Development and Peace - Caritas Canada honoured the Prairie Messenger at a farewell celebration for the Prairie Messenger and St. Peter’s Press on April 28. Part of the citation reads: “Development and Peace - Caritas Canada is honoured to formally recognize the Prairie Messenger . . . for the solidarity you have shown for the marginalized and oppressed and for your work in helping to strengthen our movement.” From left: Miriam Spenrath, OSU, presenting on behalf of D&P, associate editor Maureen Weber, editor in chief Peter Novecosky, OSB, and associate editor Don Ward. (Photo by Allison Weber)
MUENSTER — The St. Peter’s Press building at the Benedictine abbey in Muenster, Sask., opened its doors for a farewell 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 the publication 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.
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.
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 Prairie Messenger issues, sharing memories, and mourning the loss of the weekly Catholic newspaper that will cease production May 9, 2018, after 114 years. (Photo by Paul Paproski, OSB)
“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 in chief 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 (which means Messenger), the newspaper was published in both German and English, and then in English only — eventually becoming known as the Prairie Messenger. Through the years, the award-winning weekly kept the Catholic community informed, connected, and, often challenged.
Rev. Lawrence DeMong, OSB, spoke on behalf of the Benedictines, 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 he 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.”
Marian Noll, OSU, who worked at the Prairie Messenger for some 15 years beginning in 1983, shared her memories. “It was a good experience here. I got well taught . . . and I am most grateful.”
Miriam Spenrath, OSU, gave a presentation 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 for their trust and support.
“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, production assistant Kevin Reiter, graphic artist and accounts manager Karen Kolkman, and printer “par excellence” Randy Weber.
Weber extended her particular appreciation to circulation and advertising 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. She thanked them for their “kindness, understanding and compassion,” and for “being patient with my tears of frustration. You have been grace beyond measure.”
Weber 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.
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 ‘Rejoice and Be Glad,’ ” she said. “Pope Francis could have been quoting Andrew when he wrote about the ‘saints next door’ — 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 you holy people, I give thanks — you are saints in our midst, and you work miracles in our lives every day.”
The abbot 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,” said Novecosky.
Winding up the program, Novecosky 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.”
The Prairie Messenger has always been for me a trusted reflection on current events in the light of the Gospel. It has witnessed to a faith that does justice, looking deeply at the world in which we live and reminding us of our call to respond as a people, the Body of Christ. I have always been proud of our prairie church and looked to the Prairie Messenger for a chronicle of our pilgrim journey as well as a signpost along the way. — Gertrude Rompré, Saskatoon
“Peasant Land Struggles. Mothers Confront Military Dictatorships. Ending Apartheid. Indigenous Rights take Root. Building Back Better after the Earthquake. Water is a Human Right. Calling for Mining Justice. Together for Peace. ”
Over the past 50 years Development and Peace focused on these issues and many more. Through the Prairie Messenger, a vehicle of communication, these thrusts for a better world have been conveyed through articles and advertisements, and no doubt impacted the readers. For the solidarity of the Prairie Messenger in sharing this Gospel message with us, we are deeply grateful. — Bernice Daratha, Saskatoon diocesan chair for Development and Peace
You may know that before the end of this month, I will be 99 years of age.
During my lifetime I have been involved in a number of organizations. But I must tell you that the one closest to my heart is Development and Peace (D&P).
The one outstanding action that I participated in as a member of D&P took place in I believe, in 1998. The D&P animator at that time was Michael Murphy. Michael had arranged to have D&P members in Canada sign over 40,000 petition signatures, addressed to the p resident of Brazil — asking him to make land available to the poor and unemployed citizens, so they would be able to produce food for themselves. (This was good, productive land, in the hands of colonial interests, and was not being used by anyone.)
And then, Michael asked me to personally present these petitions to the president of Brazil. So, I went to the capital, Brasilia, to present these signatures.
However, we did not get to present them to the president, but did present to Brazil’s Minister of Justice. This took place in the presence of about 1,000 Brazilian citizens, as it coincided with the second anniversary of the killing of 21 members of a peoples organization, named Sem Terra. These killings were committed by Brazil’s large land holders with help of Brazil’s federal’s police force.
We were gone for a total of five days. I was anxious to get back home, to prepare for seeding. — Leo Kurtenbach, Saskatoon
The Prairie Messenger has consistently supported the voice of Development and Peace, helping to educate Canadians on justice and environmental concerns in the Global South and encouraging all to share our cries with our elected officials. — Marian Grady, Regina
Over the years, Development and Peace has had some challenging campaigns which required us to dig deep into our faith while learning about world realities near and far. We could always count on the Prairie Messenger to provide that intersection of news which tied into the D&P work. The PM provided other articles and authors that corroborated D&P’s research and broadened the context of issues that we, as a church-in-the-world have grappled with. In so doing, the PM helped us to see this work as an essential part of the fabric of the Canadian church.
The PM has strengthened our intellect, resolve and faith! We will miss you so much! — Armella Sonntag, D&P regional staff
I wasn’t familiar with the Prairie Messenger before starting to work at Development and Peace, but what a pleasure and surprise to discover such a vibrant and captivating media outlet covering many stories, both national and international, that are not found in mainstream media. The Prairie Messenger has always provided balanced, informative and well-researched journalism, including a diversity of voices and opinions providing multiple facets and analysis on issues that matter to Catholics. It consistently provided excellent coverage of the social justice work of the church and we are losing an important and vital voice that always made space for the stories that are neglected in the same way that Jesus always made room in his heart for the most vulnerable. — Kelly Di Domenico, Communications Officer, Development and Peace-Caritas Canada