My Goodbye Column

The Register and Me

BY Tom Hoopes
August 9-22, 2009 Issue

I have been writing for the Register for 20 years — and hope to make it 30 or 40 before I’m done. I will continue to write for the Register. Not, however, as its executive editor.

I have been offered, and have accepted, a position at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. I will be the director of strategic communications in their advancement department, as well as writer in residence, teaching a couple of classes and getting ready to do more. As Register readers know, Benedictine takes its academics and campus life seriously. It is clearly becoming one of America’s great Catholic colleges.

One of my duties will be instructing the students who run the school newspaper, The Circuit. It will be great having a captive audience to tell journalism stories to. The Register has given me many.

In my years at the Register, I’ve had the chance to meet all kinds of Catholic leaders: artists, senators, singers, athletes, authors, cardinals, bishops, activists — and heroes. Eighteen years ago, the great Register editor Fran Maier gave me the assignment of shepherding an Albanian priest from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He had been in communist gulags for 26 years, and he needed help getting through American airports and in and out of taxi cabs.

I learned the stories of these wonderful people, learned how the Church works, learned how to be a reporter — and learned how to navigate airports and taxis — at the Register. I left to do other things, but kept in touch, and stayed on the freelance payroll.

Late in the 1990s, I began inundating Legionary Father Owen Kearns, the publisher, with ideas about what the paper should be doing. In 1999, he agreed with my ideas, and he hired me to enact them.

I had a terrible first year, in many respects. While my family was still in Washington, I would stay late in the office, taking hours to do badly the things that I now do in minutes. One night it got so late I slept in the production room.

Slowly but surely, though, it started getting better.

We instituted a three-source rule. There are “three sides” to every story in the Register: the Catholic position, the opposing position (we give you their argument, and then we answer it), and the “man on the street” perspective.

We refocused stories so that they tell you about who, not just what. We tried to make the paper timelier and more relevant, while continuing to tell the story of what the Church is doing in the world.

Father Owen Kearns is the editor in chief with the final say in what we do. He will remain so. That’s good, because he has kept me from taking the paper off the rails more than once. I will always be grateful to him for that — and for the thousand signs of respect he has shown that have ennobled me and enabled me to do my job.

I remember once when we put the paper to bed while Father Owen was away. A page-one story we printed provoked three prominent bishops to call him with tough questions. He stood by our story, sight unseen, at a personal cost, simply because he trusted me and the other editors.

About those other editors: I can’t take credit for their quality, but I’m immensely proud that I helped hire them. I was there for Dave Pearson’s interview, and I personally called John Burger to encourage him to move to Connecticut from his New York perch. Tom Wehner’s résumé was like a light in the darkness when it came in at the end of a long and difficult search — and our blog readers already know Tom “Scoop” McFeely. I can’t imagine my life for the past six years (and can hardly imagine the next six) without Robyn Lee. Amy Smith has rounded out our team nicely, so I know I’m leaving the paper in good hands.

And now that I have named people, I can’t not name others: The intrepid Joe Pronechen is the first writer I edited in my office; Tim Drake was a guy the Holy Spirit led us to in my first year, and he has made us look good ever since.

These are the people who make the Register what it is.

Now I see why people don’t start naming names. There are so many more: our fearless leader for so many years, Brendan McCaffery, publishing guru Angelo Matera, award-winning designer Kevin Bedan, Web wonder woman Melissa Hartog, the indefatigable Lynne Hardt, the sharp-eyed Lynn Wehner, and Eileen Schreck, who (unbeknownst to readers) was once illustrated in the Culture of Life section as a mother holding five infants: the editorial staff. And now I can’t not mention the incomparable Vivian Santilli; Vincine Franchilli, the Bronx scrapper; Mike Lambert, the Georgian hunter for dollars; Michelle “Glug” Kopfmann; Debbie “49er” Aguiar; the lovely Sue Lachapelle; the mighty Eric LeStrange; the secret to Circle Press’ success, Claudia Volkman; David “Party Planning Committee” Pascarelli; and the beautiful-voiced Debbie Paxson. Pearson claims he discovered Danielle Bean, but he’s wrong, and I’m glad we have her at Faith & Family.

The Register has been with me my entire adult life.

When I announced that I would be leaving Circle Media, Legionary Father John Bartunek sent a note to my wife, April, our eight children and me.

“I am sure the kids are going to love Kansas!” he said. “I am also confident that Providence will work effectively to maintain the current excellence of the Register and Faith & Family, an excellence achieved on your watch.”

That’s exactly right. The Register is what it is not because of the efforts of any one person. It’s the work of a team — and more than the team. It is clear to me that God grants us a kind of “grace of state” to do the things he wants done.

The Register’s job is to provide active Catholics the tools they need to engage the culture. God wants that to happen. I trust he will continue to get it done.