National News

Former CNS Editor Wins Top Journalist Award, Stresses Concern About Catholic Journalism’s Future

Barb Fraze, former international editor for Catholic News Service, receives the 2023 St. Francis de Sales Award June 9 from Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief of OSV News and president of the Catholic Media Association. The award was presented in Baltimore during the Catholic Media Conference June 6-9. (OSV News photo)

WASHINGTON — Barb Fraze, former international editor for Catholic News Service, won the 2023 St. Francis de Sales Award from the Catholic Media Association. 

Two finalists for the annual prize included Vito Formica, executive director of news content and development at DeSales Media Group in Brooklyn, and Patrick Downes, editor of Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu.

The award, nicknamed “the Franny,” was presented June 9 during this year’s Catholic Media Conference in Baltimore. It is named for the patron saint of writers and journalists and recognizes “outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism.” The award is the media group’s highest honor.

After receiving the award, a statuette of St. Francis de Sales, Fraze said the honor was “really for the stringers, who told the stories of ordinary Catholics living their faith in extraordinary ways,” mentioning those who reported for Catholic News Service from South Sudan, Darfur, Thailand, Myanmar, Lebanon, Albania, Brazil, and Mexico.

She also thanked her former colleagues at Catholic News Service, including those in the Rome bureau, which is still open. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year closed the domestic operations of the news service, where Fraze had been international editor for 27 of her 39 years there.

“I worked with some of the best in the business, including six or seven Franny winners,” she said.

In her years at CNS, Fraze edited copy for at least 144 papal trips for St. John Paul II and Popes Benedict XVI and Francis. She also reported on two papal visits when St. John Paul II went to Colombia, South Carolina, and the Northwest Territories, near the Arctic Circle. In her reporting on the Canadian visit, Fraze was able to put her longtime camping skills to use, since reporters bunked in Ranger barracks and walked a mile along the river the next day for the papal Mass.

She also reported on several international trips over the years and said a particular favorite trip was a 2007 Maryknoll study tour in China. She also went to Africa several times and got to interview Syrian and Iraqi refugees while on fellowship with Catholic Relief Services.

Fraze told The Tablet that religious journalism is niche reporting akin to reporting other specific beats. “lf you understand what’s happening and can explain it in a way that gives it context, it helps people to understand.”

Amid the changing media landscape where the domestic operation of CNS closed and several Catholic newspapers have also been shut down in recent years, Fraze said she is “not sure Catholic journalism is getting the support it needs to survive.”

In accepting her award, she gave a shout-out to diocesan news outlets for telling local stories of faith and addressing journalists in the audience who work for these publications, she reminded them to always “thank your editors!”

Formica, who said it was an honor to be a finalist for the award with Fraze and Downes, similarly highlighted the importance of the Catholic press. He stressed that “having respected and impactful journalism operations within dioceses is priceless” and worth the investment, adding: “Careful consideration needs to be taken before decisions are made to delete news operations. The long-term effects will likely be detrimental.”

At the media conference, Formica was a panelist in a plenary session about how to remain relevant in the current media landscape.

He also said he believes the Catholic Media Association can play a key role in “building a bridge between journalists and the bishops, most of whom are their publishers,” and said this relationship is vital for the role of journalists as communicators in the Church.

Formica was nominated for being “a prominent figure in Catholic media, consistently demonstrating a deep commitment to the Catholic faith and a dedication to sharing its message.”

He leads the multi-platform news operation at DeSales Media, which includes The Tablet newspaper, its Spanish-language companion, Nuestra Voz, and Currents News on NET-TV. This year, The Tablet won best weekly newspaper of the year among Catholic publications at the Catholic Media Conference and the newspaper, along with Nuestra Voz, Currents News, and DeSales Media, took home 35 other awards for print, graphics, videos, and digital work from the past year.

Formica said he was “grateful to play a small part in advancing the mission of journalists and to be recognized for that” and gave credit to his “dedicated team” of colleagues at DeSales.

Downes, another finalist for the St. Francis de Sales Award, has been Hawaii Catholic Herald’s editor for the past 40 years. His nomination for the award said he “firmly champions the newspaper’s editorial integrity while making people feel heard.”

The nomination also described him as a great boss and mentor, noting that two of the three other staffers at the diocesan newspaper have been there for as long as he has.

Downes told The Tablet he was “very honored, but quite frankly, embarrassed” to be nominated,  saying he knows “there are many other Catholic journalists much more deserving than I.”  

Highlights for him during his years at the helm of the newspaper Hawaii Catholic Herald include going to Rome with Hansen’s disease patients to cover the canonizations of two Hawaiian saints: St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope.

He also said there are “everyday highlights, such as receiving calls or notes from readers telling me how much they appreciated this or that story. The job has enriched my faith and tested and stretched my abilities, and has put me in the company of everyday living saints.

“Good Catholic journalism contributes to our Catholic culture in ways much needed today,” he said, noting that “by telling stories of a Church engaged in the world, it delivers information that strives to make sense of this challenging and often confusing time. It also seeks to inspire people with stories of Christian courage, conviction, and commitment to better live their Catholic faith and grow in their relationship with Jesus, which is what it is all about.”