Bishop Richard Lennon shepherds the Diocese of Cleveland, encompassing eight counties in northeastern Ohio, with 185 parishes and 114 schools serving almost 690,000 Catholics. Since his installation 10 years ago, Lennon has made evangelization a top priority. On the first anniversary of Northeast Ohio Catholic, the bimonthly diocesan magazine that replaced the Catholic Universe Bulletin, the 141-year-old biweekly diocesan newspaper, CE asked the bishop about the new publication’s reception and relevance. (Note: Just after this interview was published, Bishop Lennon announced his retirement. FAITH Catholic wishes him every blessing and thanks him for his vocation.)
CE: Why is it important to reach all parishioners in your diocese?
+RL: The Lord charged us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” It is our mandate to share the faith. Using that same dynamic, we realized that by sending a publication to all Catholic households in the diocese, it would be inviting people to come back home to the Church. Many people have drifted away from the Church. The largest religious group in America is Catholics, and the second-largest is fallen-away Catholics. Many have moved on with their lives without having em- braced what was there.
We have the events and liturgies of Christmas and Easter, things that bring people to church, but there is so much more, so many more wonderful liturgies and sacraments, like reconciliation. We want to share our faith so that it becomes more a part of people’s lives. A magazine seemed to be an opportunity – an appropriate way to do that by reaching a large number of people. It also allows us to focus on evangelization. And where better to begin than with people in whose lives there have been “Catholic moments” – to try and capture those, to tell their stories and help to bring others back to the faith We have heard from people who say they put Northeast Ohio Catholic magazine on the coffee table and it gets used – it gets looked at.
We also know of individuals who have come back to the Church as a result of the magazine. It’s a good exposure to evangelization.
CE: What process did you go through to evaluate your diocesan communications?
+RL: In the context of evangelization, we were talking about communication within our diocese a few years ago. At about the same time, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offered access to a consultant to take a look at communications, so we took advantage of it.
We conducted an extensive survey, taking into account the number of people who are baptized Catholic but are non-participatory. We looked at how and where people get their information. The Universe Bulletin, our legacy diocesan newspaper, was experiencing the same problems that most other newspapers were facing: shrinking circulation and declining advertising revenue. We knew we had to look at some other options to communicate more effectively with the faithful throughout the diocese. The process took many months and involved input from people in all areas of the diocese.
CE: Why did you keep print but switch from a newspaper to a magazine?
+RL: We have seen some radical changes in communication in a relatively short period of time. Publications everywhere are downsizing. The Universe Bulletin had served the diocese well for many years, but we needed to try something different. In Cleveland, the Plain Dealer, the major daily newspaper, is delivered fewer days per week, so it’s no longer the main source for news. Young people are not getting their news from newspapers; there’s been a shift in the way people get information. A daily newspaper lasts a day – it’s read and it gets discarded. With a magazine, there’s a different opportunity. You can have longer stories, and the color on the pages catches people’s attention. A newspaper is not fully color.
The magazine is read and might be put somewhere, like on a table, where others can see it, so it lasts longer than a newspaper. The magazine also can be accessed online, and it’s augmented by our weekly electronic newsletter.
We’re taking a cue from the Holy Father, who talks about using various types of media, and he encourages all kinds of communication.
CE: How does your print publication evangelize?
+RL: There is discussion about the type of topics we will write about in the magazine and how to best tell the stories. I have input on the topics and themes. The topics themselves can lead to evangelization.
We’ve told stories about people who received the sacrament of reconciliation after being away from the Church for decades. When we had a spread on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), it was manifested in parishes. People started coming back to the Church. They came out of curiosity, then they became inquirers, and finally went on a regular basis to learn more about the Church. We filled the cathedral two times the first Sunday of Lent with those who wanted to become Catholic. Then, as Lent went on, their journey as catechumens continued. At the Easter Vigil, almost every parish in the diocese had a special Mass at which those who were on the journey became full members of the Church. It’s an important moment in their spiritual lives. It’s not just good spiritual feelings, it’s a spiritual commitment.
FROM THE READERS OF NORTHEAST OHIO CATHOLIC
“I loved the foster family story in the last issue. It was so inspirational!” – Paula
“I JUST READ NORTHEAST OHIO CATHOLIC FROM COVER TO COVER. I’M REALLY ENJOYING THIS NEW PUBLICATION. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO FOR CLEVELAND CATHOLICS.” – ANNE
“Congratulations on the launch of Northeast Ohio Catholic. It is a dynamic and worthy 21st century successor to the Universe Bulletin. Northeast Ohio Catholic is an excellent publication. Again, my sincerest congratulations on a dynamic publication.” – Bob
“Thank you for this new publication. I am finding the stories and information you provide most interesting, and enjoy learning about people and activities that go on in the diocese. Keep up the good work of spreading the good news of the diocese!” – Sara
“JUST A QUICK NOTE – love the new magazine. Can’t wait for the next issue.” – NANCY
“This is an historic publication. I feel goose bumps from the Spirit that oversaw and guided all the people and activities to bring the first issue to reality.” – Mary Ann
“I lied to myself, because I thought I wasn’t going to like the magazine after the Universe Bulletin, but I love it and I will sign up when the time comes.” – Carl