Featuring John Allen Jr.
by Roxanne King
John L. Allen, 54, editor and president of the independent news website Crux (www.CruxNow.com) and author of a dozen books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs, has been called the most respected English-language Vatican watcher by both secular and religious media. He serves as senior Vatican analyst for CNN and was a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter for 16 years. Born in Florida but reared in Hays, Kan., Allen has a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Fort Hays State University and a master's degree in religious studies from the University of Kansas.
Before becoming a fulltime journalist, Allen taught journalism at a suburban Catholic high school in Los Angeles, Calif. He is engaged to be married to fellow Rome reporter and Denver native, Elise Ann Harris. A friend and admirer of the Capuchin Franciscans, Allen was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Brown Robe Benefit on Oct. 12. He recently spoke with The Porter by telephone from his home in Rome (which he shares with a pug named Gus), about his long relationship with the Capuchins. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: How did you meet the Capuchin friars?
Allen: I grew up in Hays, Kan., and went to St. Joseph's Parish in Hays, which was and is run by the Capuchins. My earliest experiences in the Church were with the Capuchins. It was a Capuchin who gave me first Communion. I went to schools run by the Capuchins through high school. Eventually I ended up working as a journalist covering the Catholic Church. When I was coming through the [journalism] system two Capuchins were becoming very prominent: Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, both of whom I had known from way back. Once I started this career I reconnected with the Capuchins through them. Ever since, there's been a bond. Charlie Chaput is one of my favorite guys on the planet – I just think the world of him. I also think Sean O'Malley is one of the great men of the Church.
Q: What do you appreciate about the Capuchin order?
Allen: The fact that that the Capuchins have been able to offer, in some ways very different but such quality leadership to the Church in our time, speaks volumes about the Capuchins generally and about what they've represented over the centuries. The Capuchins are always there to serve the Church as it needs to be served by the best of their like. I admire them tremendously. I've seen it at the grassroots in a dinky little parish in Hays, where I grew up, and on the global stage in my work as a journalist covering the Vatican. It's impressive. There's an internal ethos [in the order] that inculcates a very healthy humility and an ability to not take yourself terribly seriously. It's edifying and it's charming.
Q: What influence have the friars had on you?
Allen: First of all they put up with me in high school. I was a fairly precocious adolescent, full of myself and a bit of a live wire. They handled all of that with their customary wisdom and patience. Absolutely, everything I have done in my professional career – basically what I get paid to do, to talk and to write – I learned at Thomas More Prep-Marian by taking debate and journalism. Everything I've done since has been an elaboration.
At the most difficult moments in my life, when I really needed some kind of spiritual guidance, it's almost always been a Capuchin [I went to]. They've always been there and have been tremendous. What do I owe the Capuchins? Close to everything.
Q: You were invited to give the keynote at the 2019 Brown Robe gala. What topic did you choose to address?
Allen: (laugh) It made no sense for me to go because there was something called the synod of bishops going on in Rome in October, which I needed to cover, but the Capuchins asked and I couldn't say no. There was a theme for the dinner taken from the Capuchin Constitutions: it has to do with the fact that Capuchins consider themselves all brothers without distinction. The theme was "Without Distinction." In general terms, I talked about brotherhood in the Pope Francis era – how the theme of brotherhood plays out under this pope.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add or emphasize?
Allen: I think the Capuchins are the Catholic Church at its very best: they are humble, non-self-aggrandizing servants of the Lord and of the people of God whose greatest pleasure is to quietly and without fanfare bring the healing touch of God to people who need it the most. I was utterly delighted and honored to try to present who the Capuchins are to those who were present at the Brown Robe gala.