By Sam Lucero
In July, I retired from a 39-year career as a journalist in the Catholic press. Those years were spent writing, editing, photographing and publishing pages for five diocesan newspapers.
Recently, rummaging through boxes of memorabilia I’ve acquired over the years (newspaper clippings, seminar notes, and letters from colleagues and readers), I came across a letter from a woman I had interviewed a long time ago.
Ann Borchardt was a choir member at her church in River Falls, Wisconsin when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A story published in the Superior Catholic Herald during Holy Week in 1999 recounted his diagnosis of cancer and how it strengthened his faith.
After the story was published, Anne sent a thank-you card.
“You have been an important part of my faith journey by helping me come forward with this story,” she wrote, “because it was a very brave step for me and my confidence has grown tremendously since the article came out – the biggest thing that could ever happen to me.” what happened. … I am eternally grateful.”
Ann died of cancer a year after her story was published. But even today, his words make clear to me the essential value of Catholic journalism.
Journalists, writers, and photographers alike in the Catholic press know the important role they play in helping those in the pulpit continue their faith. By telling inspiring stories like Anne’s cancer, Catholic publications help readers not only connect with their faith, but also grow with it.
Unfortunately, Catholic journalism is in crisis as news agencies—diocesan newspapers and even the internal offices of the century-old Catholic News Service—continue to close.
In the past seven years alone, at least 11 diocesan newspapers have closed or converted to online publications.
Proclaiming the good news in today’s world, where Catholic identity is too subservient to secular values, is an epic challenge for the Church. To use a nautical term, church leaders need “all hands” to deliver news and information.
As the Church’s communications infrastructure declines, as diocesan newspapers close, reduce publication schedules, or switch to online-only versions, who is left to get the word out?
The late Cardinal John Foley (1935-2011), who served for 23 years as president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Relations, understood the value of Catholic journalism.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, he once served as editor of his archdiocese’s newspaper, The Catholic Standard and Times, and was an active supporter of the Catholic press.
“Catholics will always need publications,” he said in the introduction to the 1998 book “The Mission and Future of the Catholic Press,” published by the Catholic Press Association.
“We are people of the book, saved by the word of Jesus Christ,” Cardinal Foley said.
“We need the written word to inform us, to help us shape our vision in a Christian way, to help us ‘put on’ our Lord Jesus in the modern world, to give us ideas and examples for practical application. The Doctrine of Christ and His Church.”
When Bishop John England of Charleston, South Carolina, founded the Catholic Micella, the first Catholic publication in the United States, in 1822, the mission of the Catholic press, according to Cardinal Foley, was to “inform, form, inspire, teach and strengthen Catholic religious identity.
This mission is sacred to Catholic journalists who see their work as a profession. There is a gap when fewer Catholic publications are delivered to parishioners’ homes and online publications, but are easily accessible, do not have the same shelf life.
Can the Church rely on secular publications to tell the stories of local Catholic Charities helping refugees in our communities?
The future of Catholic journalism is at a critical juncture. How can it survive when Catholic newspapers are disappearing due to postage and printing costs? How do digital publications reach people on the couch who don’t have the access, loyalty, trust or interest in online news?
Telling the story from the point of view of faith is essential for the Church. Whether offering an analysis of the latest papal document, updating parishioners on church finances, or journalists in the Catholic press informing their readers in a way that the secular press cannot.
The value of Catholic journalism is actually affecting people’s lives and helping them see the world through the lens of faith. Thanks to their Catholic publications, they know that their stories matter and that they are part of the community they are connected to.
Anne Borchardt, who has witnessed the role of Catholic journalism in her own faith journey, would agree with this assessment. Future generations of Catholics depend on our Church, its leaders, and the entire body of Christ to tell their stories.
From 2007 to 2022, Sam Lucero served as news and information manager for The Compass, the newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.