Skillin, Edward Simeon

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Editor and publisher; b. New York City, Jan. 23, 1904; d. Montclair, New Jersey, Aug. 14, 2000. Skillin attended school in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College in 1925. In 1933 he completed an M.A. in political science at Columbia University, where he studied under Cornelius Clifford, a noted lecturer in theology who "opened before me the wealth and depth of the [Catholic] tradition, and the full meaning of the Mass." Clifford encouraged Skillin to acquaint himself with Portsmouth Priory, the Benedictine foundation in Rhode Island, and eventually Skillin became a lifelong Benedictine Oblate. In 1945, Skillin married Jane Anne Edwards; they had five children and seven grandchildren.

Years at Commonweal. In 1933, Skillin joined the Commonweal, an independent Catholic journal of opinion founded in 1924 by Michael Williams. He spent his professional career over 60 years with the review.

Under the tutelage of managing editor George N. shuster, Skillin learned the rudiments of professional journalism. Shuster left the magazine in 1937 because of his disagreement with Williams's support of Franco during the Spanish Civil War. In 1938, Skillin and fellow junior editor Philip Burnham purchased Commonweal for $9,000. They paid off the magazine's creditors and reversed its editorial support for Franco, becoming one of the few Catholic journals in the United States to espouse a neutral position. Under Skillin's long editorship, Commonweal placed greater emphasis on social justice and the social implications of the Christian message. In this regard, Skillin credited Virgil Michel, OSB, the founder of the liturgical movement in America, with stressing the connection between the liturgy and social action, and the French philosopher Jacques Maritain. In 1967, he resigned the post "in favor of the stimulating views of the younger editors" and to devote himself entirely to the duties of publisher.

Skillin wrote more than 3,000 articles, editorials, and book reviews for Commonweal, on topics ranging from worker cooperatives to racism, disarmament, food policy, ecumenism, human rights, liturgical reform, foreign affairs, and economic justice. Under his leadership, the magazine became deeply involved in such controversies as the Senator Joseph McCarthy affair, opposition to the Vietnam War, the debate over the papal encyclical Humanae vitae and theological dissent in the Church, and the abortion and euthanasia issues. Skillin remained principal owner of the magazine until 1984 when he donated his stock to the newly formed, nonprofit Commonweal Foundation.

Skillin was known for his kindliness and spiritual tranquillity, his physical resiliency and intellectual acumen even at an advanced age, his financial stewardship that kept the precarious Commonweal afloat, his solicitude for the less fortunate, and his dedication to justice and the common good.

Bibliography: r. van allen, The Commonweal and American Catholicism (Philadelphia 1974); Being Catholic: Commonweal from the Seventies to the Nineties (Chicago 1993).

[p. jordan]