Such sad news. She was an outstanding religion reporter and always said such complimentary things about this blog.
Rachel Zoll, who for 17 years as religion writer for The Associated Press endeared herself to colleagues, competitors and sources with her warm heart and world-class reporting skills, died Friday in Amherst, Massachusetts, after a three-year bout with brain cancer. She was 55.
Zoll covered religion in all its aspects, from the spiritual to the political, and her stories reached a global audience. But her influence was far greater than that. Other publications often followed her lead, and AP staffers around the world depended on her generosity and guidance.
“Rachel was one of the most universally beloved colleagues we had,” said AP’s managing editor, Brian Carovillano. “She was also one of the best reporters, on any beat. … She had a knack for finding the story or angle that no one else considered but is packed with insight and surprises.”
“Most importantly,” he added, “she was always the best kind of colleague, always available for help or consultation. … She always had time for everyone.”
Zoll was at the forefront of coverage of two papal transitions, the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, and tensions within many denominations over race, same-sex marriage and the role of women.
She often broke news, as in 2014, when she was the first to report Pope Francis’ appointment of Blase Cupich to become the new archbishop of Chicago.
But she also told stories in depth: a 2016 election-year piece examining how conservative Christians felt under siege in a changing nation. A series about Christian missionaries from Africa launching initiatives in the United States. A feature about two churches in Georgia — one black, one white — trying to bridge build a connection by confronting racism.
Not all of her stories were so heavy. In 2005, she reported from Tullahoma, Tennessee, on a Bible study class called “Finding the Way Back to Mayberry” developed by two men who believed watching “The Andy Griffith Show” could lead to spiritual enlightenment.
“Mayberry may be fictitious, but its lessons are not,” preacher Pat Allison told Zoll.
Her work was honored repeatedly by the Religion News Association; it gave her a Special Recognition Award in September 2018, saluting her work over the years and her collegiality.
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