Happy 30th to The East Tennessee Catholic

ETC staffers have traveled around the diocese and around the world to bring readers the news

By Dan McWilliams

The East Tennessee Catholic turns 30 years old Sept. 8, and I can’t believe I’ve been around for 22 of those years.

In that time my editors and I have published special issues, gone on exciting trips to other countries, visited every church in the diocese, and turned out hundreds of twice-monthly and later monthly issues with all of the news of the diocese and beyond.

I was hired by ETC founding editor Edgar Miller as the new assistant editor Sept. 1, 1999. Ed retired, and then-assistant April Partin moved up to the editor’s role. April was succeeded as editor by Mary C. Weaver in 2001 and Mary by Bill Brewer in 2012.

Ed’s story

Ed is still going strong today. Here, he takes up the story of the ETC’s founding:

“Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell was adamant that he wanted the first issue of the diocesan newspaper to come out on Sept. 8, 1991, the third anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Knoxville. That meant I had only two months to create it from scratch.

“After working out my two weeks’ notice at United Press International, we headed for Knoxville where I was to start on Monday, July 1. To meet that deadline, the paper would have to be printed no later than Tuesday night, Sept. 3, and go in the mail Thursday to arrive in homes before Sunday, Sept. 8.

“We drove down to Knoxville over the last weekend in June and moved into the spare bedroom in Mother’s apartment in Maryville.

“On Monday morning, I reported to the Chancery to begin work. I knew I had a difficult task ahead. Even though time was short, I was brashly confident I could do it. Just three years earlier I had redesigned The Oak Ridger and started its Sunday paper. I also designed the prototype of the Spanish-language paper I tried to start in Washington, and I had overseen redesigns of the Chattanooga Times and the Catholic Standard. I knew what had to be done and how to do it. The only difference was that here I was a staff of one. No support staff. Those other successes occurred in functioning news organizations with full facilities and competent staffs.

“Bishop O’Connell had impaneled a task force, headed by Larry DeWine, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Parish in Knoxville, to plan the creation of the diocesan paper. Among other things, the task force had chosen the name of the paper, The East Tennessee Catholic. The group had also written a mission statement —‘to inspire the people of the Diocese of Knoxville, to deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith, to share that faith, and to enhance community’—and goals—‘build community, educate, evangelize, inform, inspire.’

“I was pleased with both and immediately framed the mission and goals statement and hung it on the wall by my desk as a constant reminder of what I was about.”

Ed found himself in a large office at the Chancery with a computer of the latest model with 80 megabytes of hard drive and the PageMaker layout program. In those days, the Chancery was located where the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus parish offices are now. A mailing list was assembled, as “I knew that the bishop wanted to mail the paper to every registered Catholic parishioner in the diocese at no charge. He also wanted the paper to be free of advertising, which eliminated another stumbling block for me. But he insisted that I would be the only employee of the paper,” Ed recalls.

Vol. 1, No. 1 The first issue of the ETC, an eight-page tabloid designed and laid out by Ed Miller, is dated Sept. 8, 1991.

In less than two months, Ed had to learn to use PageMaker, find a commercial offset rotary press to print the paper, find a mail service to label and send out the papers, and set up a system to get news from the various diocesan offices and the 20-plus parishes around the diocese. Ed’s wife, Ghislaine, suggested a “parish notes” column that would report on activities in every parish—that column is still around in today’s ETC. Ed also arranged for paid stringers in each corner of the diocese to report news and had to find columnists, including one to comment on the weekly Mass reading. That last job went to Father Gerald Coverdale, OP, of Johnson City and was later held for many years by Father Joe Brando.

Ed also had to settle on a format for the newspaper. He decided on an eight-page tabloid and produced a prototype issue. Alliance Press of Knoxville was chosen as the new paper’s printer.

Sister Mary de Lellis Allison, RSM, of St. Mary’s Hospital became the principal proofreader in those early days of the ETC. Bishop O’Connell also “volunteered his services” as a proofreader, Ed says.

“The first issue came out on schedule,” he continues. “Finally, the flats for the first edition were delivered to Alliance Press on Sept. 3, 1991, and the paper would roll off the presses at midnight.”

Over the next eight years, “the story of my life at the ETC was the anxiety of squeezing everything into the upcoming issue, and then turning around and worrying about whether I would have enough for the next one. I always had more than enough,” Ed remembers. “I was correct about the amount of news. I struggled in each issue to find room for the ‘must print’ stories and pictures. I don’t think I ever got a complaint from a reader about the ‘ordinary’ look of the paper. I did get comments on how easy it was to read.”

