On the Tuesday following Memorial Day in 2007, I anxiously rode the subway up to 116th Street in Manhattan and then walked several more blocks to Commonweal’s office on Riverside Drive. Publisher Tom Baker had agreed to take me on as a summer intern despite my lack of journalistic experience. My internship turned into full-time employment as the summer came to an end. Thus my sentimental education at Commonweal began.
As a summer intern, I spent my days recording answers from reader surveys that had gone out a few weeks earlier and entering data about who Commonweal readers are and what they are most drawn to in the magazine. I spent some time climbing around in the overstuffed archive closet and being fascinated by old issues of the magazine dating back to the 1920s and ’30s. I was given galleys to proof and sat in on editorial meetings. I even got to help write headlines for articles. The best part of being a summer intern, though, was getting a taste of what the Commonweal daily lunch table was like.
Every day at one o’clock, the entire Commonweal staff (eight to ten people, most days) would gather for lunch in the conference room overlooking Riverside Park and the Hudson River. The conversation would range from baseball and television shows, to theater, theology, and politics. Gossip about journalism, academia, and the church was also part of the mix. Guests were always welcome: I remember lunches with Peter Steinfels, Paul Lakeland, and Donna Freitas, among others. Exposure to this unusual community of journalists, intellectuals, and academics inspired me to become a theologian. I wanted to make a serious contribution to these conversations, and to become someone who could help bring the next generation of students into the Commonweal fold.
In a way, the magazine is an extension of those wide-ranging lunch-table conversations. Commonweal thinks that theologians, journalists, students, readers, and everyone in between should have an opportunity to voice their opinion about what is happening in the world and in the church. My experience at Commonweal taught me that, as a young woman, I can contribute and my voice can be heard.
From our 90th Anniversary feature "Formative Years," in which we asked a number of our former staff members (along with our current marketing coordinator) to write about their responsibilities at Commonweal, what they learned while working here, and about their hopes for the future of the magazine. See all of their contributions here.