SJU alumnus John Thavis to speak on recent book about the Vatican

March 14, 2013

John Thavis '73

The Vatican Diaries

John Thavis, a 1973 Saint John's University graduate, will give a talk on his recent book "The Vatican Diaries" at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 4, in Pellegrene Auditorium, Saint John's University.

Released on Feb. 21, "The Vatican Diaries" gives a behind-the-scenes look at the power, personalities and politics at the heart of the Catholic Church. 

The talk, which is free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the University Chair in Critical Thinking, The Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement at Saint John's University, the College of Saint Benedict Literary Arts Institute and the Benedictine Institute of Saint John's.

Thavis is a journalist, author and speaker specializing in Vatican and religious affairs. He is known in the trade as a "Vaticanista," a calling that became clear only after a circuitous career path.

Thavis grew up in Minnesota, attending Catholic schools and graduating from SJU. After studying classical languages, he went to Italy as a student of archeology in 1977, fell in love with the country and decided to stay. In 1978, the day Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, he walked into the offices of the Rome Daily American and was hired as a headline writer, eventually becoming news editor. That year, he witnessed two papal conclaves, culminating in the election of Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II).

He returned to Minnesota in 1979, working as a reporter and then news editor of the Mankato Free Press, a daily paper in his home town. In 1982, he convinced his wife, Lauren O'Connell, to relocate to Italy. They landed in Rome with meager savings and a suitcase, the beginning of a 30-year Italian adventure. He wrote a guide book to Rome and worked part-time for Associated Press, ABC News and the Wine Spectator.

In 1983, he took a reporting job with Catholic News Service and began covering the Vatican daily. He traveled with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to more than 60 countries, and reported on other religious stories from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He became CNS Rome bureau chief in 1996, and served three years as president of the Association of International Journalists Accredited to the Vatican - the only American ever elected to that position. In 2012, Thavis retired from his CNS position to devote full time to writing, and moved back to the United States.

Thavis was the 2007 recipient of the St. Francis de Sales Award, considered the highest honor in the Catholic press. He has written extensively on religious affairs in Europe and the Middle East and earned awards for his reporting on wars in the Balkans. Thavis also received an Alumni Achievement Award from SJU in 2008.