Following Octavius Frothingham
At Harvard, Richard A. Nenneman `51 wrote his honors thesis on Octavius Brooks Frothingham, a New York religious figure who converted to the Christian Science faith in a search for religion that would not shoehorn him into a specific creed.
A couple years before, Nenneman as a Harvard undergraduate had made the same conversion to what he sees as "a very individualized religion." He was introduced to the faith, with its founding church in Boston's Back Bay, by several of his college friends, and eventually headed the Christian Science group at Harvard.
Along with defining a thesis topic, the conversion in college served to define Nenneman's future career.
After a decade in banking, Nenneman heard from a friend that the Christian Science Monitor was looking for a new financial editor, particularly one who had had experience in the business world. He jumped at the chance.
The decision turned out to be fateful; Nenneman served seven years as business editor of the Monitor, came back as managing editor and finally served as editor in chief of the Monitor from 1988 to 1993.
Nenneman came to Harvard, a scholarship student from Chicago, who despite not coming from an elite New England prep school, felt no academic disadvantage.
But he says he did feel a need to study.
"I always felt under the gun because I was a scholarship student," Nenneman says.
The history concentrator eventually graduated magna cum laude, with little difficulty according to one of his roommates.
"In college he was very bright," says Walker LaBurnerie '51. "He was able to get A's without a lot of work. If there were three questions on an exam, he could always ace one of them."
According to Nenneman, the pressures to carve out a career path in college were less severe than today.
"It was a very relaxed time," Nenneman says. Dating--particularly girls from Wellesley in Nenneman's case--was one chief social activity of the Harvard men of the day.
Relationships however were hindered by the difficulty of entertaining women, as regulations prohibited women visiting men's dorms room, except during the middle of the day.
Nenneman remembers being shocked when his roommate once brought a female up to their bedroom after a dance, even though the two only sat and listened to records.
But during his undergraudate years, another roommate introduced Nenneman to the roommate's sister, Katherine LaBurnerie, over a table at Howard Johnson's.
At first the relationship was merely one of friendship, but the couple began seriously dating once Nenneman graduated and entered the International Affairs masters program at Harvard. In 1954, the two got married.
Nenneman entered army counterintelligence after earning his master's degree--an experience that taught him he wanted to have nothing to do with government bureaucracy.
Instead, Nenneman entered the banking industry. Over the period of a decade, he worked for three banking firms, ending at a bank in Phoenix, Ariz. in 1964.
According to Nenneman, Arizona could have been an exciting place for a right-wing conservative in 1964--Governor Barry Goldwater was in the midst of a landbreaking run for President, which while highly unsuccessful at the time would lead to the birth of modern conservatism.
For him, a left-leaning Christian Scientist, the political events of 1964 suggested something entirely different: it was time to move back East.
It was at this point that Nenneman was accepted as financial editor to the Christian Science Monitor, based in Boston.
"I wanted to do something more intellectual," Nenneman says. "I really enjoyed it."
But nine years later, Nenneman made what he thought would be a permanent decision to reenter the banking industry.
He moved to Philadelphia, where he worked for Girard Bank for nine years and became a senior executive.
Nenneman's return to the Monitor was a result of the efforts of a colleague, who the Christian Science church had tapped to become the paper's next general manager in 1983. Nenneman found out later that John H. Hoagland Jr. had agreed to take the job only under the condition that Nenneman be made managing editor of the paper.
"[Nenneman] is the kind of guy who is respected by everybody," Hoagland says. "He is so good with people--everybody felt comfortable with him. He never lets pressure get to him." Many of those who know Nenneman describe him as soft spoken, but note that this quietness can be deceptive, as behind it is an increadible intellect.
Nenneman's decision to return to Boston came in part from his desire to return to living in the region.
"I love the small town feeling of New England," Nenneman says. Nenneman continues to live in New England today, splitting his time between Cape Cod and the Boston suburb of Lincoln.
As the paper's managing editor, Nenneman oversaw the news department's 150 employees. However, he left most of the direct contact with reporters and editing of stories up to his subordinates, mainly involving himself in the daily reporting of the news only through the daily meeting between him and his top editors deciding the content of the next day's front page. He would also preview controversial news stories before they were printed.
When he became first assistant manager and director of publishing and then editor in chief, Nenneman made his major task moving the Monitor from print to radio and TV--a plan that was ultimately unsuccessful.
"Print [media] has to adjust to the new world in which it is primarily interpretive and investigative," Nenneman says.
However, Nenneman's efforts met with reluctance and resistance from many individuals within the newspaper--who saw his efforts as possibly destructive to the paper and using up valuable money.
"There were a couple of tumultuous years in the late '80s and early '90s," Nenneman says of the effort.
When the move into television failed, Nenneman left the newspaper.
"It was a sad chapter--I think we belong in T.V.," Nenneman says. "The Monitor is the only source that didn't have a obvious political bias."
Despite the setbacks, Nenneman still feels a great deal of pride from his involvement with the Monitor.
"I enjoyed being involved in something that reaches the public at a large," Nenneman says. He saw his time in journalist as working as a public servant without getting into politics--a field he decided he was not cut out for.
Returning to the topic of his thesis, conversion and Christian Science, Nenneman is also the author of two books on his religion. While at the Monitor, he wrote a book on the Christian Science faith from a late twentieth century perspective, and in retirement he wrote a biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the faith.
"Most people fall into neat categories: the worldly cynic or the naïve spiritual," says Richard Harrington '51, a friend of Nenneman since college. "Dick is a bit of both."