Chicagoland

A look back at our history

By Chicago Catholic
September 6, 2017

A peek at Chicago Catholic's history

Take a look back at what the Chicago Catholic newspaper -- and its staff -- looked like, once upon a time.
Men unload copies of the New World in 1938. This photo ran in the Christmas edition of the paper that year. (Chicago Catholic file photo)

In 1892 the attention of the world was focused on Chicago, a city leveled by fire just 20 years earlier but which, impelled and invigorated by a steady stream of immigrants from Western Europe, had risen to become the nation’s second city.

The center of all this attention was the swampy marshland along Lake Michigan on what is now Jackson Park, where a dazzling “White City” of classically inspired Greek and Roman buildings, each containing the latest technology of late 19th-century American commerce and industry, was being constructed.

The purpose of this extravagant display of American ingenuity in buildings designed by the country’s leading architects such as Daniel Burnham, David Adler, John Root and Louis Sullivan was the national celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World: the World’s Columbian Exposition.

That same year, Patrick Feehan, archbishop of Chicago, recognized the need for a strong Catholic voice to speak for the rights of workers as well as counter the Catholic-baiting and hostility of the secular press, so he organized Chicago’s first Catholic weekly newspaper.

Feehan was himself deeply involved in the Columbian Exposition as one of the organizers of the Parliament of Religion, in which 41 denominations were represented in one exposition hall.

So when choosing a name for his newspaper, he seized upon the exposition’s theme of America as the New World for immigrants who had left the Old World and had come to this country in search of liberty, economic security and a brighter future for their children. He decided to call his newspaper the New World. 

The New World was published by the Catholic Press Company, a corporation created in July 1892 by Feehan and all the pastors of his diocese. The newspaper was capitalized with $20,000 collected from Feehan and the approximately 40 pastors who agreed to be charter members of the nonprofit corporation.

However, Feehan kept control of the paper in his own hands by subscribing for about $11,000 of the stock, while the balance was contributed by the pastors in sums ranging from $100 to $500.

The newly formed publishing company was headquartered in the Rand-Mc- Nally Building at Adams and LaSalle streets. It paid $5,000 to purchase the Catholic Home, the only Catholic newspaper for the English-speaking people of the archdiocese at that time. With the first issue of the New World-this small weekly ceased to exist.

The Catholic Press Company was legally chartered on Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, and the first issue of the New World was sent to press on the feast of Mary’s nativity, Sept. 8. The masthead of the New World consisted of the triple emblem of the cross, the crozier and the flag encircled with the words “Auspicio Maria,” or “under the patronage of Mary.”

In the New World’s second issue, editor John Hyde explained both the paper’s motto and emblem: “Under God no paper can have a higher patron, no paper can have a more powerful intercessor for the success of its mission than the Blessed Virgin, she that is called in the language of the Church, Mater Dei — the Mother of God.”

Hyde took special pains to explain the symbolism of the paper’s triple emblems to non-Catholic readers. “The cross, the symbol of man’s salvation, is set upon the globe, the world, which receives from it the light of Christianity that is essential to true civilization.

“The crozier is meant to signify ecclesiastical rulership, the right and authority of the Church of God to direct mankind in the way that leads to civil order and eternal happiness. The flag is our own flag, the Stars and Stripes; and therefore it is also a symbol of American loyalty.

“It shall be the duty of the New World to teach the truths signified by these emblems: the all-ruling power of God; the authority of God’s church as exercised by the bishops; respect for and obedience to civil authority and loyalty to the Republic.”

This carefully worded editorial was written to refute the belief commonly held by many non-Catholics that the pope was a temporal ruler whose demand for the allegiance of immigrant Catholics was a threat to democratic government.

According to the Chicago Tribune, “No free government can exist where the dominion of the Bishop of Rome over the minds and consciences of men remains unbroken.” In an even more vitriolic editorial, the Tribune reflected many popular misconceptions about Catholics that the New World hoped to erase.

The Tribune portrayed the church as the “unrelenting enemy of the Gospel and the best interests of men” and added that Catholic doctrines were “inimicable to our Republic and cannot exist in harmony with them.”

Local reaction

Reaction by the secular press to the first issue of the New World was swift and warm. The Evening Post commended it for being “well edited, of neat appearance and containing excellent editorials.” But the Chicago Tribune was merely factual.

“The New World, a weekly newspaper which is the official organ of the Catholic Church of Illinois, was issued for the first time Saturday. It is an eight-page, seven-column sheet, filled with closely condensed matter from all parts of the state on which there are carefully written editorials.”

