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End of an era

Gene Fadness retires from the ICR

Gene Fadness “evangelizing” into the evening. (ICR photo/Joe Egbert)

Failing to make the basketball team in a high school with only 105 students is testament enough that I was not an athlete. But – I loved sports. The way my stepdad and I bonded was to pass the time while feeding the cows by discussing the weekend high school basketball games. In that small ranching community, basketball – and drinking establishments for adults – were the forms of entertainment.

Knowing how much I loved basketball and how badly I played, the coach suggested: “Why don’t you keep the game book and call the local newspaper with a brief report of the game?” I faithfully did so, but grew increasingly frustrated that the newspaper never quite got it right. (Fake news!) Exasperated by my continual complaints about the coverage from the newspaper 50 miles away, the coach said, “Why don’t you write the article as you would write it, read it to them and see if they’ll print it?” I did, and the newspaper did, word-for-word.

That, dear reader, was the start of the next nearly half-century of writing. Writing first about sports; then about campus life as a college reporter and then editor of the college newspaper; writing about city council and county commission meetings (along with high school sports) at weekly newspapers in Nebraska.

Then came writing editorials and editing letters to the editor for the Omaha World-Herald. After moving to Idaho, I covered statewide politics and the Legislature for the Idaho Falls newspaper, and then transferred to the opinion pages, writing editorials and producing opinion pages. (You know what they say about opinion writers: “We go in after the battle and shoot the wounded.”)

After one year in Boise at the Idaho Statesman, came a 16-year break from newspapers to go to the “dark side” as a public information officer and policy analyst for a state government agency from where I planned to retire, fat and happy.

Then, from out of nowhere, came a call in early 2017, from the relatively new Bishop in Idaho, Peter Christensen, and an invitation to return to newspapers. Instead of politics, I would cap my career writing about religion, the second

of two topics Mom said we could never talk about when the relatives came for Thanksgiving Dinner. I look at it, however, as writing more about faith than religion. There is a difference.

Now, nearly seven years later, I’ve been thinking and praying about what I would write in my “farewell” column. Mentors come to mind.

A mentor like that high school coach who had no idea the impact his suggestion would have on my life. Perhaps I would have figured out a vocation to writing by another means, but his suggestion at the right time eased the burden on my parents’ wallet and my time figuring out what I would do with my life. I knew from my sophomore year in high school I would major in journalism. Few young people are that fortunate. Thanks to a mentor, I was.

There were writing and editing mentors, who taught me well, or so I like to think, guiding me for the next 30 or so years through all types of writing and editing. How many people get to interview Olivia Newton-John and the Carpenters backstage, Dan Quayle in the vice-presidential limousine, Dick Cheney near his Wyoming ranch and Gov. Phil Batt in his helicopter to inspect the snowpack in Idaho’s mountains?

Then, there were the spiritual mentors, like the faith-filled evangelicals in Australia who shared their love for Jesus and, yes, even for Mormon missionaries who knocked on their doors, willingly inviting us in, while Catholics and Anglicans dived behind couches, pretending they weren’t home.

This last week’s World Youth Day in Lisbon reminded me of another powerful mentor. Back in 1993, C-SPAN televised – very late at night – Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver. By that time, an evangelical Lutheran, I was enthralled by the prophetic message of this Polish Pope, who had already almost single-handedly defeated communism. More about him later.

Another spiritual mentor is the aforementioned Bishop Peter, who very persuasively shared why I should consider leaving my state job from where I had planned to retire and to come to work for the Idaho Catholic Register. After 16 years outside of newspapering, I was back at it. At age 60, no less. It has not always been easy, but it is a decision I will not regret.

Unlike other bishops who were shutting down their print newspapers in favor of online platforms, Bishop Peter wanted a diocesan newspaper that would “inform, inspire and educate” with graphically appealing pages and color photos. He was not interested in a rehash of news in the national or worldwide Church; there were plenty of online websites and social media platforms to learn about the Church at large. The Idaho Catholic Register would be devoted exclusively to stories about the Idaho faithful.

So, we’ve set out to tell those stories. The subjects of those stories became my next mentors.

What a privilege to write about priests like Father John Mosier, who promised his dying wife to “tell His story,” and, after her death, becomes a Catholic priest. And Dorothy Vauk, a parishioner in Nampa who attended daily Mass, volunteered at the food bank, organized funeral dinners and Confirmation receptions and wrote letters and sent packages to seminarians. At the time I wrote the story she was 98. Today, she is 103. Her youngest son, Ronald, was working in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. He did not survive.

Where else could I tell stories like that? I am so thankful to all the subjects of those stories over 133 issues and to all our subscribers for reading them.

I was blessed with a superb and patient staff – Ann Bixby, Vero Gutierrez, Joe Egbert and Emily Woodham. Many thanks to them for enduring idiosyncrasies way too numerous and odd to describe here. The entire crew at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, led by Bishop Peter, are passionate about their faith, love their work and love you.

I cannot pass the opportunity to thank my greatest mentor on Earth, my wife, Sharron, who gave up so much for me to return to newspapers and the constant pressure of deadlines and long work hours. She, our children, Melanie, Gina and Craig and their families – 10 grandchildren! – were and are a constant source of inspiration and joy. I look forward to spending more time with them.

I will continue to serve my parish, St. Mary’s, as a deacon, assisting at other parishes when called upon, and teaching a theology class at Bishop Kelly High School, where I plan on encountering many more mentors.

The Idaho Catholic Register is in very good hands with Deacon Scott Pearhill as editor and his wife, Marcy, as our production assistant. They have graciously consented to my occasional contributions to the Idaho Catholic Register.

Bishop Peter continually emphasizes that the principal task of this newspaper is evangelization. Fitting then that as I was writing this column and thinking about mentors, I reviewed Pope St. John Paul II’s challenge at that 1993 World Youth Day, the first Catholic homily I ever heard and still the one I remember the most:

“This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known … Invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for His people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference.”

The message was directed to youth, but the challenge applies to all until we arrive at that final banquet. Thanks to all who let me evangelize on these pages. For all of us, the work goes on.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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