By Dr. Michael W. Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC
John Wilkins, the legendary editor of The Tablet, the premier English-speaking Catholic publication in the world, has just died. I know of no other editor who gave so diligently in time and energy to prepare each page of the eminent weekly for international consumption. He had to get it just right.
A graduate of Clare College, Cambridge, and a former BBC producer, John was a journalist in his very bones. He cared about words, the phrasing of an argument, the cultivation of an elegant prose.
And he was an astute observer of the Catholic scene. His intellectual curiosity and spiritual sagacity combined with his dry wit and often wicked sense of humour making him a delight to be with.
A convert to Catholicism from the Church of England, he maintained a deep and abiding interest in ecumenism, the role of religion in the body politic, and the Catholic presence on the world stage.
I wrote for him for a few years before I actually met him in Rome at the Extraordinary Synod of 1985. Along with his buddy, the papal biographer and masterful vaticanista Peter Hebblethwaite, John entertained and enlightened Doug Letson, my colleague, friend, and co-author, and myself to many in vino veritas moments.
John loved the Roman Catholic Church, but with a love that was critical, faithful, scrutinizing, and ardent. At the same time, pious piffle, ecclesiastical spin, and superficial analysis were foreign to him. He was a model of serious, reflective, and tenaciously inquiring journalism. It was as much a vocation for him as a profession.
He would think nothing of calling me up in the middle of the night over the correct use of a word and then want to argue about it. Inevitably, I gave in: I needed the sleep and he was invariably right.
After his retirement we would continue our tradition of connecting when I was in London and, along with Tom Penney, a former high school chaplain, we would have great fun in John’s choice Turkish restaurant in Pimlico, close to where he lived. Our laughter rocked the eatery and the owners loved it.
The world of Catholic journalism has lost one of its giants.