Diocesan News

Drawing Attention To a True Artist


John McAlinden’s art was a staple of The Tablet’s Christmas edition

BAY RIDGE — For more than 40 years, Christmas at The Tablet meant only one thing — a John McAlinden illustration on the front-and-back page wraparound of the edition. Composed of thousands of individual names, the drawing would depict some piece of the story about the birth of Jesus. It might be a manger scene, or the visit of the Three Kings, or an angel blowing a trumpet.

It was the most eagerly awaited cover of the year. Readers would spend hours searching for their own names or names of anyone they would recognize.

The names included those of the Pope, Bishops, Tablet employees and their families, friends, and relatives of the artist, as well as donors to The Tablet’s Bright Christmas Fund. They were pulled from lists that the artist kept on his desk, at home, and in suit jacket pockets. When he ran out of names, McAlinden would call out to reporters in the newsroom, “Any more names?”

Usually, the project was started shortly after Labor Day and continue until the very last minute of deadline before the Christmas issue was sent to the printer. McAlinden, whose full-time job was in the communications department at Angel Guardian Home, would work two afternoons a week at The Tablet offices.

It was the job of editorial proofreaders to scan the work for misspellings. Even so, sometimes a priest would slip through as a monsignor even though it had not been declared by the Vatican. Some lucky readers would find their name two or three times as it became impossible to keep track of whose name had already been used.

“That wraparound Christmas cover was a months-long project,” recalled John Woods, a former Tablet reporter who now serves as Editor-in-Chief of Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper.

“Everyone on The Tablet staff and legions of folks from around the diocese were each permitted to submit a few names to John, and he would do his best to see they were immortalized in print. “Names make the news” was a newsroom “maxim” his work literally brought to life.

“It was such a point of pride to show family members their names, and more often than not they ended up in key places among the figures of the Holy Family.

“My wife laminated one of the covers and it’s still around the house somewhere, probably near my portfolio of old Tablet clips.”

Most of McAlinden’s illustrations appeared in black-and-white, but later one color would be added to highlight an area, and eventually, the entire piece would appear in four-color, which was computer-generated.

Getting the artwork of out the artist’s hands could prove to be a tug-of-war. Being a creative person, McAlinden didn’t always pay strict attention to deadlines. One year, he was still working on it when all the material was going to press. The next morning, he drove it and hand-delivered it to the printer on Long Island shortly before the presses began to roll.

McAlinden’s first Christmas cover was Dec. 19, 1968. At the time, The Tablet was a standard-size paper, like the size of The New York Times.

The art was an angel blowing a trumpet, and it took up an area roughly three-quarters the size of the front page. It was such a hit that it quickly became an annual occurrence until 2010 when McAlinden retired.

Now 91 years old, he is a member of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish, East Flatbush, where he continues to reside in the house where he has lived his entire life. He has retired his illustrator’s pen but his artwork lives on in The Tablet files and on the desks of former and retired Tablet workers.

Wilkinson is The Tablet’s Editor Emeritus.

5 thoughts on “Drawing Attention To a True Artist

  1. God Bless Mr. Mac, better known as a Coach, but always a faithful parishioner of Little Flower, St. Theresa of Lisieux. His Art for Christmas should always live on, as will his picture of JFK, which I’ll post shortly. God Bless and Merry Christmas!

  2. God Bless you Mr. McAlinden! You were such a good neighbor to us. Finding our names on the annual Christmas Tablet cover was always so much fun. After I got married you were so sweet to add my husband and me.

    Wishing you the very best Christmas!

    Marie Carey Beggan

  3. Thank you so much for highlighting this great and talented man. He was our CYO basketball coach for my friends and I in our teenage years. He is the most patient and kind person that I have ever met. He gave all of his spare time to us. He is a great role model. 40 years later and the team still keeps in touch with Mr. Mac. He donated more of his time to being an usher and a Eucharistic Minister at Little Flower Parish. Everyone I know looked forward to seeing his art work on the cover of the Tablet.
    He is beloved in our parish and beyond. It’s great that people who know and love him may reach out to say hello and check in on him now that they’ve seen your article. God Bless.

  4. That’s Our Uncle Bro! He is the most gentle soul and most loving Uncle to all 13 of us -and 30+ more great and great-great nieces and nephews. He still remembers ALL his coworkers at The Tablet with a smile, most especially Ed Wilkinson who has always been his biggest fan. He still refers to Ed as a great basket player. Thank you Ed for always remembering at this special time of year God’s gift to my Uncle Bro that he absolutely loved sharing with everyone!