1875-2000 Celebrating 125 Years of Catholic Publishing
Celebrating 125 years of Catholic
In the year 2000, the newspaper marked
its 125th year of contiguous publication.
Over the course of the
year, The Providence Visitor published a history of the newspaper.
Father Robert W. Haymen, the author of the series of articles
also has written a two-volume history of the diocese.
He is the pastor of St. Sebastian Parish, Providence.
When ink first spilled
- First in a series
- By Father Robert W. Hayman
- Few of the more than 100 newspapers and
magazines that made their appearance in Rhode Island during the 19th century
have survived to mark their 125th anniversary. That The Providence Visitor has
survived and flourished all these years can be attributed to the fact that the
Visitor was founded to serve a special purpose. While the Visitor, during its
long history, struggled financially at times, it has endured because it
continues to give the Catholic community in Rhode Island news of their church,
to instruct them in the truths of their faith, to encourage them in the
practice of it, and to defend the church and the faith when necessary.
the Visitor first made its appearance on Oct. 9, 1875, it was also intended to
serve the Irish-born immigrants of the state and their American-born children
by providing news of their homeland. The launching of the Visitor in 1875 was
but one sign of the growth and increasing importance of Rhode Island's Irish
population. Most of the early Irish who had settled in Rhode Island in the
first decades of the 19th century were forced to leave the state when an
economic depression that followed the War of 1812 caused many of Rhode
Island's new manufacturing enterprises to fail or suspend operations in the
face of competition from abroad.
Irish immigrants began settling in Rhode
Island once again toward the end of the 1820s. By the 1870s, the Irish had
become an important part of the state's population. In 1870, Rhode Island-born
son of Protestant Irish immigrants, Thomas A. Doyle, was re-elected mayor of
Providence and would be annually returned to office until he ran for the state
senate in 1880. In 1872, an Irish immigrant, Father Thomas F. Hendricken, was
ordained as the first Bishop of Providence when Bishop Francis P. McFarland,
having secured his fellow bishops and Rome's permission to divide his Diocese
of Hartford to create the new Diocese of Providence, moved from Providence to
Hartford. Many other Irish, immigrants and American-born sons and daughters,
had achieved success in business and the professions. Among the more prominent
in the 1870s was Limerick-born John B. Hennessy and American-born Charles E.
Gorman. Hennessy had established himself in the grocery business in the 1830s
and, by reason of shrewd investments in real estate and other ventures,
acquired a considerable fortune before his death in 1888. Charles E. Gorman,
whose father was an Irish immigrant and whose mother was a descendant of the
early settlers of Cape Ann, Mass., was, in the 1870s, a rising young lawyer
and politician, who became a leading proponent and defender of the civil
rights of Catholics.
While the onset of the recent Civil War had initially
caused economic distress in Providence and the state, war time demands and the
Union's success in acquiring supplies of cotton brought renewed prosperity.
However, the failure of the A. and W. Sprague Company in the financial panic
of 1873 put its nearly 10,000 employees out of work and brought depression to
the state. Since the Spragues were involved in many diverse enterprises in the
state, their financial ruin helped to depress Rhode Island's entire economy.
Property values in Providence alone dropped by $8 million and it would be
almost a decade before they reached their 1873 level again.
1870s was a time more for retrenchment than for new enterprises, Bishop
Hendricken did not share in the pessimism of many of his contemporaries.
Shortly after he came to his new diocese, the bishop had announced his plan to
tear down SS. Peter and Paul, his dilapidated cathedral church, and build a
new, more fitting building. The panic of 1873 made the bishop's task of fund
raising more difficult but he persisted nonetheless. About the same time that
he raised the idea of constructing a new cathedral church, the bishop, who was
accustomed to writing for the press, also raised the idea of beginning a
journal that would represent the thought and sentiments of the Catholic
community. Few, at the time he first suggested the idea, believed it was
feasible because two earlier attempts to establish a Catholic paper had
failed. The same spirit of faith and awareness of the needs of his diocese
that drove him on to build a new cathedral also prompted the bishop to launch
The Weekly Visitor, A Sunday School Magazine on Oct. 9, 1875.
