Freelancers play vital role in each week’s Leaven

Jill Ragar Esfeld chose a career in writing because of her love of the English language. Writing about the faith shows her the face of God in everyday people.

The full-time staff of The Leaven is hard to miss. We’re the folks you might see at a youth event or a big liturgy with The Leaven logo embroidered on our shirts.

But the permanent staff is very ably assisted by a number of stringers as well. In fact, it is only with the help of these freelance writers and photographers that we are able to cover such a diverse and vibrant archdiocese.

Every year around this time, we look for ways to celebrate the Catholic press, since February is designated Catholic Press Month. This time, we’d like to take that opportunity to introduce you to a few of our freelance writers. So we’ve given them just a little space to tell their stories, as a reward for doing such a good job of telling yours!

‘More than just a story’
By Carolyn Kaberline

Carolyn Kaberline enjoys riding and showing horses when she’s not writing for The Leaven. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

Just as articles I’ve written for a variety of publications have often led to new interests like astronomy, or a deeper appreciation of activities I’m already involved, like riding and showing horses, so, too, have my articles for The Leaven led to an even greater interest and understanding of the Catholic Church.

No longer do I see the church as just a place of worship on Sundays and holy days, but as a vibrant entity that seeks to help alleviate many of the problems in this world, such as poverty and discrimination, while leading its followers to their eternal reward.

Although I graduated from K-State with a degree in technical journalism in 1970, that degree was mainly used to teach high school journalism students how to put together student newspapers and yearbooks.

However, about 10 years ago, I needed to show my students that I was not asking them to do anything I couldn’t do — in other words, write for publication.

My first article appeared in the Valley Falls Vindicator and was on the topic of Jefferson County bow hunters. Articles for the Topeka Capital Journal, Topeka magazine, Lawrence magazine, Kansas! magazine, Better Horses, the Quarter Horse Journal and, finally, The Leaven soon followed.

My first article for The Leaven concerned the summer Bible school conducted jointly by St. Theresa Church in Perry and the town’s United Methodist Church. After that article came others, some on specific churches and others on the people that make up those churches, each revealing a new aspect of a religious institution that is well over 2,000 years old.

In many instances, I learned of programs of the church, such as the Friendly Visitors program of Catholic Charities, of which I was totally unaware.

In many ways, writing for The Leaven is like writing for any other publication — there’s a story to be told, and I need to find the best way to tell it.

In other ways, it is entirely different — different in that it is more than just a story; it is a picture of a church that is very much a part of today’s world with people that display an optimism and a need to help others as they strive to make the world a better place.

As both a Catholic journalist and a Catholic schoolteacher, I find that I look at my place in the world differently than I have in the past. And I now have a dual responsibility as well.

Not only do I need to be a good role model for my students and others with whom I come in contact, but I also need to present the church and its people in such a way as to inspire others to become their best selves.

My faith through storytelling
By Susan Fotovich McCabe

Susan McCabe has made a career out of freelancing. In addition to The Leaven, she’s written for the health care, manufacturing, business and agricultural media. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

The Leaven began arriving in my mailbox more than 30 years ago, shortly after my husband and I married and registered with our church. It was fun to see our names on the mailing label in those early years.

Today, it’s just as fun to see my byline in The Leaven.

I joined The Leaven’s freelance staff in 2017. It is a nice addition to my other freelance work, where I regularly write for the health care, manufacturing, business and agricultural media.

I’ve had the pleasure of writing feature stories for several Kansas City-area publications about interesting people in our community, as well. And I’ve been blessed to sustain a freelance career in journalism while raising my three children. Now, I have a granddaughter to add to the family.

My Catholic faith has always been a constant for me, but it was especially important when my husband and I were starting our family.

If it weren’t for prayer and the adoption services of Catholic Charities, we would not have our daughter Caroline.

We have been members of Queen of the Holy Rosary, Wea, since 1998. My husband and I served as School of Religion teachers. We enjoyed storytelling with young students preparing for the sacraments of reconciliation and first Communion.

