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St. Louis Review reporter Joe Kenny, left, talked with Jimmy Spraul before the St. Charles Las Posadas event on Dec. 4. The event was one of the last few covered by Kenny, who retired Dec. 15 after nearly 39 years at the Review.
St. Louis Review reporter Joe Kenny, left, talked with Jimmy Spraul before the St. Charles Las Posadas event on Dec. 4. The event was one of the last few covered by Kenny, who retired Dec. 15 after nearly 39 years at the Review.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings

FAITHFUL FAN | Observations from four decades of ‘Review’ reporting

From jails to church basements — it’s where the stories are

I’ve been in jail, and I went to prison.

I’ve also been on the ice at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, at ballfields, in cemeteries, farms, construction sites, schools and, of course, churches. All in pursuit of a good story. Add in a couple trips to Bolivia, another to Colombia and one to Israel.

I could talk for days about my experiences, such as a Catholic press reporting trip to Israel where our driver insisted at late-night dinners on picking out a beer for me after long days. Most were local beers, not essential to my story, but I didn’t resist. Then on the last day, he told me he was ordering one of the finest British beers. Out came the waitress with a Sam Adams. (It’s from Boston.)

St. Louis Review reporter Joe Kenny, right, conducted an interview with Mellissa Gaines in 2018.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings
As a reporter, accuracy is the aim; as long as the driver kept me safe, it’s OK that he mistook the beer for a British one, even though it’s named after a powerful figure in the opposition to the British rule of the colonies.

Sometimes my job involved long days or reporting into the night — and of course those dreaded meetings at work — but the interesting and often fun assignments far surpassed that, as I look back now that I am retiring just a month short of 39 years as a reporter for the St. Louis Review. Before that I spent three years as editor of the Meramec Valley Transcript weekly newspaper in Pacific, getting my new job with enhanced pay and far fewer hours just in time for the arrival of our first child.

One of the most interesting and fun assignments for the Review was inside the Lincoln County jail where the staff recruited nonviolent offenders to be part of a singing group. Photojournalist Lisa Johnston and I went to the jail to document one of their practices as they prepared for some of the performances they did in the community, mostly at churches on Sundays.

Other times we experienced misery — floods and tornadoes that destroyed homes or homeless people living on the street, for example. But the focus of those stories was the Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who reach out to those people to comfort them and work diligently with them on the way to a better situation. These Catholics show their faith in their work and easily make the connection, resulting in my job of putting their words to paper a joy.

They bring to life the Gospel of Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Joe Kenny started on Feb. 10, 1983. His first bylined story was in the March 4, 1983 edition.
I look back in amazement at the people I have met and wrote about. Sister Thea Bowman, for example, who spread intercultural awareness with a dynamic personality, came to give a talk in a basement of St. Engelbert Parish. I swear I saw a halo around her. Sister Antona Ebo, a revered Civil Rights figure, was so easy to talk with, yet her words so impactful that I wanted to remember every word. The priests who ministered at the archdiocese’s former mission parish in Bolivia were the hardest-working, most compassionate people I’ve ever encountered. The folks in the former Human Rights Office and now the Peace and Justice Commission of the archdiocese dealt with some opposition to the Church’s positions on topics such as immigration, racial justice and the death penalty, yet remained focused on helping people understand the Church’s teaching on human dignity.

I’ve been in awe of the dedication of so many others — from Lynne Jackson, president and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, to the leaders and volunteers of St. Joseph Housing Initiative. And I’ve been inspired by my colleagues. When I started at the Review in 1983, Bob Clavenna was the managing editor — a man with a wealth of knowledge and a knack for empowering his staff. Fellow reporters Paul Pennick, who later took over as managing editor, and Teresa Coyle served as my mentors in those early years. The current staff of the Review and Catholic St. Louis magazine continue to impress with their talent.

The way news is delivered has changed so much from those early years. But the need for in-depth explanations of the intricacies of issues remains as does the importance of reporting on the many Good News stories of Catholics making a positive impact on their community.

Kenny retired Dec. 15, 2021, after nearly 39 years as a reporter for the St. Louis Review. He is a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.

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