Ed says he “became skilled at pasting up pages, something I had never done before. And I was my own photographer, shooting with a 35-millimeter Minolta camera and getting my film developed at a shop not too far from the office.

“The members of that original Chancery staff under Bishop O’Connell were a remarkable group of people: Andrea Cox, the bishop’s secretary; Linda Taylor, the office manager; Sister Albertine Paulus, RSM, director of the evangelization office; Father (later Monsignor) Xavier Mankel, the vicar general; Paul Terhaar, director of stewardship; Marcus and Glenda Keyes, co-directors of the Office of Justice–Peace–Integrity of Creation (JPIC); Cathy Qualls, director of religious education; Aurelia Montgomery, superintendent of diocesan schools; Jack Kramer, director of Hispanic Ministry; Larry Cool, finance officer; and David Dodson, Catholic Charities.

“Joining the staff after I did were Janie Hennessy, administrative assistant; Father Vann Johnston, chancellor (now bishop of Kansas City–St. Joseph); Shelby McMillan, receptionist; Father Evan Eckhoff, OFM, director of Adult Christian Living; Terry Torricelli, who replaced Mr. Terhaar as stewardship director; Barbara Daugherty, administrative assistant; and Brigid Johnson, who served as Mrs. Montgomery’s administrative assistant.”

Ed hired a pair of assistants in those early days, including Dan Barile, now deceased, “a great find because he was an accomplished photographer and a fairly good writer,” the ETC founding editor recalls. April Partin came along as assistant editor in 1995.

Heart problems and an angioplasty in 1994 set Ed back temporarily, but he continued on as ETC editor for another five years.

“In the fall of 1998, Andrea Cox, the bishop’s secretary, called me to say the bishop wanted to see me immediately in his office. I left whatever I was doing at the moment and rushed down the hall to the bishop’s office in the front of the building. Such a summons was unusual since he usually came by my office if he just wanted to chat. When I arrived, he gave me the stunning news that he had been asked by Pope John Paul II to become bishop of Palm Beach, Fla. He said that after much prayer and thought he felt he had to obey the pope and take the job even though he was reluctant to leave Knoxville.

“It was an emotional moment for me. I had come to admire and respect the bishop as a boss and as a friend for eight years. . . .

“As the wait for the appointment of a new bishop dragged on into 1999, I became increasingly convinced that it would be a good time for me to retire. I would be 65 in October and eligible for full Social Security benefits and Medicare. Also, I thought it would be better if I announced my retirement before the arrival of a new bishop so that it would not look as if I were resigning because of him.

“Diocesan administrator Father Al Humbrecht had named my assistant editor, April Partin, to succeed me as editor.” When April left the ETC, “Bishop Kurtz asked me to be on the search committee and also to come back temporarily to fill in while he searched for a new editor. I agreed and filled in for a couple of months, working with Dan McWilliams, whom I had hired as assistant editor just before I retired. Eventually, Mary Weaver, whom I had known mainly from the Knoxville Choral Society and other musical groups, was named editor.”

Introducing both Dan and a new bishop

I remember Ed’s editorial column introducing me, and in it he called my mother, Lorraine—a longtime member of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville—a “pillar of the Church.” My mom had shown me Ed’s column in the paper a few weeks before asking for applicants to the assistant’s job, as I had been looking to leave my old post in Clinton, where I was the sports editor.

My first front-page story in the ETC appeared in the Sept. 26, 1999, issue, and it was on the diocesan Youth Mass.

One morning in October 1999, I came to work and found the ETC door closed. Inside, as I found, Ed and April were hard at work pounding out press releases. Why? We had just learned that a priest from Pennsylvania, Monsignor Joseph E. Kurtz, would be our new bishop.

That resulted in April, who in her assistant-editor days went to Ireland for an ordination, taking a trip to the Keystone State to gather information for stories and take photographs of Bishop-elect Kurtz and his co-workers in his parish. All of that content wound up in a large special section we did announcing our new shepherd.

One day in November 1999, April and I shadowed Father Al Humbrecht—who has served as diocesan administrator both times the diocese has been between bishops—as he went to McGhee Tyson Airport to meet Bishop-elect Kurtz on his first visit to Knoxville. April and I followed Father Al inside the airport until he came to the intersection of two hallways. Bishop-elect Kurtz came around the corner after leaving his plane, and the first person he saw in the Diocese of Knoxville was me.

April left the ETC in 2001 to pursue a teaching career, and Mary C. Weaver followed her in the editor’s chair.

