By Michael Rizzo
As another spring semester starts, I can again tell my journalism students at St. John’s University about the patron saint of writers and journalists, St. Francis de Sales, whose feast day was Jan. 24. But this year I also get to discuss a saint who has received support to be a new paradigm for the fourth estate.
In May 2022, Pope Francis added Titus Brandsma, a 20th-century journalist, friar, and priest, and finally a martyr for the faith, to the roster of saints.
St. Titus was born in the Netherlands, joined the Carmelite order but was also editor-in-chief of a Dutch newspaper and even founded a magazine. He became the spiritual adviser to more than 30 Catholic publications in his homeland. Articles he wrote in the 1930s described and criticized Adolf Hitler’s policies in Germany.
After the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, local newspapers were told to print content supplied by their new overlords. St. Titus willingly accepted communicating to the country’s Catholic editors they should refuse the order. Arrested by the Gestapo, he was eventually sent to the Dachau concentration camp where he was killed by lethal injection.
As a 16th-century priest and bishop, St. Francis was a prolific letter writer. He not only reported on events going on in France and Switzerland but also explained and supported the Catholic faith in the face of attacks from other groups.
It’s fair to say that he was not a journalist because there was no journalism, as we understand it today, then. What I emphasize to my students is that St. Francis is a role model because he was a great communicator who was dedicated to connecting with the faithful personally.
I don’t want my students to learn how to write the lead of a story, incorporate a quote, or craft an ending from these two saints. Instead, I want to explore how they are examples of people of faith who used the resources of communication available to them to speak truth to power. Both were fearless and found their vocation in telling people the news of their times as well as the good news of the Gospels.
Good journalists tell the facts of stories so we can better understand our world. Good journalists are also our watchdogs over the powerful. They also follow a proper code of ethics. Both these saints did all those things.
A letter by journalists supporting St. Titus as their new patron saint stated he “shared the deeper mission that should drive journalism in modern times: a search for truth and veracity, the promotion of peace and dialogue between people.”
A worthy saint, alongside St. Francis, for journalists indeed.
Michael Rizzo is an Associate Professor and Director of the Journalism Program at St. John’s University.