Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi

IN EXILE

September 26, 2016

Endings are often not easy, and this one's no exception. It's with a sad heart that I digest the news that the Western Catholic Reporter is shutting down its operations after 51 years. I first met the Western Catholic Reporter when I moved to Edmonton as a seminarian in 1972. That was 44 years ago.

The paper has been important to me ever since and, as someone who sees dozens of Catholic diocesan newspapers each week, I've always believed that the Western Catholic Reporter stands out healthily, both for its content and its aesthetics.

Perhaps I'm biased. Your home team can do that to you, but I don't think so. The Western Catholic Reporter has through most of its 51 years of existence been, within its particular genre, a class act.

I am proud to have been part of it. I began writing the column, In Exile, 34 years ago, in November 1982. A young Glen Argan was its editor then and he took a chance on a then-young Ron Rolheiser and began to publish this column, initially on a bi-weekly basis.

The column appeared only in the Western Catholic Reporter until 1987, when the Green Bay Compass picked it up. One year later, the Portland Sentinel began to publish it and two years later, in 1990, the column got a major break: It was picked up by the Catholic Herald in London, England, a national paper in the United Kingdom which, at that time, was privately owned by Otto Herschan who also owned the Irish Catholic, a national paper in Ireland, and the Scottish Catholic Observer, a national paper in Scotland.

With that, the column now had a home in six newspapers in five countries, nationally in three of them. At this time too, 1990, it also switched from being bi-weekly to weekly. Moreover, copyright laws in Asia are not as rigorous nor as enforced as here and, soon, a number of dioceses in Asia began to pirate the column and publish it.

MORE BREAKTHROUGHS

The 1990s brought more breakthroughs for the column: The Catholic Register in Toronto and the Prairie Messenger in Saskatchewan, both

national papers, picked up the column in 1992 and that, to my mind, was enough circulation.

However, after the publication of The Holy Longing in the United States in 1999, the column's circulation exploded. Within three years it was being carried by more than 60 newspapers in more than 10 countries. That has since grown to more than 75 different papers.

Since 2008 the column has also been published in both Spanish and Vietnamese and is finding a readership in Vietnam, Mexico and parts of Latin America.

In the end, I have the Western Catholic Reporter to be thankful to for this. They were the first to take a chance on me, an unknown Prairie boy with little in the way of sophisticated credentials or contacts.

Because of this, through all these 34 years, I have always tagged the column as WCR because, before anyone else, I was writing it for the Western Catholic Reporter. Today, each week, when it is emailed to those 75 to 80 newspapers, it goes to them under the coded label: WCR. I suspect they don't know what that means, but now you know.

THREE PHRASES LEFT

So I write this final column with a sad, though warm and grateful heart. Morris West, in the introduction to his autobiography, says that when a person reaches a certain age he or she should only have three phrases left in his or her vocabulary: "Thank you." "Thank you." "Thank you!"

I want those phrases to be the significant words in this final column. A publishing run of 34 years is a great run by any set of standards. And so I want to say "thank you."

First, thank you, Glen Argan, for giving me my start as a columnist and, more importantly, for being a hall-of-fame editor for this paper. Your editorship is one of the main reasons why it stands out within its genre.

Thank you, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil for the support and shepherding you gave me during the 12 wonderful years I spent ministering in Edmonton. My respect and affection remain deep.

And, not least, thank you, Archdiocese and people of Edmonton for adopting me as one of your own all those years ago and pouring so much support and affection on me during the past 44 years. I cut my young priest's teeth in the archdiocese and city of Edmonton, and it was the honeymoon I needed to prepare myself for the ministerial and missionary challenges that lay ahead.

BRANDED IN MY HEART

Since I left Edmonton in 1990, I've lived in three countries and in a number of different cities. But "first love" remains special, and so Edmonton will always be branded in my heart . . . as will the Western Catholic Reporter.

You can now access my column at: www.ronrolheiser.com. The content will be the same, but, without being embedded in the Western Catholic Reporter, it will miss part of its soul.

(Website: www.ronrolheiser.com)