ST. PAUL – As a kid growing up in Chicago, Bob Zyskowski remembers his father reading at least two newspapers a day – something that made an impression about the importance of journalism.
He also remembers a Catholic periodical in his childhood home – the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago then called The New World. Zyskowski would one day serve as that paper’s managing editor, prior to coming to St. Paul for a job with the Catholic Bulletin, predecessor to The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Zyskowski, who has worked for 43 years in the Catholic press in three states, is retiring May 31. His departure marks the end of an era for The Catholic Spirit, which he led for nearly three decades, first as editor and then associate publisher.
“I hope that I’ve inspired people to reach for those lofty goals of bringing people to Jesus and being part of a media organization that touches lives,” said Zyskowski, who turns 65 May 17.
In 2011, Zyskowski won the Catholic Press Association’s St. Francis de Sales Award, the highest award the CPA presents to an individual for “outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism.”
When he became associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit in 1998, the paper was $2.1 million in debt. With help from a dedicated board of director, circulation and advertising and the company worked into the black. Meanwhile, its team of reporters earned a number of national awards from the CPA. From 2004 to 2009, the newspaper was consistently ranked among the top three Catholic newspapers in North America.
Zyskowski also served as CPA president from 2007 to 2010, and overall “was just a promoter” of The Catholic Spirit and Catholic journalism, said Pat Norby, who worked first as a reporter and then news editor for The Catholic Spirit from 1988 to 2014. She applauded his speedy news-writing skills and his overall vision.
“His creative juices were always flowing,” she said, adding: “The Catholic press is going to lose someone who has just been a very strong advocate for reaching out to people and being able to promote the Catholic faith in a way that few people do.”
Zyskowski attended Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, initially intending to pursue engineering, but he quickly changed his major to journalism. In high school, he had discovered an aptitude for writing. During college, he covered sports for the local daily paper, a side job he would continue after graduation. His first full-time job, however, was with The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria.
A year later, he took a job at The Catholic Standard & Times, then the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. There, under its editor, then-Msgr. John Foley, Zyskowski worked as news and sports editor, but after three years in Philadelphia, he turned his sights back to Chicago where he oversaw the archdiocesan newspaper’s transition from The New World to the Chicago Catholic, redesigning it at his mother’s kitchen table and refreshing its editorial content.
“I felt like I was part of this team that helped bring it back to life,” he said, which has been his philosophy all along, that Catholic publications should be able to visually compete with any other magazine or publication.
After its first year, the Chicago Catholic, which as since been renamed the Catholic New World, took first place for general excellence in the CPA annual awards contest.
Zyskowski came to the Catholic Bulletin in 1983 and became editor in 1986; 10 years later, the newspaper became The Catholic Spirit. After working 14 years as the associate publisher and general manager, he relinquished responsibility for the paper’s business side in 2012, when The Catholic Spirit merged into the newly formed archdiocesan communications office.
After the merger, Zyskowski oversaw The Catholic Spirit’s client publications, which at that time included The Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud; New Earth, and The Northern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of Duluth, both in Minnesota, as well as the Diocese of Fargo in North Dakota.
Fr. Charles Lachowitzer, the archdiocese’s moderator of the curia, has known Zyskowski since 1993, when the priest became pastor of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maplewood, where the Zyskowskis were longtime parishioners. He recalled that — if Bob really liked it — his homily would “disappear” from the pulpit and find its way into the newspaper.
“Bob has seen many seasons … in the life of the newspaper,” Fr. Lachowitzer said. “He has remained predictably consistent both in the gifts he shares with the church but also his vision for the opportunities of media to be a tool for evangelization.”
Zyskowski credits his wife, Barb, for her steadfast support throughout his career. He recalls phoning in a story to the Peoria Journal-Star from a Dairy Queen in Havana, Illinois, while Barb was beginning labor with the first of their four children. Story filed, they sped 70 miles back to a Peoria hospital.
“Barb and I have always looked at it this way: It’s just been God – the Holy Spirit – looking out for us,” he said. “I could have never imagined a career in the Catholic press as fulfilling as mine has been, especially as a 22-year-old punk kid in 1973” when he took that first job in Peoria.
After his retirement, the Zyskowskis are moving close to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to be near their daughter and her family. He hopes to coach grade school basketball, something he did for 25 years, and he also has plans to freelance for the diocese’s newspaper, The Compass.
“It’s the importance of story and telling the story,” he said, pointing to Jesus’ use of parables. “Every Sunday in our church we retell the stories, and I’d like to think that Catholic journalists are part of that long line of people who are sharing the story, making sure the story isn’t forgotten.”
Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.