The bishop's collaborator in the new venture was a young
printer, newly trained in his trade, Andrew P. Martin. Martin, himself
the son of Irish immigrants, was born in Lubec, Maine, in 1853 and was a
convert to the Catholic faith. He had come to Providence about 1873 and had
worked as an apprentice in the busy printing firm of Hammond and Angell, near
the present Turk's Head building. After learning his trade, Martin, along with
his brother, set up a small print shop, first in the Washington Building, and
then on Constitution Hill at 359 North Main Street.
The only record of the
bishop's thinking when he and Martin began the Visitor are a few entries in
the bishop's diary. On Oct. 15, 1875, the bishop wrote, "On Saturday the 9th
of October (last week), the first number of the Weekly Visitor Sunday School
Magazine was issued. The first number was published at 3 cents and the
subsequent numbers to be published at one cent."
Four days later, the
bishop wrote, "The first issue of the Weekly Visitor 1,700 numbers cost 39
dollars. The second issue (Oct. 16, '75) 2,000 numbers cost 33 dollars. The
first was sold at 3 cents. The second at 1 cent. The latter price not paying
for the paper, it was determined to make the price 2 cents and enlarge the
paper after the 3rd issue making it eight small pages instead of four.
Published by A. P. Martin. He is to charge the enlarged paper $30 for the
first 1,000 and 11 dollars for every additional thousand."
When the new
publication first appeared, it was a single sheet which was folded to create
four pages with four columns each. As noted above, it was quickly reduced in
size to save costs but expanded to two sheets or eight pages. At the time he
and Andrew Martin launched the Visitor, Bishop Hendricken was fortunate to
have with him at the cathedral a talented, young Irish priest, Father William
D. Kelly, who became the Visitor's first editor.
Kelly had emigrated to
the United States with his parents when he was a boy and had been educated at
Boston Latin, Holy Cross College and the Major Seminary at Montreal. Father
Kelly and Martin filled the pages of the new journal with international,
national and local news of the church. The paper's editorial page gave Father
Kelly and Bishop Hendricken the opportunity to discuss the issues and
challenges confronting the Catholic community.
In order to gather local
news for the paper, Martin and the editors invited Visitor readers to send
them short, spicy articles recounting the activities of the various parishes
in the diocese. Such articles were a regular feature of the paper from its
beginnings. From the first issue on, space was given to articles detailing
issues and challenges confronting the Catholic community. Every issue featured
an editorial page where the issues of the day were discussed. Also, the
Visitor regularly gave space to special events in the lives of the ordinary
members of the community by printing notices of marriages and deaths. During
its first year, a series of articles on bible history appeared and, for many
years, the paper regularly printed short stories for the amusement and
edification of its readers. Wishing to serve a wide readership, the paper
printed a column devoted to problems for its younger readers to solve, and
initially offered cash to the ones who sent in the right answers first. Being
the publication of an Irishman and being intended for a mostly Irish
readership, the paper would, of course, regularly print poetry. Although the
Visitor opened its pages to advertisements, its main source of income was paid
subscriptions. In addition to being delivered through the mail, the paper was
available at several stores in the Providence area.
Paper gains new professionalism under
- Second in a series
- By Father Robert W. Hayman
publishing the Visitor for a year, Bishop Thomas F. Hendricken and Andrew
Martin came to the conclusion that, while the paper had been successful, the
press of work did not allow them to continue their partnership as editor and
manager. On Sept. 16, 1876, therefore, the bishop printed a notice in the
paper that he was transferring the Visitor's ownership "to other hands whose
experience in journalism justifies the hope that an acceptable publication
will be presented to the Catholics of the Diocese." The man who took over the
Visitor was local newspaperman, Michael A. Walsh.
