With a heavy heart, I write my last column for the Prairie Messenger. In just a few short weeks, the print voice of the church, my faith and my family since my childhood, will cease publication. For more than a century the black-robed monks of St. Peter’s Abbey worked faithfully to enrich, enliven and deliver the voice of the church to its people. The iconic institution, known as the Prairie Messenger, will give way to the sounds of silence.
The Prairie Messenger invited me, an inexperienced writing “hack,” to be a part of its Liturgy and Life group of columnists back in the fall of 2004. I was included in a paper that published the insights, thoughts and wisdoms of world-renowned theologians, whose writings inspired my parents and shaped their thinking for so many years. My dad would later become a featured columnist, as would my sister (and associate editor Maureen), and now I would get to have my very own black and white composite picture, too!
Ever since I can remember, this paper arrived in the mail on a weekly basis. My parents absorbed every detail of its contents. I was young, but I vividly remember how the columns and features of this publication would invoke conversation and dialogue, arguments at times, and spirited discourse about what was happening in this institution called the Roman Catholic Church. The conversations around the kitchen table were interesting and intense, especially with visitors.
When I was 10, the editor phoned and asked me to sell Prairie Messenger subscriptions at a St. Peter’s College reunion that year. I could sit at a table and try to convince people to “stay in the know” (Dad’s words) about matters of church and their faith. I even managed to sell a few subscriptions. A $10 cheque arrived in the mail a few weeks later as “payment” for my hard work. I felt like a part of the PM family.
What was it about this paper that made it such a cherished commodity in our household? Who were these men and women, behind their black and white composite photos, sharing their wisdom and educating us from wherever they lived? Who was this nameless and faceless editor, perhaps living in exile, to which many readers would write to compliment or condemn?
As I grew older and began to participate more in faith and church discussions at home, the PM was our reference point. When my teaching career began, almost 30 years ago, the Prairie Messenger was my faith formation tool. It was a weekly diet of spiritual, liturgical and theological sustenance, giving me the knowledge and the courage to teach, converse, dialogue and even argue on some of the most pressing and contentious church issues of the day.
The PM was not without its detractors. Throughout the years the Prairie Messenger was vilified for daring to be the “voice crying out in the wilderness.” It had its way of provoking crises, because it afflicted the comfortable of our church. It unsettled many and could easily get under the skin of its readers by daring to deviate as it challenged, criticized, questioned, admonished, affirmed, yet celebrated the very institution that was its life.
Blessed Oscar Romero once wrote, “Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone, (is) the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in.”
The Prairie Messenger lit up the world and was not afraid to light a torch in the darkness of ignorance, to illumine eyes blinded by the narrowness of their own ideologies and theologies, and with both lungs, boldly speak truth to power.
The end of the Prairie Messenger should not mean an end to the dialogue and discussion that the PM was famous for promoting. The bounty of this paper’s richness and its history should live on in our discussions, our dialogues and our mission, as Catholics, to minister to a fractured and often divided church. We should accept the challenge the Prairie Messenger assumed so many decades ago when it dared to be the voice that encouraged us to be more than just readers of the Word, but doers of the Word.
It may be an end, but perhaps we should look upon it as our chance to begin again . . . back to our roots . . . barefoot and preaching.
Thank you, Prairie Messenger, for inviting me to add my voice to yours, but especially for all you did to enrich the lives of all who were fortunate enough to read your paper. You will be greatly missed.
Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.