By DR. DAVID KING, Ph.D. | Published November 22, 2022
In the opening of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece film, “Goodfellas,” the protagonist Henry Hill states in a voiceover that “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me being a gangster was better than being President of the United States.”
While I don’t condone Henry’s chosen profession, I share his passion—all my life, all I really wanted to be was a columnist.
I was saddened, therefore, to the read the news in the last issue of The Georgia Bulletin that Father Kenneth Doyle died on Oct. 28. For 11 years, Father Doyle had written the popular column “Question Corner,” which was syndicated nationally by Catholic News Service and beloved by Catholic readers all over the country. I read Father Doyle’s column for years. I cherished it. To me, Father Doyle was the Catholic version of the great Atlanta columnists I grew up reading.
I’ll share more with you about “Question Corner” in a moment, but in thinking about past local columnists, I immediately recalled that frequently at Thanksgiving, the great Atlanta sportswriter Furman Bisher used to write a litany of thanks. His gratitude could be homespun and simple, and at times it could be profound. He could offer thanks for the traditional 3:00 Saturday college football kick-off at the same time he expressed love for his home and family, and even God. In the spirit of Bisher, and in tribute to Father Doyle, I offer this month’s column as my own expression of thanks.
I am a newspaper addict, and I always have been.
When I was a little boy, one of my daily chores was to collect the newspapers and the mail.
At my house, we got two newspapers a day—the morning Atlanta Constitution for my more liberal-minded mother, and the afternoon Atlanta Journal for my more conservative father. We also got Newsweek magazine every week. My memories of my 1970s childhood are forever connected to Newsweek and its cover stories on the Vietnam War and Watergate.
Sadly, the weekly news magazines aren’t what they used to be. And fewer people read print newspapers now. Yet, I cherish the absolute treasure of print journalism that we had in Atlanta for so many years, and I am glad that even though the Journal and Constitution long ago merged, we still have gifted writers who publish online day after day in the toil of the columnist and the beat reporter.
I am also profoundly grateful for our own beloved Georgia Bulletin; as I have written before, the paper was instrumental in my own conversion to Catholicism decades ago. I happened to be at a friend’s house, and the paper was on his family’s kitchen table. I still remember looking through it and thinking, there is something here I need to know.
The great AJC columnists never shied away from professing either faith or personal values. Looking back on the names that had particular relevance for me is like a Bisher litany: Jesse Outlar, Celestine Sibley, Lewis Grizzard, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Michael Skube, Catherine Fox, Cynthia Tucker, Mark Bradley—the list goes on and on.
Many of these esteemed columnists were not only not shy about professing faith; a couple also proclaimed their Catholicism.
I will never forget, in the early days of the COVID pandemic, when the great sports columnist Mark Bradley wrote a deeply personal piece about the positive COVID test of his parish priest. He had never written so personally before, and he even quoted the Hail Mary. I was so moved that I wrote to him. This is a man whose work I have read since I was in high school, and I almost trembled to contact him. That he wrote back almost immediately, and with genuine feeling and thoughtfulness, meant so much to me.
As crucial as morning coffee
As a boy, then an adolescent, and eventually a college student and adult, I read newspapers every day; I can’t imagine beginning a day without a paper, whether in print or online. The paper is as crucial as morning coffee. I begin with the liturgical readings for the day, sent by email from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; move on to the AJC, and finish up with bits from The Guardian and The New York Times.
I chuckle at the memory of my paternal grandfather who for decades had a morning habit: he made extra crispy bacon and then turned straight to the obituaries. More often than not, he knew people who had died.
Your Georgia Bulletin arrives every couple of weeks, and of course it’s always online. Our editor Nichole Golden sends out a highlight email as well. To say again that I’m thankful to be a part of our archdiocesan newspaper is not an overstatement, but the truth.
This paper has a long and proud heritage. The great writer Flannery O’Connor wrote more than a 100 book reviews for both the Bulletin and the Savannah-based Southern Cross; those pieces are collected in the book “The Presence of Grace.” One of O’Connor’s most insightful biographers—Lorraine Murray—is a brilliant award-winning columnist who has written for years in both our pages and those of the Atlanta newspaper.
Most important, however, is that the paper reaches people. I hear every week from people not just in the archdiocese, but all over the country, and even all over the world.
I’ve been privileged to write for The Georgia Bulletin for well over a decade. I owe this honor to two people, Deacon Bill Garrett and Mary Anne Castranio. Deacon Garrett was a student in a course I taught for Spring Hill College many years ago. I happened to mention to the deacon one evening that I wished The Georgia Bulletin had more consistent reviews of arts and culture related to the Catholic faith. The deacon said, “I’ll take care of it.”
True to the deacon’s word, two days later I got a message from the paper’s editor Mary Anne Castranio, who offered me an audition.
“Send me one or two columns,” she said, “and then we’ll go from there.”
I submitted my first piece on Flannery O’Connor, and my second on J.R.R. Tolkien, and I’ve been writing ever since.
I really do hear from people all over the world. NPR and CNN have contacted me multiple times for interviews about deceased Catholic celebrities, but those inquires don’t mean nearly as much to me as the young man who wrote from Japan to ask about Eiji Tsuburaya’s baptism, or the Italian from California who expressed his gratitude for my essay on the Godfather films and how it changed his opinion about not only the movies, but his faith.
I hear a lot from religious—nuns, especially—and their appreciation has led to correspondence, presentations, even retreats. Yet to this day, for reasons I may never fully understand, I have never received as much mail as I did about a column I wrote on the former television producer and actor Jack Webb.
I promised that I would return to Father Doyle’s “Question Corner.” In reading more about his life, I learned that he had inherited the column from its creator, Father John Dietzen of the Catholic Post newspaper in Peoria, Illinois. Father Dietzen developed the column in 1971 as a way to offer accurate information to readers who were confused about the many liturgical changes following Vatican II.
Titled “The Question Box,” the column was such a hit that by 1975 Catholic News Service syndicated it to Catholic papers all over the country. Many of the old “Question Box” responses are collected in the books “Catholic Q & A: Answers to the Most Common Questions About Catholicism” and “The New Question Box: Catholic Life in the 1990s.” Father Dietzen wrote the column until the month of his death in 2011, when the job passed to Father Doyle.
In Father Doyle’s obituary, the Catholic News Service wrote of the columnist that “he had such a wonderful connection with the readers who sent him questions. While describing the finer points of Catholic teaching, he always displayed a pastor’s heart.”
When we hear the Word at Mass, we are expected to respond, “Thanks be to God.”
I would suggest that we also express gratitude for our Catholic press, both locally and globally, that does so much to spread the beauty and truth of the faith throughout the world.
Thank you, readers, and Happy Thanksgiving!