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Gerardine Frawley: Remembering a Great Catholic Publisher

BY Francis X. Maier

September 30 - October 6, 2001 Issue | Posted 9/30/01 at 2:00 PM

 

DENVER—Gerry Frawley died Sept. 6 after a long illness. When I mentioned this to my wife Suann the next day, she was quiet for a few moments and then simply said: “I wish you hadn't told me that. Now I'm going to be sad.” Yes, I thought: Sadness at the passing of a great lady is an appropriate thing. For Gerry will be remembered withaffection and respect by more people than she ever would have imagined.

Through the newspapers she published for more than two decades, Gerardine Ann Frawley encouraged, taught, formed, informed and motivated literally hundreds of thousands of Catholics each year—not just in the United States, but abroad as well—at a pivotal moment in the postconciliar Church. Week in and week out for most of the 1980s, during the heart of the Wojtyla pontificate, the National Catholic Register and Catholic Twin Circle offered some of the best content available anywhere in the American Catholic press, with regular correspondents in Rome, Paris, Manila, Lima, Warsaw and Jerusalem, and stringers and contributors from around North America.

Gerry not only made this possible with her financial resources, she fostered it with her personal zeal.

She was an intelligent woman with shrewd instincts about people, but I doubt she ever saw herself as an intellectual or even aspired to be one. Gerry had a clear, simple faith that rested on two pillars: love for the Church and loyalty to Peter. Whatever built up these two pillars was good, whatever didn't, wasn't.

She also believed in the common sense of the average Catholic, and she had confidence that good information, attractively delivered, would empower that common sense. She had a particular passion for the issues of daily life: marriage, family, education, prayer. She understood the broad strokes of editorial and business strategy, but her main role in our weekly editorial team meetings—which she attended frequently—was listening, encouraging, and keeping the papers focused on their larger evangelical mission.

Gerry was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and like many another naturalized American she had a patriotic ardor that led her and her husband, entrepreneur Patrick Frawley, into some odd political alliances. Critics on the left delighted in branding them “right wing” and seeing dark Church conspiracies in their Knights of Malta membership.

But in working for Gerry for 15 years, I had exactly the opposite experience. Her political convictions were almost as strong as her religious ones, but she believed above all in telling the truth and serving the truth. She respected intelligence and competence in the people she hired, she listened carefully to differing points of view, she was patient with honest mistakes, and she was absolutely determined to publish papers that were excellent by any standard.

Greatness in a publisher can be measured by two things: the quality of what she publishes, and the quality of the people she gathers around her and through whom she works. Katherine Graham was such a woman, and the Washington Post is her legacy. In her own way, in the Catholic press, G e r a r d i n e Frawley accomplished the same.

Gerry presided over an environment where an entire generation of Catholic writers and editors honed their talent and cut their professional teeth—George Weigel, Greg Burke, Joan Frawley Desmond, Greg Erlandson, Bill McGurn, Alejandro Bermudez, Mary Meehan, Joop Koopman, Phil Lawler, Bob Moynihan and dozens of others.

Just as importantly, despite her wealth and social standing, she never lost the “human touch” with the people she knew, including the staff who worked for her. When she asked about the children of an employee, which was often, she really wanted to know. And while I could never quite bring myself to call her “Gerry” until I'd left the papers—she was always my publisher and therefore “Mrs. Frawley”; anything less formal seemed, in my mind, inconceivable—she showed a warmth and kindness to my family and myself which we've never forgotten.

Gerry always struck me as the kind of person who is made really human by the unpublicized suffering in her life: the struggle with her husband's alcoholism and recovery, the birth of a handicapped daughter, the loss of a child, the daily joys and sorrows of being a wife and mother that money and social position don't begin to mitigate.

And through it all, she loved Jesus Christ and the Church—not as insurance for the afterlife, but sincerely and simply because she believed. This is how I'll remember her: not for her wealth, not for her social standing, not for her generosity to dozens of charities, not even as a good boss.

I'll remember her because she used whatever she had to do something good for the Lord—and the National Catholic Register, now nearing 75 years in print, testifies to her service.

Gerry probably didn't think of herself as a missionary or an apostle. But in her own way, she was, and a lot of people who don't even know her name have their faith because of it. That's a worthwhile life; a life that makes a difference. Nobody can do any better.

Francis X. Maier is chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver and special assistant to Archbishop

Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

He served as editor of the Register, 1979-93, and editor in chief of Twin Circle Publishing, 1991-93.