In the beginning: The origins of U.S. Catholic

By Meinrad Scherer-Emunds| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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How U.S. Catholic got its start 75 years ago 

This year marks the 75th anniversary of U.S. Catholic magazine, and throughout 2010 we will dig into our archives to unearth some gems from our history.

Over the past 75 years this magazine has undergone two name changes and several evolutions and shifts in mission and focus. What has remained constant, though, has been the commitment, passion, and direction of our publisher, the religious order of the Claretians, who started this venture in 1935 as The Voice of St. Jude.

The Voice of St. Jude was the brainchild of a diminutive, charismatic Spanish-born Claretian, Father James Tort. A born entrepreneur, Tort not only built Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, the first Mexican American parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago, but in 1929 he also started the National Shrine of St. Jude in that church.

Tort launched the first issue of The Voice of St. Jude as the shrine's "official organ." In its "Foreword and Dedication," he laid out as its main purpose "to make St. Jude Thaddeus, relative and apostle of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, better known in every city, town, and hamlet in this country."

As a second goal, Tort also charged the new publication with "spread[ing] a greater knowledge of the divine mission and work of . . . the Claretian Missionary Fathers." He dedicated the inaugural issue to his order's founder, "Blessed Anthony Claret, C.M.F., who has been called by Pope Pius XI the ‘Modern Apostle of the Good Press.' "

A review of the 12 issues of the inaugural year shows how closely the new publication hewed to that double mission: Of 264 pages, more than half (140 pages) were related either to St. Jude, his South Chicago shrine, and the devotion to the saint, or to other activities of the Claretians and hymns, poems, art, and stories of Blessed Anthony Claret (who would be canonized 15 years later).

Admittedly the promotion of the patron saint of seemingly hopeless cases occasionally went a little over the top. Given how thin the biblical and historical record of the saint is, Claretian Father Eugene Sugranes went out on a limb when he wrote whole articles not only about "St. Jude's feeling on Christ's parting from the apostles" but also, in a Christmas special, about how the "Christ child and St. Jude chum and pal together."

In addition to its two main areas of content, The Voice of St. Jude from its very beginning focused on a theme that has remained another constant throughout the publication's 75 years: a focus on the Catholic laity and a mission to encourage, inspire, and equip ordinary Catholics to live their faith in their everyday lives.

In the 1930s that mission was expressed in the ubiquitous call to "Catholic Action." Tort included it in his foreword, expressing his hope that this publishing venture would "add to the sum total of Catholic Action in the United States."

In a five-part article series during the first year of The Voice of St. Jude, Claretian Father Charles Fabing urges readers to "Be Catholic!", "Think Catholic!", "Read Catholic!", "Talk Catholic!", and "Act Catholic!" After 75 years his call to view our Catholic faith as a "24-hour-a-day religion [that] requires a good supply of what some people call (excuse the term) ‘guts' " bears heeding.

"Remember," Fabing writes, whoever "is not interested, who doesn't take the opportunities that are offered him in the glorious field of . . . Catholic Action is a slacker, and well does Bishop Sheil of Chicago write, ‘No one who glories in the title Christian . . . can afford to be a slacker while a life-and-death struggle for Christ's Cause is in progress.' "