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Why Newspapers?

Scholars are keenly aware of the importance of Catholic sources as the Church has helped shape the American experience, with significant influences on our systems of education, social justice, immigration, and medical care, to name just a few.  Catholic newspapers are relevant to an array of issues across disciplines, including but not limited to: class formation, ethnicity, adaptation to new environments, religious discrimination, charitable work and social justice, school systems, and hospitals.

My students and I frequently use Catholic newspapers to illuminate how Catholicism engages with the broader context in which it exists. We explore many different questions, most currently how attitudes of Catholics toward family life are congruent with or different from the attitudes of others in the United States. Catholic Newspapers Online is easy to use and saves a lot of time in finding newspapers.

Dr. James P. McCartin, Director, Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture

The newspapers provide many key insights into the lives of Catholics and their participation in American society, documenting not only actions of episcopal elites but detailing activities of local parishes, societies, schools and organizations in everything from their efforts to preserve languages, maintain holy days and teach sexual morality to their embrace of American popular pastimes like sports and variety shows.  In many key states, for example, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, Catholics made up a far larger proportion than in the nation at large.  Because of their size and location, their history was intimately bound up with the evolution of many key trends and issues in American life.  The newspapers thus provide an often missing Catholic dimension to critical questions in American history, such as anti-communism, abolition and slavery, women's suffrage, immigration restriction, American imperial adventures in the Philippines, and the New Deal and labor unions.

In upper-level undergraduate courses that I teach, which are always cross-registered between Religious Studies and History, I feel an obligation to help students understand what can be researched, and to realize that they, too, can do research, which is the backbone of historical study. So, I usually devise a short research project in a course that allows them to locate a Catholic paper and study some dimension of it. This might be: where do the stories come from? Are they reprinted from other Catholic sources?  Are there editorials, and if so, how to describe the outlook on some specific issue?  Is the news primarily about the United States, or are European/Vatican/international issues reported?  How are major issues such as the Civil War, the Homestead Strike of 1892, the Great Depression, the assassination of John Kennedy, etc. reported? In another approach, I may ask students to compare a known progressive paper (such as NCR) with a conservative paper (such as OSV) on a specific issue, to help them discern what distinguishes those labels. Our department has a senior thesis requirement, so I have generally advised between four to eight of these research and writing projects each year, which all address a general theme, such as “commemoration,” or this year, “tradition and transformation.” For one student who was researching the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, she was able to locate information in digitized Irish newspapers as well as in the local Pittsburgh Catholic (digitized). [...] Students love to click to their sources, rather than going through hard-bound newspaper issues in the stacks.

—Dr. Paula Kane, Marous Chair of Catholic Studies, University of Pittsburgh

However, many of these newspapers are difficult to access: full runs are scattered among a variety of locations, holdings remain hidden, and few papers are available in digital form.  Because of the advances in technology and the development of a Catholic archival network, the ability to provide efficient and freely available access to the documents of this rich and influential culture is within reach.  The Catholic Research Resources Alliance (CRRA) is poised to carry out its plan to locate, identify, document, preserve, and digitize the corpus of Catholic newspapers.  Further, the CRRA aims to make it possible for scholars to engage these resources with new tools for analysis, synthesis, and collaboration.

It’s a great project that will be of great value to scholars. [...] One of the important (and largely untold) stories in the history of the mass media in the United States is about how religious groups responded to the rise of a mass secular press. On some specific topics—for example, the Catholic Church’s role in movie censorship—we have ample research. But we have few studies of the range of ways in which the Catholic Church criticized, resisted, accommodated, and emulated the secular press in the hopes of maintaining its own cultural authority. The project I envision would focus upon a single American city that had a large Catholic population (say, Milwaukee or St. Louis). A digitized, searchable catalogue of national and diocesan church publications would be invaluable to this project. I would be looking for the Catholic press’s running commentary on the press and other emerging forms of secular media. The increasing availability of digitized archives of city newspapers would allow me to read that commentary in both directions—how the secular press covered Catholicism, and how Catholic papers responded to the new worlds of imagination and experience being created by the mass press.

—Dr. John Pauly, Professor and Chair, Department of Journalism and Media Studies, and Gretchen and Cyril Colnik Chair in Communication at Marquette University


A digital newspaper archive will make it possible to understand, on a very wide scale, Catholicism as practiced by ordinary people. How did lay Catholics experience the reformed Mass after Vatican II, for example, and how might we compare those experiences across the United States? This is the kind of work we can't even consider beginning without a program like the CRRA's digitization project.

—Michael Skaggs, Doctoral Candidate and Media Historian, University of Notre Dame

The importance of Catholic newspapers to scholarship extends far beyond Catholic studies with the value of this primary source affirmed by bishops, historians, archivists and librarians in many institutions.  Dr. Timothy Meagher wrote emphatically in the early days of the project on the significance of ensuring the Catholic tradition, experiences and views of Catholics continue to be part of the American dialog: "Absent from the 'net', Catholics may well soon be invisible in history."

The Archdiocese of New Orleans enthusiastically supports the exciting and incredibly worthy project of the Catholic Research Resources Alliance (CRRA) to digitize Catholic newspaper archives of 12 major dioceses across the U.S. In New Orleans, this digitizing effort will make available at the click of a button nearly 175 years of local Catholic history. Given the level of digitization already achieved by secular publications, the Catholic Church needs to have its history easily accessible to researchers and interested readers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. The CRRA digitizing project will allow us to tell our story directly and effectively. We are very grateful.

—The Most Reverend Gregory M. Aymond, Archbishop of New Orleans


The major goal of the Catholic Newspaper Program is to provide concurrent access to primary source materials that in most cases have been available only to a limited number of scholars and students. This important project will result in a wholesale transformation of how Catholic newspapers are read and studied by scholars, students, and the general public, enhancing humanities scholarship in a significant way.

—David E. Cassens, Dean of Libraries, Saint Louis University


While we and other institutions of our size can digitize segments of our collections, to be able to collaborate with the Catholic Newspapers Program allows us to make the leap to full digital preservation that we could not have managed on our own. This will ensure continuing availability and open the door to comparative research and writing that was nearly impossible before."

—Kathleen Dodds, Director of Special Collections, Walsh Library, Seton Hall University


Breakthroughs in digitization and computing technologies have led to a revolution in the researching, writing and teaching of history. As historians, we benefit from this new age, called digital humanities, where we can search for every trace of a person, relate themes across documents and write history rich with almost forgotten details. Technological advances have made a vast body of historical newspapers and documents instantly accessible to scholars and students on their desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones.  Sadly, the Catholic Church may find itself less, not more, visible in these histories of the United States. The leading online sources such as the Library of Congress’ huge database of historical American newspapers are largely focused on municipal and trade newspapers with Catholic newspapers conspicuously under-represented. [...] But think how much more significant it would be if all Catholic newspapers were online, ensuring the Catholic tradition, experiences and views of Catholics continue to be part of the American dialog. Absent from the 'net', Catholics may well soon be invisible in history.

—Dr. Timothy Meagher, Associate Professor of History, Curator of American Catholic History Collection and University Archivist, The Catholic University of America