Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bernard Casserly kept Twin Cities' Catholics in the know

Journalist Bernard Casserly told his family that he had the best job after he became editor of the old Catholic Bulletin. The job, he said, allowed him to use his journalism skills to cover the issues and people of his Catholic faith.

Casserly, who helped lead what is now the Catholic Spirit newspaper and who was a former Minneapolis Star reporter, died of complications from heart disease Sept. 18 in Minneapolis. He was 91.

"He was a hard-nosed news person who loved a good story and thought that the Catholic church had something very positive to add to society," said Bob Zyskowski, associate publisher of the Spirit.

Casserly grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from North High School in 1935. In 1939, he received his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota and went to work for a New Ulm newspaper and the St. Paul Dispatch. During World War II, he handled publicity for the Twin Cities recruiting office of the Merchant Marine. After the war, he became a Merchant Marine officer. From 1947 to 1957, he was a reporter for the old Minneapolis Star, covering education and the suburbs. He served as president of the Twin Cities Newspaper Guild.

He became editor of the Catholic Bulletin in 1957. When the Vatican made changes that left many traditions behind in the 1960s, Casserly was the messenger of what was bad news to many. "He took a lot of heat for that," said Zyskowski.

He also called for open housing laws in city ordinances and supported the civil rights movement.

When Minneapolis public relations specialist Dan Cohen sued the two Twin Cities daily newspapers in the late 1980s for exposing a confidential source, Casserly was called as an expert witness for Cohen. "Trust is what is involved here, and a trust has been violated," he was quoted as saying in a July 15, 1988, Star Tribune article.

In the 1960s, a parish priest canceled 1,600 subscriptions to the Catholic Bulletin, because Casserly had run a picture of dancing nuns on the cover. "We've got to report what's going on in the church," he said years later.

John Finnegan, retired executive editor for the Pioneer Press, said Casserly was "bright, intelligent and had a high sense of ethics." "He really built [the Catholic Bulletin] into an excellent newspaper," Finnegan said.

In the 1970s, he was host of "Church Beat," a Twin Cities public TV program.

He retired in 1982, and until recent years he wrote a syndicated column aimed at seniors that ran in the Catholic press nationwide.

Casserly was exacting about language and was quick to correct someone's poor grammar. When asked to "lay down," he responded, "Only hens lay eggs," reported his daughter, Martha (Marty) Casserly of West St. Paul.

He always found time for his six children in his busy schedule, she added. "He was so charismatic and personable," she said.

In addition to Marty, he is survived by his wife of 57 years, Dorothy of Minneapolis; his other daughters, Katie of Maple Grove, Lisa Taplin of St. Paul, Molly Goodson of St. Paul; sons Charles of Minneapolis and John of Stillwater; brother, James of Minneapolis; sister, Therese Olson of New Hope, and 12 grandchildren.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Helena's Catholic Church, 3204 E. 43rd St., Minneapolis. Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday in the Washburn-McReavy Nokomis Park Chapel, 1838 E. Minnehaha Pkwy., Minneapolis, and at 9 a.m. Monday in the church.

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