By Robert P. Lockwood - OSV Newsweekly, 5/6/2012
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., likes to tell about a letter he received when he was bishop of Pittsburgh from a schoolkid impressed by a fresh understanding of the apostolic succession — that the authority of each bishop descends in a direct line from the apostles.
The young student wrote that it must be something for then-Bishop Wuerl to “know somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody … (and on and on) who knew Jesus.”
In 1982, I was editor of Our Sunday Visitor when we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the newspaper. Father John F. Noll, the founder of the feast, had died in 1956.
I met people who knew Father Noll after he was the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. His successor, Bishop Leo Pursley, had been ordained a priest by Bishop Noll in 1927.
I remember running up the steps to the second floor at Our Sunday Visitor when I had only been there a few weeks. This priest was coming down and, in my New York Slip Mahoney accent from the Bowery Boys’ movies, I gave him a “Hiya Fadder!” That was Bishop Pursley. Wonderful first impression.
But I would also meet somebody who was with Father Noll in the very first days of Our Sunday Visitor. His name was Zeno Broderick. Born in 1898, he had been a foreman in the old composing room and had retired in 1967 a few years before I began. He’d come by now and then to say hello, and that’s how I got to know him.
The story is told that when a young employee of the composing room back in the day reported for the military draft, he was asked if he qualified for a job deferment because his work was critical to the United States. The young man said he surely did qualify, “because Zeno yells at us every week that we have to get the newspaper out.”
What bowled me over about Zeno was a picture. It was a photo of Father Noll taken with the Our Sunday Visitor staff in the earliest days — around 1914, just two years after it all began. In that photo is a teenage Zeno who had been with Our Sunday Visitor from the start of things when he was just 14.
His career — his vocation — with Our Sunday Visitor took in 55 years. He died in 1985.
In Michael Perry’s book, “Population: 485” (Harper Perennial, $13.99) he traces the birth of a small town’s volunteer fire department to when they bought “one double 35-gallon chemical engine” in 1905. Coming across an old photo of one of his co-volunteers taken years before at a party for a 50-year volunteer, he realizes that his co-volunteer knew the old vet being celebrated who in turn would have used that original pumper.
Perry writes about “the quirky narrative that weaves through the generations. The events arrange themselves along a communal timeline. The community is the constant. … The old-timers hand down stories, show up occasionally when we’re shorthanded, but most of all they help us recognize that time — our time — is transient.”
Being associated with Our Sunday Visitor for decades I feel the blessed pull of the ages — time before, time present and time after. We’re all connected, from the founder, to an old composing room foreman, to this day, to the next.
And that’s the mystery of the Church on one small level. What we call the Body of Christ. The community is the constant.
So a happy 100th birthday to Our Sunday Visitor. Ad multos annos! From someone who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody...
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.
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