By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
Since 1842, the Catholic Church in New Orleans has been chronicled by an interesting mix of Catholic newspapers, reporting on the faith life of the local church.
Here is an overview of Catholic press history in the Archdiocese of New Orleans:
Le Propagateur Catholique
The weekly, French-language Le Propagateur Catholique was the first Catholic newspaper in Louisiana. It has ties to the era of anti-clericalism in France, which began with the French Revolution in 1830. Many French clergy decided to leave their homeland for French colonies in the New World. Among those who arrived in New Orleans was Father Napoleon Perché, a future archbishop of New Orleans. When he arrived in 1837, he befriended the Ursuline Sisters and became close to Bishop Antoine Blanc.
In 1842, Father Perché established Le Propagateur Catholique, which he described as a “family newspaper edited by a Society of Men of Letters.” It was written in elegant French and supported the bishop in his battles with the lay trustees of St. Louis Cathedral, who had claimed the right to appoint clergy. The three-year controversy was eventually settled in civil court in favor of the bishop.
One of the interesting footnotes of Le Propagateur Catholique was its subscription price: four escalins per month (the equivalent of 50 cents per month).
The ultimate decline of Le Propagateur Catholique occurred for the same reason many French-language periodicals disappeared – fewer New Orleans citizens spoke French as their primary language.
The Catholic Standard
The Catholic Standard capitalized on the growing Irish Catholic presence in New Orleans, most of whom worshiped at St. Patrick Church on Camp Street. The newspaper was started by a group from St. Patrick with the approval of Archbishop Blanc. The subscription price was $3 a year. The newspaper’s main focus appeared to be attacking the Know-Nothing Movement, but it did not survive the Civil War. By 1867, it had either expired or was in financial difficulties, and Archbishop Jean Marie Odin called a meeting of Catholic leaders to found a new paper.
The Morning Star
The Morning Star was the longest-running Catholic newspaper in New Orleans history. When The Morning Star began, the social fabric of New Orleans was in an uproar. Federal troops controlled the city, and racial tensions ran high.
At the time, The Morning Star was the only Catholic newspaper written in English in the South. An interesting footnote is that while the Morning Star received the approval of several archbishops, it was never published by the archdiocese.
Financial problems eventually forced The Morning Star out of business in 1930. It was two years later that one of the most remarkable figures in archdiocesan history – Msgr. Peter M.H. Wynhoven – exerted his considerable influence to create a new communications vehicle for the archdiocese.
Catholic Action of the South
The Catholic Action of the South, started by Msgr. Wynhoven in 1932, was the direct predecessor of the Clarion Herald. Msgr. Wynhoven was the former manager and columnist for The Morning Star, and he became editor of Catholic Action of the South. His staff also included Roger Baudier, author of the comprehensive history of the Catholic Church in Louisiana.
Catholic Action was designed originally to be a monthly newspaper, but within a year it went to weekly publication. The original subscription price was $1 a year, and the papers were delivered by mail. The paper carried advertising, but many of the ads were for Catholic schools, so it is unclear how much revenue was produced.
In the early years, Catholic Action published one page in Italian to reach a broader audience. When the Depression finally ended, Catholic Action also began to print separate editions for the dioceses of Alexandria, Lafayette and Natchez. This system continued until 1954, when the New Orleans edition was published in conjunction with Our Sunday Visitor in Huntington, Indiana. This continued until the final issue on Feb. 24, 1963.
In 1962, with elementary and high schools and churches sprouting up all across the archdiocese, Archbishop John Cody began making plans to produce what he called “the best Catholic newspaper in the country.”
The expression often is used that “money is no object.” Archbishop Cody authorized a virtual blank check to make his dream a reality. When the first issue of the Clarion Herald was published on Feb. 28, 1963, it was unique among Catholic newspapers and one of the few newspapers in the country to be published using the “offset” printing process.
Offset printing produced unbelievably cleaner, crisper photographic images than were available in most newspapers at the time. Offset printing could rival magazine-type quality resolution on newsprint. On the strength of the first Clarion Herald printing contract, Century Graphics borrowed the money for its new offset printing press and was launched into business.
It is hard to fathom a diocese in the U.S. today essentially paying for its own printing press. But that is what Archbishop Cody did.
From its start under executive editor Msgr. Elmo Romagosa and associate editor Emile Comar, the Clarion Herald was never afraid to speak out on social issues. It wrote extensively in its early years about the vast changes sweeping through the church as a result of Vatican Council II. And it always emphasized the visual aspect of Catholic journalism.
Msgr. Romagosa and Comar hired photographer Frank H. Methe III away from The Times-Picayune, and Methe’s photographs set the standard for newspaper journalism in the entire country.
The goal of the Clarion Herald is to chronicle the local church in action and inspire readers about their Catholic faith. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Clarion Herald increased the frequency of its publication from biweekly to weekly in order to provide the latest news on the recovery of churches, schools and institutions in the archdiocese.
Because mail delivery was virtually impossible in the aftermath of the storm, the Clarion Herald began delivering the paper to churches each weekend so that parishioners could pick up a copy after Mass. The newspaper also is distributed to stores, pharmacies and other commercial outlets. Readers and advertisers have reported they enjoy the delivery system.
Over the years, the Clarion Herald has won numerous individual and overall awards from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. It seeks to fulfill its stated mission: “To enable its readers to grow in their Catholic faith, to develop as mature, well-informed Catholics and to deepen their commitment to and relationship with the Lord, their Catholic faith and their Church.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond is the publisher of the Clarion Herald. Father Ronald Calkins, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, is the Clarion Herald’s moderator.
Click here to view the Clarion Herald flipbook, “River of Faith: 300 Years as a New Orleans Catholic Community – 1718-2018”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.