Veteran Catholic journalist Gerald ‘Jerry’ Costello dies
POMPTON PLAINS, NJ (CNS) – Gerald “Jerry” Michael Costello, a Catholic press veteran who was a journalist, columnist, book author and founding editor of three newspapers, died on July 19 from five years of fight against Parkinson’s disease. He was 90 years old.
Her funeral will be celebrated on July 23 at Holy Spirit Church in Pequannock, New Jersey, followed by interment at Our Lady of Magnificat Cemetery in Kinnelon, New Jersey.
Costello founded Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, in 1981; The Beacon, newspaper of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966; and Suburban Trends, a weekly that began in Riverdale, New Jersey, in 1958.
His writings have informed readers of international, national and local Catholic news for over 60 years.
“As founding editor, Jerry Costello put his personal mark of excellence on Catholic New York’s weekly product from the start and made it a standard bearer for the Catholic press,” said John Woods, editor. chief of the newspaper. “He was often at the forefront of the greatest stories of his time, writing in a clear, concise and authoritative style all his own.”
Costello and the late Anne Buckley, who was co-founder of Catholic New York and its editor from 1991 to 2000, “formed the best set of editors I have ever seen in a diocesan publication,” added Woods. .
Mgr. Owen F. Campion, former associate editor of Our Sunday Visitor and former editor of the Tennessee Register, newspaper for the Diocese of Nashville, said Costello’s death “ended an extraordinary life of church service.” .
“As the founding editor of Catholic New York, he created a diocesan newspaper which, from its first edition, has taken a place of excellence, in every way, in American Catholic communications,” said the priest. . “His colleagues have recognized his talent and commitment by awarding him both the prestigious St. Francis de Sales Award and the Bishop England Award. “
Costello was the first layman to receive the Bishop John England Award as president and editor of The Christophers in 2003 from the Catholic Press Association. In 2004, he received the St. Francis de Sales Award, the highest honor bestowed by the CPA, now called the Catholic Media Association, for distinguished achievement in the Catholic press.
Greg Erlandson, director and editor, called Costello “a pillar of the Catholic press, a steadfast mentor and a great pianist.” His dedication to the church he served, his sense of humor and his commitment to excellence should long be remembered by all who follow in his footsteps.
Costello was hired by the late Cardinal Terence Cooke in 1981 to start the Archdiocese of New York’s first official newspaper, succeeding the private Catholic News. Costello worked closely and traveled extensively with Cardinal John O’Connor, Cooke’s successor as Archbishop of New York. After founding The Beacon, Costello was its editor from 1966 to 1981.
Under Costello’s leadership, the two Catholic newspapers have won numerous journalistic awards and have been widely recognized for their excellence in editing, writing and design.
Costello has written two award-winning books: “Mission to Latin America: The Successes and Failures of a Twentieth Century Crusade” (1979), on North American priests, nuns, and lay missionaries who worked in Latin America in the 1960s. ; “Without Fear or Favor: George Higgins on the File” (1984), a profile of Msgr. George Higgins, the late “priest of work”.
Costello’s reporting placed particular emphasis on the church’s social teaching on issues such as poverty, war, and racial and economic justice.
He believed reporters should be on the ground where the story was taking place and speak directly to those most affected, so he interviewed Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers, at his remote headquarters in Tehachapi Mountain, California. He also spoke with farm workers.
The interviews were published in installments in The Beacon from March 1973. The series provided Catholic readers with first-hand accounts of the squalid living conditions and unfair wages of many farm workers.
He traveled to Bolivia and Peru to report on the Church’s missions to the poor in Latin America, and he visited Northern Ireland where he reported on “issues” between Catholics and Protestants. He has reported in the Philippines, Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Jerusalem, writing countless stories about the church’s work to combat war, famine, and political and religious conflict.
As satisfying as Costello’s professional achievements, accolades and honors have been throughout his career, in 2011 he wrote in his self-published book “So Far, So Good:” All professional accomplishments take a back seat. to raise a family with my wife, Jane. . When I think of my heritage, I think of our six children, our (now 21) grandchildren and our (now eight) great-grandchildren. “
Born May 17, 1931 in Utica, New York, he was the only child of Michael and Catherine Costello. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Hawthorne, New Jersey, where Jerry attended elementary and high school and made lifelong friendships.
Starting at age 7, Jerry took the bus from Hawthorne to Paterson for alto saxophone lessons, planting a seed that would become a passion for music and the joy of living his entire life. In high school, Costello was a member of a marching band, dance band, and youth band.
In high school, Costello performed with the school marching band and band. Along the way, he learns to play the clarinet and the piano. (As a husband and father, he played jazz and show tunes on his little grand piano after dinner most evenings and always during vacations and family gatherings.)
An elective course in music theory sparked his interest in orchestral arranging. He wrote dozens of arrangements for his high school and college dance orchestras and, at the end of the Big Band era, even became an arranger for legendary songwriter and conductor Artie Shaw.
In 1952 he graduated from the University of Notre Dame; he majored in speech for a career in television. He then enrolled at Fordham University for a Masters in Communication Arts. His focus on television, however, changed after a journalism professor imparted such a love for the newspaper industry to Costello that he embarked on a new career.
In 1953 he began his first job as a reporter for the Paterson Evening News. On the first day of work, he opened the door for another reporter entering the building who turned out to be his future wife, Syracuse University graduate Jane Van Saun.
Costello was drafted, serving from 1953 to 1955 in the 532nd Army Military Intelligence Battalion in Stuttgart, Germany. He and Jane were married in December 1954 at Holy Spirit Church in Pequannock, New Jersey, during Costello’s three weeks off. The newlyweds returned to Stuttgart on New Year’s Eve where they lived in an apartment on the second floor of a country farmhouse.
After returning from the service, Costello returned to work as a reporter for the Paterson Evening News. In 1958, at age 27, he was offered the post of founding editor-in-chief of Suburban Trends. From 1962 to 1964, Costello was the editor of The Advocate, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Newark. In 1964, he became deputy suburban editor of The Herald News in Passaic, New Jersey.
It was a Herald News assignment to interview Bishop Lawrence B. Casey of Paterson which led the Bishop to invite Costello in the fall of 1966 to be the founding editor of The Beacon.
After retiring from Catholic New York in 1991, Costello served as president and director of The Christophers and also worked as a consultant for the Propagation of the Faith. He was also a consultant for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Costello was also the editor of Our Sunday Visitor’s “Treasury of Catholic Stories”, published in 1999, and in 2006 he edited an updated version of Father Keller’s classic bestseller of 1948, “You Can Change the World “.
Among his many awards was an honorary doctorate from St. John’s University in New York (1997).
He is predeceased by his eldest son Michael, 61, who died in February this year due to complications from COVID-19.
Besides Jane, his wife of 66 years, Costello is survived by two daughters and their spouses; three sons and their spouses; stepdaughter Francesca Mazzaglia Costello; and 21 grandchildren and eight grandchildren.