Last week was a sad one at Catholic New York as we said goodbye to founding Editor in Chief Gerald M. Costello, who is remembered fondly for establishing Catholic New York 40 years ago and leading the paper to the top ranks of the Catholic diocesan press during the decade he was in charge. Costello died July 19 at age 90, as his obituary in this issue notes.
Frankly, there is a lot to recall about Jerry Costello, as he was known to all. He wasn’t just our founding editor, but also founded two other newspapers, including The Beacon of the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., where he spent 15 years before coming to Catholic New York.
After his retirement from CNY, Costello served for several years as president and publisher of The Christophers, becoming in 2003 the first layman to win the Bishop John England Award from the Catholic Press Association (CPA). The next year, he brought home the CPA’s St. Francis de Sales Award, which is the highest individual honor the association awards for distinguished achievement in the Catholic Press.
Though the awards were significant, Costello’s working life probably should not be reduced to a recitation of accolades.
He brought to his work a dedication and discipline that was tough to match and easy to admire. I arrived on the scene at Catholic New York for the last six months Jerry spent in the newsroom here. He was a part-timer at that point, helping the new Editor in Chief Anne M. Buckley, who was his closest collaborator during his editorship, to keep the ship running steady and offering advice when called upon. He took care of the editorials, the letters to the editor and wire pages, all important jobs that he handled smoothly and with precision.
Our jobs intersected at points during that period. I filled in for him on the wire pages when he was away on vacation, so he showed me the ropes. His explanations were matter of fact, no great reveals. I appreciated the help, and it also gave me an appreciation for his professionalism and courtesy. As much as anything, he introduced me to the culture of Catholic New York, as well as his personal graciousness, especially to Miss Buckley and to the whole enterprise.
In listening to others on staff as well as CNY alumni who worked with him, one thing that drew praise, other than his outsized journalistic talent and leadership abilities, was the fact Jerry Costello did not micromanage every part of the operation. He did his share, and then some, and was content to let others take up their part of the load. That was a key to his personal success as well as the paper’s.
Arthur L. McKenna served as CNY’s general manager for 25 years during the full tenures of Costello and Miss Buckley, as well as my first years.
He said Costello, with his work at The Beacon and in national Catholic publications, was a respected figure in the Catholic publishing world. “He was preceded by his reputation...He put out a really fine paper...He was ready to make the move,” McKenna said.
McKenna had already been working for almost two decades leading the business side at The Tablet newspaper in the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the opportunity to work alongside Costello and Miss Buckley as they established Catholic New York under Cardinal Terence Cooke was a bold move of his own. In an interview this week, McKenna said he remembers the cardinal saying that the people of the Archdiocese of New York deserved the best and that’s what he intended to give them with Catholic New York.
Costello and Miss Buckley formed a one-two editing team that published a high quality paper and led the talented editorial team to innovations such as front-page color photography, a major milestone for the era.
At the helm was Costello, “the consummate editor,” who enjoyed meeting people and “knew everybody” in the archdiocese and beyond.
“He was not surprised by anything the world had to offer,” McKenna said.