The quote is one I have kept for years on a sheet from a notepad, a relic from the talk of a speaker whose name will come to me in a few days.
Those words were scribbled down because I thought they captured an essential characteristic Catholic newspapers ought to strive for: reflect the community you write for. To put it another way: Tell their stories, report on their joys and their sorrows, write about what matters most to them.
The quote came back to me over and over the past few weeks as I’ve been paging through back issues of The Catholic Spirit and its predecessor, the Catholic Bulletin, in preparation for this newspaper’s 100th anniversary.
I’ve worked for four Catholic newspapers over the past 37-plus years — the past 27 here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — so scanning issues from the 1990s, 1980s, 1970s was a nostalgic trip.
For a journalist, there are few better ego boosts than re-reading something with your byline — if, of course, you told the story well.
Turning the pages of some of the older issues of the Catholic Bulletin — back all the way to that first issue of Jan. 7, 1911 — gave me a pretty good sense of what Catholics of the past 100 years cared about. Of course, some of those cares changed through the decades.
Back in the early days, with Msgr. James M. Reardon editing for a readership that still had a close connection to the lands from which they had emigrated, the Catholic Bulletin was very Euro-centric.
Every issue of those yellowing papers seemed to carry a Page 1 report on the church from one country or another across the pond. There was some, but not a lot of, local church news and usually the “teachable moment” variety of columns by the Catholic Bulletin’s founder, Archbishop John Ireland.
It was an era of striving for respect for Catholics living in a Protestant culture, for one thing, and our first archbishop was quick to defend Catholics and Catholic practice from the bigots in the secular world.
There also was a cathedral to be built in St. Paul and a co-cathedral to be erected in Minneapolis at the same time. Lots of space went into promoting the progress on what are now the landmarks we know as the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary as well as unabashed prodding to keep the coins rolling in to help pay construction costs for both churches.
A ‘workbook’ for Catholics
Our archdiocesan newspaper has always been a teaching tool that aimed to assist the archbishop, pastors and parishes.
What started early on with headlines like “How to assist at low Mass” and “Why we fast” (1911), remained in the decades that followed through the likes of items such as “Scripture offers no segregation support” and “Death penalty no crime deterrent” (1962), and it still does today in pieces like “Answers to questions on ‘Preserving Marriage’ initiative” and “Catch the contagious love taught by Mother Teresa” (2010).
Former publisher Paulist Father Tom Comber used to call the Catholic Bul-letin a “workbook” for adult Catholics, and The Catholic Spirit continues to play a role in providing adult faith formation.
That role continues on an even broader scale 100 years later. The article that received the most attention ever on TheCatholicSpirit.com was titled “Why no meat on Fridays during Lent.”
From the post-World War II years through the last half of the 20th century there was a different flavor to the pages of the Catholic Bulletin and — since 1996 — The Catholic Spirit. Newsman Bernie Casserly led the way during his 25-year editorship that began in 1958.
The news Catholics cared about was being made right in our own backyard — not over in Europe — and local events, local crises, local achievements took over the pages readers got in their mailboxes every week.
Minnesota Catholics had plenty going on here that impacted their faith life, and those of us who wielded the editor’s pencil — yours truly for 12 years as well — strove to cover the issues our readers wanted or needed to know about.
Whether it was carefully turning yellowing, 90-some-year-old pages, flipping through the back issues from my own early days here, circa 1983, or even going back through the past few years and the news that editor Joe Towalski has led with award-winning excellence, one overwhelming fact became evident to me: Catholic life is packed. A life of faith is packed.
The variety of topics Catholics care about, the issues of faith and morals that Catholics struggle with and worry about, the number of great people and their inspiring stories make for an endless fount of raw material for a Catholic newspaper to capture and bring to the attention of the vital and active Catholic community we have here in Minnesota.
That’s the way it’s been for 100 years now.
Bob Zyskowski is associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit.
Come celebrate with us
We hope you will join our staff and the board of The Catholic Spirit to celebrate the newspaper’s 100th anniversary this Jan. 6 at “The Great Catholic Get-Together of 2011” at Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis.
We’re planning an evening of recognizing past efforts and looking ahead at how today’s technology is going to enable us to continue to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and help Catholics of this generation and those to come apply Catholic values to all the issues Catholics care about.
To register, go to http://tcs100.eventbrite.com, or call Mary Gibbs at (651) 251-7709.