Celebrating the Saints of Journalism

Celebrating the Saints of Journalism

By Michael Rizzo

As another spring semester begins, I can once again tell my journalism students at St. John’s University about the patron saint of writers and journalists, St. Francis de Sales, whose feast day was January 24th. But this year I also come to a conversation of saints who have received support to be a new paradigm for the fourth estate.

In May 2022, Pope Francis added Titus Brandsma, a 20th-century journalist, monk and priest and eventually a martyr for the faith, to the list of saints.

St. Titus was born in the Netherlands, joined the Carmelite order, but was also the editor-in-chief of a Dutch newspaper and even founded a magazine. He became spiritual adviser to more than 30 Catholic publications in his homeland. Articles he wrote in the 1930s described and criticized Adolf Hitler’s policies in Germany.

After the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, local newspapers were ordered to print content supplied by their new overlords. St. Titus readily accepted telling the country’s Catholic editors to reject the order. Arrested by the Gestapo, he was eventually sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was lethal by injection.

As a 16th-century priest and bishop, St. Francis was a prolific letter writer. Not only did he report on events in France and Switzerland, but he also explained and supported the Catholic faith in the face of attacks from other groups.

You can say that he wasn’t a journalist because journalism as we know it today didn’t exist back then. What I emphasize to my students is that St. Francis is a role model because he was a great communicator who was committed to connecting personally with believers.

I don’t want my students to learn how to write a story introduction, insert a quote, or fashion an ending from these two saints. Instead, I want to examine how they are examples of people of faith who have used the means of communication at their disposal to speak truth to those in power. Both were fearless and found their calling in bringing the news of their day and the good news of the gospels to the people.

Good journalists tell the facts of stories so we can better understand our world. Good journalists are also our watchdogs over the powerful. They also follow an appropriate code of ethics. These two saints did all these things.

A letter from journalists who supported St. Titus as their new patron saint said he “shares the deeper mission that should drive journalism in modern times: the search for truth and veracity, the promotion of peace and dialogue between the people.”

Indeed, for journalists, a worthy saint alongside St. Francis.

Michael Rizzo is Associate Professor and Director of the Journalism Program at St. John’s University.

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