Goodbyes do not come easy for me. They never have. Yet I have earmarked this column to do just that. After 13 years at America, dear readers, I am hanging up my tap shoes on Feb. 1 (actually, that could never be completely true, since I am a veteran of community theater), ready to embrace the retired life. How fitting that this column appears in our travel/pilgrimage issue because increased travel is part of my long-range plan. So too is volunteer work (with my favorite causes: the lonely and/or institutionalized elderly and four-legged homeless friends). And perhaps also may come a dash of freelance work down the line.
The memories are many—and grand! Likewise they are indelibly etched into my consciousness. First and foremost, I am grateful to Father Tom Reese for offering me the unique opportunity to serve as a lay editor among a group of brilliant and collegial Jesuits.
Editorial board meetings during the early years were spirited, often jocular—thanks to the dry wit of (the late) Father John Donohue as well as Father Dennis Linehan.
The passing of Father Dave Toolan after a struggle with brain cancer put a gouge in our editorial rock, particularly in the areas of science and theology. He confessed to me in passing one day that he was trying to re-read his book At Home in the Cosmos but found it a challenge. The cross-those-t’s-and-dot-those-i’s Father Jim Torrens, current poetry editor of America, was also on the board when I came in 1999. Father George Anderson, who retired last year after a long and distinguished tenure as America’s “conscience” on social justice, environmental and other rights causes, was also a valued colleague.
The tireless labors of Father Robert Collins, our persnickety managing editor—truly an editor’s editor—make all the difference in the quality of the magazine’s pages. And Father Drew Christiansen, who succeeded Father Reese as editor in chief, is a polymath if ever there was one. Not to be overlooked are the chief’s assistant, Brother Frank Turnbull, whose day runs about 16 hours (it seems), and our famous author-in-residence and media expert/consultant, Father Jim Martin. Others have come and gone (some, like Father Joe O’Hare, once editor in chief, even came again!). Jim McDermott, Matt Malone and Jim Keane, my youngest Jesuit colleagues, further rounded out our hard-to-beat team. And recent years have ushered in four new lay editors. It has been a time of change, growth and navigating some tricky courses.
Over the past few weeks I have been forced to clean house, as it were, for my successor. As my home away from home, the office is equally prone to the amassment of “stuff.” First and foremost, of course, are books, galleys, publishers’ catalogs and the like. (Increasingly, publishers now transmit their catalogs electronically.) Photos have to come down and be brought home. Cartons of old permission files (I handled permission requests for years, on the side) should be tossed. A cherished picture and personal note from the late Dame Muriel Spark (a Campion Award honoree some years ago) will be carefully removed and packed up. Old Catholic Book Club brochures need dusting off and re-packaging. And that is just scratching the surface.
Tangibles aside, I take with me special memories: the Jesuit entourage who (to my surprise) showed up at my mother’s funeral Mass to concelebrate back in 2002; the 90th anniversary of the magazine right after my arrival and the centennial celebrations in 2009; the mutual respect always on display among staff; the stable of dedicated and talented book reviewers; publishing friends and colleagues.
It’s been a great ride, to say the least. Thanks to all who came along!