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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Angry Letter to Priest Leads to Beautiful Friendship
July 26, 2015

Can an angry letter to a priest result in a friendship that also has a positive impact on the world at large? Yes, it can, and it’s part of our history here at The Christophers that I just learned about.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of our founding by Maryknoll priest Father James Keller who used the media as a means of encouraging people toward faith and action, toward lives that reflect the motto, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” 

The timing of an email I received recently seems appropriate in light of the occasion. It came from Steve Dunlop, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and communications expert. He said that The Christophers had been off his radar for years, but he heard our radio show one Sunday and decided to reach out. Dunlop revealed that his late mother, née Jane Harris, was one of the original Christopher staff members hired by Father Keller in 1945.

Jane had graduated college with a journalism degree and worked as a writer in the world of advertising and celebrity publicity. As a result, she rubbed elbows with stars of the era, including Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, and William Holden. Dunlop explained, “A devout Catholic who attended regular rosary at St. Agnes on East 43rd Street, Mom was nagged by the notion that she was...hobnobbing with the stars while American servicemen were dying overseas. So she started keeping her eyes open for new opportunities—where perhaps, she hoped, the work was more in line with what she felt God wanted her to do. It was sometime during this period that she stumbled across a small ad in a newspaper with an intriguing headline: Calling All Christopher Writers!”

                “The ad,” continued Dunlop, “was seeking wordsmiths of all stripes who could help spread a disarmingly simple idea: that the actions of just one person could, literally, change the world. It asked interested parties to contact a ‘James Keller’ without much further explanation. Mom told me on many occasions the ad actually outraged her, at first.  By this point, the superficial milieu of celebrity PR had beaten down her youthful idealism.”  

                Dunlop recalled what his mother told him her letter said—“Dear Mr. Keller: Change the WORLD? Are you kidding? You have a lot of nerve to promote the idea that just one person can change the world. It seems millions of Americans can’t change much of anything in the world right now. How, exactly, do you propose that one person do what millions can’t? Since your ad makes it seem as though you have all the answers, I can’t wait to hear them.”

                A week later, Jane received a response—“Dear Miss Harris: Thank you for your letter. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you. Could we set a date for you to visit my office?  Please contact my secretary, Dorothy Egan, for an appointment. Sincerely, Fr. James Keller, M. M.”

                Jane was mortified because she hadn’t realized that “James Keller” was a Catholic priest. Dunlop said, “In the 1940’s, for most Catholics, addressing a priest as ‘Mister’ was tantamount to mortal sin!” Father Keller didn’t mind, though, because he met with Jane and hired her as a writer and researcher. They worked together for five years, after which Jane left to have a family and raise three boys. But the years she spent with Father Keller always stayed with her. Dunlop said, “[Mom] was devoted to the Christopher message for the rest of her life.”

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, BEING A CHRISTOPHER, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org