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Issue Date:  December 24, 2004

A marvelous, unpredictable journey


As this year draws to an end, I take leave as publisher of the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company with feelings of gratitude and accomplishment. Twenty-five years ago over lunch with Arthur Jones at the National Press Club building in Washington, I first pondered the thought of becoming NCR editor.

No way could I have imagined the personal fulfillment I would have working at NCR, nor that I would stay for a quarter-century at this Kansas City, Mo.-based newsweekly.

Looking back, I could not be more pleased. It has been a marvelous journey and the work could not have been more meaningful.

That Washington meal led to 17 years as editor; nearly eight as publisher of one of the feistiest and best-respected newsweeklies in our nation. Along the way I have collaborated with some of the brightest and most caring journalists to be found. I have met countless committed readers -- and have written more words than anyone deserves to in a lifetime.

We have traveled together on a long and unpredictable path. The mood of both our church and our nation has changed dramatically since I came to NCR in June 1980. Much of the idealism of the 1960s and the Second Vatican Council has dissipated. Being idealistic is in some circles considered anachronistic.

We live today under the heavy weight of empire. Our leaders say they can export the best of our country’s ideals through force. It is ludicrous and immoral. Yet we feel helpless to end the madness. Our government’s policies, favoring the wealthy and abusive of the poor, represent nothing less than greed articulated in fraudulent language.

Where has communal responsibility gone? Why no more outrage at the poverty in our midst? Why so little concern that nations around the world hold our leadership in contempt?

Our church, meanwhile, has turned inward, concerning itself far too much with rules and rubrics that turn off the young and do little to inspire any of us. What has happened to mystery and mysticism? To honest adult discourse? To the humble acknowledgement that religion is much more about questions than answers? Where have gone the nonviolence, compassion and forgiveness of the Gospels? Why have they been replaced by endless talk of sexual issues and fascination with redrawing sharp distinctions between clergy and laity?

As church, we need to rediscover humility and the awe of mystery as we attempt to respond to the cries within human hearts everywhere for physical, mental and spiritual liberation.

We need not fear. The Spirit is with us; her draw is overwhelming. As citizens, as Christians, as brothers and sisters in an emerging global family, we are among those who see life anew. Our lives are part of a collective blessed awakening of human consciousness. It is awesome to be alive, to be conscious, and to be grateful we cannot lose our way.

I feel blessed. As a Catholic journalist, I have met inspiring NCR readers, people drawn to the pages of our newsweekly where they find challenge and hope. Together we know too well our limitations. Yet we gather in shared beliefs and values, in commitments we have consciously and unconsciously made to each other.

You are very special people for you have chosen to live your lives to the fullest by responding to life’s ultimate questions of existence both selflessly and generously.

What a blessing it is, then, to play a role in your lives. How special it is to be part of a small group of journalists scattered around the globe who connect good people with information and, in turn, move them and challenge them to build hope-filled communities.

The days have quickly become years and decades. It seems such a short time ago I turned 21 in 1965, coming of age during the horrors of the Vietnam War and the hopes of the Second Vatican Council. Today both contain more memories and lessons than can be shared in a lifetime. As a member of the last generation to hold living memories of these events, I continue to feel the responsibility to speak up and share stories.

It seems none of us can do enough. Looking out at a hurting world, seeing its struggle, it is easy to become discouraged. Have we done enough? Made a difference? What’s to become of our ideals? Even before asking, we know the answers.

We live as we do because we cannot do otherwise. We are compelled by our convictions. We know we are not the final arbiters of success. And scripture reminds us, anyway, that success is not measured in results, but by fidelity to the mission.

As I close this column, this would be a personally sad parting were it not for two reasons. One is that I leave my role as publisher with the company and the newspaper in able hands. New leadership is emerging at NCR, leadership that is more than capable of carrying NCR’s mission forward. The other is that after taking six months away, I plan to return to work for NCR in some capacity. Its mission is vital to all of us.

There are seasons to our lives. I am entering a new season. It is an exciting moment. While my path is not clear, my commitments are.

Thank you for your support and for sharing the journey. Remember, NCR needs you just as you need NCR. Let’s keep each other in our prayers.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher and can be reached at

National Catholic Reporter, December 24, 2004

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