The cover of the first issue of Catholic San Francisco, February 12, 1999. (Archived from Catholic San Francisco at catholic-sf.org)
June 14, 2021
Catholic staff in San Francisco
In 1858, Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany OP, the first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco (1853-1884), founded his first newspaper, The Monitor, and recognized the importance of communicating directly with devout Catholics through the church’s own media. Under the leadership of Archbishop Alemany, a Dominican and Spaniard who was an American citizen, the Archdiocese of San Francisco built an extensive system of schools, orphanages, hospitals and retirement homes and other charities.
Founded just five years after Archbishop Alemany’s arrival in California, The Monitor was committed, reporting, and conveying the faith and important issues to believers for nearly 130 years. Today, as the San Francisco Catholic newspaper moves into a magazine and increases its awareness of digital media, the commitment to connect with and guide the people of the Archdiocese continues.
“This is a tradition that goes back to the very beginning of this archdiocese – the desire to communicate directly to believers in the most effective medium of the day,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone. “The new magazine will offer top texts, great graphics and photos as well as opportunities to promote the faith of the people of the archdiocese.”
“If the past year has taught us anything, it is that today’s shepherds must find new ways to communicate with their flock,” said Archbishop Cordileone, emphasizing the Archdiocese’s commitment to the new magazine and digital communication tools, E-letters, social media, and the website.
As the newspaper gives way to new forms of communication that best suit the current needs of the Church and the faithful, it leaves three crucial legacies as the newspaper that carried on the tradition of gifted writers and editors who became the Catholic media in the archdiocese since the 19th century.
Catholic San Francisco was created by everyone who worked on it: the newspaper’s five editors, Maurice Healy, Dan Morris Young, Patrick Joyce, Jack Smith and Rick DelVecchio, their collaborators and many thousands of loyal readers who had ideas and opinions for contributed more than two decades.
A record of local Catholic life
The local church leaders who founded the newspaper in 1999 understood their role in documenting local church history; the bishops and archbishops who helped define them, the people and events that shaped them, and the liturgical calendar that was all about.
In the first edition of Catholic San Francisco, published February 12, 1999, the former editor of The Monitor, which closed as a newspaper for the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1984 after 126 years, welcomed the return of a local Catholic newspaper. (The monitor is available at sfarchdiocese.org/archives.)
“After the monitor was closed, not a single vehicle gave an overview of Catholic life in the Archdiocese of San Francisco,” wrote the late Father John A. Penebsky.
In 1995, then Archbishop William J. Levada, the seventh Archbishop of San Francisco, advocated the return of a newspaper because it could document “the pilgrimage that is the story of our salvation”.
“Our local Church is full of stories that will appear on these pages each week to deepen the bonds that unite us as faithful believers in the Word made flesh,” said then Auxiliary Bishop John C. Wester, now Archbishop of Santa Fe, in same opening edition.
Available in the San Francisco Catholic Archives at catholic-sf.org, the 22 year editions – 797 issues in total – are a time capsule of local Catholic life that is digitally preserved as a historical record. It represents a whole generation of liturgical events, priestly ordinations, anniversaries, school and community anniversaries, renovations, fundraising campaigns, chancellery events, service work, religious community projects, obituaries and more, always with the aim of conquering the loyal hearts of the people involved.
Tom Burke’s column, “On the Street Where You Live” was a popular page recap of little stories that included wedding anniversaries, local Catholic professional achievements, community picnics, and the like.
In a 2017 reader survey, respondents rated Burke’s Street column, which began with the newspaper’s first issue in 1999, as a popular feature. In the archdiocese, a freely designed photo page with unrelated snapshots turned out to be equally popular. The photos sent to staff by readers, sometimes grainy or blurry, nonetheless captured important moments for the local Catholics: a fundraiser from the Council of Knights of Columbus, school children returning to school in the fall, the annual meeting of one Religious community and more.
News from a Catholic point of view
As a newspaper, the editors of Catholic San Francisco treated news events – local, national, global, and in the Vatican – through a Catholic lens.
“One of my tenets was to get on the news,” said Maury Healy, the first associate editor of Catholic San Francisco to be appointed by Archbishop Levada. “And there is almost always a Catholic point of view.”
He named Dan Morris Young editor-in-chief of the weekly publication, which was mailed to registered community members.
“I always told the Archbishop that the newspaper was the ‘Catholic eye on the world and the eye on the local Catholic Church,'” Healy said.
For over 20 years, Catholic San Francisco covered the Catholic response to important news including the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the sexual abuse crisis in 2002 and 2003, the funeral of Pope John Paul II, and Hurricane Katrina 2005, Philippine Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, California forest fires in 2017 and 2018, and the coronavirus epidemic in 2020.
Catholic San Francisco covered and nurtured the first Walk for Life West Coast, held on January 22, 2005. The walk was condemned in advance by all city overseers and Mayor Gavin Newsom, who declared “Stand Up for Choice Day” and a counter-demonstration. Smith wrote the story and photographed this walk. Healy wrote on the pages of Catholic San Francisco under the heading “Shame of San Francisco” and wrote: “Thanks to the repulsive rhetoric of city officials and the rowdy behavior of several hundred abortion activists, San Francisco came a long way on January 1st. 22 to cement its reputation as one of the nation’s most intolerant cities. “
Healy’s editorials were in the tradition of Father Peter Yorke, a diocesan priest who was editor of The Monitor in the 1890s and who was on the forefront of defending Catholic interests against attacks by the American Protective Association. Father Yorke published a series of revelations about the APA, participated in public debates, and played a key role as a labor activist.
In the Teamsters strike of 1901, Yorke firmly sided with the working class with the Catholic Church of San Francisco and delivered passionate speeches to thousands of workers. He said, “As a priest, my duty is with the working people who fight for their rights, for that is the historical position of the priesthood and because that is the command of the Lord.”
Catholic San Francisco also documented the Church’s role in advocating for immigrants, treating immigration and affordable housing, visiting prisons, and conducting prayer services for those killed on the city streets.
Healy said the biggest story the paper covered in 2010 was a PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.
Eight people were killed, including a Catholic school child and her mother. The cover picture of the September 17th issue showed a group of students from St. Cecilia School crying during a memorial service for a classmate and her mother who perished.
Reputation for excellence
From its inception to its very last days, the editors and staff of Catholic San Francisco received annual awards from the Catholic Press Association (now known as the Catholic Media Association).
The membership organization of Catholic media professionals from dioceses in the USA and Canada recognizes outstanding achievements in an annual prize competition. In its 22-year life, Catholic San Francisco received 76 separate (CMA) awards in its division and circulation categories, underscored by five general awards, including Editor of the Year for ex-Editor Rick DelVecchio in 2018 and two for Best Newspaper.
Catholic San Francisco will continue to offer news in a Friday e-letter sent to those who have already signed up for CSF’s digital newsletter, as well as those who sign up at sfarch.org/signup. Social media channels of the
Archdiocese and the website will also bring information. The new San Francisco Catholic Magazine (profile on pages 6-7) will be a pleasure to read and hold local ministry and people stories and combine with timeless stories and resources for faith and life.
A new adventure in communication begins – based on a foundation of quality and commitment to preaching Jesus Christ that spanned from the first issue of The Monitor in 1858 to two decades of the San Francisco Catholic newspaper. The commitment to preaching the gospel that began with the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago continues. As the Bible reminds us, the gospel must be proclaimed in due time and out of time (2 Tim 4: 2) knowing that Jesus Christ, regardless of medium, is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13, 8th). .