During her funeral Mass last Thursday at the Cathedral of St. John, Fr. Hammer not only mentioned the company Ethel was keeping on her journey to everlasting life, but added, that being the reporter she was, she no doubt had notebook and pen in hand ready to take advantage of this historical moment.
Ethel made history herself as the first woman elected president of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. For 67 years, the association had been headed by men – until Ethel came along. She was also the first woman vice-president and first laywoman to be elected to the board of directors.
Locally, she was the first woman appointed to head the Catholic Press Apostolate, a position she held for 20 years. She’s a member of the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame, received the By-Line award, the highest honor conferred annually by the Marquette University College of Journalism, and received honorary doctorates from Mount Mary College, Cardinal Stritch University and Marquette University.
And that’s only a sampling of the many accolades she’s received.
Ethel stood out in her field and was a passionate supporter of the Catholic newspaper as a vehicle for evangelization, information and inspiration.
Thanks to Ethel and fellow longtime Catholic Herald editorial staffers, editor Thomas J. Smith and associate editor Eugene Horn, the Catholic Herald was a model diocesan newspaper, emulated by others around the country. It was known for its strong journalistic practices and solid writing. It was – and remains – one of a very few diocesan newspapers completely independent financially. The paper receives no subsidy from the archdiocese and relies solely on advertising and subscription revenue for its existence – no small feat in these challenging times for newspapers.
But for those of us fortunate to work with Ethel, there’s far more to this amazing woman.
Ethel’s standards were high and she expected the same effort and product from those who worked with her. No doubt that emphasis on excellence translated into the many awards that line the walls of the Catholic Herald offices.
Ethel was a role model, not only because of her journalistic skills, but because of her passionate approach to her career – which she saw as a ministry – her family, her church and life itself.
Life certainly sent Ethel a few curve balls. A young bride, she was widowed at age 34 when her sons, Bruce and Bob, were 13 and 10. Suddenly Ethel went from stay-at-home mom to sole family breadwinner. After teaching school for a few years, she returned to school, earned a master’s degree and began her career with the Catholic press.
But over the years, one serious ailment after another challenged her. She battled breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Graves disease and in more recent years, knee surgery and finally heart surgery.
Yet, through all the struggles, Ethel didn’t complain or draw attention to herself. She, instead, kept on plugging along with the same determination and passion her staff had come to expect.
Ethel’s been a presence at your Catholic Herald for almost a half century – even in retirement, she’d often contact staff with suggestions, constructive criticism or even praise. While it’s difficult to accept that her advice is no longer an e-mail away, the impact she’s had on the Catholic Herald and its communication efforts in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will be long-lasting.
In a 2006 acceptance speech upon receiving the Women of Faith Award from the Salvatorians, Ethel said, “I only hope that sometime or other, in some way or another, consciously or unconsciously, I, too, have been the same kind of loving instrument of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others.”
That you have been, Ethel – and so much more.
You’ve inspired those around you to set the bar high and accomplish seemingly insurmountable goals, you’ve lived your faith through your compassion for others and your emphasis on social justice, you’ve set a wonderful example of balancing family life with a career and you’ve shared your passion for your Catholic faith and journalistic talents, creating a ministry which touched so many.
As the pearly gates open to the likes of Fawcett, Jackson and McMahon, be assured that the Catholic Herald’s own Herald angel is leading the way.