By Paula Katinas
BAY RIDGE — For Ed Wilkinson, it was a trip down memory lane.
Wilkinson, editor emeritus of The Tablet, who spent 50 years covering the Diocese of Brooklyn, has authored a book, “Chasing Church News,” featuring photos he has taken over the past five decades — including shots of world-famous figures like Mother Teresa and everyday Catholics celebrating their faith in the diocese.
Wilkinson debuted “Chasing Church News” at Bishop Brennan’s Christmas Luncheon in December and is set to embark on a book-signing tour of the diocese. His first stop will be Our Lady of Angels Church in Bay Ridge, his home parish, on Sunday, Jan. 29, after the 9 a.m. Mass.
“Chasing Church News” was published for The Tablet’s new program, which is offering readers the chance to become members of The Tablet and be part of its mission of covering news from a Catholic perspective.
People have a unique opportunity to receive a copy of “Chasing Church News.” Under the newspaper’s membership program, readers who sign up for the Benefactor Level for $500 or the Founder Level for $1,000 will receive as a gift a copy of Wilkinson’s book.
In addition, members will be eligible to receive an assortment of benefits that makes them active participants of The Tablet community, including tickets and invitations to special diocesan events.
By joining, readers will also be playing an important role in the ongoing effort to help preserve Catholic journalism.
Wilkinson, who joined The Tablet as a reporter in 1970, was named editor in 1985. He retired from The Tablet in 2018 and from DeSales Media Group, the communications and technology ministry for the diocese, in 2020 — 50 years after first walking into The Tablet’s offices.
He estimated that he took hundreds of thousands of photos during his years at the newspaper and called the effort to organize the book a labor of love.
“As I was getting closer to retirement, I just looked back at all of these photos that I had,” he said. “I enjoyed photography so much, and I felt I had some good photos. So it must have been about five years ago or so that I actually began to put a couple aside.”
Looking back on his career, he realized, “I’ve always liked the photography end of the business because I felt like I was capturing moments in history.”
But while Wilkinson had some of the pictures, he didn’t have them all. He had to go hunting for many of the photos and negatives he was seeking — a hunt that had him combing through files in a storage facility in Jersey City, where The Tablet had moved many of its files after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“I went over there, and sure enough, I found all my negatives stored away,” he added.
At that point, Wilkinson began the painstaking task of examining contact sheets of negatives, year by year. Like any good editor, he went into it with a plan.
“I wanted to limit the book to one picture per year. But then there were a couple of years that I had more than one picture that I thought I should use because I felt there was historical significance to the photos,” he explained.
As he organized his treasure trove of pictures, he picked out his favorites.
“There are photos that I thought happened to capture a particular moment in the history of the diocese, like when Bishop [Francis] Mugavero turned 75 in 1989,” he said. “He was at Borough Hall for a ceremony, and he stood up on the stage with Mayor [Ed] Koch. I got a nice picture of the two of them talking before the ceremonies,” he said.
The first picture readers see in the book depicts parishioners marching in a Holy Name Society rally in Williamsburg. The final photo shows a lone woman sitting in the Cathedral Basilica of St. James wearing a mask during the pandemic.
There is a picture of Mother Teresa from 1992 when she came to New York to speak at the Knights of Columbus convention in Manhattan.
There is also a haunting image of pigeons sitting in a broken window in a church in Bushwick that had fallen into disrepair.
“Some people wonder why I included it,” he admitted. “But to me, it said something about the changing of the diocese — that these big old churches in what were once flourishing neighborhoods didn’t exist anymore.”
Not all of the pictures have religious themes. One of Wilkinson’s favorites is a shot he took in the 1970s of a child sipping water out of a fire hydrant.
When Wilkinson started out in 1970, photography equipment was very different than it is today.
“When I joined the Tablet staff, we were using these old box cameras. But they became cumbersome,” he recalled. “I transitioned to a 35-millimeter camera because they were just easier to handle. I think it was a Honeywell Pentax.”
The Tablet moved its offices in 2000. “We didn’t have our own darkroom anymore, so we weren’t able to develop film. That forced us to go to digital photography,” he explained.
However, one thing remained constant.
“I always took a special pride in my photos. I just thought it was one of my strengths,” he said. “I had a lot of time to shoot photos, and I just always enjoyed seeing the results as they came back.”
Wilkinson hopes readers get a sense of history by looking at the photos in “Chasing Church News.”
“I’d like it to be a snapshot of church life in the last 50 years,” he said. “They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. I think it’s true.”
Sunday, Jan. 29:
Kickoff signing at Our Lady of Angels Church, in Bay Ridge, 7320 4th Ave., after 9 a.m. Mass
Sunday, Feb. 5:
St. Andrews the Apostle Church in Bay Ridge, 6713 Ridge Blvd., after 9 a.m. Mass
Sunday, Feb. 12:
The Church of St. Mel in Flushing, 26-15 154th St., after the 10:30 a.m. Mass
Additional signings will be scheduled for St. Anselm Church in Bay Ridge, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills, and Our Lady of Hope Church in Middle Village.