By MSGR. THOMAS R. DUFFY
When I first met John and Marianne Conick, they were living in Beaufort. John was a Marine stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station.
Before going to Beaufort, he was stationed in Detroit, where he had been accepted into the archdiocesan program to prepare men for the permanent diaconate. He discontinued his studies after moving to South Carolina.
I do not remember if John asked for permission to continue his studies in our diocesan program with the intention of being ordained a deacon for service in the Archdiocese of Detroit or asked immediately to study for the Diocese of Charleston. I do know that it was not long before he and Marianne decided it was time to retire from the Marines and settle here in South Carolina. I feel certain that part of their decision was based on John’s desire to serve the church in South Carolina as a permanent deacon, and Marianne’s willingness to support him in this ministry.
They chose Lexington as their new home. The local church was a mission of Our Lady of the Hills and did not even have a permanent home. It would later become Corpus Christi Parish, and there John would not only serve as deacon but become very active in the Lexington Interfaith Community Services. He served on their board for eight years, as president for two terms. He once wrote to remind the board that they existed to serve their clients and therefore had to ensure that their regulations did not make it difficult for clients to get the help they needed.
Bishop Ernest Unterkoefler called John to the Order of Deacon and ordained him as a permanent deacon on May 15, 1976. Long before that, while he was studying to be a deacon, John was appointed by Bishop Unterkoefler as news coordinator of The Catholic Banner, when Father Charles Moloney, who was editor, died suddenly of a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1972.
In fact, John was the editor of the paper from that day until the final issue of The Catholic Banner on Sept. 27, 1990.
John was never officially named editor of The Banner, and I know that at times this bothered him even though he never really complained about it to me. I think the reason he didn’t make an issue of this was that he knew in fact that he was the editor. He made the choice of what was printed, and he also took the responsibility for his decisions.
Oh yes, he had complaints for some of the articles he printed and for others that he did not print; he also had complaints for editing some of the articles that were submitted by others, including, occasionally, Bishop Unterkoefler’s weekly article. He edited one of my “editorials,” but only once, because I then sent them directly on to the plant where the paper was printed. I never shared this “solution” with the bishop.
John knew that the day The Catholic Banner came out the first person to call would most probably be Bishop Unterkoefler. Certainly, there were times when the bishop did not agree with John’s decision, but he obviously had faith in John because he never took away or even attempted to lessen John’s editorial authority.
One thing Bishop Unterkoefler did in regard to editorials was to make it clear that they were not necessarily his opinion or the official position of the paper. This, however, was not the result of anything John wrote. It was because an influential Catholic in the diocese took exception to an article I wrote, and, in fact, asked the IRS to look into whether or not, not only the paper, but the diocese, should have its tax exempt status removed. I don’t think the bishop thought this would happen, but he made it clear that the authors of the editorials were responsible for what they wrote, and from then on the editorials appeared with the name of the author or their initials. In the end, they even had our picture printed with the editorial.
John might have been hurt by never being named editor, but he had learned well the meaning of the motto of the Marines — Semper Fideles — he was always faithful to his publisher. Their faith in each other, I am sure, was a sign of their respect for each other.
John saw as he edited the newspaper a vehicle for him to be deacon. In it he preached the Gospel, not only in the weekly articles he wrote, but in the stories he published. He was particularly proud of his coverage of life issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and the lack of educational health and welfare services to the poor of South Carolina. His concern for the poor was not only addressed in the paper but in his personal diaconal service that included becoming director of services in the diocese for refugees and immigrants.
As director of permanent deacons, I had in John and Marianne, a couple who were always there to not only support and encourage new candidates and their wives during their time of training, but to continue to encourage and be encouraged by those who had been ordained deacons and their wives.
I thank God for the examples of John’s faith and pray with all whose lives he touched that he lives now in God’s peace.