Al Antczak, former editor of the Tidings, the official newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, died Thursday at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. He was 84.
A resident of San Gabriel, Antczak had been in poor health since developing pneumonia several months ago while visiting family in San Diego, his son John Antczak said.
Antczak’s first writing job after he graduated from Loyola University (now Loyola Marymount) in 1947 was at the Tidings, and he worked for the weekly newspaper for 42 years. He was editor from 1973 until he retired in 1989.
He covered the administrations of Archbishop John J. Cantwell, Cardinals James Francis McIntyre and Timothy Manning and the first four years of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony.
“Al was involved at a time of the greatest period of change in the Catholic Church, at the time of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, which set the tone for the way we worship and the way we relate to the world,” Tod Tamberg, who was editor of the Tidings from 1992 to 2000, told The Times over the weekend.
“Some of it was quite dramatic, and so you had nuns discussing whether they were going to wear habits anymore, and you had people looking into the eyes of their priest who was saying Mass in English. Al was right in the middle of a very historic period.”
As the chief communication vehicle of the Roman Catholic Church in Southern California, the Tidings presents the official viewpoint of the archdiocese while covering local, national and international issues of interest to its readers.
In a 1987 editorial, Antczak wrote that Catholic newspapers “report the news of the world from an objective moral, religious experience.”
“Life is not a holy card,” he wrote. “The people of the church must ... address public policy issues on a day-to-day basis: refugees, immigrants, homeless, elderly, education, marriage, single parents, AIDS, alcoholism, sex clinics, surrogate parenting, test-tube babies, abortion, disarmament, nuclear weapons.... Catholic newspapers, including the Tidings, address these issues week after week in terms of reporting responsible church expressions and action on these subjects.”
Antczak managed a staff of reporters, photographers and graphic artists and oversaw production of the newspaper’s pages before they were shipped off for printing.
He toted a reporter’s notebook and camera to church events large and small while covering a vast range of topics in a sprawling archdiocese that once extended from Santa Barbara County to Orange County and grew to become the most populous in the nation. Circulation of the weekly paper peaked during Antczak’s tenure at 125,000.
“Al was everywhere all the time,” said Tamberg, who studied Antczak’s influence while producing a special edition commemorating the Tidings’ centennial in 1995. “The whole archdiocese was his beat, and he went to everything. He was not sitting behind his desk.”
Born Aug. 3, 1922, in Detroit to a Polish immigrant autoworker and his Mexican immigrant wife, Alphonse Joseph Antczak moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1931. He attended Loyola High School and knew from working on the school newspaper there and later in college that he wanted to write, his son said.
Antczak put his studies on hold during World War II and served in the Army Air Forces as a radio communications operator in India and China. When the war ended, he returned to Loyola. Antczak didn’t waste any time after graduating with an English degree on a Friday -- he reported for work at the Tidings on Monday morning.
While working at the newspaper, Antczak was also raising eight children with his wife, Helen, who had a job in the library at Loyola University when they met. A social worker, she died in 1994.
Antczak is survived by his daughters, Helen Sanchez of San Gabriel, Margaret Antczak of South Pasadena, Teresa White of San Diego and Sister Mary Catherine Antczak, a Dominican nun in Los Angeles; four sons, Alphonse Jr. of San Gabriel, Thomas of Thousand Oaks, John of Pasadena and Joseph of Los Angeles; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A rosary is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at San Gabriel Mission’s Chapel of the Annunciation. A funeral Mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the chapel. Antczak will be buried at the mission cemetery.
John Antczak, who followed his father into journalism and works as a supervisor for the Associated Press in Los Angeles, remembers the manual Underwood typewriter his father used to write stories and the desks in the newsroom piled high with papers.
As his father used to say, “The time was BC, before computers.”