By Michelle Martin
The following is an updated version of a story about Dolores Madlener that originally ran on Sept. 28, 2008, on the occasion of Madlener’s 30th anniversary working for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s newspaper. Madlener, 86, retired Nov. 1.
Over the years, she profiled every parish in the archdiocese, spread “benevolent gossip” in Church Clips, introduced readers to dozens of priests and religious in “Five Minutes with Father” and “Conversations with the Consecrated” and spent decades doing the most tedious of jobs, compiling the “Around the Archdiocese” calendar listings.
Her presence in these pages will be greatly missed.
In early September of 1978, Pope John Paul I was in the midst of his 28-day papacy, Cardinal John Cody led the Archdiocese of Chicago and A.E.P. “Ed” Wall, the editor of The Chicago Catholic, as this newspaper was then known, was in need of a secretary.
Dolores Madlener, meanwhile, was working at the American Medical Association headquarters in Chicago.
Madlener, who celebrated her 30th anniversary working for the archdiocesan newspaper on Sept. 11, 2008, said she can thank Father William P. Murphy, then pastor of Queen of Martyrs Parish in Evergreen Park, for pointing her toward the job of editor’s secretary.
“We both thought I’d be a perfect fit, except Father Murphy was never wrong,” said Madlener, who put together the “Around the Archdiocese” events listings, wrote “Church Clips” and “Five Minutes with Father” in every issue.
“I was active in my parish as CCD coordinator at the time. Actually I was involved in my parish since it was founded. Father knew I had good secretarial skills and he knew I took the church seriously.”
Madlener was no stranger to the pages of the paper. She was a loyal subscriber, she said, “and I wrote letters to the editor at the time. Usually complaining.”
Wall evidently agreed with Murphy, because he hired Madlener and even had her coming in after-hours to help out after she gave notice at the AMA.
Madlener noticed the difference immediately.
“We think there’s a bureaucracy in the church, but it was nothing compared to the AMA,” she said. “The ‘hierarchy’ at AMA differed from the hierarchy I found on the fourth floor in the Pastoral Center. It’s really been the people as well as the subject matter that’s kept me here. AMA was so impersonal compared to the archdiocese.”
The waves of young journalists who have worked at the newspaper have kept her young, Madlener said, and each of the six editors — not to mention four archbishops — have made enough changes to keep things fresh.
“As the years went by, I don’t think I’ve ever felt the passing of the time,” she said. “I try to live in the present moment. When I do, it doesn’t feel like 10 years, doesn’t seem like 20 years. It’s like a river, I guess.”
It’s been decades since the Catholic New World editor had a secretary. When Wall moved to Florida after Madlener had been on the job for 10 years, she continued as secretary for a time, handling correspondence and signing her name and title, “secretary to the editor.”
“But I realized with no editor, that position was going to be obsolete,” she said.
So she transferred her skills from the electric typewriter to the newsroom computer system and volunteered to take on the “most tedious job in the newsroom” — putting together “Around the Archdiocese.”
But Madlener did not find it so tedious.
“I had been active in PR in my parish for years,” she said. “I knew how important it was to A&R (Altar and Rosary Society) women to get their card parties and craft fairs in. They were like my sisters ... even though I wished they’d remember to put in the phone number or address so I wouldn’t have to check back.”
Madlener also continued doing secretarial work for successive editors. When Sister of Providence Cathy Campbell came on board, Madlener was taking minutes at an editorial advisory board meeting when the talk turned to perennial worries about circulation. Someone joked that it was too bad the paper couldn’t run a horoscope column, or better yet, a gossip column.
Inspiration struck, and Madlener went home and wrote a prototype of a “benevolent gossip” column, and “Church Clips” was born. It debuted Aug. 5, 1988.
Over the years, Madlener also took on a regular question-and-answer column similar to Chicago newsman Bob Herguth’s “Chicago Profile” column in the Sun-Times. It was similar enough that when she was asked to do “Noteworthy,” Madlener felt like she was imitating, and called Herguth to ask if it was all right to copy his format and say, “By the way, how do you do it?”
“He was very gracious, and said people copy things all the time,” Madlener said. “And he told me how he went about it.”
Later, when Madlener asked Herguth to consider doing a profile on then-assistant editor Mary Claire Gart, he turned the tables and asked to do one of her, instead.
She also profiled each parish in Chicago, in “Parish Pride,” and, in 2007, started a feature to help Catholics get to know their clergy, called “Five Minutes with Father.” This year, that has become “Conversations with the Consecrated” in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life.
“I really think ‘Five Minutes with Father’ is my favorite feature,” she said in 2008. “It’s touched me the most. I always start by asking the priest to lead us in prayer. I’m impressed by their generosity of spirit, to be so open. I hope that by getting to know them better, our readers will be moved to pray even harder for our priests.”
Madlener maintained a close relationship with those readers, many of whom feel as if they know her.
“I just feel about my readers that I know each one of them, one at a time,” she said. “In a social situation, I don’t know NASCAR from ‘Desperate Housewives.’ But if you say what parish you’re from, we can go from there. … I know people by the letters they write to me and the phone calls they make. I especially like when I put something in the column asking, ‘If you’d like a copy of the Angelus, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope.’
“Then I get all these really nice notes from people who share what’s in their hearts. And I write them a note thanking them for subscribing. Without them, where would we be? We’d be writing this in our diary, instead of in a newspaper.”
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