Twitter icon
Pinterest icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
YouTube icon
RSS icon

Open house held for Prairie Messenger, which closes after 114 years of publication

 

Open House held April 28 to bid farewell to the Prairie Messenger and St Peter’s Press

 

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski

MUENSTER –St. Peter’s Press at the Benedictine Abbey in Muenster, SK opened its doors for a reception April 28, welcoming friends, contributors, former staff and longtime readers who came to bid farewell to the Prairie Messenger.

The production, printing and office spaces of the press building at St. Peter’s Abbey were filled to the brim with visitors touring the plant, viewing photos and past issues, sharing memories, and mourning the loss of the weekly Catholic newspaper that will cease production May 9, 2018, after 114 years.

Some of the conversations throughout the afternoon reception touched on the Prairie Messenger’s impact, while others recalled former staff, reflected on the reasons for closure or wrestled with communication trends – but most of those present were simply highlighting the blessings of the beloved publication. 

When Adele and Jim Longstaff were married some 50 years ago, a subscription to the Prairie Messenger was a gift from Adele’s cousin, the late Rev. Maurice Weber, OSB, who presided at their wedding. The Saskatoon couple has received the publication ever since, said Adele, describing how it has enriched and nurtured their faith.

A contributing columnist, Rev. Marie-Louise Ternier, rector of All Saints Anglican Parish and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Watrous, reflected on the newspaper’s commitment to ecumenism and Christian unity. “They are one of the papers that always made room for perspectives from other denominations. It probably was ahead of its time in many instances…. Not only in theory, but also in practice. That is so important in helping our people to embrace a vision for church that is universal,” said Ternier.

 

Sr. Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, reflected on the impact of the publication in her life. Kambeitz recalled reading the newspaper’s children’s section as a child, and turning to it for formation and opinions as an adult. “Today is a day to be hugely grateful. I say it with tears, and with a heavy heart, but I also really mean it. This paper has been such a soul-nurturing source for me… the Prairie Messenger has always been a friend,” Kambeitz said.  “It has been such a great gift.”

During a short program, editor Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB, expressed the paradox of gathering for a party on a beautiful spring day to mark a sad event.

“We have come to the end of a tradition of 114 years…114 years of publishing a Catholic newspaper every week,” he said, describing how the monks of St. Peter’s Abbey began publishing a Catholic paper in 1904, just nine months after arriving as pioneers in Saskatchewan.

First called St. Peter’s Bote (Messenger) and published in German, the newspaper was eventually published in both German and English for some two decades, and then in English only – becoming known as the Prairie Messenger. Through the years, the award-winning weekly kept the Catholic community informed, connected, and, often challenged.

Fr. Lawrence DeMong spoke on behalf of the Benedictine community, recalling how members of the community produced the newspaper for many years without the help of paid staff.  “It was unheard of that we would have a hired editor, and certainly not a paid proofreader.”

He noted that those who took on the role of editor learned on the job, educating themselves and growing in awareness about justice issues in the process. “It was in doing the job that they learned how.”

“One of the guys I really admire was Andrew (Britz), because he had a hard time with language, and we wrote some of the best editorials that we can put our fingers on,” noted DeMong, listing a number of past editors and contributors, and some of their sacrifices. “These wonderful people put out so much, it was unbelievable. I say bravo, and hats off to all you have worked for the Prairie Messenger.”

Sr. Marian Noll, OSU, who worked at the Prairie Messenger for some 15 years beginning in 1983, spoke on behalf of the staff. “It was a good experience here. I was well taught… and I am most grateful.”

 Sr. Miriam Spenrath, OSU, spoke on behalf of Development and Peace, presenting a certificate from national president Jean-Denis Lampron recognizing the Prairie Messenger “for your exceptional commitment to the cause of social justice and your efforts to improve living conditions for the poorest of the poor in the Global South” and expressing gratitude “for the solidarity that you have shown with the marginalized and oppressed and for your work in helping to strengthen our movement.”

On behalf of former Development and Peace animator Michael Murphy, Spenrath also presented the final Leo Kurtenbach Peace Pen Award – given annually for a letter published in the Prairie Messenger – to Rev. Lawrence DeMong, OSB.

National editor Maureen Weber noted the far-reaching and lasting impact of the “little” newspaper.

“The longer I worked here, the more I became surprised at how the Prairie Messenger could ignite passion for a cause, could enrage, confuse, comfort and challenge,” she said. “Daily surprises have become a way of life here and even the negative ones are welcome because it means that people are awake and engaged – and I think that the readers of the Prairie Messenger are more awake and engaged than most people.”

Weber offered a litany of thanks, beginning with the monks of St. Peter’s Abbey and her colleagues, including Abbot Peter Novecosky and fellow editor Don Ward.

“Don has been through a lot over the course of his time here at the Prairie Messenger, and I have known him to be courageous, steadfast and faith filled,” she said. “You could say we have been the Holy Trinity of the Prairie Messenger –  Peter is like the Holy Ghost, you know? The work gets done, but you never see him.

She also acknowledged St Peter’s Press Manager Kelly Wittke –  “always efficient and knowledgeable and amazing in a crisis” – production assistant Kevin Reiter, graphic artist and accounts manager Karen Kolkman, and printer “par excellence” Randy Weber.

Weber extended particular thanks to circulation manager and proofreader Gail Kleefeld and layout artist Lucille Stewart. “These two special people are the ones with which I worked most closely… they were on the front line of my mistakes on a weekly basis,” she said with a smile.  “Thank you Lucille and Gail for your kindness, understanding and compassion, and for being patient with my tears of frustration. You have been grace beyond measure.”

She also acknowledged the support of her family and mentors, including her parents and brothers, her husband and her four children, her granddaughter Anissa, as well as Rev. Andrew Britz, OSB, the person who brought her to the Prairie Messenger.

“Fr. Andrew Britz hired me in 1994 and is among those special people who have believed in me and have give me the confidence to do what I thought I could not,” she said.

 

Weber recalled a Nov. 1, 2000 editorial in which Britz recognized the importance of everyday saints. “I was reminded of that editorial again, when on April 9, Pope Francis released his latest apostolic letter called Rejoice and Be Glad,” she said. “Pope Francis could have been quoting Andrew when he wrote about the ‘saints next door’, (and)  saying he likes ‘to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly who never lose their smile.’”

She concluded: “To all of these holy people I give thanks. You are the saints in our midst and you do great things every day.”

Abbot Peter Novecosky ended the program with final words of thanks – to faithful readers, to donors whose generosity prolonged the life of the Prairie Messenger for several years, as well as to diocesan correspondents and staff, past and present,

“Lastly I want to thank the Benedictine community. Without your support, this would not have happened over the years,” he said.

 

Winding up the program, the editor of the Prairie Messenger read appropriate words from a recently-arrived letter from a subscriber in New Brunswick: “How to say thank you and goodbye? Words are small when feelings are deep. For more than a decade now, the Prairie Messenger has been a faithful companion and a trusted mentor on my journey with the Lord. Truly, I have never felt such a connection with any other subscription. I feel this loss very deeply, yet I know that everything has its time. I trust and respect the decision you have made. Thank you sincerely for all your years of delivering the Good News.”

 

 

-30-

Diocese of Saskatoon In Video