KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Design excellence, stunning photos, and heart-touching stories enabled The Leaven to walk away with six awards from the 2008 Catholic Media Convention, May 28 to 30 in Toronto.
The Leaven’s staffers garnered two first-place and two third-place Catholic Press Association awards, plus a first-place award from the Knights of Columbus and an award from the National Right to Life organization.
Kara Hansen, a former intern who became a member of The Leaven staff in 2007, was given the Excellence in Journalism award by National Right to Life for her article, “Love Me Tender. . . Love Me True.” This was the heartbreaking story of the John and Jennifer Schmidt family, who discovered its newest member would soon die after birth.
Hansen also won a third-place Best Sports Feature/Column for “Obsessed Professed.” This story was about the Benedictine Ravens’ most enthusiastic sports fans — two elderly Benedictine Sisters.
“I was really glad those two stories won awards,” said Hansen. “The story about the Benedictine Sisters was a lot of fun. But the ‘Love Me Tender’ story was by far the most challenging story I’ve had to write, and also the one of which I am most proud.”
Both of these stories were very personal to Hansen, a graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison. The Schmidts were her sophomore residence hall directors, and she babysat for their two young sons.
Freelancer Jill Ragar Esfeld captured a first-place Father Michael J. McGivney Award for Distinguished Volunteerism Journalism from the Knights of Columbus. Her story, “Small Volunteer Has Big Heart,” told how third-grader Conner McClain made blankets for Catholic Charities clients.
“Being charitable is an important part of our Catholic faith,” said Esfeld. “This boy was a good example of someone who loved [having a homemade blanket] and wanted others to have what he had.”
Veteran Leaven staffer Joe Bollig won a first-place best feature writing award for “When Grief Meets Grace.” This story dealt with forgiveness and reconciliation after a drunk-driving fatality.
Associate editor Anita McSorley saw a common thread in the disparate stories.
“Probably what struck me first about these particular wins was the bittersweet quality of the writing involved,” said McSorley. “Joe’s excellent treatment of Rob Spaulding’s visit to the archdiocese is an obvious case in point. But Jill’s third- grader started making his blankets in order to give them to hospice patients, and Baby Gianna was the daughter of friends of the writer, Kara Hansen.”
Even the “Obsessed Professed” story had that quality — shortly after the article’s publication, Sister Gervase Judge died.
“I don’t say that to be maudlin. But I do think the ability to tackle difficult and delicate topics is one of the things that defines a good writer — and I think our writers passed the test with flying colors,” said McSorley.
“I’m particularly pleased with Kara’s win, because I like to pretend I had some influence on her career path to The Leaven,” said editor Father Mark Goldasich.
“Kara has known me for years, back when I was much thinner around my waist (and not on top of my head)! She grew up in and was a member of my parish in Tonganoxie until her college graduation,” he continued. “It was me she first approached about interning here at the paper a number of years ago.”
Freelance photographer Doug Hesse, a longtime Leaven contributor, took a third-place Best Portrait for a photo of the two Benedictine Sisters in “Obsessed Professed.”
Leaven production manager Todd Habiger captured another first-place win for Best Front Page.
“I’m honored to win best front page again,” he said. “There are a lot of well- designed papers in the Catholic press, so the competition is always stiff. A great front page always starts with good photography, and I’m blessed to be able to work with a stable of really talented photographers.”