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The Last Leaf…

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The following is a longer version of a story which appears in the last issue of The Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse, before it ceased publication with the Oct. 29, 2015 issue.

Fostering the Truth and the Word in the truth of words: A look back at The Catholic Times

The towering oak and maple trees outside my window have been all but stripped bare; a leaden sky hangs low over La Crosse this early evening as it rains intermittently with gusts of cold wind turning the landscape into a cold muddy smudge.

If the recent mild weather in the Diocese of La Crosse was Wisconsin summer’s last resistance, today’s weather is an indication that Wisconsin autumn is most certainly here to stay…

At least for a while.

As I look out the window at the skeletal branches dripping with cold rain, I think about all my hours as a staff writer writing up the stories of the people and places of the diocese; I also think of all the miles of travel I’ve undertaken through the rich variety and dynamic faith of the 19 counties which make up the Diocese of La Crosse.

Then I watch another leaf from one of the oak trees as it is plucked by the wind and falls to the ground.

Yes, the leaf reminds me, given that this issue is the very last issue of the Catholic Times, today is an appropriate day to look back on the paper I’ve been honored to serve as writer, sometime editor, and correspondent for these last 15 years or so.

As hard as it is for me (and I imagine many readers) to acknowledge, this Oct. 29, 2015 issue of The Catholic Times represents the last “leaf” of the newspaper tradition in the Diocese of La Crosse, a tradition that began more than 80 years ago as the La Crosse Register began to serve the diocese. It was part of what was then known as the Register System of Newspapers headquartered in Denver.

Because the Denver publication owned its own printing press, it started a national issue of its paper in 1927 which we now know as the National Catholic Register (NCR).

According to a Jan. 19, 2011, NCR story on the purchase of the NCR by EWTN, the Denver paper also produced issues for a variety of dioceses around the country, including the La Crosse Register for our own diocese. Nationwide, the Register system peaked at more than 700,000 households in the 1950s across 35 diocesan editions and the national edition.

In the late 50s, the La Crosse Register became the Times Review – a name it kept until 2002 when it took on its current and final manifestation as The Catholic Times. Somewhat unique among Catholic papers in Wisconsin, The Catholic Times has prided itself on its independence – the Milwaukee, Madison and Superior dioceses all publish their paper under the Herald name, to reflect the publishing partnership of the three dioceses – while the Green Bay Compass also publishes as an independent entity.

I’ll leave it to others to explain the changing demographics and habits of consumption of the reading public (or whether a viable reading public even still exists!). Our beloved paper today holds its own at 29,000 (larger than many secular papers, dailies included) – and, if praise from within and outside the diocese is any indication, I’d like to think I speak for the newspaper’s entire team when I say that, as we put this last issue to bed, The Catholic Times is going out on top.

As press time nears for the Oct. 29 issue of The Catholic Times, the busy clicking of computer keys falls silent; the lively buzz of the Catholic Times newsroom dies away for a final time; the ringing phones and computer chimes which serve to alert the staff to incoming emails from sources, other news outlets and our readers ceases too. I’ll miss these signs of life – and I’ll also miss my readers.

Eighty years of black and white read all over will be filed away for good – along with the hundreds of thousands of stories that the diocese has delivered to the Catholic faithful to bolster their faith, inform their minds and consciences, while at the same time touching their hearts with the human tragedy and uplifting their spirits with the human comedy.

It is a bittersweet time for this newsman – and yet, I take solace in knowing I’ve executed my duties with aplomb and due diligence, faithful and obedient to the Magisterium of the Church which Jesus Christ our Savior founded, and in full confidence that Christ remains king of hearts, minds, countries and the universe…

In my office here at the Holy Crosse Diocesan Center, tacked to the bulletin board above my desk is a collection of handy phone numbers, schedules, calendars and dates to remember. I also have hanging there in large 26 point old timey typewriter font a copy of Peter Maurin’s “Easy Essays.” A founding member of the Catholic Worker and journalist, Maurin is best known for his work with Dorothy Day in establishing a Catholic alternative to the communist and socialist secular materialism which plagued (and to a large extent still plagues) the modern world.

Maurin’s “Easy Essays” were a series of free-verse poems which Maurin penned as a way to effectively cut to the chase when it came to providing the reader a concise analysis of the day’s issues from a Catholic standpoint. As Dorothy Day herself once said, “Peter [Maurin] was a revelation to me.”  So too the essay “Prostitution of the Press” was an epiphany for this freshman journalist. It is a sharp and concise definition of the need for and ideals of the Catholic press, one which served me well as a sort of verbal “vade mecum” in my travels around the diocese.

I’ve had an excellent formation as a Catholic journalist from the editors I’ve served, including Thomas Szyszkiewicz, Dan Rossini, Stan Gould and Denis Downey, and the tremendous models for journalism I found in the many writers I had the privilege to work with, especially former senior writer Patrick Slattery, and former staff writers Justin Dziowgo and Franz Klein.

No reporter is greater than the folks who make sure the paper gets to press in a timely and well-designed way and so I would also like to mention Paul Rupert, Jean James and Danelle Bjornson, the three production designers I’ve worked with here at the paper, and their excellent visual translation of the stories I’ve sought to bring to the households and parishes of the diocese. I reserve special mention, too, for Pam Willer, a 30+ year veteran of Catholic pressroom management who as much as anyone had kept the paper a dynamic and effective vehicle of catechesis from one news cycle to the next.

I can think of no better way to salute these folks as I end my time here as a Catholic Times reporter than by typing out Maurin’s essay in full:

The Prostitution of the Press

Modern newspapermen
try to give people
what they want.
Newspapermen
ought to give people
what they need.
To give people
what they want
but should not have
is to pander.
To give people
what they need.
or in other terms,
to make them want
what they ought to want,
is to foster.
To pander
to the bad in men
is to make men
inhuman to men.
To foster the good in men
is to make men
human to men
.

It is my hope that for these past 16 years I have done my best, from byline to dateline, lede to clincher, first word and last, to uphold Maurin’s ideal.

A special thanks to you, too, dear readers. As your man in the field, I am grateful and honored to be able to help foster the Good News of Christ as a regular part of your news cycle.

Thank you and God be with you!

Comments

  1. Brian Jobe says:

    Sad day, Mr JOB. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do next … prayers now headed your direction.

  2. Broderick Barker says:

    It’s enough to make a person proud to be a scribbler.

  3. I am so sorry hear Joe. You are in my prayers.

    God bless Charles

  4. First, $%*$R*! I had no idea!

    Second, oh my goodness, you closed with Peter Maurin? THAT’S AWESOME.

    Third, I’m writing you an email immediately at your “new” address–please check asap.

    Pax, Susan (and Jerry)

  5. Big Jon Bully says:

    More eloquent and heartbreaking than Gehrig’s farewell. I’m not even a subscriber and I feel like I’ve lost something important. You will be in our prayers, but any publication needing a staff writer and doesn’t hire you immediately is stupid. Terrific writing.

  6. Indeed sad news..end of Catholic Times..and end of your written words in this/that newspaper! I’ve a sinking sad heart, yet hope must surface as God’s not finished with you, Joseph! My love and prayers are with you!

  7. Joe – great piece. Sorry to read the news.
    Talk soon I hope. Prayers for you all.
    Vince

  8. Thanks all!

    Miss it already…

    JOB

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