On March 28, John Deedy, managing editor of Commonweal from 1967 to 1978, died at age eighty-two. Jack came to Commonweal at a tense moment and in delicate circumstances. The magazine was still riding high on the wave of postconciliar energy. The staff, however, was divided, not by politics or theology or ideology, but by personality and generation as well as the question of whether the magazine should look primarily to the secular or to the Catholic world as its chief point of reference.
Much of this story is told in Rodger Van Allen’s history, The Commonweal and American Catholicism. Unlike the internal bloodlettings suffered by many political and corporate teams, Commonweal’s differences were pursued in a way that would make the Marquis of Queensbury look like a brawler. But Jack’s hiring, without consultation among the whole staff, threatened to add a spark to a combustible atmosphere.
That never happened. It was impossible not to like Jack. He added sparks, but of a different sort. Professional skill, to be sure, for Jack was the product of a long career in journalism, first as teenage stringer for the Worcester Telegram and the Boston Post, then freelancer in Ireland and France following his World War II military service, and finally editor of diocesan papers in Worcester and Pittsburgh who had covered three session of Vatican II.
Then there was sheer energy. Office life benefited from...