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.
He returned to Minnesota in 1979, working as a reporter and then news editor of the Mankato Free Press. In 1982 he convinced his wife, Lauren O’Connell, to relocate to Italy. He wrote a guidebook to Rome and worked part-time for the Associated Press, ABC News and Wine Spectator. In 1983 he took a reporting job with Catholic News Service and began covering the Vatican daily. 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.
In 2012 Thavis retired from his CNS position to write full time. His book, “The Vatican Diaries,” was published in 2013 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.