Mary Howell, Special to The Catholic Virginian
For Brian T. Olszewski (pronounced Ohl-shef-ski), faith has been a steady guidepost throughout his more than 40 years of conveying the story of Catholicism.
The latest example?
“I’d just interviewed with Richmond Diocesan staff and was waiting for my flight back to Wisconsin,” he said.
While sitting in the Atlanta airport that steamy July afternoon, he and his wife, Ruth, were discerning whether or not he should accept the editorship of The Catholic Virginian that had been offered.
Olszewski took a walk in the concourse and crossed paths with a woman in a red T-shirt on which “Thy Will Be Done” was printed in big white letters. This chance encounter confirmed their decision to move to Virginia.
“I felt called to be here,” he said.
Rooted in Catholicism and Wisconsin — “Being a (Green Bay) Packer fan is part of our birthright,” he said with a grin — Olszewski’s journey of faith continued in the early ‘70s, as he double-majored in broadcasting and theology at Marquette University.
“That was the Watergate era; so many of my classmates had a goal of becoming investigative journalists — or sportscasters. Instead, I wanted faith to be central to my work,” he explained.
Fresh out of college and newly married, Olszewski and Ruth left their Milwaukee home to volunteer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in western South Dakota. They grew to love the region’s beauty even while witnessing the deeply rooted challenges of alcoholism, unemployment, drugs and suicide that plagued its Native American communities.
After nearly a year spent writing fund appeal letters on behalf of St. Francis Indian Mission, Olszewski was recruited by the Diocese of Rapid City to do communications work.
“We served about 40,000 Catholics scattered over 43,000 miles,” he recalled. “It wasn’t long (1979) before I was promoted to editor of the West River Catholic, where I managed all facets of this publication, from reporting, photography and ad sales to copywriting, layout and budgeting.”
Olszewski also put his broadcast training to use during his decade in South Dakota, serving as the diocese’s communications director and hosting a biweekly television interview program and, for two years, co-hosting a weekly call-in radio program on various faith topics.
“I also wrote radio ad campaigns (designed) to bring inactive Catholics back to church, and was the voice for a monthly audio compilation of Catholic news and information for the visually impaired of our diocese,” he remembered.
During his time in South Dakota, he spent parts of three summers in Chicago earning a Master of Pastoral Studies degree in communications from Loyola University.
Founding a paper
In 1986, Olszewski, Ruth and their five children moved to the Midwest when he accepted a position with the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, to become the founding editor of the Northwest Indiana Catholic newspaper and the diocese’s communications director. He also began penning a weekly column, “Catholic Thought,” for a secular daily newspaper, The Times of Munster.
“I contributed that column for more than 20 years, with only one topic rejected in all that time,” he noted with a smile.
While in Indiana, Olszewski earned a master’s degree in mass communications from Purdue University.
In 2005, he and Ruth returned to Wisconsin when he was named executive editor and general manager for the Milwaukee Catholic Press Apostolate which serves the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Diocese of Madison and the Diocese of Superior.
“I’m proud of initiating a change in the tone of those publications — particularly Milwaukee and Superior,” Olszewski said.
Despite his contributions, the veteran editor found himself looking for employment this past January, after the Apostolate consolidated its staff and his position was eliminated.
“I kept faith that a meaningful assignment awaited me,” he said.
Appreciates welcome, support
Learning about the CV position, Olszewski was interviewed by phone and then flew down to meet the diocesan staff in person.
“Everyone here has given me a wonderful welcome,” he said, adding that the friendliness has made the transition easier.
Asked what appeals to him most about his new role, he noted the role the CV has in the work of the diocese.
“It’s an opportunity to work with a dedicated staff at a well-established publication,” he said, noting he looks forward to increasing the amount of material available to the Catholic community via The Catholic Virginian website, www.catholicvirginian.org.
He also appreciates the CV’s emphasis on local coverage and its tradition of publishing selected letters from its readers.
“I’ve always believed that every signed letter deserves an acknowledgement, and I invite CV readers to continue sharing their feedback and to also share their story ideas,” he said, noting that even if a letter isn’t published, he is grateful the reader took time to share his or her views.
For Olszewski, the publication and its website are more than sources for information.
“I view the CV as a tool for evangelization, with the ability to influence and inspire readers, as well as share news of our faith,” he said, adding that he looks forward to meeting the network of freelance CV writers who help cover events across the diocese.
He’s also confident about the need for the CV to address polarizing topics of the day.
“These are not just social issues, these are issues of our faith,” he concluded.