From The Monitor to new Catholic San Francisco Magazine – the tradition continues
Catholic San Francisco staff
In 1858, Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, OP, the first archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco (1853-1884), founded its first newspaper, The Monitor, recognizing the importance of communicating directly with faithful Catholics through the Church’s own media. Under the leadership of Archbishop Alemany, a Dominican and Spaniard who was a naturalized American citizen, the Archdiocese of San Francisco built up an extensive system of schools, orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the elderly, and other institutions of charity.
Founded just five years after Archbishop Alemany arrived in California, The Monitor engaged and reported and communicated the faith and issues of importance to the faithful for nearly 130 years. Today, as Catholic San Francisco newspaper transitions to a magazine and increases its attention to digital media, the commitment continues to connecting with, and walking alongside, the people of the archdiocese.
“This is a tradition that goes back to the very beginnings of this archdiocese – the desire to communicate directly to the faithful in the most effective medium of the day,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone. “The new magazine will bring top writing, great graphics and photos and ways to nurture faith to the people of the archdiocese.”
“If the past year has taught us anything, it is that today’s shepherds need to find new ways to communicate with their flock,” Archbishop Cordileone said, noting the archdiocese’s commitment to the new magazine, and to digital modes of communication, e-letters, social media and the website.
As the newspaper makes way for new forms of communication best suited to the current needs of the church and the faithful, it leaves behind three defining legacies as the newspaper that continued the tradition of the gifted writers and editors who have contributed to Catholic media in the Archdiocese since the 19th century.
Catholic San Francisco was created by all those who worked on it: the newspaper’s five editors, Maurice Healy, Dan Morris Young, Patrick Joyce, Jack Smith and Rick DelVecchio, their staff members and many thousands of faithful readers who contributed ideas and opinions for more than two decades.
A record of local Catholic life
The local church leaders who began the newspaper in 1999 understood its role in documenting local church history; the bishops and archbishops that helped define it, the people and events that shaped it, and the liturgical calendar around which all revolved.
In the first issue of Catholic San Francisco published Feb. 12, 1999, the former editor of The Monitor, which closed in 1984 after 126 years as the newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, welcomed the return of a local Catholic newspaper. (The Monitor is available at sfarchdiocese.org/archives.)
“No one vehicle provided an overview of Catholic life in the Archdiocese of San Francisco once The Monitor closed,” wrote Father John A. Penebsky, now deceased.
In 1995, then-Archbishop William J. Levada, the seventh Archbishop of San Francisco championed the return of a newspaper for its ability to document “the pilgrim journey which is the story of our salvation.”
“Our local church is chock full of stories which will appear on these pages each week in order to deepen the bonds which unite us as faithful believers in the Word made flesh,” said then-Auxiliary Bishop John C. Wester, now Archbishop of Santa Fe, in the same inaugural issue.
The 22 years of issues – 797 issues in total – available on the Catholic San Francisco archive at catholic-sf.org, is a time capsule of local Catholic life, preserved digitally as historical record. It represents a full generation of liturgical events, presbyteral ordinations, jubilees, school and parish anniversaries, remodels, fundraisers, chancery events, ministry work, religious community projects, obituaries and more, always aiming to capture the faithful hearts of the people involved.
Tom Burke’s “On the Street Where You Live” column was a folksy page roundup of small stories that included wedding anniversaries, professional achievements of local Catholics, parish picnics and the like.
In a 2017 reader survey, respondents rated Burke’s “Street” column, which began with the paper’s first issue in 1999, a favorite feature. Around the Archdiocese, a free-form photo page of unrelated snapshots proved equally popular. The photos sent in to staff by readers, sometimes grainy or blurry, nonetheless captured significant moments for local Catholics: a Knights of Columbus council fundraiser, school children returning to school in the fall, a religious community’s annual meeting and more.
News through a Catholic lens
As a newspaper, Catholic San Francisco’s editors covered news events – local, national, world and Vatican – through a Catholic lens.
“One of my tenets was to cover the news,” said Maury Healy, Catholic San Francisco’s first associate publisher appointed by Archbishop Levada. “And there is almost always a Catholic angle to it.”
He named Dan Morris Young as managing editor of the weekly publication which was delivered by mail to the homes of registered parishioners.
“I used to tell the archbishop that the newspaper was the ‘Catholic eye on the world, and the eye on the local Catholic Church,’” Healy said.
Over 20 years, Catholic San Francisco covered the Catholic response to major news stories including the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the sexual abuse crisis in 2002 and 2003, the funeral of Pope John Paul II and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Philippine Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, California wildfires in 2017 and 2018, and the coronavirus epidemic in 2020.
Catholic San Francisco covered and promoted the first Walk for Life West Coast, held Jan. 22, 2005. The Walk was condemned in advance by all of the city’s supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom, who declared “Stand Up for Choice Day” and held a counter demonstration. Smith wrote the story and photographed this Walk. Healy editorialized in the pages of Catholic San Francisco under the headline “Shame of San Francisco” writing, “Thanks to the repugnant rhetoric of city officials and the boorish behavior of several hundred pro-abortion activists, San Francisco went a long way on Jan. 22 to solidify its reputation as one of the most intolerant cities in the nation.”
Healy’s editorializing was in the tradition of Father Peter Yorke, diocesan priest who was an editor of The Monitor in the 1890s and at the forefront of defending Catholic interests against the attacks of the American Protective Association. Father Yorke published a series of exposes on the APA, engaged in public debates and played a key role as a labor activist.
In the Teamsters’ Strike of 1901, Yorke placed the Catholic Church of San Francisco firmly on the side of labor, making impassioned speeches to thousands of workers. He said, “As a priest, my duty is with the working people, who are struggling for their rights, because that is the historical position of the priesthood and because that is the Lord’s command.”
Catholic San Francisco also documented the church’s role in standing up for immigrants, covering immigration and affordable housing issues, visiting the jails and leading prayer services for those killed on city streets.
Healy said the biggest story the paper covered in 2010 was the explosion of a PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.
It killed eight people, including one Catholic school child and her mother. The cover photo for the Sept. 17 issue showed a group of St. Cecilia School students crying during a memorial for a classmate and her mother who perished.
Reputation for excellence
From its earliest days until its last, Catholic San Francisco editors and staff earned annual awards from the Catholic Press Association (now known as the Catholic Media Association).
The membership organization of Catholic media professionals from dioceses around the U.S. and Canada recognize excellence in an annual awards competition. In its 22-year run, Catholic San Francisco earned 76 separate (CMA) awards in its division and circulation category, highlighted by five general excellence awards including editor of the year for former editor Rick DelVecchio in 2018, and two for best newspaper.
What comes next?
Catholic San Francisco will continue to offer news updates in a Friday e-letter that will be sent to those who are already signed up for CSF’s digital newsletter as well as those who join at sfarch.org/signup. Social media channels of the
Archdiocese and the website will also bring information. The new Catholic San Francisco magazine (profiled on pages 6-7), will be a pleasure to read and hold and combine local stories about ministries and people with timeless stories and resources for faith and life.
A new adventure in communications begins – resting on a foundation of quality and commitment to proclaiming Jesus Christ that stretches from the first issue of The Monitor in 1858, and through two decades of Catholic San Francisco newspaper. The commitment to proclaim the Gospel which began with the life, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago will continue. As the Bible reminds us, the Gospel must be proclaimed in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2) in recognition that, regardless of the medium, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).