Three hundred gregarious, generous, and astonishingly attractive people gathered at Pier Sixty in Manhattan on the night of October 19 to celebrate the eighty-fifth anniversary of Commonweal and to honor Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver with Commonweal’s second Catholic in the Public Square Award. A good time was had by all, and a bit of money was raised to support the magazine. Even better, the pulse of “liberal Catholicism” was taken and—contrary to malicious rumors—found to be surprisingly strong.
Editor Paul Baumann kicked off the evening’s presentations with a brief restatement of the magazine’s mission, a reminder of the challenges facing print media, and a warning to those in the room that “Yes, there will be a second collection.” Political commentator Mark Shields, the first recipient of the Catholic in the Public Square Award, then entertained the faithful with a self-deprecating account of his triumphs as a consultant to several failed Democratic presidential campaigns. Shifting to theological speculation, he alerted those in attendance to a new definition of eternity: “Joe Biden being interviewed by Chris Matthews.” In presenting the award to Tim Shriver, Mark recalled having first met Tim while working on Sargent Shriver’s vice-presidential campaign in 1972, when Tim was just thirteen years old. Accepting the award, Tim spoke in passionate, inspired, and quite moving terms about the faith of his father and recently deceased mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics. Tim said he was raised by Commonweal Catholics—by two loving parents who took both their faith and their responsibilities as citizens seriously. Tim’s acceptance speech was a great tribute to his family and a warm endorsement of the magazine’s role in both the church and the broader culture.
A few words need to be devoted to the evening’s spectacular venue. The rooms at Chelsea Piers, for both the cocktail hour and the dinner, had an unobstructed view of the Hudson River and a majestic October sunset. Even New Jersey looked lovelier than usual that evening. And the guest list was equally impressive. Tim Shriver’s sister, Maria Shriver, TV news reporter and wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was there to toast her brother, along with a small army of Tim’s friends and supporters of Special Olympics.
Folks came from far and wide, with an especially strong contingent of priests (and one bishop) from the Diocese of Brooklyn led by the redoubtable Fr. Robert Lauder, as well as an entire planeload of scholars from the University of Dayton. Of course, we owe a special debt of gratitude to our table hosts. Among them, Jack Miles, a regular contributor as well as a Pulitzer Prize winner for God: A Biography, flew in from California. Scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson came from Atlanta, saying he couldn’t miss an opportunity to straighten out the thinking of his former student Paul Baumann at least one more time. Monk Malloy, honorary chair of the event and president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, hosted a table for the Fighting Irish, and reminded the audience of the university’s long ties to Commonweal. As Monk noted, George Shuster, the magazine’s first managing editor, finished a distinguished and varied career by becoming a special assistant to the legendary Fr. Theodore Hesburgh. Notre Dame faculty stalwarts Cathleen Kaveny and John McGreevy were also chatting it up with guests. Novelists Alice McDermott, Peter Quinn, and Rand Richards Cooper (who occasionally reviews movies) added literary flair to the evening. John Borst, who claims to have saved every issue of Commonweal for the last forty-five years, once again made his way out of the Canadian wilderness and all the way to New York—and this time he brought his lovely wife Suzanne.
It was a wonderful evening, and all for a good cause. Like everyone in the publishing business, Commonweal must find new ways to generate revenue if it hopes to keep the magazine alive in what some have called the “post-print era.” Commonweal Conversations are part of that effort. If space allowed, we would mention everyone who made the trip to Chelsea Piers to celebrate another Commonweal milestone, and to help make sure that there will be more milestones in the future.
And yes, there will be a second collection.