First in 33-part series on history mined from the first 100 years of Arkansas Catholic and its predecessors.
The Southern Guardian debuted as an eight-page broadsheet newspaper on Saturday, March 25, 1911, under the leadership of editor Msgr. J.M. Lucey.
Msgr. Lucey served as editor for six months until passing the editor's hat to Father Augustine Stocker, OSB. The Benedictine priest from Subiaco Abbey served as editor for the remainder of the issues for 1911-1913. Msgr. Lucey, who was also vicar general for the diocese, still contributed to the paper and wrote editorials from time to time.
The newspaper and its news coverage is quite different from what the status quo for news is now. Yet many of the issues covered in the paper are ones that Catholics still grapple with to some degree today -- modernism, materialism, socialism, society influencing values, divorce, education standards, human decency and misunderstanding of the Catholic faith.
Bishop John B. Morris wrote a pastoral letter on the in February 1912 (St. John Seminary opened in a new location in September 1911) where he discussed the increasing influence society and popular trends had on people. "Nothing is more conducive to the Catholic mood or spirit than an energetic, capable and prudent priesthood; and in this age especially when the world seems to be in the verge of being stampeded by revolution, we need a strong clergy who will serve as leaders of the vast mass of humanity wriggling and twisting its way through the fads and fancies of irresponsible revolutionaries who are recklessly pointing their guns at almost all the institutions which the Church of Christ has built up during her long sojourn in the world," he wrote.
Another article on the "Gains and losses of Catholic Church in United States" discussed the increasing materialistic society in 1912. "Today our Catholic people must withstand the strong secular and materialistic spirit which places materialistic progress, profits, trade and the accumulation of wealth and means of living in luxury and ostentatious display, as the great end of human existence."
Photographs and illustrations were rarely used. Opinion, observation and fact are mixed into stories -- sometimes with a strong bias, praise or even anger. The practice of quoting was generally only used for written comments or occasionally remarks made at an event. The authors of stories were rarely identified, unless they came from another publication. The paper soon instituted a "Social Notes" section that gave reports on the events and news from churches and parish groups.
Advertisers played a pivotal role in helping support the printing of the newspaper. The early pages are filled with ads by dry good stores, feed stores, carriages, horse blankets and harnesses, drug stores and trust companies.
Catholics struggle to establish their citizenship
One recurring theme throughout every issue of 1911-1913 is the climate of mistrust and discrimination against Catholics, which was a national problem and especially virulent in the South.
Anti-Catholic sentiment was high, and discrimination based on religion was common. Many in Arkansas misunderstood or were "ignorant" of Catholicism, often referred to as "Romanism" by Protestants at this time. Anti-Catholic pamphlets, publications and articles in religious and secular newspapers of the time were commonplace. Pastors sometimes bought guest speakers to lecture on "the evils of Romanism," or gave sermons about it of their own.
The Jan. 13, 1912, issue reported a Protestant pastor in the Hope area gave a series of such sermons, going as far to say Catholics were not welcome in the area. The priest in the area, Father Higgins, protested the sermons and was especially aggrieved that the pastor was passing on falsehoods and hatred to the innocent minds of children. Catholics were in Hope and Arkansas to stay, according to Father Higgins. "Nevertheless I say this, and I want all the world to know it, and all Arkansas to understand it. If you want to have flourishing towns and large cities, open your doors freely to the Catholic settlers," Father Higgins said.
Anti-Catholic publications cropped up throughout the United States. Out of Arkansas' neighboring state of Missouri came such a publication, The Menace, which began publishing in 1911. By 1914, the publication had a weekly subscription of 1,400,000 nationally. In The Southern Guardian, articles appeared that argued that anti-obscenity laws should keep publications like The Menace from distribution through the Post Office. The Arkansas legislature became part of the issue when in 1913, some members of the Guardians of Liberty, an anti-Catholic group written about by Msgr. Lucey in 1913. The laws were aimed at allowing sheriffs and government officials to inspect convents and private institutions at will. The Posey Bill was passed by the Arkansas House of Representatives, but died in the Senate after the 60-day session ended.
One way to combat the anti-Catholic sentiment debuted in 1913 -- the Chapel Wagon. Father Boniface Spanke, OSB, would travel in a "church on wheels" offering Mass in rural areas and teaching the people about the Catholic faith. More than 1,000 people witnessed the first service held in the missionary chapel, as reported in the Aug. 16, 1913, edition. Father Spanke encountered prejudice in his work, reported on often in the later issues of 1913. Many of the areas had never seen a Catholic priest, let alone a traveling church.
Killed by automobile: "On Thursday afternoon at Pine Bluff, Mrs. Karriz", 24, a wife, mother of two and a "practical Catholic," "was killed by an automobile. She was a native of a village near Beyrut, Syria."
St. Edward Church dedicated July 4: Great day for German Catholics of Little Rock
New Catholic church in DeQueen: first services May 20, still minus pews
Arizona and New Mexico petition for statehood
Father Lucey in defense of right: Vicar general declares the abuses of St. Patrick's Day should not be endured by Catholics
Report of annual collections taken up in the Diocese of Little Rock, 1911: total $6,920.11
Dedication of the new Church at Hot Springs was crowning event of an arduous undertaking of Father Eugene John Weibel and his congregation.
Confirmation on Trinity Sunday: Bishop Morris receives royal welcome at Stuttgart and Slovaktown. Eighty-two confirmed
No Sunday mail: unless marked for special delivery
Another new Church to be dedicated: St. Theresa in Plainview
Jonesboro to have council of Knights of Columbus
Twenty-four exiled nuns at Tonitown: Sisters of the Incarnate Word driven out of Mexico find home in Arkansas
St. Joseph Academy destroyed by fire: Mena's oldest Catholic school burned last Monday. Pupils and teachers escaped unharmed from burning structure
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