From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

An unexpected way to serve God’s people: A personal reflection on the Inland Register

by Father Michael J. Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 12, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

  • Father Mike Savelesky became editor in 1980 and served until 1985, when present editor Eric Meisfjord took over. (IR file photo)

    (Editor’s note: Father Savelesky served as editor of the Inland Register from 1980-85.)

    On occasion people still ask me, “Why did you choose to become a priest?” In addition to giving God’s call due credit, an answer immediately springs into consciousness: “To help people.”

    Several years of growing and maturing indeed have shown me to be the helper type. Or is it that life’s circumstances have become chosen opportunities to serve? In any case, I must confess now that how I picture “helping people” has changed dramatically with the passage of time.

    I honestly have wanted to be a priest since my early years in grade school. At that time I thought that helping people meant saying Mass so God could get down to earth from heaven. And if it took a priest saying Mass to do that, I was willing to step forward. I smile now at my immature image of God and how salvation touches people’s lives. But off I went to the seminary with the desire simply to become a parish priest. (I did wonder why it took 12 years to learn how to say Mass!)

    Ordination to the priesthood in the summer of 1973 was a special joy as I began a path of helping people open their hearts to God’s encounter with them. Certainly after 12 years of seminary formation, my image of God had changed and I had a more realistic perspective on service of others. I thought I was well prepared for ministry in the Church, intellectually and spiritually and embraced my new life enthusiastically. Since day one, however, my ministry has taken unexpected turns of service. Some of them quite surprising.

    Even after a detour into retreat work, the vocations field and a few years as rector of Bishop White Seminary, my heart was set on parish ministry. Imagine my delight when in 1980 Bishop Lawrence Welsh assigned me as pastor of St. Peter Parish! Imagine my surprise, too, when at the same time, he asked me to assume editorship of the Inland Register, our diocesan newspaper!

    My objections fell on deaf ears. I guess I should not have dabbled in publishing a high school newspaper, The Clerian, when I attended Mater Cleri Seminary in Colbert (now Northwest Christian). Nor should have I followed the devious impulse to help publish an underground newspaper, Counter-Punch, during my college days at Gonzaga University. That was my only background in journalism, I protested.

    The appointment came in the mail anyway. And I jumped quite nervously into a facet of service of God’s people that I had never imagined. I knew it would be an uphill battle, for me personally because of my ignorance of the newspaper business but also professionally because of the controversial role the Inland Register plays in the life of the People of God. Even as a young seminarian I had heard the prevailing joke about the boisterous priest who accosted poor Father Terence Tully, the original priest-editor of the IR, with the statement: “I had a most interesting confession the other day. This guy confessed that he had read the Inland Register five times – and had taken pleasure in it twice!” The priests howled with laughter then – and still do as the story is retold to the newly ordained.

    The world of journalism was fascinating. Learning the special lingo that makes a paper fly was mind-boggling. Words like picas, column inches, side bars, kickers, gutters, strip fitting, rocker knife, and on and on still echo in my mind. I still laugh at the phrase “put the paper to bed.” It was a vocabulary far from the realm of the sacred.

    During my years as editor, several great people formed our staff. There was Helen Rice, the typesetter, whose fingers just flew through the ticker-tape punch board, then computer keys as technology raced to keep up with her! Then there was Margaret Nevers, whose laughter and cunning sales pitch snagged many an advertisement for the paper. Bob Cubbage, Milt Steiner, Karen McDeid, Steve Domini, Cathy Sacco, Tom Sofio, Jesuit Volunteer Barry Eberling, and Helen Till come to mind, too, as hard workers whose writing and behind-the-scenes efforts gave birth to page after page of Catholic news and information.

    It didn’t take long to recognize the impact the Inland Register had on the People of God throughout the diocese. Clerical jokes aside, in many ways I discovered that the IR is a type of ecclesial glue that, in addition to communicating news and information, contributes significantly to a sense of Catholic community in Eastern Washington State. The Bishop – and anyone else who chooses to engage the pages of the IR for regular communication – can find no less expensive communications instrument. Even in contemporary times, when people champion e-mail as the latest in communications technology, the IR still has its place. If anything, its possibilities are under-engaged.

    I left the staff of the Inland Register in 1985 and was asked to pursue other avenues in diocesan administration. The bishop entrusted the helm to the capable hands of the present editor, Deacon Eric Meisfjord, whose talents at writing and journalism had become known to me when he was under my observant eye at Bishop White Seminary.

    When I look back at developments during my time on the staff of the Inland Register, I note a few significant ones. We changed the masthead (another bit of newspaper lingo), the paper’s format, and even its physical shape. We changed from publishing weekly (I’ll never know how we did it!) to publishing only 17 times a year, but in a news magazine format. We changed from blanket coverage charged against parish accounts (never a pastor’s favorite topic) to a more pervasive campaign at subscription coverage and a policy that got the paper mailed to contributors to the Annual Catholic Appeal – whose generous coffers still keep the IR afloat. We made the conscious choice to become more local in focus, although a feed from National Catholic News Service (then via phone line; now via satellite) was always available to provide a deep stack of stories for an editor’s perusal and selection.

    We toyed with the idea of having a genuine op-ed page (more lingo), but circumstances did not allow it. At the time it seemed that columnist Father Andrew Greeley and his biting comments about everything under the sun were enough controversy for readers to stomach. When he chose to discontinue writing his column, people said the paper would fold. Years earlier, Bishop Topel had begun his column, titled “The Bishop and You.” Bishop Welsh continued the tradition with his column, “Thoughts from the Bishop.” Supposedly, that and Father Greeley were the only things that kept the paper before people’s eyes. Time has shown the nay-sayers wrong. I would argue that now (still next to the bishop’s column, of course) people are eager to see my own spirituality column, which graces one of the back pages in each issue! I guess I still have ink in my blood. Even after moving on from the editorship, I had found another unexpected way of serving God’s people.

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