Writing for The Leaven has given me a unique opportunity to share my faith. I’ve written about various ministries doing good work, some of which hit close to home.

A story I wrote about Totus Tuus for people with special needs helped me share the concerns of families raising children with intellectual disabilities. My son Jack has Down syndrome.

Similarly, the story I wrote about the archdiocese’s deaf ministry has ties to many personal experiences.

Another story, a feature on Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Mexico, fascinated me with personal stories of immigration, while connecting me with my childhood parish, St. Paul Church in Olathe.

A fun story I had the opportunity to share was a feature on St. James Academy’s Thunder Broadcasting Network. As a broadcast journalism graduate from The University of Kansas, it was fun to see what St. James has created for its students, family and alumni. As a bonus, I got to work with my son Matt on the photography for the story.

There are more stories to share, and many will be personal for all our readers. My hope is that each story ultimately serves to strengthen our faith.

Telling people’s stories gives ‘inexpressible joy’
By Jill Ragar Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld chose a career in writing be- cause of her love of the English language. Writ- ing about the faith shows her the face of God in everyday people.

I’m amazed by people who say they don’t believe in God because, as a freelancer for The Leaven, I see his face around every corner.

I see it in overt ways, like the time I photographed Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann consecrating the Eucharist, and the photo had a clear image of a dove reflected in the host.

And I see it in subtle ways, like when I met the Community of the Lamb and heard the Little Sisters and Brothers sing for the first time.

When I was young, I remember reading the First Epistle of St. Peter, in which the apostle talked about the “inexpressible joy” that results from belief in God.

The magnitude of that term haunted me for years.

In all my time at Catholic school, in church, Bible studies and retreats, I had certainly encountered happiness and deep faith. But never “inexpressible joy.”

That is, until I started freelancing for The Leaven.

I experienced it for the first time where I least expected — in the refectory of the Sisters, Servants of Mary.

I was waiting there one morning to interview the Sisters about their work of caring for the dying.

The night shift was returning from eight hours of ministering to those near death; and as each Sister entered the room, the joy surrounding me expanded until it could only be called “inexpressible.”

These women were genuinely happy to have the opportunity to usher poor souls into God’s kingdom.

And I must say, if there is one compensation for freelancing at a nonprofit Catholic newspaper, that’s it.

I am constantly encountering people so in love with God that they radiate inexpressible joy.

And my own faith is confirmed every time I interview someone living their purpose with so deep a consciousness of God’s love.

When I tell people I’m a writer, they always think I have a fiction novel hidden in my bottom desk drawer.

I don’t. Nor have I ever had an interest in writing fiction.

I chose a career in writing because I love the English language — I’d rather diagram a sentence than eat chocolate. My background is actually in technical writing, where language matters most.

But after years in that very demanding field, I retired and found The Leaven a convenient outlet for continuing to write in a different sphere.

I don’t miss explaining how to build a deck, operate a computer, evaluate the accuracy of a medical scale or lay fiber-optic cable.

And I don’t miss the pay either.

Because the compensation of seeing faith in action, and being a part of spreading that good news, is priceless.

Freelancing takes writer behind the scenes
By Jan Dixon

Jan Dixon enjoyed a long career in teaching. But as she neared retirement, she decided that she wanted to write. Fortunately, The Leaven gave her that outlet. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

In seventh grade at St. Elizabeth School, I decided to be a teacher. I loved everything about school, especially reading and writing, and wanted to teach children to enjoy them, too.

After graduating with an education degree from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, I launched on an amazing and long career that led to teaching kindergarten through grade 11 in both Catholic and public schools.

As I neared the time for retirement during that final year of teaching, I knew I wanted to write.

Lots of writing had already been done in my life: essays, research papers, letters, resumes, speeches, grant proposals and news articles. I had filled many notebooks over the years with stories about my life, my children, my parents, my friends; I always wrote about what was important to me.

