My time at Commonweal, where I worked as the editorial assistant, was sandwiched between tours of duty in academic theology. I consider the time spent at Commonweal to be invaluable, and I believe the magazine to be more important with each passing year. Commonweal continues to navigate the volatile intersection of religion, politics, and culture, giving voice to Catholics who are seeking to understand their faith in a challenging secular environment. Today, faithful adherence to Catholicism risks being subsumed under partisan politics. The very colorful world of faith is too often portrayed in black and white, by those both inside and outside the church. In the face of an often hostile Western context, the church is tempted to fall back into a narrow defensive posture. Commonweal takes the secular antagonism toward Catholicism seriously, but has resisted any sectarian reaction or retreat from that engagement. The magazine has been able to do that because it stands within the Catholic tradition, while knowing that the tradition must continue to develop.
As I am writing this I am surrounded by the works of John Henry Newman, the subject of my academic research. Perhaps it is not surprising that I went on to study this seminal modern figure after working for Commonweal. Newman believed that the church must engage the world boldly, despite the risks of such an encounter.
All of the above, if I may borrow from Newman, is still a somewhat “notional” view of the magazine because it does not account for its “real” constitutive elements: the editorial and administrative staff, the contributors, the subscribers, the many readers, and the visitors to the website. As the editorial assistant, I had the pleasure of interacting with all these members of the Commonweal community. And while I relish the articles and essays in the magazine, I find myself thinking just as fondly of such things as the staff lunches—table fellowship featuring equal measures of challenging dialogue and hilarity—and my phone conversations with subscribers. The website, blog, and digital subscriptions have opened a new frontier for the magazine, one with as many opportunities as challenges. But the real success of Commonweal will always depend on the quality of its people, an asset I have been lucky enough to experience firsthand.
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.