Reader's Retrospective: James C. Webster

This story appears in the Reader's Retrospective feature series. View the full series.

by Julie Gunter

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Editor's note: Introducing NCRonline's blog series "Reader's Retrospective": A special project that commemorates NCR's 50th anniversary by telling the stories of readers who have been faithfully subscribing to the National Catholic Reporter since its beginning. ​Read about the project's origins here.​​

A self-described "inveterate pack rat," James C. Webster saved copies of the National Catholic Reporter, America and Commonweal for years -- storing them in the basement of his home in Madison, S.D.

He still might have them, if not for a mysterious fire that reduced his NCR collection -- including a first edition with the signature orange masthead -- to a pile of ashes. Noting that other magazines in the vicinity remained unscathed, Webster recalls resisting "the temptation to blame the parish priest, a difficult sort who used to get his homily ideas from The Wanderer."

Webster "first learned of plans for NCR's birth" while working as managing editor of the Madison Daily Leader. "Lacking a diocesan newspaper in the Sioux Falls [S.D.] diocese and thoroughly unhappy with most other Catholic publications," Webster decided to subscribe. A former Associated Press copy boy who became a reporter and manager at United Press International, Webster contributed to several publications over the next decades.

From 1973 to 1975, Webster served as legislative assistant and press secretary to Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D. This post was followed by an appointment as assistant secretary of agriculture for governmental and public affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Carter administration.

"Through the years," Webster reflected, "NCR has been a lifeline to many of us who celebrated -- and hoped and worked for the realization of -- the promise of Vatican II."

He mentioned personal ties as well: an exchange of letters in the mid-1960s between Webster and the NCR publisher exploring Webster's application for an editorial position; an acquaintance with NCR publisher Joe Feuerherd (when both were publishing newsletters on sometimes intersecting topics); and an association with Arthur Jones (a former NCR editor), who attended Webster's local parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace, for a few years.

"NCR was among the influences that urged me to journalistic and political activity that put social justice in action," Webster said. A longtime resident of Arlington, Va., Webster plans to spend his retirement years writing about social justice efforts.

A version of this story appeared in the Jan 16-29, 2015 print issue under the headline: NCR a reader's retrospective: James C. Webster.

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