Roots of vocation planted, nurtured at WRC
Given what media looked like in the ‘70s and what it is today, people think I’m joking when I tell them that my original workspace at the West River Catholic, then located at 606 Cathedral Drive, Rapid City, was a card table in a room shared with two other people. That’s where my vocation in Catholic communications began taking root in September 1976.
I discovered the seed of my vocation in the early 70s while studying broadcasting and theology in college. But it was planted and nurtured when then-Fr. William J. O’Connell, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Spearfish, invited me to accompany him to the chancery several times a week to work on the West River Catholic.
The work O’C had me do at the WRC was my foundation in Catholic communications — writing, editing, shooting photos, proofreading and whatever else needed to be done for the paper. The on-the-job experience was invaluable as I learned what is often referred to as “stuff they don’t teach you in school.” Not only did I learn about journalism, but also about how the church is run on a diocesan level.
The latter was part of the education O’C provided during our commutes where he shared his faith, wisdom, experience, guidance, and knowledge with this 23-year-old who repeatedly needed large doses of each. I realized I would do well to soak up everything he said.
While the diocese’s communication efforts evolved during the late ‘70s, early ‘80s into using radio and TV to catechize, invite and proclaim the Gospel, the West River Catholic remained the core of diocesan communications, especially since Bishop Harold J. Dimmerling insisted that the paper be sent to every Catholic home in western South Dakota.
In 1979, the bishop, having been assured by O’C that he would remain involved — translated “Keep your eye on him!” — with the paper, added the editorship to my duties as diocesan communications director. We continued to work well together as O’C offered guidance on local coverage, as well as advice on what national and international stories were print worthy.
O’C was quick to remove the red, felt tip pen from his pocket and start marking up copy. The image of him leaning back in his chair, with a piece of copy in his left hand, pen in the right hand and with the pen cap clenched between his teeth remains with me.
Since vocation is a calling, one must go where one is called. We — my wife, Ruth, and our five children — accepted the invitation to serve in the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, in 1986. This was not an easy decision, but after talking at length multiple times with O’C, we came to realize that is where we must go. There would be two more diocesan callings — Milwaukee, Wisc., and Richmond, Virginia.
When I retired last September, people asked, “What was your best diocese?” Each diocese had positives, but without the opportunity Rapid City provided, my vocation might have withered and died. I give thanks to God for the calling and to the Catholic community of western South Dakota and for allowing me to grow and serve in that vocation.
By the way, O’C’s going away gift to me? A box of red, felt tip pens.