I jotted down a few vague ideas in the bottom margin of my syllabus: climate change, women’s basketball team, call to priestly vocations.
It was first week of the 2016 spring semester at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Sitting in a small computer lab, my class of a dozen students listened to ideas about how to go about crafting our senior capstone project. The end result of the senior capstone seminar was a publishable work in multimedia journalism. On the way, though, we were to pitch, schedule, research, and run it through a series of edits. One point of advice that morning stuck with me: pick something you won’t get bored with in a month — something that fascinates or annoys you.
That was my cue to explore an aspect of my Catholic faith. Not because it bugs me. On the contrary, it has become a source of great joy and intrigue. That wasn’t always the case. Growing up, I loathed going to Mass at St. Paul Church in Juneau. This began to change, however, during my sophomore year of college at University of Alaska, Fairbanks when I began attending a weekly small-group Bible study in a neighboring dorm. For the first time in my life, I began thinking critically about Jesus and his teachings. It was a turning point in my faith (or lack thereof) and eventually spurred a return to Catholicism.
Back to choosing a topic for my senior project last January.
I had recently picked up a copy of the Catholic Anchor and read a December 2015 article titled, “What drew these Alaska men to the priesthood?” I recall tearing through that article, anxious to see how well I related to these men my age. After reading the article, I wanted to know even more about the seminarians and state of vocations across the country. The story would write itself, or so I thought, given two basic facts: First, there is an acute shortage of priests in the United States; Secondly, the archdiocese has five men in seminary preparing for the priesthood. Why was Anchorage turning out priests left and right while most other places were not?
To find an answer to this question I dialed up Father Tom Lilly, a man well-attuned to recent trends in priestly vocations as the director of seminarians for the Anchorage Archdiocese. He said the archdiocese’s upswing in vocations actually reflects larger trends across the country. I didn’t expect this. Following interviews with Father Lilly and Father Leo Walsh, I honed in on a new subtopic: the broader societal changes accompanying the recent rise in priestly vocations across the country.
My final radio piece is the product of these interviews, not to mention hours of writing, editing, revising, and finally recording.
I had such a positive experience partnering with the Catholic Anchor on this project that this fall I will begin a semester-long internship here. The internship will provide me with valuable experience in a professional newsroom. I will be tasked with writing articles, helping to edit the paper and updating the Anchor’s social media platforms, among other things.
There are many connections I see between my work as a journalist and my Catholic faith. Despite the negative perceptions surrounding today’s media, there is plenty of good that comes from being a journalist. Good reporters necessarily live outside of themselves. Solid writing requires attention to details – whether it is the color of hat someone is wearing, the sequence of events that led to a hockey goal or just the correct spelling of a person’s last name. Over the last two years, I’ve become more observant to my everyday surroundings. In doing so, I’ve grown in my compassion and love for others. Solomon writes in the Book of Proverbs, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate.” The trick is recognizing them.
Click here to view a video slideshow by Nolin of Anchorage priest Father Tom Lilly’s journey from being an Alaskan airman to becoming a Catholic priest.
Click here to listen to Nolin’s radio segment, as aired on NPR, about Alaskan men considering the priesthood.