Has it really been 50 years since I first walked into The Tablet offices at One Hanson Pl. in Downtown Brooklyn? The numbers don’t lie. On Sept. 21, 1970, I reported to work for The Tablet. That is why I chose Sept. 21, 2020, to be my date of retirement.
When I was hired, I had no idea what I was going to be doing. I didn’t even ask what the salary was. All I knew was that I had a job and I was willing to do whatever they wanted me to do. I was a kid fresh out of the seminary with a degree in Philosophy, some credits in theology, and an interest in the media. What better place to start than my hometown Catholic newspaper!
The years in between have been a blast. What a ride! I had a front-row view of every major church event. With a pen and pad and a camera around my neck, I have recorded the steps of priests and presidents, cardinals and clergy, people of faith, and I even got a chance to meet a pope. I photographed two future saints as well as many everyday holy people who never will be officially canonized. I have watched some people rejoice and others grieve. I have covered athletic contests when some win and others lose.
When people ask what has been the highlight of my career, the response is easy. On an early October morning in 1995, I personally was introduced to Pope John Paul II, shook his hand, and presented him with a copy of The Tablet. I have the photos to prove it.
I thanked him for coming to New York and for saying Mass in the Diocese of Brooklyn at Aqueduct Racetrack. He responded by saying that he liked the front page of The Tablet. Of course, it had his picture on it! He gave me a pair of Rosary beads that I have cherished ever since. And yes, I have used them!
The opportunity to meet the Pope came about because of a column I had written in The Tablet. Never expecting a reaction, I wrote that the Holy Father should meet with the Catholic Press when he was scheduled to visit the United States. A few weeks later, I got a phone call from Msgr. Frank Maniscalco at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, saying that the invitation was being considered.
Eventually, it was decided that the four editors of the Catholic newspapers of the dioceses he would be visiting would be invited to the papal nuncio’s residence on Manhattan’s East Side prior to the Pope’s scheduled Mass in Central Park.
It was truly a day to remember! And it all happened simply because I was a member of the Catholic media! I have witnessed so many moments of triumph and tragedy … being at Shea Stadium in 1979 when the newly elected John Paul II visited New York … waiting on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport when Francis, the first Pope from the Western Hemisphere, landed there … watching from the office window as the second plane slammed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 … smelling and seeing up close the burnt ruins of Breezy Point following Superstorm Sandy … speaking with relatives of people lost when a Russian jet shot down a Korean airliner in 1983 … watching classmates be ordained to the priesthood and one to the episcopacy … watching the career of a CYOer from Brooklyn become a professional Hall of Fame basketball player … chatting one-on-one with a Hall of Fame baseball player who had befriended a Brooklyn bishop … leading a St. Patrick’s Day Parade … presiding over The Great Irish Fair as Chief Brehon … praying with pro-lifers outside abortion mills … becoming a working colleague of bishops, priests and women and men religious who were charged with guiding the local Church in Brooklyn and Queens.
I have had a privileged position from which to watch the ongoing working of the Holy Spirit. It was a gift that I did nothing to deserve. But I’m thankful for the opportunity. I have enjoyed almost every minute of it all. I tried my best. The slips and the pitfalls were too rare to even mention. I may have second thoughts about a few words I wrote but the overall feeling has been one of satisfaction and fulfillment.
I was lucky enough to participate in the diocesan television ministry with The Prayer Channel and NET-TV. I even got a chance to tell heroic stories about our priests on the weekly TV show, On the Block. It’s been humbling how many people stop to say hello simply because they’ve seen my face on TV.
I’ve worked alongside some real pros — the reporters, photographers, fellow editors, camera people, TV personalities, and business folks, all of whom have been an inspiration to me and a blessing to befriend. There’s a lot of tremendous talent in the Catholic media.
I am particularly grateful to the three Bishops I have served — Bishops Francis J. Mugavero, Thomas V. Daily, and Nicholas DiMarzio. Each one, in his own unique way, has been a great gift to us. I am indebted to so many people for their collaboration and encouragement over the years that I dare not begin to mention names lest I leave someone out.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet so many wonderful people. I will miss being in the middle of the action but I’ll still be hanging around on the fringes. I hope you’ll say hello. That would be the perfect cherry on top of this delicious treat that has been my career.