Patrick Croake, bearing a hefty mailbag on his back, trudged down Main Street from McElheney’s Print Shop. He was on his way to the post office with 1,000 copies of the June 29, 1895, issue of The Catholic Tidings — Volume I, No. 1.
The issue date itself — on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul — foreshadowed many of the challenges the newspaper would face.
Croake and his staff — retired sea captain James Connolly and typesetter Kate Murphy — were not the first to attempt a Catholic publication in Southern California.
Bishop Francis Mora and others underwrote The California Catholic in 1888, but it was discontinued two years later. The Portuguese O Amigos dos Catolicos began publishing in Irvington around that time. But within a year, the paper moved to Pleasanton. The first issue of The Cause appeared on October 4, 1890, but bankruptcy ended its run in 1892.
Still, in spite of the odds, Croake’s effort ended differently. The Tidings is the longest continuously published Catholic newspaper on the West Coast of the United States.
Anti-Catholicism was prevalent throughout the United States starting in the mid-19th century, due in part to the influx of European immigration.
The Catholic Tidings — which dropped “Catholic” from the masthead on April 17, 1897 — defied the influence of the American Protective Association. Founders of the APA claimed the organization combated “attacks by the Catholic Church on the public schools and other American institutions.” The APA also excluded Roman Catholics from positions in the government.
The local secular press made little reference to this anti-Catholic bias, presumably fearing lack of advertising support.
“In those earlier days of religious bigotry, continued persecution finally resulted in the welding together into one solid mass, not only the people of our common faith, but the friends of liberty of all denominations and of none,” Croake later said.
Croake and the launching of the newspaper marked the beginning of the end for the APA in the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles.
The 1,000 copies of the eight-page inaugural issue promised to publish all “the available Catholic news of the day.” The first issue featured a call for more Catholic summer schools, coverage of the commencement exercises at St. Joseph’s school, and the text of a lecture given by Coadjutor Bishop George T. Montgomery on labor and capital four days earlier.
On page four, the editorial vowed to “seek our every Catholic home and strive to reach each Catholic heart.” From the beginning, The Tidings took a stance on contemporary issues, questioning “the idea of rushing into conflict” in the Spanish-American War and advocating for the rights of American Indians, especially with respect to Indian schools and reservations.
Under Bishop Thomas J. Conaty, The Tidings became the official publication of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles On October 7, 1904 (though it wasn’t mentioned on the masthead until August 3, 1906). The bishop urged the faithful to unite and make the paper “a worthy messenger of sacred truth to the homes of our people.”
The paper, the bishop said, would chronicle the activities of the faithful, to communicate Catholic opinion on current events and to catechize. Bishop Conaty gave The Tidings its motto: “To battle for the truth.”
The Tidings has had 21 editors in 120 years.
In the June 28, 1966 “El Rodeo,” the newspaper’s editorial column, Msgr. Patrick Roche wrote that he hoped The Tidings would be in “every Catholic home of the archdiocese.” Msgr. Roche served as editor from 1957 to 1973.
“One of the basic functions of a Catholic newspaper, the popes tell us, is to act as a channel of communication which conveys, in their completeness and clarity, the messages of the Holy Father and the bishops of the nation to mankind,” according to Msgr. Roche.
The years following the Second Vatican Council demonstrated the need for the paper, he wrote, to distinguish “fact from rumor” and balance “genuine authority against the voice of transient opinion.”
Vatican II received more coverage than any other topic over the years. All the documents of the council were printed in their entirety in The Tidings, along with background articles and commentaries.
The Tidings reported on the creation of the archdiocese in 1935, the Centennial in 1940 and the appointment of Archbishop J. Francis McIntyre to the College of Cardinals in 1953. The paper reported on the visit of St. John Paul II to Los Angeles in 1987 and Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land in 2014. The paper has consistently chronicled the growth of Catholic parishes, schools, agencies and departments.
“Somewhere there are people, both lay and religious, who are living lives of quiet and heroic devotion,” Msgr. Roche wrote in “El Rodeo.” “They seek no chronicle to sing their praises, but the Catholic newspaper should strive to keep their presence warm among us.”
The Tidings has also published several books and booklets, including “The Tidings Poets,” “Holy Year Pilgrimage” and “Flight to Rome.”
The first L.A. Catholic directory was published in 1947 as a “complete listing of the parishes, pastors and assistants, schools churches, hospitals and institutions” in the archdiocese.
In the 1950s, Catholic high schools teachers used The Tidings in classroom projects. On June 29, 1955, the California State Legislature recognized The Tidings for “significant contributions made in the field of journalism which brings honor and credit to the State of California.” By 1964, The Tidings had a circulation of 125,00 to serve the 1.5 million Catholics in the archdiocese.
During that time, George Kramer delighted and enraged readers with his column “Headlines and Deadlines.” His columns generated more mail than perhaps any other columnist. His editor wrote of him: “Democrats think he’s a Republican; Republicans think he’s a Democrat; Communists think he’s impossible.”
Mary Lanigan Healy’s “Among Us” appeared in The Tidings from 1939 to 1979. Her column was the most popular feature in the paper, and she was described as “everybody’s mother, sister and friend.”
Alphonse “Al” Antczak — son of Polish and Mexican immigrants — served as the 15th editor of The Tidings from 1973-1989. He first started writing for The Tidings in 1947 after graduating from Loyola University.
Over the years, Antczak interviewed John Kennedy, Philippines President Ramon Magsaysay, King Hussein, Prime Minister Itzakh Rabin and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.
“Pilgrims walking together today on the road to salvation should not walk as strangers,” he wrote in his first editorial about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. “In the breaking of the Bread, all in the family of faith should recognize each other as hermanos — brothers — que los somos (we are brothers).”
Msgr. Francis Weber, a historian and longtime archivist for the archdiocese, served as interim editor from May 18 to Aug. 24, 1990. While in that post, he wrote:
“The Catholic press has an obligation to inform its readers about everything that touches upon the Church or its mission in the world. We dare not deny, downplay or avoid an event just because it’s ‘sticky.’
“But we do endeavor, to the best of our ability, to report such events within the context of their occurrence,” he pointed out. “This is all the more necessary because the secular press often exaggerates or otherwise distorts events that involve religious personages or policies.”
The publication’s mission began reaching Spanish-speaking readers as well with the inaugural issue of the Tidings’ sister publication, Vida Nueva, on April 10, 1991. The award-winning publication is the largest circulated Catholic Spanish-language newspaper in the United States. While it has relied on many contributors, stalwart editor Victor Alemán made the publication what it is today.
In 2015, 120 years after Croake and his small staff began the effort, the newspaper faces similar challenges — both in terms of religious liberty as well as financial struggles.
Yet the mission articulated by Bishop Conaty and long-serving editors Msgr. Roche and Antczak remains the same: to chronicle the life of the Church in Los Angeles and “to battle for the truth.” The “Grand Old Lady of the Catholic Press” is striving to meet the changing needs of the community it serves.
St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!
Compiled by J.D. Long-García from Msgr. Francis Weber’s “A Centennial History of ‘The Tidings.’” (1995)