Editor reflects on 30 years of working at the WCR

The WCR's founding editor Douglas Roch (left) examines an early edition of the newspaper as it rolled off the press.

The WCR's founding editor Douglas Roch (left) examines an early edition of the newspaper as it rolled off the press.

September 26, 2016

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. Pasting a happy face over the closure of the Western Catholic Reporter is not in my repertoire.

I wish the Edmonton Archdiocese all the best in its new communications ventures; I hope it develops effective means of evangelization and of challenging our culture. It's a culture that puts too much emphasis on things and not enough on the human person raised to glory by Jesus Christ.

That's a heady challenge in a society that increasingly turns its back on God. If the archdiocese has judged that the Western Catholic Reporter is no longer the most effective means of communicating the Gospel and building up the Church, who am I to disagree?

However, since I first became editor in April 1981 - there was an almost six-year intermission in the middle of my time as editor - not only has the world of communications changed drastically, but so has the local Church.

The number of parishes has declined, especially in rural areas, many of our most devoted readers have gone to their eternal reward, the names and national origins of the priests has changed drastically and parishioners now come from every part of the globe.

The Catholic culture, which for some was an all-encompassing environment, has been eroded to near non-existence. The WCR was, for a long time, part of the glue that held the Catholic culture together. The stories of parish and diocesan life which the newspaper told were stories among friends who had long known each other.

Editor Glen Argan (centre) and reporters Cathy McLaughlin and Lydia Misiewich examine one of the special editions for Pope John Paul II's 1984 visit to Alberta. Argan was not only younger, but hairier, in those days.

Editor Glen Argan (centre) and reporters Cathy McLaughlin and Lydia Misiewich examine one of the special editions for Pope John Paul II's 1984 visit to Alberta. Argan was not only younger, but hairier, in those days.

Over those 35 years, the need to report Catholic news has dropped and the need to announce the Gospel in a secularized society has grown. Yet, if you want to create and nurture a community, stories of that community need to be told. In a community as large as the Edmonton Archdiocese, a print medium is still the best way to reach the largest number of people. Yet, newspapers have never been effective in reaching large numbers of youth. Today, that is even more the case.

However, the WCR has shifted its emphasis from reporting to announcing by increasing our content of both informed Catholic opinion and catechesis.

My judgment is that we have made that shift as well as or better than any other Catholic newspaper in North America. That's a boast which some may challenge. But if they do, I would ask them to show a diocesan newspaper as countercultural and as dedicated to spreading the faith as the WCR has been.

The staff of the WCR will leave our posts with our heads held high.

Still, the world moves on. At some point, the archdiocese's way of communicating was not only going to change its approach, but also its form of media. Whether this is the right time is a judgment call that someone other than me had to make.

Unfortunately, many of our readers lack access to the Internet and will no longer be kept abreast of the types of articles that have been available in the WCR. They will not read or hear the stories; they will not receive the catechesis and Catholic opinion.

FAITH NURTURED

On a personal note, the WCR has nurtured my faith and provided me with many opportunities to attend events and meet extraordinary people I would not have otherwise encountered.

We have reported on the visits of two saints to Alberta - St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Kolkata - and I have had the enriching experience of meeting and working with Catholic media colleagues from across North America.

Editorial staffers Ramon Gonzalez, Lasha Morningstar and Bill Glenn are shown here in 2006.

Editorial staffers Ramon Gonzalez, Lasha Morningstar and Bill Glenn are shown here in 2006.

Most important, however, are the ordinary events of Church life including diocesan celebrations and meetings as well as stories about faith-filled people who put their faith into action with no thought of reward.

The paper's founding editor, Douglas Roche, was a hero of mine when I was an undergraduate student in Regina, and he was being elected a member of Parliament. What a wonderful thing it was that a progressive Catholic editor would have his voice heard in the House of Commons!

CLOSE FRIENDS

Over the years, Doug has become a close personal friend. Remarkably, he is still writing and making his voice heard in global forums as well as in the WCR.

My first real meeting with Archbishop Joseph MacNeil came when I was being hired back in 1981. The meeting was intimidating.

In those days, the Chancery Office was located next to the cathedral on Edmonton's 113th Street. We sat at a distance in MacNeil's darkened, ultra-formal office with a large library and high-backed leather chairs. I had seen offices like this in the movies, but never actually been inside one.

I was a 28-year-old whipper-snapper from Red Deer, who had spent less than three years as a full-time reporter. I thought I knew everything there was to know about journalism as well as quite a bit about the Church.

TRUSTING ARCHBISHOP

MacNeil, with his bushy eyebrows and strong voice, appeared to be a force to be reckoned with. Even so, he was remarkably kind toward and trusting in this kid whom the board of directors had chosen to be the WCR's editor.

Over the years, we have become closer and closer friends, each with strong admiration for the other. Archbishop McNeil put up with my youthful impetuousness in the early days, and probably defended me from hordes of angry readers more times than I know. When the paper again needed an editor in 1991, I was only too glad to return and serve under him.

I also regard it as a privilege to have worked under Cardinal Thomas Collins and Archbishop Richard Smith. My initial meeting with the future cardinal was one of the most exhilarating interviews of my journalistic career. I have experienced Archbishop Smith as both a boss and a pastor and remain deeply grateful for the time he gave to my family and me after my sister's suicide three years ago.

Of course, to work for the Church at all and for our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest privilege. My experience has been one of being called to do this ministry, a call that is not in my hands to revoke. I knew that if I was to leave the WCR, it would be in the Lord's time, not mine. I would either be called to something else, be asked to leave or simply retire.

My wife Nora has been the greatest support to this old editor through our 25 years of marriage while also serving as a dedicated and creative mother to our four daughters. She has saved me many times through her astute (and unpaid) proofreading of the newspaper.

Last year, when the WCR celebrated its 50th anniversary, I counted more than 30 people who have worked with the newspaper during my time. People give credit to the editor for the paper's accomplishments, but those accomplishments would not take place without the hard-working, committed staff, many of whom toil in the shadows.

MANY YEARS TOGETHER

In the week since the WCR's closure was announced, I have realized how deep my bonds are with these staff, especially Ramon Gonzalez, Jay Charland and Lasha Morningstar, all of whom I have worked with for more than 15 years.

Another highlight came when one of our reporters, Roma De Robertis, entered the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception in 1984. It was a courageous move on her part, given the dearth of vocations to women's religious orders, but also a testimony to how working for the WCR nurtures the faith of its employees.

The readers of the WCR have also offered me much encouragement. The newspaper has won dozens of awards over the years, but those awards are dust in comparison with the words of thanks we receive from readers. It has been a joy to serve the readers of the WCR for almost 30 years.

In particular, the parishioners at Edmonton's Assumption Parish, which has been my family's church home for almost 25 years, have been unrelentingly supportive. Hardly a week goes by without some member of the parish expressing their thanks for the newspaper or some article in it.

FUTURE PLANS

People are asking me what I'm going to do now. None seem to expect me to glide into a hidden, comfortable retirement. I am 64 and am blessed with good health, a somewhat sound mind, and both initiative and energy.

My first order of business will be to finish my coursework this semester for my master of theology degree at Newman Theological College and then start work on my thesis in January. I have much discerning to do over what comes after that, although I do hope to write a few books.

However, if you have not already had enough of me, you will be able to continue to follow my writing on my new website - www.glenargan.com. Perhaps by the time you read this article, I will have posted some content there. For me, writing is as important to life as breathing. I will not be silent.