There have been many heartfelt tributes to Mark Shields, including John Carr’s remarks at Shields’s funeral Mass, which Commonweal published a few days ago. For viewers of the PBS NewsHour, where Shields served as a political commentator for thirty-three years, his sagacity and sharp wit were a weekly reminder that politics and public service could indeed be noble callings. He was much admired not only for his intelligence and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary politics, but for his unpretentiousness and generosity of spirit. Commonweal was one of the many organizations that greatly benefited from Shields’s willingness to lend a hand.
For many years, Shields provided Commonweal with a laudatory and enthusiastic quotation to be used in our direct-mail campaigns to prospective subscribers. My efforts to find out who initially asked Shields for that endorsement have proved futile. But as print magazines moved into the new digital world, direct-mail efforts became less and less effective. It was apparent that Commonweal needed an additional source of income beyond subscriptions and the indispensable contributions of the Commonweal Associates. Following the example of other nonprofits, we decided to put on a biannual dinner and fundraiser honoring someone with the Catholic in the Public Square Award. We hoped to recognize public figures who brought a recognizable Catholic sensibility and a genuine concern for the common good—otherwise known as the commonweal—to their work.