Joseph Feuerherd, NCR’s editor-in-chief and publisher, dies

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (CNS) — Joseph Feuerherd, editor-in-chief and publisher of the National Catholic Reporter, died May 26 after an 18-month battle with metastasized soft tissue sarcoma. He was 48.

He died at the Montgomery Hospice’s Casey House in Rockville with his family at his side.

A funeral Mass was scheduled for June 1 at the Theological College of The Catholic University of America in Washington. Interment was to take place at Holy Name of Mary Cemetery in Montrose, Pa., at a later date.

Feuerherd had been editor-in-chief and publisher of the lay-edited weekly newspaper, based in Kansas City, Mo., since October 2008.

At the time of his appointment, he said he was thrilled the NCR board had chosen him, but he was also “humbled and energized by the opportunity to lead a publication that is vital to American Catholics who love their church.”

Before taking the top post, he had spent about 24 years filling a variety of roles at the paper, ranging from intern to Washington correspondent.

Arthur Jones, NCR’s editor in the 1970s who had hired him as an intern during his time as the paper’s Washington bureau chief, posted a lengthy tribute to Feuerherd on NCR’s website, www.ncronline.org.

“As publisher he crisscrossed the country; as editor he firmly and generously crossed swords with many public figures on contentious issues, and heartily applauded others. He had strong opinions, but a moderate approach; he was a centrist who heard people out,” wrote Jones, who is now NCR’s books editor.

“That was the professional Feuerherd, but his attributes there were simply magnified on a personal level with colleagues and friends: a kind, unflappable, caring person; a decent man, in every definition of the term, one with a quietly wicked sense of humor,” Jones added.

A native of Garden City, N.Y., Feuerherd first came to NCR in 1984 when he showed up at the paper’s office as a junior at The Catholic University of America in Washington. As a college intern, he recalled in an interview, “I made the coffee, sorted mail, answered phones, clipped newspapers and grabbed whatever reporting assignments I could finagle.”

In his senior year in college, he became the newspaper’s political affairs reporter.

After graduating from Catholic University with a degree in history, he left and returned to NCR several times over the next two decades.

Between positions at NCR, he served as a congressional press secretary and legislative assistant and editor of the weekly publication Economic Opportunity Report.

He returned to NCR in 1988 as Washington bureau chief, a position he kept until 1991.

He then served as public affairs officer at the Montgomery County (Md.) Housing Opportunities Commission from 1991 to 1997 and editorial director and associate publisher at United Communications Group in Rockville from 1998 to 2002. He returned to NCR as Washington correspondent from 2002 to 2007.

When he was named editor-in-chief and publisher, Feuerherd noted that NCR had been founded more than four decades earlier by “a group of spirited and entrepreneurial journalists (who) decided that both the church and the broader culture would be served by a publication that told the story of Catholics in this country — an independent newspaper that provided, to the extent possible, the facts and the truth about the institution and its people.

“They were right then — and that mission is even more important today,” he said.

Feuerherd was a member of the Catholic Press Association and a member of the National Press Club in Washington.

“Joe Feuerherd was an exceptional Catholic journalist and publisher. His was a keen observer of people and society, especially as they related to large institutions be it the church or government,” said Tony Spence, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service.

“He never failed to treat the subjects he covered or assigned his reporters to cover with anything less than respect and charity. He held one of the most important jobs in the Catholic press — leader of an independent Catholic medium,” Spence added. “He used it wisely and well. We will miss this great colleague and friend.”

Feuerherd is survived by his wife of 27 years, Rebecca, a teacher, and three adult children, Zachary, Bridget and Benjamin, all of Kensington, Md.; and siblings Victor Feuerherd of Madison, Wis., Elizabeth Munafo of Jericho, N.Y., Peter Feuerherd, director of communications for the Diocese of Camden; David Feuerherd of Queens, N.Y., and Matthew Feuerherd of Jefferson, Md.

In an NCR article about his cancer published Oct.21, 2010, Feuerherd thanked his children, who “have spent nights in hospital rooms, sterilized and cleaned the home front, and been there whenever we’ve needed them. Not sure where all that came from, but we’re delighted it’s there.”

“My wife, Becky … has, at least temporarily, given up a good career, and forsaken more than I can describe to fight with bill collectors, oversee medication management, negotiate with doctors, and tend to my wants and needs,” he added. “All out of unconditional love. Thank you, Becky.”

Wrote Jones in his tribute: “For Joe the race is over. The romance lingers on.”

Editor’s Note: Family members asked that those who want to make a memorial donation may send it to: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 5845 Richmond Highway, Alexandria VA 22303; or online at www.LLS.org (In memory of Joseph Feuerherd).