were not paid by their bishops in money so much as in promises or prayers, and the magazine editors generally would quietly take up a collection for them, or sometimes arrange for a second spread of muffins – an act of kindness I never forgot, and have often remembered as a specific example of the gospels in action in our lives today.
Finally there were the editors of newsletters, and these were men and women so nearly transparent as to be veritable wraiths and hallucinations; if by rare chance there was a brief burst of sunlight at a conference center, the newsletter editors would very nearly vanish, and only the glint of their free pens and coffee cups would give away their presence in the meeting room.
Nothing could be done for the newsletter editors, who well knew that not a single soul ever read any of their issues, not one; but it was cheering to visit their sample tables, and paw through their shining eight-page productions, and see them weep silently in joy at having been briefly apprehended.
As my career as a Catholic journalist went on, I made more and more of an effort to visit the newsletter editors’ sample tables, initially just to hear their gentle twittering, not unlike the fowls of the air, but later in something like empathy; an editor’s worst fear – indeed such a dark fear that we do not often voice it aloud – is that no one will read or even skim that which you have so assiduously labored upon, argued with the publisher about, and poured your heart into.
There is so much work unwitnessed in the world at large, that to fail to witness just the small sea of Catholic journalism in my time would have been a sin, however small; but I tried to see it, and now you have too. Bless you for that.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon, USA. His most recent book os Grace Notes, a collection of spiritual essays.