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Pioneer brought Rome revolution home to readers

One of the enlightened innovations introduced by Louis McRedmond during his time as editor of the Irish Independent was to appoint a religious affairs correspondent.

Prior to his brief stint in the editor's chair in 1968, Louis had covered the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council for this newspaper, and had built up an avid readership for his incisive and well informed reportage and commentaries from Rome.

But his sojourn on the Tiber made Louis realise that readers in Ireland were confused by the momentous changes taking place in the Catholic Church because their bishops were not keeping them informed.

It was to communicate "the Roman winds of change" that Louis penned his 1966 book, 'The Council Reconsidered', drawing on his personal experience of "the Spirit of the Council" and his lucid grasp of the Council's epoch-making definition of the Church as "The People of God".

On hearing of Louis's death yesterday aged 78, I took from my library a copy of his book in which he inscribed: "For John, with warm good wishes and happy memories of the ecclesiastical battlefield long ago."

To borrow the title of Leon O'Broin's memoir, it seems "Just like Yesterday" that I first met Louis. This was 1971 in the Sala Stampa, the Vatican's press room, where I was covering the International Synod of Bishops as a raw young reporter for the 'Glasgow Herald'.

Luckily, as I did not know anybody in Rome, Louis was one of a group of religion writers from Ireland, of whom an American journalist said should be running the Catholic Church -- because they would certainly not be boring!

Among others were Des Fisher, Sean MacReamoinn, Sean Duignan, Kevin O'Kelly and Romuald Dodd OP, all of RTE; as well as John Horgan of the Irish Times, TP O'Mahony of the Irish Press and the late Joe Power, the religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Independent, who had been Louis's appointee.

Fr Tom Stack and Austin Flannery OP regularly joined the company of the Irish press corps for the lunchtime holy craic, topped up with copious carafes of wine in Marcello's garden restaurant in the Borgo Pio.

In the evening, this remarkable generation of Irish journalists who were at home in Rome as if they were honorary Italians would reassemble to exchange conciliar gossip and stories in trattoria in and around the Piazza Navona.

Not only was Louis, then working for 'The Tablet', one of my first teachers of "the revolution" which had been brought about by Pope John XXIII, it was he who introduced me to the Italian liquor, Sambuca.

A year later, autumn 1972, when I joined "the Irish God Squad" Louis welcomed me to Dublin over a fine lunch at the Gresham Hotel and introduced me to leading figures in the Irish church.

An articulate lay Catholic intellectual and a trained lawyer with well-honed persuasive skills, Louis will be remembered as one of the "battlefield" founding fathers of religious journalism in Ireland.

Irish Independent