EVERYONE NEEDS A PATRON SAINT, WHY NOT JOURNALISTS?
By Dave Mishur
Titus Brandsma may not be a name on everyone's lips, but he is one of the latest saints of the Church, having been included in the group that was canonized by Pope Francis this summer. His story is especially noteworthy because, as a journalist, he spent his professional career in an occupation that is rarely thought of in spiritual terms. The words "journalism" and "sanctity" are seldom uttered in the same breath.
But Brandsma was different. According to a front page story in The Wanderer newspaper, he died in the Dachau concentration camp during World War II, having been imprisoned for refusing to take orders from the Nazi publicity machine, an evil enterprise that he called "a black lie," and "pagan."
When the Hitler juggernaught rolled into Holland demanding friendly coverage and ads in Dutch newspapers, Brandsma's boss, the bishop of Utrecht, told him to say no. And so he did. As spiritual advisor to more than 30 Dutch Catholic publications, Brandsma stood up to the Nazi demands and unfortunately paid the ultimate price for his bravery. He was arrested in January, 1942, and died later that year.
More than 60 Dutch and Vatican journalists have petitioned Pope Francis to declare Brandsma their patron saint. Traditionally, St. Francis de Sales has been seen as the patron saint of the profession, but he operated in the world of the 16th century, mostly writing devotional books and letters. Ours is a different world today and I fear St. Francis may need help coping with the demands of the job. The disastrous state of journalism today is too much for one saint to handle and perhaps Brandsma can help.
"St. Francis was," the petitioners note, "undoubtedly a holy man…but he was not a journalist in the modern sense of the word." Conversely, they see Brandsma as "a professional peer…who shared the deeper mission that should drive journalism in modern times: a search for truth and veracity, the promotion of peace and dialogue between people." Few would consider these appropriate words to describe the state of the trade today, where controversy, animosity and "disinformation" reign supreme.
If there ever were an occupation that cries out for the guidance of a patron saint it would be that of journalist. Today's reporters, editors, columnists, and pundits have brought the once-noble calling to new dregs of disdain, aptly confirmed by the low opinion in which they are held by the reading and viewing public, with only eleven percent showing a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in newspapers and 16-percent in TV News, according to a Gallup poll released in early July.
The great humorist P.J. O'Rourke, himself of considerable journalistic fame, once noted that the reward for a good life is eternal happiness in heaven. However, he adds, "this option is not usually open to reporters." Truly, given the quality of modern reportage, our scribes have much to atone for. They need a saint or two on their side.
So let us add our voices and prayers to those urging the Pontiff to appoint newly canonized St. Titus to this position of honor. Given the sad state of journalism today he will have a lot of work to do, but I can think of no greater gift for mankind.