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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter Novecosky

Churchperson of the year

For more than three decades the Prairie Messenger has honoured someone as churchperson of the year.

In this, our last year of publication, we have decided to honour a group: our readers.

The Prairie Messenger has been published for 95 years, but this English newspaper had a German twin, of sorts.

When the Benedictine monks first came to Muenster in the then-Northwest Territories in 1903, they identified as a priority the publication of a weekly newspaper. Within nine months of their arrival they were publishing a weekly paper in German, because most of the settlers in the St. Peter’s Colony area were German-speaking. It was called the St. Peter’s Bote.

The German language was frowned upon after the First World War and the settlers in the now-province of Saskatchewan were fluent in English. Because the children of the area were losing the German language, the monks decided to begin an English Catholic weekly newspaper. They called it the St. Peter’s Messenger. It saw its birth on May 24, 1923. In a few years the Messenger was gaining readers beyond the St. Peter’s Colony area and in 1928 the name was changed to the Prairie Messenger.

Both papers continued to be published weekly until the Bote was discontinued in 1947. The last issue was dated July 31.

According to Colleen Fitzgerald in her history of St. Peter’s Abbey, Begin A Good Work, the first copy of the St. Peter’s Messenger in 1923 was flown to Regina and presented to the premier and members of the cabinet. “The intent,” she wrote, “was not simply to promote a newspaper; the political mood of the province was changing and the need to present the Catholic community in a positive light was essential. Anti-Catholicism was a present and powerful force in Canadian politics in the 1920s and 1930s. . . . The presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Saskatchewan further prompted the monks to publish not just a Catholic paper but an intellectually and journalistically respectable Catholic paper.”

“The content of the paper was varied,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Local news was still a part of the PM, as well as parish events and provincial news. But there were also syndicated columns, book reviews and film ratings, and articles on events in Europe. Subscribers read about complex events such as the founding of the League of Nations and the Spanish Civil War. The analysis of international events was grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition, and the writing was of a standard as high as any publication in Canada.”

Readership of the Prairie Messenger reached its zenith in the 1960s — the decade of the Second Vatican Council and the renewal of the church by Pope John XXIII. Pastors were eager to keep up with developments from Rome and many parishes subscribed to “parish plans” and “parish bundles” to encourage their parishioners to keep abreast of the news. The Prairie Messenger reached a high of more than 16,000 subscribers in the mid-1960s.

In the age before the Internet and social media, newspapers were the main source of information and education.

The Prairie Messenger staff has been heartened by the overwhelming number of responses received from readers after they learned that the paper will be closed in May 2018. Many comments were made privately. But they all reveal the sadness our readers feel about the closing of the PM.

We thank you, our readers, for your support throughout the years. Your financial response to our annual appeal has helped us add a few years to our lifespan. And we rejoice that you have been nourished and inspired by the content of our paper.

We salute you as churchpersons of the year.