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Benedictine raises ire of future prime minister

By By Paul Paproski, OSB


Newspapers have a tradition of publishing editorials that raise the ire of the public. The Prairie Messenger is no exception. Its editors have a century-old legacy of pulling no punches when expressing their opinions.

One reader who became upset, in 1926, over the editorial of a Benedictine was a future prime minister. The reader was the subject of the editorial and he responded, not with a letter to the editor, but with the threat of a lawsuit. John Diefenbaker informed St. Peter’s Messenger (the forerunner to the Prairie Messenger) that he was suing the newspaper for $10,000 over an editorial about him that was written by Rev. Cosmas Krumpelmann, OSB. Diefenbaker was a Conservative candidate in Prince Albert Constituency during the 1926 federal election.

The editorial was based on one of Diefenbaker’s campaign stops in MacDowall where he addressed an audience of Orangemen. Krumpelmann was no friend of the Orangemen whom he often accused of intolerance and anti-Catholicism. He not only took offence to what Diefenbaker told the crowd, but was outraged over the idea of a federal candidate addressing such a group.

“The Conservatives of Prince Albert Constituency could not have committed a more fatal blunder than the nomination of Mr. John G. Diefenbaker,” he wrote. Diefenbaker stood on a platform alongside two Orangemen who were “two veteran advocates of bigotry and fanaticism.”

A strong proponent of British values, Diefenbaker is quoted as saying he wanted “to make Canada all Canadian and all British.” These remarks, Krumpelmann wrote, were suggesting that Canada become a slave to Britain. Canada is meant to be a self-governing dominion within the British Empire, united to Britain through social and economic ties. The imperialism advocated by Mr. Diefenbaker is based on Orange values, he wrote.

Another issued addressed by Diefenbaker was the Canadian flag. The Conservative candidate told the Orangemen that those “who wish to change the Canadian flag should be denounced by every good Canadian.” The opposition to a change in the Canadian flag is largely Orange propaganda, Krumpelmann retorted. Diefenbaker was echoing the feelings of Orangemen, Krumpelmann wrote, who were not on the committee to study the “Flag question” and who opposed the idea of French Canadians from Quebec making up the committee.

“Mr. John G. Diefenbaker, in making his speech at MacDowall and thus espousing the cause of the Loyal Orange Lodge, broke his own political neck. . . . There is no assurance that he may not make another just like it or worse. . . . He will discover that to ride the stormy seas of politics to Ottawa in a rickety Orange tub is an impossible task in Saskatchewan,” the editorial reads.

The outcome of the election did not go in Diefenbaker’s favour. Opposing him was Mackenzie King, leader of the Liberal opposition. King became prime minister after he and the Liberals were swept to power.

As editor of St. Peter’s Messenger, Krumpelmann was a staunch defender of the Catholic Church. Tensions were often rife between the Catholic Church and the Anglo-Protestant establishment in Saskatchewan. The tensions heightened in Saskatchewan during the 1920s as new immigrants from eastern and southeastern Europe changed the demographic landscape. The prejudice of the British establishment reared its ugly head during the late 1920s through the popular support of the Ku Klux Klan.

After learning of the lawsuit, Krumpelmann defended his editorial, which he said was in response to Diefenbaker’s sympathy to the Orange cause. Krumpelmann was accused of making inaccurate statements about Diefenbaker’s speech. The Benedictine assured his superiors that he had checked his sources. The editorial was based on a story in the Prince Albert Daily Herald, Krumpelmann said, and he consulted with the editor who assured him of the story’s accuracy. The veracity of the article was confirmed, further, by an editor of another Catholic newspaper, The Patriot. Krumpelmann also consulted with two active Conservatives in Saskatoon who informed him the report in the Prince Albert newspaper was correct.

“With all this corroborating testimony, I was certain that I had the facts, and went ahead to denounce Diefenbaker as he richly deserved to be denounced,” Krumpelmann wrote in a letter to Prior Peter Windschiegel, OSB. The editor of St. Peter’s Messenger shared his editorial with government officials, including Liberal Premier James Gardiner. The premier, he said, gave his assurance there was nothing libelous in the editorial. The provincial secretary and attorney general felt the same way.

The lawsuit was dropped by the Conservative candidate. Some 35 years later he responded, again, to a letter of a Benedictine editor of the Prairie Messenger. In 1961, Prime Minister Diefenbaker wrote a personal letter to Rev. Augustine Nenzel, OSB, thanking him for his kind message of condolence on the death of Diefenbaker’s mother.

“It is interesting that you mention having landed in Rosthern on March 21, 1903,” Diefenbaker, the representative of the Prince Albert Constituency, wrote to Nenzel. “My father and mother, brother and I arrived on August 18, and after staying a day in Rosthern drove out to the Carlton district where we lived for some two years and then crossed the North Saskatchewan River and took up a homestead in an area which was just opening up for settlement. Your letter brought these memories back to me.”

Paproski is a Benedictine monk of St. Peter’s Abbey and pastor of St. Peter’s Parish, Muenster, Sask.