Mary’s memories

Mary describes her arrival and years at the newspaper:

“I heard about the editor’s job opening at choir practice one night, and two friends suggested I apply for the job. I had been self-employed as a writer and editor for 12 years and wasn’t interested in an office position. Nonetheless, the idea started to grow on me, and a week or so later, I applied for the vacancy.

“After speaking with then-Bishop Kurtz and then-Father Vann Johnston, I decided I really wanted to work for the Church and use my skills for the diocese. I ended up staying for nearly 12 years and have always been grateful to Bishop Kurtz for hiring me. It was an honor to serve him and later Bishop Stika.

“After coming on board, I believed it was time to redesign the ETC. A designer friend of mine, Tom Russell, now deceased, did the redesign for nothing, and that was great because we couldn’t have afforded him. He gave the paper an updated but classically beautiful look. Some years afterward, my friend Carol Rumbolt—another excellent professional designer—created another beautiful design for us. By that time we’d been given a budget to update both our print edition and website.

“When I was hired in 2001, our website hadn’t been updated in 18 months. So one of my priorities was to upload all that missing newspaper content. Our assistant Dianne Lebert, hired during my first year, spent a lot of time adding content and then keeping the site updated. After Dianne left, Margaret Hunt joined us and also did a great job on the website, the mailing list, and more.

“My favorite ETC issues were those Dan (McWilliams) and I produced when Pope St. John Paul II died and Pope Benedict was elected. We worked an all-nighter to get the Pope John Paul II edition to press on time. Another favorite was the gigantic edition we produced when Bishop Stika was named as our new bishop. Dan worked especially hard on that one, traveling to St. Louis, taking photographs, interviewing lots of people, and writing thousands of words. That issue won a Catholic Press Association second-place award.

“It was a pleasure having the opportunity to travel around the diocese, meet so many Catholics, and hear so many stories about great things happening in East Tennessee. My favorite events were the priestly ordinations, and I’ve always encouraged people to go to ordination Masses. Our churches are rarely full for those occasions, but they are truly memorable and beautiful.

“The most significant trip I made was in 2005, when I went to Guanajuato, Mexico, for the priestly ordination of Father Manuel Pérez. The entire village turned out for his special day, and the celebration went on all weekend. The church was very simple, and the community wasn’t materially wealthy, but the Mass was gorgeous and reverent, with a large choir and lovely choral music. Before Mass there was a solemn procession with many men and women in traditional costumes and riding on horseback, clouds of incense, and hundreds of townspeople. It seemed to me that this community really knew how to celebrate the gift of a priestly vocation.

“Working at the ETC gave me the opportunity to work with many dedicated, talented people. At the top of that list is Dan McWilliams, assistant editor. Dan is a highly gifted writer and editor but also one of the smartest, funniest, best individuals I know.

“I left the ETC in 2012. About a year later I was hired as communications director for the Redemptorists of the Baltimore Province. I spent seven years with them.

“I had been a volunteer in the music program at Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville since my Pope Benedict XVI Schola relocated there in 2009. A year ago I was hired as music director for the parish. Sacred music has been my avocation for many years, so it’s a great gift now to continue serving the Church while doing something I love so much.”

Red ink and green ink

Mary was and is a layout and editing maven. She made sure every font was just right and that every line of type aligned with the baseline grid (meaning, for example, that the third line on page 2 would be exactly across from the third line on page 3), and she almost never let an editing error slip by her.

She and I developed our own comedy routines that we still use today. Under Mary, I began to have a little fun when we proofread a new issue. I would make all of my serious corrections in red ink but would write humorous “corrections” in green ink so that Mary would know not to take them seriously.

Once we published a letter to the editor that contained the sentence “The lion is circling—who will come after us?” The writer meant what generations will succeed ours in tackling whatever crisis he was writing about. But I took “who will come after us” literally. So I wrote in green ink in the margin “the lion.” That drew a cackle from Mary, one of my favorite sounds.

Whenever Satan was mentioned or hinted at in our proofs, however, I used red ink to draw a little devil’s head complete with horns. It’s a shame none of these masterworks of art survive. That’s recycling for you.

Mary and I used to cover the JPIC Office’s Justice Days, which featured some unusual guest speakers. One was Father John Dear, and he made a comment that pro-life activists would be better served campaigning against nuclear weapons. Bishop Kurtz, sitting in the audience, a staunch pro-life supporter (as all our bishops have been), stood up and gently criticized Father Dear for that remark. I’ve always remembered that—it’s the first (and I think only) time I’ve seen a bishop do that.

