Being part of something new is a great adventure. Catholic New York was something new, and it has been one of the great adventures of my life. It has shaped and directed my life more than I could have imagined, in ways that have brought me joy and fulfillment, difficulties and dismay—and deep, abiding gratitude.
Catholic New York was a formidable undertaking: A diocesan newspaper with the mission to cover Catholic life—prayer and work, education and service, celebration and play—in the 10 counties that make up the Archdiocese of New York. The newspaper was founded by Cardinal Terence Cooke, and I recall a gathering of the editors and staff at which the cardinal welcomed us. He was gracious, sincere and joyful, and it was obvious the newspaper and staff had his strong support.
I had already been working in the Catholic press as editor of Catholic Near East magazine (now One magazine), published by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Moving to Catholic New York was a big change, and in some ways a baptism by fire. At the magazine I was the sole member of the editorial staff; when I went to Catholic New York, I traded my quiet office at the end of the hall for the noise and bustle of a newsroom. We worked on typewriters then—and for me it was strange and distracting to be seated in a large room, only a few feet away from my colleagues, with the clatter of typewriter keys filling the air.
Directly in front of my desk was a window with a view of a brick wall. This was a bonus, even if I didn’t think so at the time. Years later I read a quotation from the novelist and playwright Edna Ferber, who said that the best view for a writer was “the blank brick wall of a cold-storage warehouse.” The lack of an appealing view apparently made me concentrate more closely on whatever story I was writing. Which was a good thing, because the magazine I had edited was published quarterly, while the paper, in those days, came out weekly. The deadline pressure was exponentially greater. But I had applied to Catholic New York because I wanted to do more writing, and it was exciting to cover events and see my stories in the paper within a few days.
Life took me away from Catholic New York when I moved out of state a couple of years later. But I came back, first to New York and eventually to the newspaper that would play so great a role in shaping my life and my career.
My column is too small to hold my memories; only my heart can do that. Here are a few: The kindness of our editors, Jerry Costello and Anne Buckley—now deceased but remembered with gratitude—when I returned to the paper in 1990; covering the elevation of Archbishop Edward Egan to the College of Cardinals at the Vatican; walking into Central Park in the dawn light for the Mass celebrated by Pope St. John Paul II; the joy of covering the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass and Parade in Manhattan for many years.
Also: So many interviews with the people of the archdiocese whose words revealed their faith and goodness: dedicated men about to be ordained to the priesthood; a policeman who became a Jeopardy champion and donated part of his winnings to Mother Teresa’s Gift of Love hospice; an Irish farmer in Ulster County; a woman who helped single mothers to find jobs and housing and who then became a cloistered nun. The list is long, and everyone on it taught me something.
I will never forget the camaraderie of my colleagues through the years who gave me friendship, encouragement, wit, wisecracks, story ideas, feedback and snacks in the afternoon and on deadline nights.
Forty years on, Catholic New York still flourishes. I was, and am, proud and privileged to have a share in that. So many good people, so many stories, so many words, all in service to the Word and his Church. Thanks be to God.