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  • Mary Shivanandan

Safe, Churchy Subjects


As a young mother with small children, I was challenged to care for them and also continue some of my professional activities. The solution that worked best for us was freelance writing for magazines. I recall the great variety of subjects I began to delve into, from a Navajo Indian school to planned building of new neighborhoods in the Ivory Coast; from covering the unveiling of the Churchill statue before the British embassy to featuring an African-American scientist whose camera was placed on the moon.

Eventually I graduated to part-time jobs, one being associate editor of Mid East magazine. We covered everything from politics to literature from Morocco to the Persian Gulf states. Although the Arab-Israeli conflict roiled the Middle East, as it does now, the region seemed much calmer in those days. Then one assignment came along that was more challenging than most. This was the assassination of Orlando Letelier, the Chilean ambassador to the United States. He and a young American assistant were blown up as they drove his car around Sheridan Circle in downtown DC. The magazine requesting the article was Rolling Stone. Not feeling competent to handle it alone, I invited a colleague to join me.



Since my husband worked at a science facility connected to the Defense Department, he became concerned at my involvement in such a politically sensitive subject. It became clear as we investigated the incident that there were those who did not want us to continue. This annoyed me greatly. Being of a stubborn nature, I was more determined than ever to finish the article, which we did. It was published in December 1976, three months after the assassination. In 1981 a commemorative medallion was placed in the circle and in late February 2018 a bust of Letelier was ceremonially placed in front of the Chilean ambassador’s residence, not far from the circle.


Since my husband was so disturbed by what was happening, he urged me to stay with “safe churchy subjects like marriage and family.” Conscious of the importance of family harmony and having a choice of subjects to write about, I agreed. I already had a column in Marriage & Family Living and was invited to write about the Natural Family Planning Center in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. Then came a book contract with a New York publisher for a book on the topic to be entitled Natural Sex.


Contraception has become a political football; the nature of marriage is determined by justices on the Supreme Court...The list goes on and on.


What I have discovered over the years since then is that these subjects are far from safe. In fact they are at the center of many of the conflicts in our society and even in our Church today. Contraception has become a political football; the nature of marriage is determined by justices on the Supreme Court; bakers who refuse to bake wedding cakes for same sex couples are sued for discrimination; speakers who support traditional values are shouted down on college campuses; the right to change sex at will is deemed virtually a human right. The list goes on and on. Indeed what my husband called “safe, churchy subjects like marriage and family” are not safe at all!


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