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Prairie Messenger was a constant throughout former correspondent’s life

By Therese Jelinski

05/02/2018

Add my voice to the many who have expressed regret and dismay about the imminent closure of the Prairie Messenger.

The Prairie Messenger has been a constant throughout my life. Growing up in northern Saskatchewan, I remember it arriving every week in my parents’ mailbox — a trusted source of all things Catholic and Christian. In my adult life, it has become a good friend.

Whenever I have struggled with troubling news or developments in the world, I have found myself turning to the Prairie Messenger to help me see the news through a Catholic/Christian lens, and to help me make sense of it all.

So I was thrilled to become the Prince Albert diocesan editor for the Prairie Messenger in the fall of 1993. Since I was ready to move back into the workforce part time after years at home with my young children, being able to write for this well-respected Catholic newspaper was my dream job. I submitted news from the Prince Albert diocese on a weekly basis for 10 years (1993 - 2003), and then sporadically as a freelancer until 2016.

I was fortunate to be working under the leadership of Father Andrew Britz, the Prairie Messenger editor who joked about having taken up his position on April Fool’s Day (1983). I faithfully read all his editorials and considered him a prophet. Like all prophets, he inspired and challenged people, but he also received more than his fair share of criticism (and very un-Christian abuse) for his views. The best of his insightful editorials over 21 years are beautifully captured in two books: Truth to Power and Rule of Faith.

Every year, Father Andrew would gather the diocesan editors — from Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, and St. Boniface — for helpful meetings at St. Peter’s Press. He would enlighten us about our roles and that of the Prairie Messenger, as well as his vision of the church and the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) as expressed by the Second Vatican Council.

He emphasized the importance of reporting truthfully and honestly if we were to have any credibility, which included covering stories that exposed the darker side of church. I also recall him talking about the new “Young Christian’s Forum” page as a section that, if done well, would also be read with interest by older Catholics wanting assurance that their faith was being passed on to a new generation.

Father Andrew would make periodic trips to each diocese, meeting with the bishops and helping to ensure that the Prairie Messenger remained top of mind. He also initiated Prairie Messenger fundraising dinners that were held for a few years and insured an extended life for the paper.

I smile when I remember that, whenever he was coming to Prince Albert, he would phone to invite himself to our family table. Don’t fuss about dinner, he would say, and I could picture his eyes twinkling. “Just cook me a wiener.”

During my tenure at the Prairie Messenger, I also appreciated working with other writers and editors of calibre — in particular Roma De Robertis, SCIC, who was the Saskatoon diocesan editor at the time, and Maureen Weber, the Prairie Messenger’s longtime associate editor.

The Prince Albert diocese at the time was under the leadership of Bishop Blaise Morand (who just celebrated his 60th anniversary of priesthood!). Much of his time and energy was taken up with efforts to bolster the dwindling numbers of priests. I wrote many stories about his experiment of accepting 10 Polish seminarians at once to study for the diocese, followed a few years later by the recruitment of priests from Africa, Vietnam, and the Philippines to help fill the gaps. As in other dioceses, this approach to the clergy shortfall was both welcomed and criticized.

There were also many stories about the diocese’s first fundraising appeal in decades. Its main purpose was to boost the embarrassingly meagre priest pension plan. That was followed by an increase in priests’ salaries and benefits in parishes across the diocese. At the various meetings to introduce and explain the new policies, the bishop was often heard saying that his priests were living below the poverty line.

Then there were the ongoing church events and programs: youth rallies; the Vita Nova lay formation program; workshops and conferences on liturgy, music ministry, catechetics, and prayer; the annual Bishop’s Appeal; Diocesan Pastoral Council meetings; pilgrimages to the shrines in Wakaw and St. Laurent; priest ordinations; First Nations ministry (as it was then called), and so on.

The work gave me access to many excellent speakers and a deeper appreciation of the importance of good liturgy and of social justice in the life of the church. And that it’s important to know church history to better understand and respond to church life with its struggles and joys, upheaval, and various periods of vibrancy and stagnation — and yes, church politics!

Beyond diocesan news, the Prairie Messenger also covered Catholic education, Catholic health care, ecumenical, ecological, and social justice initiatives and events, and other stories of broader interest. In 1994 I had a delightful interview with Anthony Burton, who at 34 had just become Canada’s youngest Anglican bishop (of the Diocese of Saskatchewan).

There were light moments too, such as the photo of an impressive Snowman-Bishop built by Father Jim Kaptein and friends in Bishop Morand’s front yard, drawing attention to the fact that for a few months in the spring of 1995, Morand was the province’s only Catholic bishop as a result of the death or resignation of the others.

It seems somewhat ironic that the last story I wrote for the Prairie Messenger, in August 2016, was about the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary transferring Rivier Academy to the Prince Albert Catholic School Board. Today the beloved school no longer exists, despite a long and proud history. Like Rivier, the Prairie Messenger — with its own long history and proud tradition — has touched many lives and shaped people’s faith and perceptions of the world.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Benedictine community who believed in the Prairie Messenger enough to sustain it through its financial shortfalls. My own faith has grown during my years of reporting for, and reading, the Prairie Messenger. This newspaper has helped shape the person I am. I know that it has done likewise for thousands of faithful readers over the past century.

Therese Jelinski was diocesan reporter for the Diocese of Prince Albert from 1993 - 2003.