Another dour, colorless twilight is wending its way through midtown Manhattan, making me only more susceptible to the mid-winter nihilism for which my Celtic forebears are so famous. “Why should I be happy,” wrote Eugene O’Neill, “or e’en be merry/in weather only fitted for Cook or Peary.” Yet I know that there is a lot to be merry about. I’m grateful for the hundreds, indeed thousands of people whose talents and generosity have made this a banner year for America Media. I am especially mindful of three of them as we enter 2016:
John P. Schlegel, S.J., died on Nov. 15 after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer. Father Schlegel served as the 23rd president of Creighton University from 2000 to 2011. In his “retirement,” he served as president and publisher of America Media from 2011 to 2013. This was a critical time in our history: We were discerning how to evolve from a traditional weekly magazine to a truly multiplatform, 21st-century media ministry. John Schlegel’s Midwestern commonsense and uncommon wisdom, along with his abundant Christian charity, were our guideposts on an uncertain path. I am especially grateful for his mentorship and friendship, both of which never failed me.
Richard Curry, S.J., also left us in 2015. Father Curry, who died on Dec. 20, was the founder and artistic director of the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, which trained persons with disabilities to become actors and was for many years headquartered here at America House. Rick, who was born with one arm, was himself an actor and earned a Ph.D. in theater. A frequent contributor to these pages, Father Curry spent his last years ministering to disabled veterans. As James Martin, S.J., recounted in this column in 2002 (10/14), Father Curry found the inspiration for his work “after answering an audition call one day. Rick greeted the person taking applications for the auditions, who took one look [at his one arm] and laughed. ‘Is this a joke?’ she said. On such ugly insults are beautiful things built.” The thousands of people Rick touched in his seven decades already miss him dearly.
Lastly, America Media bade a bittersweet farewell on Dec. 18 to Francis W. Turnbull, S.J., who is retiring and moving to the Murray-Weigel community at Fordham University. Brother Frank labored at America for 23 years in all, interrupted only twice, by stints as a retreat director in Africa and in the business office at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City. For years Brother Frank arrived at 7:30 a.m.—the first person in our office, turning on the lights, answering voicemails and emails, generally getting the place in shape for the day’s proceedings. I have valued his wise counsel, born of his many years of service to four editors in chief, which included several years as managing editor. Indeed, Frank started working at America when I was in high school. More than his professionalism and dedication, however, I will miss his constant presence, his warm and friendly disposition and his wry sense of humor, which he always deployed at just the right moment, usually when I was taking myself too seriously. Thank you, Frank. Best wishes and Godspeed.
I hate to say it, but maybe Eugene O’Neill had it wrong. Things may be cold, colorless, even forbidding. But the noble lights of great men and women can illumine the dark paths of mid-winter and warm the hearts of those of us fortunate enough to move in their shadows. For that gift and for all the gifts of this past year, of course, we owe our thanks to the one whose light still “shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” Lumen Christi. Deo Gratias!