A Farewell Note

Three Decades at Commonweal
The Commonweal staff (Rob Jefferson)

After twenty-eight years at Commonweal, fifteen as editor, I will be stepping aside after this issue. I am especially pleased that Dominic Preziosi, our executive editor and the person who has successfully steered our ever-expanding digital platform for the past six years, will be succeeding me. Dominic is a very gifted writer and editor who takes special pleasure in instructing and mentoring our increasingly youthful staff. He is respected and liked by all his colleagues. As editor, Dominic will also be returning Commonweal to the venerable tradition of having someone who was educated by Jesuits at the top of the masthead. (That seems especially fitting now that we have a Jesuit pope!)

I began reading Commonweal shortly after college. I had not come across this kind of writing, or thinking, anywhere else, and I was hooked. Commonweal writers asked the kinds of questions, and explored the kinds of commitments, that I naturally gravitated to. I have always had what many would call a primitive or naïve belief—despite appearances and a good deal of evidence—that finally there is a moral order to the universe. Likewise, Commonweal writers insisted that a debate over moral questions—not merely a contest of competing interests—lies at the heart of democracy. And they insisted that religion still had a vital, perhaps indispensable, role to play in shaping American culture and intellectual life.

Commonweal exists because we—and that certainly includes our faithful readers—believe that common ground with those we disagree with can be found when we are willing to engage one another honestly, respectfully, and fairly.

My nearly three decades at Commonweal have been a great blessing for me as both a Catholic and a journalist and editor. I could not have asked for better mentors than Peggy and Peter Steinfels, for more talented and interesting colleagues than former editors Patrick Jordan, Bob Hoyt, Daria Donnelly, and Grant Gallicho. Commonweal’s current editorial staff is just as impressive and just as much of a pleasure to work with. I owe more than I can say to Tom Baker and Jim Hannan, who have somehow kept the challenging business side of Commonweal running smoothly. Tiina Aleman has done the same in our fabled one-person “production department.” Rosemary Deen has long been our equally indefatigable poetry editor. Commonweal’s Board of Directors has been unstintingly supportive. Dominic, I am sure, will bring his own distinctive sense of purpose to Commonweal, but what will not change is Commonweal’s commitment to exploring the issues of the day in a civil manner and from a singular Catholic perspective. I hope to contribute my own two cents as I assume my new role as “senior writer.”

These are very challenging times for journalism, and especially for little journals of opinion. The fact that you, our readers, think that what Commonweal does makes a real difference both for the church and for our common life together as citizens is a constant inspiration for me, and for the rest of the staff.

I have been cleaning out my file cabinet. In those files are dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of letters from Commonweal readers. Coming across this correspondence—both critical and complimentary—I have been reminded of the extraordinary connection tens of thousands of people have felt to this unique journalistic enterprise.

These letters have long strengthened my faith in what Commonweal stands for. Commonweal exists because we—and that certainly includes our faithful readers—believe that common ground with those we disagree with can be found when we are willing to engage one another honestly, respectfully, and fairly. That shared understanding doesn’t happen overnight. But it can happen when a relationship of trust has been built between a magazine and its readers. Creating that sense of trust has been the work of many different editors and writers over the long history of the magazine. It is a trust I know that Dominic and his staff will only deepen and expand on.

Commonweal’s singular voice is more important today than perhaps it has ever been. I’m looking forward to attending Commonweal’s one-hundredth birthday celebration just six years from now. I know that my enthusiasm about that milestone is shared by the entire Commonweal family. It has been and remains a great privilege for me to be part of this exceptionally thoughtful and exceptionally dedicated community.

In the magazine’s first issue, the editors explained that Commonweal “will be the independent, personal product of its editors and contributors, who, for the most part, will be laymen. Its pages will be open to writers holding different forms of Christian belief, and in some cases to authors who do not profess any form of Christian faith. Where the opinion of its editors, contributors, and readers differ on subjects yet unsettled by competent authority, it will be an open forum for the discussion of such differences in a spirit of good temper.”

I believe that legacy still flourishes here, and will only continue to flourish under Commonweal’s new editor and his able colleagues.

Published in the July 6, 2018 issue: 
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Paul Baumann is Commonweal’s senior writer. He is working on a book titled Why Do I Go to Church?

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