USCCB's Walsh exits for 'America'

Mercy Sr. Mary Ann Walsh is leaving the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops later this summer to join the Jesuit-run America magazine.

In a press release Friday, America editor-in-chief Jesuit Fr. Matt Malone announced Walsh, director of media relations for the conference, will join the publication as its U.S. church correspondent. Her responsibilities will include planning and producing the magazine's national church coverage, as well as writing a column for the print edition. She will also contribute feature writing and to blogs on its website.

Additionally, Walsh will become the first religious sister on America's editorial staff.

"We are delighted to welcome Sr. Mary Ann to America," Malone said in the announcement. "Her unique experience and unparalleled knowledge of the U.S. Church will be a great boon for our growing readership."

Walsh told NCR she has been in negotiations with America since Holy Thursday (April 17). Discussions have yet to begin on her replacement, but she expects Aug. 15 will be her last day at the bishops' conference, where she has worked for 30-plus years, beginning in the Rome bureau of Catholic News Service. She joined the media relations office in 1993.

Looking at her time at the bishops' conference, she pinpointed as her proudest accomplishments being in Rome for the elections of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis to coordinate U.S. media coverage.

"Those were real high points from a media relations perspective," she said.

Walsh also noted the 1993 World Youth Day held in Denver, which she called "a remarkable event" but one where "we had no idea what we were going into."

"It was like an elephant, you pushed it and hoped it moved in the direction you wanted, and you knew it could turn around and hit you with its trunk at any minute, so that kind of a challenge was there," she said of the event that saw Pope John Paul II gather with 100,000 young people.

As for leaving the conference, Walsh said it will be a shift, "but it's a wonderful opportunity to move in a little different direction with my career in Catholic media." The move will allow her to devote more time to her first love -- writing -- and less to administrative and other related tasks.

In returning to the other side of the story, Walsh said she's still getting ahold of the position but expects to focus attention on Catholic education, vocations and the emerging laity, and less so on political issues.

"There are a lot of people very active in the church and they've got a lot to say. Maybe they haven't been heard," she said.

She said issues such as education and the laity oftentimes get lost in the shuffle.

"The Catholic church doesn't always get its story out. And it's a wonderful institution in this country, but we get caught up, the media can get caught up in little minor things and miss the whole picture. And I sometimes wonder if that's our fault, that we don't get it out," she said.

She expects to begin the new position with America Sept. 8, with plans to set up an office in Washington.

"I just think it's a great opportunity to be with a wonderful publication. America has a great history in our country and has made an important contribution for decades and to be part of that is an honor," she said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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