Fr Gerry Reynolds and the Changing Role of the Catholic Media, 1969-1975

Next week I am part of a panel on ‘Christian Modernities in Britain and Ireland in the 20th Century,’ at the European Social Science History Conference at Queen’s University, Belfast. I’ll be presenting a paper on ‘The Communications Revolution in Ireland and the Changing Role of the Catholic Media: Fr Gerry Reynolds and Intercom, 1969-1975.’

Reynolds (1935-2015) is best-known for his later work in ecumenism and reconciliation at Clonard Monastery in Belfast (1983-2015). The Clonard Monastery-Fitzroy Presbyterian Fellowship which he helped lead received the 1999 Pax Christi International Peace Award. I am currently writing Reynolds’ biography, and it was his significance as a peacemaker during Northern Ireland’s Troubles that was my main reason for undertaking the project.

But in the course of my research, I discovered that Reynolds’ earlier work in journalism is also of historical significance.

His efforts in journalism earned him the Catholic Standard’s 1975 ‘Churchperson of the Year’ award.[1] A newspaper article of the time quoted Fr Peter Lemass in his capacity as Dublin Archdiocese Information Officer, who said: ‘Intercom has done a great deal to bring about intelligent change in the Church in Ireland.’

The other papers on the panel are: 

Samuel Brewitt-Taylor : The Changing Meanings of ‘Secularization’: Radical Christianity and the Invention of the ‘Secularization’ Teleology in Britain, 1930-1966
Peter Catterall : The Churches and the Rise of Mass Democracy
Alana Harris : Reframing the ‘Laws of Life’? Catholic Doctors, Birth Control Advice and the Evolution of Catholic Sexology, 1923-1963
John C. Wood : “Going Part of the Way together”: Christian Intellectuals, Secularity, and the European Crisis, 1937–1949

I have reproduced the introduction to my paper below.

‘The Communications Revolution in Ireland and the Changing Role of the Catholic Media: Fr Gerry Reynolds and Intercom, 1969-1975.’

One of the ways that churches in Britain and Ireland responded to modernity was engaging with the ‘communications revolution’ of the 20th Century, a time when modern forms of mass communication such as television and radio became more widespread and pervasive. While some within the churches regarded the communications revolution as a threat to their power and authority, others saw modern mass communications as a tool for evangelising and building up the faithful. In Ireland, the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference created a Catholic Communications Institute (hereafter Institute) in an effort to give the Church a more effective platform for public engagement. This paper explores how the Catholic Church responded to the wider ‘communications revolution’ in Ireland through these initiatives, and especially through the lens of the Institute’s Intercom magazine, which was edited by Redemptorist priest Fr Gerry Reynolds (1935-2015) between 1969-1975. Based on biographical interviews with Reynolds and analysis of the issues published under his editorship, it demonstrates how the magazine attempted to develop a more critical, reflective, and outward-looking faith for a rapidly changing Irish society.

This paper proceeds as follows. First, it reviews Reynolds’ work with Redemptorist publications (1962-1969), exploring how he and others were beginning to articulate a more open approach to the Catholic faith, in line with the teachings of Vatican II. Next, it introduces the Institute and Reynolds’ early work with it, before moving to his role in establishing and editing Intercom. It describes how Reynolds tried to start conversations about difficult and even taboo issues in the church; in particular, we analyse his 1975 special issue on ‘In Praise of Women,’ and the polarized reaction to it. Finally, we conclude with some reflections on Reynolds’ 14 years in journalism. His more open and critical approach is one that could not be taken for granted in Archbishop John Charles McQuaid’s Ireland. After all, McQuaid had famously promised Irish Catholics that Vatican II would not upset the so-called ‘tranquilly’ of their Christian lives. Reynolds’ work in contributing to a cautious modernization of Irish Catholicism was more likely to draw criticism from the church hierarchy than the priests and laity who believed that a more critical Catholic press was key to realizing the promises of Vatican II.

[1] The Catholic Standard was a weekly published between 1928-1978.

Newspaper clipping provided by Noreen Castle.

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