Mary and I are friends of now 20 years standing, and we often text or e-mail each other, usually with a humorous angle to each communiqué. Margaret Hunt, our former longtime office assistant, also remains a good friend.

Travels with Bill

Bill Brewer followed Mary as editor in 2012 and quickly mastered the layout. I still marvel at how he makes stories jump to another page and squares off the jumps on their new pages amid photographs and other stories. Bill was already an excellent writer after his many years at the Knoxville News Sentinel, and he cranks out several stories for each issue of the ETC.

Bill and I often do “team coverage” of events. We both ride to out-of-town locales, usually with Bill driving. When we return, I frequently say that it’s been another “Bill and Dan Excellent Adventure.”

With Bill, I’ve been to Holy Spirit Church in Soddy-Daisy, St. Mary in Johnson City, and many more churches and schools. Our most recent trips were to Chattanooga for the exhumation and transposition of the remains of Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan, featured in our August issue this summer.

I’ve developed a theory over the years in my travels about the diocese: our rural churches serve the tastiest meals. I still recall a great buffet meal around 2001 at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Mountain City in our diocese’s northeast corner. It was an anniversary event for the late Father Tom Vos, OFM. Poor Bishop Kurtz had to leave that late-morning event early to make it to St. Jude Church in Chattanooga for an early-evening function, a trip of some 260 miles or more across our vast diocese.

Priests and sisters I’ve known; avoiding typos

I’ve gotten to meet so many dedicated priests over the years. The one lasting memory I have of most of them is how nice they are and how kind they have been to me.

I’ve known diocesan legends, like Monsignor Philip F. Thoni and Monsignor Xavier Mankel. Monsignor Thoni said his initials stood for “pray for Thoni.” He served everywhere, including in the military, and came out of retirement several times.

Monsignor Mankel was the master of local Church and city of Knoxville history. He lived through many of the most important events in the history of the dioceses of Nashville and Knoxville and was often a concelebrant at the most significant Masses.

Welcoming a bishop The ETC’s March 22, 2009, edition was a special multi-section issue with stories on then-new Bishop Richard F. Stika.

But I remember him fondly as our ETC proofreader. With his faithful proofreading assistant—his centenarian mother, Willia—he would turn up about sundown on the day before press day, proof our whole paper, and leave it for us to find the next day. There was no liturgical error that could slip by him in our news stories.

Once, in my pre-Catholic days (pre-2003), I made an assumption on an obituary (“last writes,” as a punny cruciverbalist once described them) that was false. I automatically substituted “funeral Mass” for “funeral service,” even though the service was at a funeral home, where a funeral Mass cannot be held. Monsignor Mankel noticed the error in proofing but didn’t mark it. He remembered it the next day—press day—and called us frantically to get us to correct it. However, we had already sent the paper to the printers, and the mistake made its way into the newspaper. I still remember that mistake after more than 18 years and a few others.

Mistakes live forever in print. Bill and I take great pains to avoid them. We proofread our copies and take the pages dripping with red ink to our keyboards and make the corrections. Then we run a spell-check, which often finds a few more mistakes. After that we print the pages again and look them over on a table, and we always find many more things to correct there. Then we finally upload the pages to our printer, the Knoxville News Sentinel, via FTP. Even at that point, we occasionally find a mistake and have to yank a page and substitute it with a correct one.

One priest, the recently retired Father Patrick Resen, took me down a few notches after I told him of a compliment I had received. A woman at my church told me I was handsome, and when I relayed this to Father Resen, he said, “Did you know she’s going blind?” When some people passed by Father Resen in our office once and asked him if he would join them, he said, “Why, are you coming apart?”

Other priests I’ve known who have been so nice to me include Fathers Eric Andrews, CSP, David Boettner, Joe Brando, Frank Brett, Patrick Brownell, Charlie Burton, Joe Campbell, David Carter, Mike Creson, Michael Cummins, John Dowling, Jim Haley, CSP, Jim Harvey, Paul Hostettler, Augustine Idra, AJ, Pete Iorio, Michael Jennings, Chris Michelson, Tom Moser, John O’Neill, John Orr, William Oruko, AJ, Mark Scholz, Ragan Schriver, Brent Shelton, Sam Sturm, Jim Vick, Alex Waraksa, and Dan Whitman and Monsignors Bill Gahagan, Pat Garrity, Bob Hofstetter, Al Humbrecht, and George Schmidt, as well as Bishop Vann Johnston. I know I’m leaving out a few. Some of the above have gone on to their heavenly reward.

