By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Free and easy access available to Catholic history
Famine in Ireland, a monsignor’s thoughts on divorce in 1884, commentary on Vatican II as it was happening. These topics and countless more fill some 80,000 pages of The Catholic Messenger’s newly digitized archive, dating back to Jan. 6, 1883.
This treasure trove of news is available to anyone with access to the Internet — at no charge! The Catholic Messenger’s board of directors believes the weekly, diocesan newspaper is an invaluable resource on the local and universal Church that should be accessible to the public.
Advantage Companies of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which undertook the project, digitized microfilm images of the newspaper’s pages to make them readable, searchable and accessible. The project culminates years of dreaming, discussing and researching how to make The Catholic Messenger archive more readily available to researchers, genealogists, students and others.
Visitors to the website archives.catholicmessenger.net using the Internet Explorer or Foxfire search engines will find content that ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Take this fiery, poetic criticism of David Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister during World War I, in an article from the Dec. 19, 1935, issue of The Catholic Messenger:
“… If the Christian churches were united, they ought to force disarmament in the world. You will never get peace by declarations outlawing war. What greater declaration could you have than that declaration that came with a galaxy of angels on Christmas morning, calling out ‘Peace on earth: good will to men?’ That is better than anything Mr. Kellogg or Sir Austen Chamberlain can ever proclaim.”
“Newspapers are the first draft of history and I have been heartened by national and local efforts to digitize these precious resources,” observes Tim Walch of The Catholic Messenger’s Board of Directors. “Although we have made considerable progress in digitizing both big city and small town papers, we are just beginning to digitize newspapers that focus on religious denominations. That is why I am so pleased with the digitization of The Catholic Messenger. Now scholars of American Catholicism will be able to evaluate issues of concern to American Catholics living in the nation’s heartland from the late 19th century to the present. As an historian and archivist of American Catholicism, I am very grateful to Father George McDaniel for generously funding this project.”
Fr. McDaniel, retired history professor of St. Ambrose University, Davenport, notes that “A newspaper is a journal of the life of a people, in the case of the Messenger, the life of the people of the Diocese of Davenport. So it is important that the Messenger be preserved. This new digital archive will make it easily accessible and preserve it for generations to come.”
“The Catholic Messenger has always been a heavily used resource at the St. Ambrose University Library,” says Mary Heinzman, the library’s director and executive director of Information Resources. “Community members use it to research information about local parishes or for information about relatives. Faculty and students at St. Ambrose use it to locate information about the Catholic Church for their research and/or assignments. Up till now, they have had to either manually flip through print pages, or scroll through reels of microfilm to find what they need. Having digital archives will make searching and printing so much easier. Digital archives can be searched by keyword, allowing searches to be done in minutes instead of hours. Printing from digital archives produces a much better image than copying from old print editions or from microfilm.
Having digital archives of The Catholic Messenger will allow us to provide much better customer service to all the people we serve.”
Editors of what was then called The Iowa Messenger promised on Jan. 6, 1883, that the newspaper “will contain all the news of the week — home and foreign, from a Catholic stand point, that is, greater prominence will be given to events of interest to members of that Church.”
News ran the gamut in the early years — from 1883 construction plans for the new St. Mary’s Church in Clinton to parish fairs to the arrest of bigamists to the electric lighting of a prison to the amazing skill of a locomotive engineer. The plight of Ireland’s citizenry, struggling to survive famine and oppressive laws, weighed heavily on the editors’ minds and received ample play on the newspaper’s pages.
The May 25, 1967, edition of The Catholic Messenger devoted more than half a page to a translation on implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The translation stressed “… the duty incumbent on every local community to cooperate in the good of the Church — particularly today when the good and evil done in individual communities has immediate repercussions on the entire community of the family of God. Let everyone therefore bear in mind the admonition of the Apostle Paul: ‘God is a God of peace, not of disorder.’”
Diocesan Archivist Tyla Cole noted that “Diocesan archives exist to collect, preserve and make available records of enduring value which pertain to the experience of the Church in this region.” As such, The Catholic Messenger digitization project “extends the value of the diocese’s information system by increasing access to information … in addition, digitizing newspapers shows the organization’s life span, and the role of that time.”
Walch, retired director the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum adds, “There is no price that can be put on this exponential increase in the ease of access to these precious documents.”