From Army Officer to Canon Lawyer and Podcaster
Meet the 58-year-old who has embarked on not one but two new careers.
In 1988, while leading U.S. troops along the 38th Parallel in Korea, 2nd Lt. Michele McAloon knew little about canon law and even less about the yet-to-be-invented medium of podcasting.
Today, she works in both podcasting and canon law.
“Many times, as a younger woman, I felt that there was something more I wanted to do, something more I wanted to contribute, but I did not know what and definitely did not know how to,” muses McAloon, speaking to the Register April 22 from her home in Wiesbaden, Germany.
After a career in the U.S. military and working with the State Department, at age 54, and having earned a licentiate in canon law, she began practicing as a canon lawyer. And, in March 2020, she began hosting a literary podcast, Cross Word.
From soldier to podcaster, via canon law — what an interesting journey.
“In my 20s I watched The Terminator movies,” McAloon told the Register. “The underlying theme of those movies was a quest to answer the question of what it means to be human. My attempt to answer this question led me in many ways to the foot of the cross. I decided to study for a master’s degree in theology to really begin to understand the human person in the light of salvation.” Her subsequent decision to study canon law was, in many ways, she maintains, a natural evolution of this continuing quest. “I like the discipline of canon law,” she says, “and the ability to serve the People of God in a profound and meaningful way.”
Describing herself as “naturally busy,” as a canon lawyer and now, with a podcast series, at 58 years old, her life appears to have gotten a whole lot busier. McAloon says she tries to temper her natural energy and restless spirit with time for contemplation and prayer. As she has gown older, however, she has come to appreciate the need for “quiet reflection as an important part of becoming more fully human and alive. … I try to go to Mass frequently throughout the week. This reminds me of why I am doing what I do.”
Upon graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1985, McAloon was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Transportation Corps. She went on to become an Army pilot for both helicopters and fixed-winged aircraft, serving at home and abroad. In 1993, she married Brendan McAloon, a fellow army officer. Today the couple have three adult sons. When her husband was assigned to missions overseas, Michele transferred to the Army Reserve. Thereafter, she worked with the State Department in Moldova, Azerbaijan and finally Croatia.
Eventually, in 2010, the McAloon family moved to Belgium, while there Michele studied at the Catholic University of Leuven. Subsequently, she completed a Master’s in Theology at what is now Catholic Distance University, based in Charles Town, W. Va. When her husband was posted to Paris in 2012, Michele studied – in French – for a degree in Canon Law at the Catholic University of Paris.
So, in the context of so much academic study, why also a literary podcast? “Reading is very much back in vogue,” explains McAloon. “Publishers tell me they are selling more books than ever.” She goes on to point out that people like to talk books, illustrating this with an age-old conversation starter at parties: “What are you reading right now?” As a lifelong reader, McAloon loves talking books. Her podcast is, she says, “just an extension of a lifetime habit of reading and wanting to talk about books.”
Her interest in podcasting started by accident. In 2018, while on a trip back to the United States from Europe, she agreed to discuss canon law on a Catholic radio station. “This was one of the best decisions of my life,” she thinks, as it awakened a hitherto unknown passion for audio. A year or so later, Cross Word was born.
There are lots of podcasts about books so what is different about Cross Word? “First, I ask authors to talk about their books,” she replies, “and secondly, I read every word the author has written in a book.” McAloon chooses books she has a genuine interest in, an interest she believes her audience will share. What literary genres is she particularly interested in? Ultimately, she feels, a “good book” attempts to answer the question: What is truth? “A good book, whether it be history, political, fiction, or non-fiction must reveal, in some way, an understanding of transcendence and our relationship to it,” she says. “Most books, whether Catholic or not, fiction or nonfiction, gravitate toward the transcendent,” she reflects. “I love bringing out these themes in an author’s work.” The only books she has no interest in are those in which there is a “confused anthropology that denies the human person as a creation of God.”
Which begs the question: who is the target audience for Cross Word? “Anybody who loves to read and talk about books,” she replies. Her podcast is, she says, simply a book discussion that happens to have a global audience – from Australia to Austin, Indonesia to Indianapolis, the Solomon Islands to Seattle – so far Cross Word has notched up 60 episodes. Is it difficult to get authors to appear on the show? “No, authors love to talk about their work,” Michele contends, before pointing out, “What is hard sometimes is getting through the phalanx of publicists to the actual author.” As her podcast has grown in popularity, however, she finds that it is publishing houses and authors who are contacting her now in the hope of being on the show.
To have a love of books is one thing but to become a podcaster requires a whole new skill set. How hard was it to create a podcast? “I am 58 years old, so computer technology is not second nature to me as it is for some of the younger folks,” she confesses, but then adds: “I am a quick learner!”
What does she make of the ongoing podcast media revolution? “The most fascinating thing in the world to a human being is another human being. The explosion in podcasting is proof of this statement,” she observes. “We love to talk, to be spoken to, podcasting in so many ways does all of this.” In particular, she sees the recent expansion of Catholic podcasting as “amazing”, part of what she describes as “a Catholic art and literary Golden Age”. Because of this moment in history, she feels there is so much to talk about today.
In light of this insight, what is her ambition for the podcast? “I would like to be nationally syndicated so I can reach more people,” she admits, “Cross Word is a form of evangelization for me. It is my hope that at least one person after hearing one of my podcasts begins to ask questions that lead them to salvation. That, in the end, is the best I can hope for.”