The Last Word: Settling In

The phone call took place only a few weeks ago; it is still fresh in my memory. Would I be interested in moving from Washington to South Bend, to become editor of Catholicism in Crisis? Yes, I would; and here I am.

To establish a successful new magazine requires vision, energy, courage, and persistence. Ralph Mclnerny and Michael Novak have amply demonstrated those qualities in bringing Catholicism in Crisis through its first three years. Despite all odds, the magazine survives! Better yet, it flourishes!

Newly installed as editor, I have no desire to tamper with the formula that has brought Catholicism in Crisis such success to date. On the contrary. The opportunity that brought me to South Bend was the opportunity to take the wheel of a smoothly running machine, and press down on the accelerator. To be sure, careful readers will notice some changes — such as the new graphics in this issue. But overall, our editorial course is already set.

Washington is a lovely city, and life in our nation’s capital has its undeniable attractions: the White House brief­ings; the backroom strategy sessions; the Christmas cards from Ron and Nancy; and above all the intoxicating (and sometimes quite inaccurate) feeling that one is at the epicenter of American political history. Still, after six years I felt that I had served a full term; even senators are not re­quired to stay in town longer.

Moving from Washington to the comparative calm of South Bend has already been a revelation and a joy. The cost of living is markedly lower, the climate — at least in my view — much more hospitable. (Personally, I would happily shovel “lake effect” snow every day of February, if necessary, to avoid sweating through another August in Washington.) The pace of work, too, is remarkably dif­ferent. Here in Indiana, one can work steadily on one’s own projects, unencumbered by all the evanescent battles — they all seem so vital, at the time — that characterize political life.


Still, in an odd way South Bend and Washington are alike. Just as every aspiring politician feels the pull of the Potomac, so every Catholic journalist knows the special role of Notre Dame in the life of the American Church. What could be more natural than for a political magazine to set up shop in the shadow of the Capitol? What makes more sense than to edit Catholicism in Crisis within sight of the Golden Dome?

Ideally, a journal of lay Catholic opinion should treat every facet of the Catholic experience. Catholicism in Crisis was founded, in part, to combat the notion that our faith can be reduced to a series of political postures. Toward that end, we have devoted a great deal of editorial space to political discussion, in an effort to demonstrate the diversity of responsible Catholic opinion. But politics is only one aspect of Catholic life, and not the most important. Liturgy, theology, and spirituality also have their place in a Catholic journal. So too do art, science, literature — anything that touches on the Catholic experience in America.

The mission of the Catholic laity, as articulated by the Second Vatican Council, is to “transform the temporal order.” The mission of a journal like Catholicism in Crisis is to stimulate the sort of thinking that will make that transformation possible. That would be an ambitious task — if it were a task. But it isn’t a task; it’s a mission.

Philip Lawler


Born and raised in the Boston area, Phil Lawler attended Harvard College, graduating with honors in Government in 1972. He did graduate work in political philosophy at the University of Chicago before entering a career in journalism. He has been Director of Studies for the Heritage Foundation, a member of two presidential inaugural committees; and a candidate for the US Senate. As a journalist, Phil has acted as editor of Crisis magazine. In 1986 he became the first layman to edit The Pilot, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper. From 1993 through 2005, Phil Lawler was the editor of Catholic World Report, an international monthly news magazine. And in 1996, recognizing the power of the internet, he founded Catholic World News: the first online Catholic news service. Phil Lawler is the author of five books on political and religious topics. He has recently completed a new book titled "The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture". His essays, book reviews, and editorial columns have appeared in over 100 newspapers around the United States and abroad, including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe. Phil lives in central Massachusetts with his wife Leila and their seven children.

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