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Marking Twenty Years In The Wanderer

May 27, 2021 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Then and now.
Then, Fr. Robert D. Smith, and now, this humble scribbler.
It was 2001 and, after many years at this space in The Wanderer, the longtime columnist Fr. Smith suddenly took sick and stepped aside, dying by December 2001.
I was stationed at the time with the Navy on active duty in Naples, Italy. A friend who had written for the paper helped the editors at The Wanderer to locate me. I had written a piece or two for the paper as early as 1993 and had expressed interest in publishing regularly in these pages, but was informed that the paper limited space for clergy to two columns. But now one of the spaces had opened up, they needed a priest and remembered my request to be considered.
Consider me they did then. And now, twenty years and over a thousand columns later, I wish to express thanks to the owner, Joe Matt, and my editor, Peggy Moen, our readers and all those whose kind support has made this adventure possible.
And I ask that prayers be offered for my predecessor who blazed the trail, as did others before him, so that we could follow in their venerable steps. Then and now. May he rest in peace!
I’ve told the story in this space before of my experience quite young delivering an evening newspaper in the Washington area. I watched the living drama of history unfold by observing the photos and headlines of the paper each day. My love of the look, smell, and feel of newsprint expressed itself as I started a one-sheet newspaper at my Catholic grade school. I solicited articles and a very kind school mother typed the entire thing on Gestetner wax sheets, which were then fastened on an ink drum and rolled over the sheets of paper as they passed under it. I think of the laborious manual effort involved and offer prayers for the goodness of the typist and that of the principal and teachers who supported the project.
From very early, reading and writing were connected for me. I devoured books and imitated them by attempting to produce immature imitations of the real thing. I was fascinated with words and the strange ways that letters were connected together to form them into different sounds, the letters behaving differently in different contexts. I remember spelling out loud in the car the words on familiar store signs I observed as we passed them.
I wrote the logbooks for our family sailing journeys over several years. They have been conserved, my father informs me. I also took the creative writing class in high school, inventing strange and new realities, with what I am fairly certain were overly elaborate descriptions. As many new and exotic words which could be crammed into however small a space was the youthful conception of good writing.
I moved on to Catholic high school and affiliated with The Panther, the newspaper so named for the school mascot. The paper was printed professionally at a local business. Perhaps because no one else wanted the role, I moved into the editor spot by senior year and enjoyed my first connection with producing a weekly product of real ink on newsprint, black on white.
By the time that summer jobs at the beach and later at the Pentagon came into the picture, I moved on from the newspaper delivery business and entered college. There I worked for the Fordham Ram and eventually moved into an editor spot, nabbing a single front-page story in four years. After college a connection with news went dormant during my service in the active duty Army in Texas.
I must have discovered The Wanderer for the first time when I entered the seminary in the fall of 1988 because I remember devouring it in the stacks at the Mt. Saint Mary’s College library. In those years the scabs were beginning to be ripped off the deep and festering wounds of the Church in the U.S. and The Wanderer was one of the few hard news entities in the Church willing to bring the sordid details into the light of day for the public.
The paper and its writers were vilified further as they revealed extensive corruption in the Church, hiding under the oft-used excuse of Vatican II. Whether it was so called sex education that exposed youth in grade school to physiological details of the marital act contrary to Church moral teaching or the malfeasance of bishops or priests, few others were willing to touch such radioactive material. You’d never read about it in the many diocesan papers produced in what were then nearly 200 dioceses throughout the country.
Today, post-Ted McCarrick and the pedophilia crisis of 2002, no one questions the need for transparency. The falsity that loyalty to the Church meant avoiding scandal, which was an excuse for so many to deride the hard investigative work of Wanderer writers and editors, is now seen for what it truly was. Cover-ups are now rightly rejected as bad for the Church as well as an injustice for the abused and victims of crimes.
It has taken many years for the public to accept the truth that only the truth will help both the real work of the leaders of the Church and the weak and powerless members of the Church they are supposed to serve.
Journalism has an essential mission in service to the world. The most important communication of the Gospel and the faith must be served above all by the Catholic press. We are in a crisis with regard both to the truth about the Church and about the faith. The work of Catholic writers must be to uncover and share the truth about both.
The highest work any of us can do is to serve the Church’s mission of saving souls. Thus, sharing the good news of the Gospel to bring souls to Christ will always be the most important mission of Catholic journalism. We look to the intercession of our holy patron, St. Francis de Sales, for the graces to do the work well and in accord with the universal call to holiness.
The harsh reality of sin, however, also calls the Catholic journalist to unflinching vigilance of vision and voice. To see what is evil and to report on it, as necessary to defeat it, will always be necessary, also to serve the mission of Christ in the world.
With thanks on this twenty-year milestone to Joe, as owner of The Wanderer, to Peggy, my editor, our readers, and, most of all, our Lord, I give thanks for the privilege of this apostolate. I ask for prayers that I may above all serve the will of our Lord through the written word, for His glory and the salvation of souls.
In the words of my venerable predecessor, “Then and now.”
Thank you for reading, and praised be Jesus Christ, now and

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  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

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