Reflection on the Closing of Western Catholic Reporter

 

My career in journalism began at the Western Catholic Reporter one memorable summer a long time ago. Some thoughts on the news that the paper is closing:

 

I was 18 and had just finished my first year of a two-year journalism program at what was then Grant McEwan Community College. I hadn’t lined up a summer job, so I was doing what most teenagers do – sleeping in till noon. The phone rang, and Mom came in to wake me up and tell me it was Vic Misutka, editor of the Western Catholic Reporter, asking if I’d be interested in working there for the summer. Our families belonged to the same parish, so he must have heard somehow about my field of study and he was generous enough to give me a chance.

 

Vic wasn’t the only generous one at the WCR. I went to work alongside a full-time reporter named James Adams, who would go on to a career at the Globe and Mail. In his enlightened view, we would be doing the same work, and so we should be paid the same salary – even though I was greener than green and a summer student.

 

James made the case to the WCR’s business manager, Elmar Abele, who explained that a pay difference was justified under the circumstances. In that case, said James, he would take a pay cut for the summer so that my salary would be topped up and we would be equal. I don’t remember Elmar’s exact words, but they were something like, “Well, I think you’re nuts, but if that’s what you want, we’ll do it.”

 

I really didn’t have a full appreciation of this remarkable gesture at the time, but I certainly do now – especially every time I read another report on pay inequity between men and women.

 

I loved the work, and Vic was a kind and patient boss. One time I forgot my notes at home, and we were approaching deadline, so he drove me to pick them up – and if he was angry, he certainly never showed it.

 

For one memorable assignment, I travelled to a camp near Nordegg, on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, to participate in a retreat focused on social justice.

 

It was 1974. Construction had just begun on the giant Syncrude project, Fort McMurray was a town of some 9,500, and everyone was talking about the oilsands and what their development might mean for our province. Our weekend opened with a simulation game in which retreatants were divided into four interest groups involved in the development: the Syncrude consortium, the Alberta government, the indigenous peoples of the region, and the environmentalists and social justice advocates.

 

After three rounds of speeches and negotiations, three of the groups managed to attain some or all of their goals. But those in the indigenous group felt alienated and powerless under pressure from all sides. Most of them left the game in favour of a walk in the woods, saying they felt it was useless to continue.

 

Forty-two years later, I can see the genius of that game and wonder how much has really changed. How would a simulation game on pipeline development play out today?

 

One day Vic assigned me to interview Monsignor Athol Murray, who founded Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask., and was the inspiration behind the famous Notre Dame Hounds hockey team.  Père Murray was often quoted as saying, "I love God, Canada and hockey -- not always in that order."

I’d read up on Père Murray’s many accomplishments, and I was expecting some kind of encounter with a saint. Instead, when I entered the hotel room where he was staying, I was greeted with a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. Don’t recall much of the interview itself, but I learned something about saints that day.

 

Père Murray died the next year, and I went on to work at the Canadian Press. I can’t say I ever thought of him much, until one night many years later, when he appeared to me in a dream saying, “I need you to do something.” His call was so vivid and so urgent that I woke up, sitting bolt upright, asking, “But what?”

 

The answer (I think) came a few weeks later, in the form of an ad in the WCR seeking applicants for the newspaper’s board of directors. I applied and ended up serving for two years. It was through that experience that I ended up in my current position, heading the Office of Communications for the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

 

So the WCR has played a significant role in my life and career, and I am beyond grateful. I believe I have seen and felt the work of the Spirit in my experiences with the paper over the years, and I am saddened that it has come to a close. I am convinced that the same Spirit will guide and help me in the days ahead, but I know now that it won’t always be in the ways I might expect.

 

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January 21, 2019

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