Was I still 23 or just barely 24 when they sent me to interview with Bishop Clark? I can’t recall, but either way I was young. Really young.
I’d stumbled on the job opportunity by accident and applied on a whim, never seriously considering what it would be like to work for the church — an institution not known at that time (the mid-1980s) for putting laywomen in positions of authority. Nor had I given any thought to what it would be like to work for — and simultaneously cover journalistically — a Roman Catholic bishop.
I was so nervous that I don’t remember much about the interview, save for the gentle way Bishop Clark corrected me when, in response to his question, I supposed that there were eight counties in the Diocese of Rochester. Or how stunned I was when he asked if he could continue writing his weekly column. Just imagine — the publisher, the Bishop of Rochester, asking permission from some kid who didn’t even know there are 12 counties in the diocese!
In spite of my ignorance, I walked out of the interview feeling it had gone better than expected. Nevertheless, I reasoned, there was no way Bishop Clark and the all-male, mostly clerical search committee would choose for such an important job a young woman with only two years of prior experience. Yet that’s exactly what they did.
Only much later did I come to understand how it happened. As I have observed him doing so many times in the intervening years, Bishop Clark had appointed to the search committee a group of trusted experts — and then put his faith in their recommendations, even if they were a bit risky.
Risky indeed. Just a few months after I was hired, the tiny new staff and I were confronted with our first sexual-abuse case. We perhaps brashly followed standard journalistic practice to the letter, publishing a detailed front-page story complete with a photo of the accused. But the newspaper’s various constituencies apparently did not expect standard journalistic practice from the Courier, at least not on such a “sensitive” matter. Suffice it to say, a seemingly endless barrage of angry phone calls and letters was rather unsettling. (Thank God we didn’t have e-mail back then!)
With the Courier’s offices still downtown, we had little contact with anyone from the Pastoral Center, except for the ever-circumspect Bishop Dennis W. Hickey, who was serving as the paper’s general manager. So not knowing Bishop Clark’s reaction to the story, I was a bit apprehensive about the prospect of bumping into him on an assignment a little while later. But his only comment was a genuinely concerned “I hope it hasn’t been too rough on you.”
Since then, I’m sure our coverage of various issues has caused Bishop Clark to hold his breath, wince, grimace and groan on many occasions. But through it all, he has supported my efforts and those of the late-Bishop Hickey to maintain the Courier’s journalistic integrity, and demonstrated genuine interest in and concern for the people in its employ.
That’s why I’ve often told my colleagues in the Catholic Press Association that I have the best job — and the best boss — in the Catholic press. They’re surely tired of hearing it and probably more than a bit jealous, but I’m proud to say they agree, this year awarding Bishop Clark the Bishop John England Award, the association’s highest award for a publisher.
Congratulations on the award, your jubilee and your impending retirement, Bishop Clark. And thank you so much for all your support and for taking a chance on me many years ago.
Franz is general manager and editor of the Catholic Courier and El Mensajero Cat√≥lico.