Freelance writing for The Leaven has given me a ticket to visit behind the scenes, to ask lots of questions and talk to total strangers about what matters most in their lives.

I am drawn to their stories — the stories of people who are making things and changing stuff and thinking in proactive ways. The stories of ordinary people who are making a difference.

It is thrilling for me to interview people involved in an event, write down the most interesting parts of what they say and present it all in a story for readers.

Hopefully, these are stories that will touch the hearts of others along the way and stories that you don’t hear everywhere else — stories that show how God’s grace is at work in our lives.

Sometimes, it’s hard to find the right spin or a good lead or a strong conclusion for a story. No matter how much I love writing, there are times I need inspiration.

It might come from blogs or books, art or music. Sometimes it comes from prayer.

St. Francis de Sales has become my “go-to” guy. As the patron saint of Catholic writers, his help is evident when my writing suddenly goes in a direction that truly surprises me.

Writing about Catholics for Catholics calls to me. I like telling people’s stories. The time I spend researching and composing becomes an active prayer. God gave me the ability to write and now I am giving some of it back to him.

Topeka couple sees work at The Leaven as an extension of their marriage
By Marc and Julie Anderson

Marc and Julie Anderson sit near the Supreme Court during the National March for Life in Washington, D.C. The duo covered the march for The Leaven in January. PHOTO BY MARY HOCKENBERRY

Anderson and Anderson.

Sounds like a Swedish law firm, doesn’t it?

At least that’s what Leaven senior reporter Joe Bollig once joked when he saw the two of us somewhere.

No, we are not attorneys, accountants or any other type of professional that might lead to a firm with our last name.

Instead, in addition to holding full-time jobs, we are (and have been for nearly 18 years) freelancers for The Leaven.

People often ask us what it’s like to share a byline. In fact, one of Julie’s friends recently asked her why we share a byline when Julie does most of the writing.

That’s a fair question. The answer has everything to do with our primary vocation — that of marriage — and, more specifically, marriage to each other.

In 1996, as we were preparing for our wedding, we made a conscious decision that any ministry we would participate in would be done together.

So, when the opportunity to write for The Leaven came along, how the byline would appear was an easy decision.

Besides, we share the work. It’s just that Marc’s role is not necessarily seen with every story.

If we cover an event or conduct face-to-face interviews, Marc takes the pictures, and you’ll notice his name below the photos. But his role extends beyond that.

To prepare for interviews, it can be necessary to gather background material. Marc has been known to compile the information while Julie does the laundry, makes a grocery list or washes dishes. (The opposite can be true as well.)

We also rely on Marc’s internet savvy to verify statistics, spellings and other facts after an interview, especially when sources are unsure of exact numbers, dates and such. (Again, we can flip that role, too.)

Perhaps the most important way in which we support each other, however, is in prayer. When Julie sits down to write a story, Marc is always nearby.

Sometimes he sits and reads something spiritual. Most of the time, though, he prays.

The prayer support guides Julie in the writing. In fact, with his prayers, Julie writes quite rapidly. So, if we had one piece of advice for other married couples, it would be to never underestimate the power of asking your spouse to pray for you.

After Julie finishes a draft, Marc’s expertise comes into play again. He has an incredible eye for detail. So, although Julie proofreads everything carefully for typos and accuracy, Marc is the last one to read the story prior to us hitting the submit button. While Marc reads the copy, the tables get flipped, and Julie prays for him.

Our style of writing probably would not work for most people, but it does for us. We have so much fun traveling the archdiocese, participating in events and meeting people.

The stories we have heard through the years could fill at least one book — or maybe two or three — and all the people we met along the way have touched our hearts deeply.

Sometimes, we wonder why we are so lucky to share this adventure together. God only knows, and someday we’ll get to see how the countless stories we’ve written during the past years have inspired others and helped to build the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

Until then, we’ll just sit here and keep serving in this role as long as we are able.

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