John Thavis is a journalist, author and speaker specializing in Vatican and religious affairs. He is known in the trade as a “Vaticanista,” a calling that became clear only after a circuitous career path.
Thavis grew up in Minnesota, attending Catholic schools and graduating from St. John’s University in 1973. After studying classical languages, he went to Italy as a student of archeology in 1977, fell in love with the country and decided to stay. In 1978, the day Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, he walked into the offices of the Rome Daily American and was hired as a headline writer, eventually becoming news editor. That year he witnessed two papal conclaves, culminating in the election of an intriguing “foreigner,” Karol Wojtyla.
He returned to Minnesota in 1979, working as a reporter and then news editor of the Mankato Free Press, a daily paper in his home town. In 1982 he convinced his wife, Lauren O’Connell, to relocate to Italy. They landed in Rome with meager savings and a suitcase, the beginning of a 30-year Italian adventure. He wrote a guide book to Rome and worked part-time for Associated Press, ABC News and the Wine Spectator. In 1983 he took a reporting job with Catholic News Service and began covering the Vatican daily. It was a fascinating beat, in Rome and abroad. He traveled with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to more than 60 countries, and reported on other religious stories from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He became CNS Rome bureau chief in 1996, and served three years as president of the Association of International Journalists Accredited to the Vatican -- the only American ever elected to that position. He has won numerous journalistic awards and has lectured on Vatican affairs in the United States and Europe.
In 2012 Thavis retired from his CNS position to devote full time to writing, and moved back to the United States. His book, The Vatican Diaries, was published Feb. 21 by Viking-Penguin and immediately became a New York Times best-seller. He did live commentary for ABC News in Rome during the conclave of 2013, and on his blog the day before the conclave began he singled out Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the candidate to watch. He travels frequently to Rome and continues to cover Vatican affairs.
His other interests include Italian cooking, fine wine, blues guitar, songwriting, baseball and the letters of Cicero. John and Lauren’s three children were born and raised in Rome. Their two sons have relocated to Minnesota, and their daughter is a blues singer in Rome.