Bernadette Gasslein has been honoured with the annual ARCCC Award.

WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR

Bernadette Gasslein has been honoured with the annual ARCCC Award.

May 12, 2014
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Edmonton's Bernadette Gasslein is the winner of this year's prestigious Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada (ARCCC) award.

But that is not surprising, since over the years, the Catholic journalist has racked up 59 awards for her writing.

"It's a pretty good track record," she admits.

ARCCC is the national organization of Catholic "communicators," meaning those working in a variety of communications ministries ranging from the public relations offices of various Church organizations to Church-based media.

Joe Sinasac, publisher of Novalis and president of ARCCC, readily applauds Gasslein's work. He worked with her when she submitted articles when he was an editor at Novalis and The Catholic Register and he "long respected her work with Celebrate! magazine."

Her strength, he says, is because "she is a natural born teacher. She knows and loves liturgy. And she knows how to communicate that, not just communicate knowledge, but communicate a passion for worship, literature and prayer. It comes across naturally for her."

This talent allows readers to expand their knowledge and understanding about their faith.

Sinasac underlines the ARCCC award is not restricted to Catholic communicators and over the years has been awarded to "a long line of stellar people, including Roy Bonisteel from the television series Man Alive and Bernie Lucht, executive producer of CBC's Ideas.

"She (Gasslein) demonstrates she could create a form of journalism around faith practices that was absolutely first class," states Sinasac.

She also tackled tough issues such as divorced and remarried Catholics, and crafted challenging editorials.

"The magazine itself (Celebrate!) won dozens upon dozens of awards," recalls Sinasac.

Gasslein says "I am delighted for the award. It is a wonderful award personally and as one of my Jewish friends said. 'Take the honour.'"

A precocious reader as a child, she "insisted on being given an adult card in the library."

LEARNING THE ORGAN

But it was another art that spurred her into writing about her faith.

Having earned an associate in performance piano from the Royal Conservatory, she found herself, at 16, seated on a bench in front of a church organ.

Sensing a power in her pupil, the teacher turned Gasslein around on the bench and said, "From now on, you will serve God's people at prayer."

Gasslein's face softens into a smile at the memory. "She spent three years educating me with beautiful conversations all the time. She would reflect with me, theologically, on what the liturgy meant, what my ministry as a church musician meant. From God's mouth through Florence's (the teacher) lips to my heart."

Following her studies at McMaster University, she received her licence in sacred theology from Institute Catholic Theology in Paris. She then studied at the Divine Word Centre in London, Ont., earning a diploma in catechetics.

CATECHETICS, LITURGY

Her journalistic life included working in the national office of religious education in Ottawa for CCCB, and being liturgical editor at Novalis where "the focus was on liturgy, but I was able to draw on my catechetical background."

Gasslein assumed the guidance of the much-lauded magazine Celebrate! in 1991. Under her editorship, Celebrate! won more than 50 awards for excellence, editorial writing and outstanding articles from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, and the Canadian Church Press.

The editor read a judge's remark about Celebrate! that said, "It makes a potentially dull subject come alive."

Gasslein laughed. "Well that's good. I've changed their mind about this reality, this experience we call liturgy. For most Catholics and other people who are looking in on it, this is so dull and boring, how could you do a whole magazine? How could you teach about this?"

Her answer? "We are helping people understand at different levels spiritually what the liturgy is all about. And I am absolutely sure we have been able to do that."

RETURNING WEST

Her husband is from the Peace River Country and the couple eventually moved back West. Gasslein freelanced and kept editing Celebrate! until it closed in 2012.

Her editorial work now includes editing Worship magazine published bimonthly by the monks of Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn. She also conducts workshops across Canada.

Liturgy is her passion and she strives to share with those who read and listen.

"To my mind, the liturgy is the soul of our faith. I think it often gets short shrift and missed."

To keep that from happening, Gasslein uses her talents to "find language that is accessible and that people can understand. . . . If we learn to think as the body of Christ, we will transform the world."

Given her profound belief, one cannot help but ask her how she prays. Prayer for her is pure and simple. "I just talk to God . . . but I also like to listen."

But what happens when what she is taking to God is monumental, wrought with torment and problems.

"I just say, 'God, be God with . . .' and put in the name or problem."

And she smiles knowing that her prayer will be heard.