Like Mary, I’ve enjoyed covering priestly ordination Masses, and I’ve been fortunate to attend more than 30 of them, as well as a similar number of ordinations to the transitional diaconate. It’s wonderful to interview the young men (and sometimes not-so-young men) after their ordination and to experience their excitement over their vocation. The birth of a new parish is also an enjoyable story to write. And I can’t forget the bishop ordination and installations of Bishop Kurtz in 1999, Archbishop Kurtz in 2007, Bishop Stika in 2009, and Bishop James Vann Johnston Jr. in Springfield, Mo., in 2008.

I’ve also met many wonderful men and women religious over the years. I’ll never forget Sister Albertine and Sister Martha Naber, both now-retired Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. When my dear mother was in her last days and occasionally a patient at St. Mary’s Medical Center, founded by the Sisters of Mercy, Sister Albertine and Sister Martha would visit Mom on their rounds. Mom was always cheered by those visits, and they continued when she moved to an assisted-living center.

Dominican Sisters and Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., are among many other women religious who have been a delight for me to know. They often contribute to the ETC with their knowledge of the Church and with story ideas.

Glenmary Brother Craig Digmann, now serving elsewhere, was one of my favorite interview subjects. He was a tireless advocate for the local Church in Hancock County, and he took me on a tour of his stops in Sneedville, including our tiny St. James the Apostle Church there, for an ETC Magazine story in 2019.

I also enjoy working with my Chancery cohorts, including the above-mentioned Janie Hennessy, Paul Simoneau, Deacon Sean Smith, and many more.

Traveling to Colombia and writing a book

One of the first major events after Bishop Stika’s episcopal ordination in 2009 was the ordination to the priesthood of Father Andres Cano in Pereira, Colombia. I accompanied Bishop Stika and others on that trip and remember it very well—it’s one of only two times I’ve been on a plane. We had a full schedule of events apart from the ordination, and at one stop I found myself dancing with a Colombian lady. I’ve never heard the end of that. The church was full for the ordination Mass, and one thing I remember, oddly, about that liturgy was the ringing of the bell at the consecration. It was a hand bell, rung quite hard by a young man, with the clapper sounding only once, very loudly.

In 2013, I was privileged to write most of the copy for a diocesan 25th-anniversary coffee-table-sized history book. The book, featuring a diocesan history and stories on every parish’s history, won a second-place award in its category from the CPA.

Also in 2013, Bill and I produced a special edition for the diocese’s silver-anniversary Eucharistic Congress. In October 2015 we would do another special issue, headlined “The Francis Effect,” to celebrate our pope. That issue won a CPA first-place award.

Working for a pair of bishops

I’ve also been privileged to work for two wonderful bishops. Bishop Kurtz was thrilled when I came into the Church in 2003. It was the joy of his faith and of my co-workers’ faith that drew me to the Church.

Bishop Kurtz and Bishop Stika have shepherded the ETC as publishers, and both have allowed my editors and I to have a fairly free hand with the content. Bishop Stika sometimes steps in to ask for a change in the layout or a change in a story, but not too often.

Both bishops have always had a kind word and a smile for me, and—as it does with the priests and religious—that means so much.

Bishop Stika and I are both unabashed baseball fans, he of course of the St. Louis Cardinals. While I enjoy watching the “Birds on the Bat,” I try not to tell Bishop I’m an Atlanta Braves fan. Bishop Stika also cares about my personal welfare. He likes to pick up a hose and water the greenery in our courtyard at the Chancery outside my office window, and during those moments I’ll visit him, and he’ll ask me if I’m eating right and make sure my clothes are shipshape. Bishop Stika celebrated Mom’s funeral Mass in 2019, something our family will never forget.

Co-workers, friends, and the future

After more than two decades, I still enjoy working at the ETC. Bill and I have become good friends as well as co-workers, and the same can be said for Jim Wogan and Emily Booker of our communications office. Emily works in the ETC office and is not only a whiz at working on the website but also an ace proofreader; like every proofreader, she finds mistakes that the others don’t. We’ve just welcomed aboard Gabrielle Nolan as our new multimedia reporter, and she’s an outstanding writer and photographer.

The national landscape for newspapers has changed drastically in the Internet era. Whatever the future holds for the ETC beyond 30 years, may it continue “to inspire the people of the Diocese of Knoxville, to deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith, to share that faith, and to enhance community” and to “build community, educate, evangelize, inform, inspire.”

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