Colleen Carroll Campbell, an award-winning journalist, host of EWTN’s Faith & Culture show and author of the 2013 Christopher Award-winning memoir My Sisters the Saints, is taking on a new role: anchor of EWTN News Nightly With Colleen Carroll Campbell, which will debut Sept. 3.
She spoke recently with the Register’s associate editor, Amy Smith, about evangelizing through the media, her love of the saints, discernment and balancing motherhood and journalism.
What is the setup of the news program, and who would you like to see as guests?
It is an international nightly newscast — to be broadcast to the entire English-speaking world.
We hope it will have an international focus, as well as focus on national events. Our studio is on Capitol Hill — at the center of the action — so it will have a global and Catholic perspective on the top stories, with commentary and analysis from a Catholic perspective.
We hope it will be a show that encourages an understanding of the day’s events and the big questions of the day.
There is a wide, rich pool of guests in Washington and New York, which is not far, to draw on nightly, so I think we will have a broad roster. I have done 80 shows for Faith & Culture since it started in 2006. A lot of those folks are excellent … I’d like to bring them back. I hope to shine a spotlight on Catholics who are already in the trenches, even in situations where it is difficult to live the truth, experts who can help our viewers make sense of the day’s news.
How should Catholics approach the news?
Catholics should be careful about where they get their information. There are positives and negatives to the changes in today’s media landscape.
The idea of one media establishment — that’s fading way, which is positive. The downside: Sometimes what is called news is not news or no fact-checking or context is given. We’re all drowning in information, but it often lacks context and understanding — and understanding from a Catholic perspective.
Was covering the papal transition and election of Pope Francis in Rome for EWTN this spring good preparation for your news show?
It was a great couple of weeks. No one expected Pope Benedict XVI to resign. Most of us didn’t expect the conclave to progress so quickly or that we would have the first Jesuit, first Latin-American and first Francis as pope — or see someone elected who was counted out by conventional wisdom due to his older age.
It was an exhilarating surprise. It was an honor for me to be able to announce it to EWTN viewers. It was a wonderful way to prepare for the news show.
Has your past work as a speech writer for President George W. Bush and news writing prepared you for broadcast news? Did you think you would end up in broadcast journalism, or did God surprise you?
God is full of surprises. That truth has been a staple of my life and career. I am a print journalist by training, with a liberal arts background at Marquette University, where I focused more on humanities and liberal arts in my education.
I had on-the-ground training in journalism. My first job was at the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Then I worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reporting and then opinion writing. Then I wrote the books and was a White House speech writer.
I see myself primarily as a writer. My TV work grew out of that. It’s Providence at work in my life.
It’s a delight to be able to present the news and the day’s most pressing issues and to help viewers understand the news. In some ways, this newscast is an extension of my work on Faith & Culture. It will be newsy, topical, fast-moving — all in one show.
I do think it’s part of the larger pattern that God has woven into my career and the mission he has called me to: evangelizing through the media — not necessarily always Catholic media, as I have worked in secular media.
It’s the fundamental idea of proclaiming the Good News and Catholic teaching that is close to my heart.
Do you think your book’s appeal is due to the timeless message of the saints?
The feedback I get the most is that readers connect with the stories — my personal story as an entry point into the stories of the saints.
I wrote the book the way that I did to have an entry point to deliver the message of the saints. They are very real: our friends in heaven and models for us in living on earth.
My Sisters the Saints is about how I experienced these wise and holy women and what they taught me about being truly liberated as a woman. My story is, in a sense, an introduction to the wisdom of the saints — their message for our own lives.
The riches of faith and experience of the saints are urgently relevant to our struggles, even if their lives seem worlds away from ours. They remind us to tap into the riches of the faith, and they help us answer timeless questions. I like to say that we stand on the shoulders of the saints, especially in our struggles to see the relevance of the faith to our lives. They can help us when we find ourselves asking a question such as, "How can a mom find a way to be active in public life while not neglecting motherhood and home life?" They remind us that we need to be in the world and not of it. We need to focus on work that uses our gifts while not neglecting our vocation. The saints can teach us a lot.
How did you discern your new work in daily TV news in relationship to your role as a wife and mother to three little ones, a boy and two girls?
It was a discernment process. My top concern was how it would fit into my family’s life. I made that clear from the start. It’s a good schedule; it’s not 9-5. The job has flexibility, since it’s an evening show. I will have the daytime with my children. We have lots of time together, since they’re not in school yet. In so many ways, it has worked out. But it was not an automatic Yes.
In My Sisters the Saints, I share how becoming a mother was a long struggle, so I really appreciate the gift of motherhood and do not take it for granted.
Nothing is more important than following Jesus and raising little souls to heaven and living marriage with love and fidelity. I consider this newscast part of my efforts to build a better world for my children.
The call of God is surprising, in many ways. He likes to upend my plans, but following his plan leads to more freedom and joy. There can be a sense sometimes that "I can’t be called to x, y or z" because of whatever responsibility I may already have, but God has a different, unique call for each of us. I’ve learned not to create rigid rules on what is or isn’t work-life balance. Follow the call of Christ. Have openness to the Holy Spirit, and let God do the leading. Blessings will follow, even when you’re being led to unexpected places, even to a different state.
When it came to discerning this decision to accept the position as anchor of this new newscast, as with all of my major decisions in life, the support and encouragement of my husband, Dr. John Campbell, were crucial. John is my partner in everything, and I’m blessed to have a spouse who is so open to following God’s call, wherever it leads — and so intent on encouraging me to do the same.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the discernment process for this job was very much a team effort between John and me, not something I did alone. And the move entailed a significant sacrifice for John, a physician, who is leaving his position as chief of geriatrics at a hospital here in St. Louis so we can move to D.C. He recently accepted a new geriatrics position at a hospital in D.C.
We both believed that this was God’s will for our family, and we’re excited about this new chapter in our lives.
But it’s not without its sacrifices, and it is, in some ways, a surprising development. God is full of surprises!
Any final thoughts on discernment or your book on the saints?
That book, in many ways, is relevant to discernment decisions. It takes readers through my 15-year journey and decision points, which were not at all clear at the time. I discerned step by step, speaking with the saints through prayer and seeking God’s will. It was not all black and white. I found that trust in him and attentiveness to God’s will are what bring joy.
From working at the White House while engaged to a medical student 800 miles away to dealing with my father in his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease to dealing with the moral and emotional questions of infertility, I came — with the help of the saints — to decisions that brought peace.
God is faithful if we are truly attentive and yearn to know his will. He eventually makes it clear, but sometimes he asks us to walk in trust. It’s a hard lesson. Learning that has helped me, and I hope my story helps readers.
My Sisters the Saints offers readers a glimpse of how one modern, believing woman struggles to do God’s will in the company of the saints.