WINDSOR TERRACE — For those who know him, it is simply impossible to imagine Ed Wilkinson retiring.
A whirlwind of energy and activity, Wilkinson, the editor emeritus of The Tablet, has been associated with the newspaper for 50 years. He has been a reporter, sports columnist, news editor, editor-in-chief, and editor emeritus.
He is officially retiring on Sept. 21 — a date that has a special significance to him. It was on that date in 1970 that he started his career at The Tablet as a young, fresh-faced news reporter.
“I picked Sept. 21 to retire because I thought it would be a good way to round out my career,” Wilkinson, 72, told The Tablet.
Wilkinson was presented with the Benemerenti Medal on Sept. 19 at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph. The medal is awarded at the direction of the Pope to the clergy and laity for outstanding service to the Catholic Church.
Wilkinson has covered everything from papal visits to 9/11, from CYO basketball games to priest ordinations — through five popes and three bishops of Brooklyn.
Through it all, Wilkinson has lived out his Catholic faith. He has enjoyed long-lasting friendships with members of the clergy — something that is not surprising since he once had his sights set on becoming a priest.
Two priests in particular changed the course of his life. Father Doug Brown (now a monsignor), got him a job interview at The Tablet in 1970, and Msgr. Joseph Funaro introduced him to his wife.
As Wilkinson looks back, certain stories stand out.
In 1995, he met Pope John Paul II face to face. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops arranged for a meet-and-greet with a small group of journalists, where he presented the Holy Father with a copy of The Tablet. “He gave me rosary beads,” Wilkinson recalled.
That encounter has taken on added significance. “I can say that I met a saint,” Wilkinson said. Saint John Paul II was canonized in 2014.
In 2003, Pope Benedict XVI came to New York and Wilkinson was there. “I had met him a few years earlier when he was Cardinal Ratzinger,” he recalled.
Wilkinson was at Kennedy Airport when Pope Francis landed for his first visit to New York City in 2015.
Wilkinson has also covered three bishops of Brooklyn.
Bishop Francis Mugavero was serving when he arrived at the paper. Bishop Thomas Daily succeeded Bishop Mugavero in 1990. “He was a warm, outgoing guy,” Wilkinson said.
When Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was appointed in 2003, Wilkinson forged a strong working relationship with him.
One of the biggest events Wilkinson ever covered, 9/11, was also one of the most personally wrenching. He spent the day with a heavy heart. His sister, Mary Paterno, worked at the World Trade Center. “It took a long time before we found out she was okay,” he said.
The attack took place on a Tuesday. “It was press day for The Tablet. We had to start ripping the paper apart,” he recalled. Wilkinson dispatched reporters into the field.
The Tablet’s offices were located in Windsor Terrace, just four miles away. “We could see the World Trade Center from our office,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson took a roundabout route to a career at the editor’s desk.
He was born in Greenpoint. “I’ve spent my entire life living in Brooklyn,” he boasted.
The family attended St. Alphonsus Church and Wilkinson was a student at the parish school. He was taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame. “I never had a lay teacher. It was all nuns,” he said.
The Wilkinsons lived in Greenpoint for 20 years and then moved to Park Slope, where they attended St. Francis Xavier Church. In 1992 Wilkinson moved to Bay Ridge and became a parishioner of Our Lady of Angels Church.
He attended Cathedral Prep High School and Cathedral College, graduating with a degree in philosophy. He entered the Immaculate Conception Seminary where he planned to prepare for the priesthood.
But he changed his mind at the seminary and decided not to become a priest.
Eventually, his life would take a different direction
“A priest friend of mine said, ‘I can get you an interview with the Tablet.’ I went for the interview a month later,” he said. “I didn’t know about the salary, the job title, or anything.”
He got the job. “I wondered, ‘How long is this job going to last?’,’’ he recalled.
Within two months, the editor, Don Zirkel, offered him a slot as a sports columnist. “I was also a general assignment reporter,” Wilkinson said.
Those years taught him the importance of being open to new experiences — something he tried to instill in young journalists. “You never know until you try,” he said.
In 1981, Wilkinson was promoted to news editor.
Four years later, Zirkel left to take a job as communications director for the New York City Human Rights Commission. Wilkinson was tapped to replace him.
It was big news, even in the secular media. A year into his tenure as editor, Wilkinson was the subject of a New York Times article. The story also pointed out the important place The Tablet has in Catholic journalism in the U.S.
“How the 38-year-old Mr. Wilkinson does his job matters beyond the Brooklyn diocese, experts on the religious press say, because The Tablet, as one of the oldest and most respected of the 156 diocesan newspapers in the United States, is widely viewed as a barometer of the Catholic press,” the Times reported.
Several years after he joined The Tablet, Wilkinson embarked on the most important project of his life.
Msgr. Funaro introduced Wilkinson to Sheila Murnane, a lawyer. Both parties were involved in a diocesan theater guild and met during rehearsals for “The Sound of Music.”
“She was playing Maria. I was on the stage crew,” Wilkinson said.
The Wilkinsons married in 1990. They have one son, Edward Daniel, now 23.
In 2011, The Tablet moved to its current location on 10th Avenue, sharing space with the staff of Currents News, the nightly news program on NET-TV.
“DeSales Media Group was created and everything came under the same umbrella — print, television. It gave us the opportunity to work in television,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson hosted “On the Block,” a program in which he interviewed priests at their parishes.
The Tablet won many awards from the Catholic Press Association with Wilkinson at the helm, including recognition for stories, headline writing, editorial writing and photography.
The Tablet won the coveted Best Diocesan Newspaper in the U.S. from the Catholic Press Association for its coverage during Wilkinson’s final full year as editor-in-chief in 2017.
He was named The Tablet’s editor emeritus in 2018.
Wilkinson is looking forward to one aspect of retirement — having more free time.
But he admitted that he will miss the excitement of journalism. “I loved it,” he said.