Today is the last day of our longtime literary editor, Patricia A. Kossmann, who joined the staff of America in 1999. Among many other distinctions, she was the first full-time female editor at our magazine. It’s difficult for me to describe with any degree of objectivity all that Pat has accomplished at the magazine, since we’ve become such good friends—but I’ll try.
The Book Review section, in my estimation, is currently the strongest part of our magazine. Over Pat’s term it has simply improved every year, featuring books that are consistently relevant and important, reviewed by knowledgeable and talented reviewers. There is almost never (ever?) a “weak” review or a review of a book that our readers would not be interested in. Thanks to her long and distinguished career in publishing (she worked with Doubleday for 23 years and at Liguori Books for ten) Pat had a preternatural talent for discerning which books would be worth reviewing and which could be set aside. During her 13-year tenure, we reviewed books on the obvious topics (theology, Scripture, church history) but also on natural history, biography, politics, science, and on and on. I was always amazed not only at the volume of catalogues, manuscripts, galleys and page proofs that she had to sort through (with the help of her assistant, the talented and effervescent Regina Nigro, who is also leaving today) but that our reviews often were published at the exact time that other big-name magazines were reviewing the same books. She knew her stuff.
Pat is, to use one of her favorite New York terms, a “doll.” We had gotten to know each other years ago when she was at Liguori Books. During my time as a Jesuit regent in 1995, I had edited an article called “How Can I Find God?” a collection of answers to that question by a variety of authors. A few months later, now in theology studies in Cambridge, Mass., I received a pleasant letter on cream-colored stationery from a Patricia A. Kossmann, asking if I’d like to turn that article into something more ambitious. It became my first book, and I’ve always been exceedingly grateful to Pat for her initial encouragement. And when I returned to the magazine as an associate editor in 1998, and the newly installed Thomas J. Reese, S.J., was looking for a new literary editor to replace Patrick Samway, S.J., I had just heard that Pat was thinking of leaving Liguori, and so I said, “I’ve got just the person!” Her resume was impeccable. During her time at Doubleday, I would later learn, she edited, among hundreds of authors, Bishop Fulton Sheen (she is his literary executor), as well as such greats as Henri Nouwen, Andrew Greeley, Norman Vincent Peale and Eileen Egan. She only occasionally adverted to this part of her life, and I found her humility about the "famous" authors she had worked with immensely edifying.
But Pat is not just an editor. She’s much more than someone who wields a red pen. She is active in her local church (where she sings in the choir); she’s an avid animal-lover; she’s an inveterate reader (of course); she was a devoted daughter to her late mother; and she’s a great friend, too, to many, many people. When I was stressed at work (imagine that!) nothing relaxed me more than dropping by Pat’s office, whose shelves were absolutely stuffed with soon-to-be-published books, and poking through them, admiring or critiquing a cover or a title, and then plopping down in her chair to “vent.” (We also had a secret love of picking out the craziest author photos: our favorites were ones of writers who felt obliged to place their hands artfully next to their faces.)
I will miss Pat a great deal. So will the other editors. So will our staff. So will all of our readers. I hope you will pray for her as she begins her retirement, in particular that her life will continue to be as rich and full as she deserves.