Today is the final day of the editorship of Drew Christiansen, SJ. And we would be very remiss if we did not offer a word--several words--of gratitude for Drew’s generous leadership of our magazine in the last seven years.
Drew Christiansen took over as editor in chief after the painful and public departure of Thomas J. Reese, SJ, who had resigned his position at the request of the Vatican. (The full story of Tom’s resignation would probably make a good book, or a doctoral dissertation, some day.) Needless to say, Drew came in during what was probably the most difficult period in the magazine’s long history. And yet the Jesuit provincials in the United States, and Father General, understood that Drew’s unique talents, qualifications and capabilities made him uniquely suited to the task during this extremely challenging time. Drew had worked for several years with the Office of Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; before that he was known as a distinguished moral theologian; and he had also written extensively in the pages of America magazine. He was also well versed in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. All in all, he was a fine successor to Fr. Reese. And in the midst of doubts over how the magazine could continue after the Vatican intervention, in our first editorial after Father Reese’s removal the editors spoke of their hopes for the future and stated that, even in the midst of controversy, we would not mistake diversity for dissent. Drew understood that distinction well.
Drew’s steady hand, his calm demeanor and his cordial relations with the church's hierarchy, helped us to navigate our way through some trouble seas over the next few months. Once things settled down, he was able to make many changes in the magazine, all for the good. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the remarkable staff of lay editors he hired during his time here. Of course Father Reese had already hired Patricia A. Kossmann as our superb literary editor; but Drew added to the stable with Tim Reidy, our online editor; Kevin Clark, associate editor; and Kerry Weber, associate editor. Our editorial director during Drew’s term, Karen Sue Smith, who retired just yesterday (to the sadness of all), rounded out a great team of lay editors, who worked seamlessly with the Jesuit editors. Drew truly understood the value of collaboration in ministry, and had a flair for identifying good talent.
Most readers know that Drew also has an abiding interest in the politics and policies of the Middle East, having spent extensive time working the field of Jewish-Christian relations, Israeli-American relations, as well as in relations between the Vatican and Israel. (He seemed to know everyone in those worlds, and in the worlds of ecumenical and interfaith affairs.) So the magazine, during these years of intense conflict in the Middle East, was particularly well positioned to comment on the issues facing the region. As a moral theologian, Drew also helped guide the magazine in its reflection on many of the most vexing moral issues of the day, drawing from his vast experience and wide knowledge of the tradition. The editors all agreed that it was never less than fascinating to hear Drew explain a particular aspect of moral theology, a dimension of church history, or forgotten papal document, with consummate ease and fluidity. I always marveled at his ability to make difficult moral topics accessible, and bring to bear the church’s rich tradition on issues of contemporary relevance.
But Drew isn’t simply an academic. I used to often encourage the editor in chief to write as much as he could on spiritual topics. Whenever he turned his pen (or computer) to spirituality, I was, like so many other readers, inevitably delighted. In his Of Many Things columns, as well as his occasional articles on such topics as, say, Teilhard de Chardin and spiritual conversations, his writing always made for wonderfully surprising reading. By that I mean this: with his profound knowledge of theology and his deep spiritual sensitivities, he was able to see things in a new way--even in areas that I felt that there was not much new to say. A 2007 article on the saints and martyrs, for example, helped me to see that familiar topic in a brand-new light.
Drew will be taking a sabbatical at Boston College and then will be taking up a position at Georgetown University. Thus, he can enjoy a bit of a rest, and then move into a job that will not only place him in one of the great Catholic universities, but also return him to Washington DC, where he will be able to continue his wise and gentle influence on the church and the world of national and international politics. Drew’s rest will also be made easier with the knowledge that Matt Malone, SJ, a hugely talented man, is poised to take over on Monday, and improve the magazine in his own way. (So far I've worked for three editors--George W. Hunt, SJ; Thomas J Reese, SJ; and Drew Christiansen, SJ; and each have "remade" in a sense the magazine. So exciting changes lie ahead for readers.)
I hope you will join me in wishing Father Christiansen well after his labors for the magazine, for the Society of Jesus, for the church and for the People of God.