Celebrating a 41-Year Career in Catholic Media

Posted By: Dianne Towalski Catholic Media Blog, The Catholic Journalist,

Patrick Downes retired in March after 41 years as editor of the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu. But, long before that, his parents met working at that same newspaper — his mother a secretary, his father the editor. And now, keeping it in the family, his daughter Celia has taken the helm.

His Background

Downes’ mother is the daughter of Okinawan immigrants who came to Hawaii to work on the sugarcane plantations. His father moved there from New York after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as part of a civilian workforce recruited to repair the ships.

“Blessed with a gift for words, [my father] was drawn to, and soon became editor of, the Pearl Harbor Banner, a weekly newspaper chronicling the war effort,” Downes said.

“When the war ended, he was asked to be the editor of the Catholic Herald, the diocesan weekly. Within a year he enlarged the tabloid into a broadsheet and slapped ‘Hawaii’ to the front of the paper’s name to distinguish it from similarly named newspapers in the upper 48, and gave the publication some spunk and spark.”

As a kid, Downes said he either wanted to be a priest or a newspaperman like his dad.

“I remember an assignment in the fourth grade in which we were asked to write about our first and second choices for careers,” he said. “It was a Catholic school and I looked up to the parish priests, so my first choice was priest. My father was a newspaperman — they didn’t use the word journalist in those days — so that was my second choice.”

The family lived near the diocesan minor seminary, so that’s where he went after high school.

“I left the seminary after college and worked a few odd jobs including one as writer and composer for a fellow former seminarian who had made a name for himself as a local musical comedian,” he said.

When Downes was appointed editor of the Hawaii Catholic Herald in 1982, it was his first job in Catholic media, or any media, he said.

There were some conflicts between the newly named bishop and the editor at the time, so the diocese was looking for a new editor.

“I was an ex-seminarian with a journalist father, qualifications skimpy enough for a trial hire,” he said.

That trial hire was the start of a long and distinguished career in Catholic media.

“To start, all I had to do was write, take pictures, and cut and paste, a skill I had perfected in the first grade,” Downes said. “Typesetting and photo screening chores were farmed out. As computers revolutionized the printing process, I did my best to keep up.”

Many stories and experiences stand out over those 41 years, he said.

“Among the most memorable was covering in Rome the canonizations of not one, but two of Hawaii’s beloved saints, Damien de Veuster and Marianne Cope, sweating out the big canonization issues on a laptop 12 hours from home on a one-day deadline,” he said. “Then there was our one and only ‘Extra’ — a 12-page black and white special 9-11 edition.”

Other standout coverage included the installation of two bishops, the clergy sex abuse crisis, numerous ordinations, volcanic eruptions and a devastating wildfire.

“I was also blessed to be publishing in an era of great popes,” he said.

Much of the news media today suffers from bias, blind partisanship, jaundiced views and misleading narratives, Downes says.

“What better antidote is there than a Catholic journalism that offers clarity, charity, certainty, honesty, inspiration and truth,” he said. “The Catholic press is the lamp taken out from under the bushel basket and put on a lampstand to illuminate its surroundings.”

He believes that diocesan newspapers and magazines build community.

Patrick's Thoughts

“[They] salute saintly lives and celebrate lively saints,” he said. “[They] recognize and affirm the good and call out threats to human dignity. … A Catholic newspaper should bear ‘witness to Jesus,’ to borrow our Honolulu bishop’s episcopal motto. Its stories and photos should illustrate the Beatitudes and ultimately point to the source of all truth.”

And there is something to be said for the “printed” word.

“A newspaper is tangible, clipable, highlightable, foldable, shareable and recyclable — qualities appreciated by old retired people like me,” he said.

Downes said he is delighted that his daughter was hired as editor.

Celia Downes, who graduated from Marquette University with a degree in journalism and worked at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, said the prospect of following in her father’s footsteps as editor of the Hawaii Catholic Herald was both exciting and daunting.

“I am truly humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to take over for my dad,” she said. “And he is still here as ‘editor emeritus,’ as I like to call him — helping me through the leadership transition.”

Although just the length of time her dad was editor means there is still so much more to learn, she said. He was editor longer than she has been alive.

“The fact that this transition was possible — aided by my journalism experience, simply growing up in Dad's office and Dad having faith in my ability to take on the role — was truly God's blessing,” she said. 

Downes said in his retirement he hopes to do more reading, a little traveling, some volunteering, a bit of tidying up, some writing and maybe write a song or two.

This post is adapted from the April 2024 issue of The Catholic Journalist