Below is an excerpt from my 2016 interview with Dickerson in which he discusses his Catholic faith, among other topics.
TR: I read a Parade Magazine interview with you a while back, and you mentioned that you attend 5:30 Mass on Saturday evenings in the church where you grew up. How does that weekly hour of worship weave its way into your life as a husband, father, and journalist? Does it ground you in a certain way?
John Dickerson: It absolutely does. It grounds me for all the reasons that the Catholic faith does for all of us who worship. But for me also, going to the church, Holy Trinity, where I went to Mass as a little boy, where I had my First Communion. The priest who married us was from Holy Trinity, Father James English who just passed away. It’s full of so many memories of my life and my childhood and the grounding nature of faith that I’ve always reached to. Also, in the case of politics and the world of television, there are a lot of things that can blow you off course and make you forget yourself. But that hour of worship and worship in general – no, I’m not as good as I should be – really help me try to keep the eye on the ball instead of getting distracted.
TR: How did those seeds of faith get planted in your life?
John Dickerson: Mom [ed. note: pioneering broadcast journalist Nancy Dickerson], in particular, was a very devout Catholic. My grandmother, her mother, went to Mass every day. My mother went to Clarke College for 2 years and Dubuque Catholic Girls School, so faith was a very important part of her life. It was a part of mine growing up. My father converted and became a Catholic. Even after my parents split, when I lived with my father, I would go to Mass at that same church when I was in high school. It just always has been with me.
I ended up marrying a Presbyterian. We both continue to worship, and that’s very much a part of our lives as we raise our children. We are hoping to do the kind of job our parents did with us in terms of trying to keep our children involved in the faith because of the role it’s played in our lives.
TR: Has being a parent affected the way you approach your job as a journalist or even look at politics in general since the decisions being made are going to affect your kids down the road?
John Dickerson: It does put a different frame on the way you think of policies and politics both because this is the world that they will live in…But also in terms of when I talk to my kids about what it’s like to be fair to the politicians I cover, what it’s like to be fair to people who disagree with you or people with a different view of the world than you have. All of that, when you have to say it out loud and talk about principles in politics and journalism, explaining it to a kid, it helps you put yourself back in touch with what your goals should be as a professional in a way that is very grounding.
TR: I’ve noticed from talking to you, from watching you on “Face the Nation,” you have a great sense of humor. You don’t seem to have that hardened reporter cynical edge that some people do. How have you managed to stay that more optimistic, hopeful person in the midst of a field that doesn’t always bring out the best in human nature?
John Dickerson: It’s a bit of a challenge. I think mostly it’s because I try to see the good in people. I think bringing joy to others – and not focusing always on those cynical and dire parts of things – is an important way to live one’s life. Going back to my faith, “judge not lest ye be judged,” that you can be an analyst and assessing in as clear-eyed a fashion as you can without slipping over into judging people’s motives, judging their hearts, and getting into more corrosive snap judgments, which condemn people and entire classes of people. If we think about people as being more human, with all of their frailties and complexities and recognize that in ourselves, it’s a better way to approach life than to be so ruthlessly judgmental in the way that we discard people.
TR: [What about] the Christopher idea that I talked about before: It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. When you hit times of darkness in your life, what do you do to metaphorically light that candle and move toward a brighter future?
John Dickerson: I think what I do is remain focused on trying to keep in my day a lot of small acts of candle-lighting as best as I can do them with the people I meet, with the friends I have. There’s a way in which you can try to plan your day where if it’s a part of your routine, just to try to bring some light. When the dark moods hit, obviously your faith is very strong. My family and my wife and my children are a constant source of brightness in my life whom I learn from. A friend of mine, his mother, another Catholic, his mother used to say, “By the measurement of eternity, these small moments of darkness, they’re all relative to the longer timeline.” That’s something that he’s reminded me of and taught me. In his life, he’s also a person in the public eye and taking a lesson from him has been helpful to me.