“Mr. Novak … eternity is forever”

20971377Once again, one of the Beltway’s best-known journalists who is an active Catholic is facing a life-and-death crisis.

First NBC’s Tim Russert. Then White House spokesman and former Fox commentator Tony Snow.

Now, columnist Robert D. Novak is in Boston, where he will receive treatment for a brain tumor.

Wait, you didn’t know that the celebrated “Prince of Darkness” is a convert to the Church of Rome?

Actually, it’s pretty hard to find that out right now, even as the nation’s newspapers dedicate a fair amount of ink to this controversial man and why he does what he does. Of course, here in Beltway Land, if a piece of information isn’t in the coverage by Howard “Howie” Kurtz, then we do not know about it. Thus, politicos in this town are in the dark today about Novak’s very interesting conversion.

Kurtz’s Washington Post article is actually quite good and yields some interesting insights into Novak and his career as one of this city’s most colorful and divisive characters. I am not saying that his faith had to be included in the story. But when you look at some of the interesting ethical and personal angles in his story, it certainly would have been a good piece of the puzzle to include.

Faith may have come up in this context:

Although Novak is a pugnacious figure who revels in his “Prince of Darkness” nickname, friends and colleagues describe him differently. “He’s a lot nicer than he ever comes across on the screen,” said Jack Germond, a retired liberal columnist and frequent sparring partner.

“I came to really respect and admire the guy — not easy,” said MSNBC commentator Tucker Carlson. “He’s the toughest human being I’ve ever met in my life. Nothing bothers him.” Carlson recalled seeing Novak deck a protester who had called him a traitor and shoved him in New Hampshire four years ago. “He just kept walking and didn’t look back,” Carlson said.

A quick reference to faith would have certainly fit in before or after this passage at the end of the piece:

In an interview last summer with London’s Guardian, Novak said: “I’m 76 years old, and I don’t have that much time on this earth. There’s very little people can do to hurt me, and so I say what I want to say.”

The much shorter Los Angeles Times daily story on Novak’s brain-cancer crisis — which followed the recent incident in which his car hit a homeless man, without Novak seeming to know that it happened — was also faith free. To my surprise, the Washington Times did not include a word or two about this detail in his story, either.

I ran a Google News search for “Novak, brain, prince” and then included the word “Catholic.” If you do that you head straight into the world of Catholic media. Broaden that search over to the wider Web and you can find this poignant account of how this very hard-shelled man began to open up to a new faith. To me, this anecdote — often told, as Novak promoted his memoirs — would have fit quite well with Kurtz’s final telling quote.

Novak was born Jewish and attended Christian services sporadically until the mid-1960s, after which he stopped going to religious services for nearly 30 years. But Novak said the Holy Spirit began to intervene in his life. …

The turning point, as he recounts in his book, happened when he went to Syracuse University in New York to give a lecture. Before he spoke, he was seated at a dinner table near a young woman who was wearing a necklace with a cross. Novak asked her if she was Catholic, and she posed the same question to him.

Novak replied that he had been going to Mass each Sunday for the last four years, but that he had not converted.

Her response — “Mr. Novak, life is short, but eternity is forever” — motivated him to start the process of becoming a Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. He was baptized at St. Patrick’s Church in 1998.

In this case, I think the fact that Novak is such a controversial figure, with such a complex life story packed with ethical twists and turns, is what makes this reference to his late-in-life conversion such an important detail in the story.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    Here’s a story from Washingtonian that talks about his conversion and his connection to DC’s Catholic political and media.


  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    and that lady ho inspired him to join a Christian church was an Orthodox Christian.

  • Pingback: The Dark Prince Of Roman Catholicism : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee

  • Ric

    First link from google news when I searched “Novak”!

  • http://none Henry D.

    It only goes to show,when you sincerely seek the TRUTH
    it invariably leads to the Catholic Church.Well done
    Novac.The truth will make free(and Catholic).

  • Anita

    I saw Robert Novak interviewed about his conversion on a Catholic TV show. He is a very devout and sincere Catholic and has become a better person for it, according to his interview.

  • JBW

    Obviously a very smart man! ;-)

  • Eric

    I wonder if hitting the homeless man in his black Corvette and then driving away from the scene had anything to do with his conversion(?)

  • eleanor mason

    To Eric: Cancerous brain tumors will affect a person’s thinking and behavior. This incident would not have happened if Mr. Novak was not seriously ill. To take cheap shots at a person facing such a terrrible disease is really remarkably cold.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    What Eleanor said. Times two.

    His conversion, as the post noted, was years ago. All of the media accounts of the accident stress that Novak seriously did not seem to know what had happened. We hinted that it might be an age issue — in particular since his struggles with alcohol were LONG in the past. But now it would appear very clear that the accident was the result of a small seizure, a sign of what would hit full force a few days later.

  • Dave

    Eric, a person whose senses are partially obscured obviously should not be driving. That’s why I no longer drive; I have a problem with sunlight that requires such heavy filters on bright days that I can’t see into shadows.

    But Novak didn’t know that he was suffering from a partially obscured sensorium. He perhaps can be blamed in a legal sense, since traffic law is about what you did and not why you did it, but not in a moral sense.

  • Dave

    Maybe we’re misinterpreting Eric’s #8. Perhaps he meant that the shock of hitting the homeless man with his car diverted Novak to thoughts about deeper things and ultimately sent him to church.

    Eric, are you still there?