Eddie Doherty was a famed Irish American newspaper reporter and best-selling author who co-founded the Madonna House Apostolate with his wife, Catherine Doherty in 1947. At the age of 79, he was ordained a priest in the Byzantine Rite Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
His life is a story in itself, and we include here two articles about him: the first written by his son, Eddie Jr., and the second by Archbishop Joseph Raya, who ordained Eddie a Catholic priest.
Life put a fork in the road for Eddie Doherty. He followed in both directions.
The first road is chronicled in his book Gall and Honey, the autobiography of a hell-raising, hard-drinking, woman-loving reporter. He traveled the world in pursuit of stories for newspapers and magazines. He wrote for the movies. He lived high. His formal education came from a monastery that he entered at 13 and left within three years. He abandoned his ambition for the priesthood when he learned about women and began hankering for Marie Ryan, the childhood friend who was to become his wife.
Their life together was a brief four years, a period when he was soaring into prominence as a reporter and rewrite man for the Chicago Tribune. They had a son, the writer of this article, who was 18 months old when Marie died in the tragic flu epidemic of 1918. Her death was a bitter loss to Eddie. It turned him against the Church, against God.
Soon, he met, wooed, and married the beautiful, young Mildred Frisby, who wrote under the pseudonym Mildred Spain. In 1920 they had a son baptised — to the consternation of the priest — Jack Jim. They newspapered together in Tampico, Mexico, and then moved to Los Angeles, where he became the Tribune's first Hollywood correspondent. She wrote for a sister paper, the Daily News of New York.
The lure of the Big Apple drew them to New York early in the decade of the 1920s. She became a movie reviewer. He became a prize over which publishers fought. I remember, as a child, seeing my father's photo plastered on huge billboards and on the sides of delivery trucks. One paper headlined him “America's Star Reporter.” Another bragged he was “America's Highest Paid Reporter.”
He went on to become the first staff writer for a weekly magazine, Liberty, which competed with Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post, and sold for five cents a copy.
He quipped, punned, laughed, and typed his way through a life that was often exciting but sometimes hellish. Jack Jim contracted polio and was left with a life-long leg impairment. Mildred was dogged with pain most of her life, and for awhile she was immured in a psychiatric hospital. So the writing Irishman sometimes slipped into despondency.
But in 1939 he took Mildred to an osteopath with a remarkable record for cures, and about whom Eddie had written in Liberty. The doctor freed her from the pain and left her carefree for the first time. They felt it was a miracle. They decided on a second honeymoon.
Their kids grown, they happily climbed into the car and set out for Beverly Hills just to enjoy life. Then Mildred, wandering by herself in sheer delight on a country hillside, fell. The speculation is that she knocked herself out against a tree. Her neck lodged within the fork of two branches. She was dead when a search party found her.
For the second time, Eddie was devastated, his life ruined. Liberty's editor, Fulton Oursler, asked him to write his autobiography as a ten-part serial. It appeared under the title “Newspaperman.” Years later, heavily edited, this serial became the book Gall and Honey. By 1939, Liberty was tottering financially, but it sent Eddie to Europe to cover the “phony war,” that short period of hostility between the British-French alliance and Nazi Germany before mass destruction began.
When Eddie returned to his wifeless house in 1940, Liberty gave him what was probably his last assignment. He was a do a piece — with Helen Worden, also a renowned reporter — about Harlem, which was, and is, a hell-hole in New York's Manhattan. That is when he stumbled across a lay Catholic action organization, Friendship House, headed by the Baroness Catherine de Hueck.
Thus began his travel along the other fork in his road of life. That adventure is chronicled in his book A Cricket in My Heart.
A more mature Eddie Doherty — chastened on the first fork of his life but no less ardent, no less arrogant in a charming Irish way, no less impudent, and no less cynical — goes into second gear, drives into a life of spirituality, giving rather than seeking. It is the story of a star-crossed romance, a third marriage, the foundation of a lay Catholic apostolate, Madonna House, and, finally, achievement of the ordination he had sought as a boy. At the age of 79 he was ordained a priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
Eddie never stopped writing. He simply became a “Catholic writer;” that is, an impecunious one. He wrote some 20 books in his second life. Because he had adopted poverty as a condition of marrying his beloved Katie, he wrote for income to help support Madonna House and charitable causes to which Madonna House contributed.
When he and Catherine began thinking about an ultimate move to Canada he was then working in Chicago for The Sun, which later became the Sun-Times. They bought a semi-furnished house in Combermere, Ontario, on the Madawaska River. It was here that Madonna House began its slow growth into a worldwide Catholic lay apostolate.
One day, I got a call at my New York office from Winslow, Arizona, where Eddie was visiting the apostolate's field house known as La Casa de Nuestra Señora. "You better get out here," I was told. "Your father is dying."
When I arrived at 5 a.m., they took me to the little local hospital, where he lay in the intensive care unit, bound to his bed by a spaghetti-like mass of tubes. He was angrily pulling them out as fast as the nurses could insert new ones. “Eddie, my boy,” he said to me, “get rid of these women! Help me get the hell out of here!” He wasn't well, but to me it didn't look as if he was about to meet his Maker, either.
Indeed, he did not; he recovered. In the days that followed, he told me that he was writing the best book of his life, which turned out to be the autobiography A Cricket in My Heart. After his death, I saw to it that it was published. Many of its brilliantly-drawn characters, like its author and his beloved Katie, are dead. Yet I believe the book will live into old age, as he did, charming younger generations with his romances, his humour, with his spirituality, and with his account of a life that danced and capered its way for more than 80 years into a sweet end as a holy priest.
— Edward J. Doherty Jr.
April 3, 1990