Gratitude to Those Who Let Me Write

We walked along Park Avenue that spring day in 1996 and Father Perricone told me about an upcoming Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the first Tridentine Mass there since it was put aside thirty years before.

“Father, that sounds like news. Are you sending around press releases?”

“Why don’t you do that,” he said. Like many requests from the ordained, there was no question mark.

So, I put together a simple press release with the headline: “Once Banned Mass Comes to St. Patrick’s Cathedral” and sent it around to journalists, including Peter Steinfels, whose story about it landed on the front page of the New York Times the day before the Mass.

From there the news of the Mass went out over news radio all over the East Coast. Folks got into their cars and drove all night to get there. They say 4,000 people came to the Mass that Mother’s Day Sunday. Moreover, so many news crews came that I had to set up not one, but two press pits inside the Cathedral.

Publisher Roger McCaffrey asked Father Perricone who had handled the press. Father told him and Roger invited me to write articles for his now defunct Sursum Corda magazine.

Roger asked me to write in-depth stories about Catholic communities that had sprung up around the nation; Steubenville, Front Royal, Star of the Sea Village in Arkansas. I did things like hire a plane to take me over State of the Sea Village so I could describe it.

It was at Front Royal, walking through the massive new building owned by Human Life International that I wondered, “Why can’t I work at a place like this?”

Part of my work for Father Perricone was helping him get speaking engagements. One of them was in Canada that turned out to be providential because it brought a young lady to our lunch table one day after Mass.

“What are you doing in town?”         

“I work for Human Life International-Canada, and we’ve raised money to open up a pro-life lobbying group at the U. N.” I believe I heard bells ringing.

Even though I had never even been to the U.N., and I had never done a lick of pro-life work, somehow I knew this was exactly why I had walked away from the prestige and the perks of the big-time magazine business.

        Austin and his family

“That is my job”, I said to her.  And six weeks later, it was and, at least tangentially, I was working for Human Life International. Funny thing how even our thoughts can be taken as prayers by Him who matters.

It was in the magazine business selling advertising where I first began learning how to write – simply, clearly and with a purpose. Some of those smarty-pants PhD’s poke fun at my Dick-and-Jane prose, and that’s fine. Their linguistic curlicues are not for me.

But it was at C-Fam that I learned the discipline of writing. To this day, we publish two news stories a week, 500 words each, week in and week out, every week for seventeen years now. For years I did that all by myself.

Among our first projects at C-Fam was a series of lectures at the U.N. on the natural law. This gave me the opportunity to call some people I had admired from afar – George Marlin, Michael Uhlman, Hadley Arkes, and Robert Royal. Each agreed to lecture at the U. N.

Besides wowing the U. N. diplomats, who hadn’t heard such lectures there since Jacques Maritain helped found the place, meeting these guys was like finding a family. I have never known such loyal brothers, willing without fuss or hesitation to defend you, even when you’re wrong. This was among the most momentous meetings of my life.

Almost immediately, Bob Royal joined my board and has been a fast friend and valued colleague ever since. When Bob got the idea of producing a website of Catholic commentary, I jumped at the invitation and I am proud that the title “Catholic Thing” — though taken from Father Neuhaus’s regular usage – came from me. I said it aloud that founding day as we all sat together brainstorming and Michael Novak said, “Yes, that’s it.” It was the name of a magazine I wanted to start in my “traditionalist” phase. 

Bob gave me the chance to write fortnightly – almost 200 columns now – and this has made all the difference. Writing no more than 1,000 words at a time makes for remarkable discipline.

Bob has only turned down three of my columns. One was on the current day sex practices of Hugh Hefner; another was on the then-pending conversion of Hadley Arkes, and another about a priest friend on a journey from the priesthood to married life. Needless to say, they were corkers. [Editor’s Note: Opinions differ on this.]

Bob is simply the best and most elegant editor I have ever worked with. We live in an online journal age when nothing is really edited any more. I don’t believe I have ever argued with him about his edits. [Editor’s Note: Memories differ on this.] I hardly notice what he’s done and each has made the pieces better.

Why do I write this column? I am not dying. But for now, it will be my last for The Catholic Thing. Very much because of my work here, my other writing chores have exploded. Moreover, based on a series of articles I wrote for TCT – on the “Littlest Suffering Souls” – I have keen interest from a big time agent to write a book about them.

I hope Bob will let me come back from time to time. I will miss these pages.  I will miss Grump and Jack from Connecticut and the rest in the comment boxes, and most of all Bob’s fine guidance and editing.

Roger McCaffrey gave me my first break but Bob Royal made my writing career. I am grateful now and forever.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.