Tom Di Nanni died in October, and Willmar Thorkelson, in November. Di Nanni had been the writer of Seeker's diary for the six years this section has run. He also worked for years within religious institutions and reported on them on his KSTP radio show, "Religion on the Line."
Morphew, as a nationally syndicated religion columnist for the Pioneer Press, would call Tom's Sunday morning show and they did a wonderfully funny routine together, talking about the week's religion news.
Thorkelson was a fixture here for 50 years. I've covered religion for the Star Tribune for 17 years, and it has only been in the past two or three years that Lutherans, particularly, have quit saying to me, "Whatever happened to that nice Bill Thorkelson?" (He left the Star when it merged with the Tribune in 1982, but kept reporting for other news outlets.)
The three deaths have taken away an invaluable wealth of religious institutional memory in Minnesota. They knew everything that was going on. They told funny, sometimes marginally ribald stories about those they covered.
They respected religious leaders, but could be moved to varying degrees of anger at what they saw as the sanctimonious, self-satisfied, self-congratulatory attitudes those same leaders exhibited at times.
All three wanted religious institutions to live up to their promise -- to do the work of the word in the world, as the Protestants would say. They were deeply disappointed when they saw human frailties and failings preventing that mission.
We don't report on religion in the same way anymore. I don't spend nearly as much time paying attention to the institutions as those three did. That's the national trend, and I agree with it.
But I will miss my three friends and colleagues. They were good journalists. They were quick learners, keen observers and clear writers, and they added immeasurably to the wealth of knowledge in this state on a subject that deeply affects each of us every day.
Martha Sawyer Allen
Star Tribune 1-4-03