The Tribune’s animosity to Catholics merely reflected the leanings of many Chicagoans who felt threatened by a tidal wave of new immigrants, most of them Catholics, who were settling in Chicago. In the 1890 census Chicago had a population of 1,099,850. This included 262,047 Catholics; and, of this number, 78 percent were foreign-born. By 1892 Chicago had become the most Catholic of all American cities.

Feehan intended to use the New World to disseminate the church’s stand on social justice as outlined in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, “Rerum Novarum,” which had been issued a year earlier, in May 1891. In this letter the pontiff applied Christian principles to class struggles of capital versus labor. He decried the laissez-faire policy of industry that ignored the basic rights of working men and women.

Editorially, Feehan applied these principles to local grievances. He supported the rights of workers to unionize and to enact social reforms, such as elimination of child labor and creation of the eight-hour work day.

But it was an uphill struggle. When a local contractor decided to lower wages of Irish laborers working on the Illinois Central Railroad tracks from $1.25 to $1 a day, he enraged the workers, and many quit.

But when they tried to collect their pay, the contractor claimed a bookkeeping error and told them they would have to wait. The angry men would not and in the ensuing violence a laborer and the contractor were killed.

The Tribune editorialized that the Irish were “imbued with a fondness and passion for riots and rows” and that their behavior could be traced “with certainty to the influence the Catholic priesthood exercised over the Irish in the U.S.”

William J. Dillon, who served as the second editor of the New World from 1893 to 1902, proved to be the right man for the times. Dillon was born in New York, where his father had fled to avoid arrest for his part in the Irish uprising of 1848. When amnesty was declared, the family returned to Ireland, where Dillon received a law degree from University College in Dublin.

He was later elected to Dublin’s Land League committee, where he worked to protect peasants from excessive rent and evictions.

Under Dillon’s leadership, the New World sided with labor and supported reform legislation to protect workers and break up trusts and monopolies.

Dillon also supported trade unionism, arguing that laborers were helpless without it. They had to take work at any wage or “starve and see their children starve.” But, Dillon argued, implementation of the principles laid out in “Rerum Novarum” provided these powerless laborers with a cudgel that, if forcefully applied, could effectively dent oppressive trusts and monopolies.

Support for workers

Feehan died in 1902 and Dillon resigned as editor a month later. His successor, appointed by Archbishop James Quigley, was Charles O’Malley, who continued to support the rights of workers.

When manipulation by industrialists made coal prices soar in 1903 and Chicago workers threatened to riot, O’Malley warned that unless these titans introduced the principles of justice and honesty into their dealings, they would bring about their own ruin.

He lauded government regulation and control of industry. When Congress passed more rigorous trust legislation in 1903, the New World expressed cautious optimism.

“No matter how hostile to the trust the laws may be, they will never prove effective unless applied. The possession of a hot mustard poultice never cured Paddy Flaherty until he put it on,” said O’Malley.

Covering the council

The paper moved on to cover stories important to the local church and the universal church, including the Second Vatican Council.

Father William Graney covered the council for Chicago’s archdiocesan paper and gave a sense of the inner workings of the council. Compared to the more superficial stories in the secular dailies, the New World provided greater depth and a more nuanced approach in covering Vatican II.

While Vatican II signified a period of intense transformation in the church, the years under Archbishop (later Cardinal) John Cody were to be a period of substantial change for the New World. In 1966, the archbishop approved a “complete coverage plan,” which aimed to put the paper in the home of every Catholic in the archdiocese. This plan boosted circulation to an all-time high of 403,000.

In the late 1960s the paper’s format changed from broadsheet to tabloid, introducing a second section filled with feature stories, columnists and entertainment, including play and movie reviews.

The newspaper also altered its advertising policy to exclude secular ads and accept only explicitly “Catholic” ads. In 1980, commercial advertising was again accepted on a limited basis.

Another small, although significant, new addition to the weekly paper begun under Cardinal Cody’s leadership was the annual publication of the archdiocese’s financial reports, which subsequently became a “regular supplement” each year.

During the Jubilee Year of 2000, the paper went from a weekly to a biweekly schedule.

This year, under publisher Cardinal Cupich, the name went back to Chicago Catholic, and the print edition and website got a new look.

There have been many changes in the Chicago Catholic over the past 125 years. But an 1892 editorial on the importance of the Catholic press is as true today as it was then:

“The secular press in general is not willfully inimical to the Church; but as a matter of course, it deals with religion only incidentally, and therefore, Catholic papers edited in a true Catholic spirit are simply a necessity to correct misstatement, to contradict falsehoods, to acquaint the people with Catholic news of the whole world, to develop and sustain the burning Catholic questions of the day and to enlighten the faithful regarding the Church, its organization and doctrines.

“The Catholic paper ought to be a welcome visitor to every Catholic fireside and when carefully read it is bound to do a vast amount of good.”

Topics:

  • 125th anniversary

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