Journalists find a home in Chicago archdiocese

Grant Gallicho talks with Joyce Duriga, editor of the Catholic New World, in December. (Catholic New World/Karen Callaway)

My career in Catholic journalism began, some 20 years ago, at the Chicago archdiocesan paper, now called the Catholic New World. In what seemed like a logical progression, I moved on to publications with wider circulations and increased journalistic freedom, first to U.S. Catholic magazine, then to National Catholic Reporter.

Grant Gallicho, formerly an associate editor at the independent lay journal Commonweal, recently made a move in the other direction. As of Nov. 1, he became the new director of publications and media for the Chicago archdiocese.

A move that seemed surprising, at least to me, made perfect sense to him.

"This is my home church," Gallicho said from his new office at the former archdiocesan seminary building. "I love Chicago and am indebted to the Chicago church."

That the archdiocese is facing financial challenges doesn't faze Gallicho. Instead, he sees it as an opportunity and wants to give back to the church that nurtured him in his youth.

Gallicho grew up on Chicago's northwest side, but left for the Big Apple to go to college at Fordham University. While still a student, he became an intern at Commonweal. After earning a master's in theology from the University of Chicago, he returned to the magazine and stayed for 15 years.

He and his wife, Liz Larson, who is from Minnesota, had long considered moving closer to family. But the main reason Gallicho took the Chicago position is because Archbishop Blase Cupich asked him.

Gallicho had long admired Cupich's intellectual and pastoral gifts. When there were rumblings that Cardinal Francis George's successor might be named, Gallicho put Cupich at the top of his personal "short list" and covered Cupich's installation when his wish came true.

Last summer, when Gallicho was in town visiting family, he met the archbishop for coffee. At the end of the meeting, Cupich asked him if he'd ever consider coming to work for him. By September, the hire was official.

In his newly created position, Gallicho will review the archdiocese's publications strategy and manage its print and digital properties, which include a Spanish-language paper. With a staff of eight and a current newspaper circulation of 43,000, he's got his work cut out for him. He's still just settling in, his office walls empty except for a map of the archdiocese.

Gallicho's plans include increasing both the print and digital audiences, by offering more and unique content and better promoting the publications, especially through social media. Already, he's signed Christopher Lamb, who also writes from Rome for the English magazine The Tablet, to do a monthly column about the Vatican. A book review section and a redesign of the paper and website are also in the works.

Since many diocesan papers have morphed into public relations vehicles, I asked Gallicho if his job was a journalistic or communications one.

"A bit of both," he replied.

"Obviously the publisher of every diocesan paper is the bishop," he said, recognizing that that means some loss of journalistic freedom and independence.

"It's probably better for my soul," he said, admitting to a few too many heated Twitter fights in his previous position. "I have a little too much Italian in my blood," he jokes.

Which raises the question of why Cupich would choose a so-called "liberal editor," as one traditionalist Catholic website complained. Said Gallicho: "I didn't ask him why he hired me. But he knew what he was getting."

Although he's excited about his new position, Gallicho said leaving Commonweal was hard. "It was a family, and it formed me, intellectually and spiritually," he said.

Too modest to cite any accomplishments that could qualify as a legacy he left there, he is nonetheless remembered by readers for his "truth-telling" about the sexual abuse crisis. He also was co-founder of Commonweal's popular blog.

Gallicho still occasionally uses the first person "we" when talking about his former employer. But he is enthusiastic about being back home and clearly dedicated to working with the new archbishop and for the institutional church.

Asked what he likes best about Chicago, he quickly answers, "The people." He should know. Welcome back, Grant.

* * *

Though readers of national Catholic media may know Gallicho's name, they may not have heard of Dolores Madlener. But she is well-known and loved throughout the Chicago archdiocese. Last month, she retired after 37 years with the archdiocesan paper.

I have been lucky enough to have been mentored by her, both professionally and personally, since I met her in the mid-1990s. Although she started as the editor's secretary, Madlener quickly took on other jobs around the paper, including the compiling of the weekly calendar page and the writing of a benevolent gossip column.

But she was more than a colleague to me; she is a role model. We're very different: She's a South Sider, I live north, and she is more conservative than I. But she taught me how to be open to whatever life throws you. She counseled me after my first marriage ended, and has cheered me on as I pursued graduate school, other jobs, marriage and children.

Madlener was the first person I knew who had her own email address and was exploring this new thing called the "World Wide Web." Despite her 80-some years, she is the epitome of "young at heart."

A member of the Focolare movement, she is deeply spiritual and Catholic, but with a touch of, shall we say, clerical "suspicion," if not anticlericalism. She has a reporter's nose for news, and I suspect if she had been born in a different generation, you would definitely know her name as a top Catholic journalist.

I remember her introducing me to NCR, explaining that this is where the real story of what's going on in the church is. I can't let her retire without mentioning her in its pages.

Thank you, Dolores, for all you've done for the church, for Catholic journalism and for me.

[Heidi Schlumpf teaches communication at Aurora University, outside Chicago.]

This story appeared in the Jan 15-28, 2016 print issue under the headline: Journalists find a home in Chicago archdiocese .

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