Walsh was a native of
Providence who had attended the parochial schools of the city. He began his
newspaper career as a reporter for the Morning Star, an active rival of The
Providence Journal. Walsh developed an expertise in "phonography," a form of
shorthand invented in the 19th century, and soon attracted attention because
of the reliability of his articles. His editor regularly assigned him to cover
civic and political meetings. In 1870, Walsh left the employ of the Morning
Star to launch a newspaper of his own in partnership with another Irish
Catholic, James E. Hanrahan. On June 18, 1870, the two published the first
issue of the Weekly Review, a newspaper they envisioned as a "firstÃƒï¿½Ã‚Âclass
family newspaper" which would provide its readers with a weekly account of
foreign and domestic news as well as comment on the issues of the day.
- By August 1870, financial difficulties on the part of
both Walsh and Hanrahan prompted them to dissolve their partnership. Similar
financial difficulties also forced the publishers of the Rhode Island Lantern,
another weekly which had first appeared in February 1870, to suspend
publication. The Lantern had been devoted to agitation for the expansion of
suffrage in Rhode Island and was intended for the foreign-born. Because
subscribers to the two papers had paid for a year's subscription, Walsh, in
the same Aug. 20 issue of the Weekly Democrat, announced the end of his
partnership with Hanrahan. Walsh also announced his intention to continue
publishing a newspaper, the Weekly Democrat, in the same spirit as the Lantern
and the Weekly Review. He explained that he did so "at the urgent request of
the most prominent supporters" of the two papers. He promised to forward the
new newspaper to the subscribers of both papers for the remainder of their
unexpired terms. With his Dec. 24, 1870 issue, Walsh resumed publishing his
newspaper as the Weekly Democrat, the last issue of which appeared on May 27,
On taking over as both editor and manager of the Weekly Visitor,
Walsh altered the magazine format adopted by Bishop Hendricken and Andrew
Martin and began publishing the Visitor as a regular newspaper at 37 Custom
House St. That was also the location of the Providence Press Company, which
initially printed the paper and which also printed the Morning Star. Although
he changed the Visitor's format, Walsh did not change the educational mission
of the Visitor. He continued to fill its pages with news of the church and
with articles offering instruction in Catholic doctrine and "in those
principles which redound most to the well-being of society."
On the evening
of Sept. 27, 1877, a fire started at Pine Street and Harkness Court and
destroyed four business blocks in the center of Providence before it was put
out. While the fire did not touch the building where Walsh had his office, the
roof of the building was crushed by a falling wall of an adjoining building.
In the existing copies of the Visitor, there is a three-month-long gap between
Sept. 29, when Walsh reported the fire, and Jan. 1, 1878, when he greeted his
readers at the beginning of the new year. When the paper reappeared, it had a
new masthead and was printed on a single, larger sheet by the J.R. Reid
During his years as editor and manager of the Visitor, Walsh would
maintain his office at several different locations. In order to have more
office space, in March 1878, Walsh established a new office at 56 Weybosset
St. The need for additional space was prompted in part by Walsh's purchase of
the assets of the Sun and the Sunday Gazette after those papers ceased
At the beginning of 1877, Walsh increased the size of the
sheets on which he printed the paper. At the same time, he announced his aim
of making the Visitor a first-class family paper. Walsh stated that the
increase in size was necessary to meet the "heavy demands on its columns."
Walsh increased the number of pages from four to eight and the size of his
pages, so that they carried five rather than four columns, beginning with his
Feb. 8, 1879 issue. At the same time, he began publishing two editions of the
paper, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. On Sept. 7, 1879, it appeared
as the Sunday Visitor. The Saturday edition continued to appear as the Weekly
Visitor and went chiefly to readers outside Providence; The Sunday edition was
intended for circulation within Providence and could be purchased from the
newsboys who delivered the local paper, which cost four cents a copy.
Under Walsh's editorship, current political topics that concerned the
immigrant and Catholic community, which made up the bulk of the paper's
readers, received more notice. The Visitor regularly reported on the efforts
of Catholics who favored abstinence from alcoholic beverages to advance the
cause of "temperance." The paper's columns also contained accounts of the
activities of the expanding number of Catholic fraternal and benevolent
societies. It also reported on the various St. Vincent de Paul societies in
the diocese and their efforts to help the poor. Walsh was a firm supporter of
the rights of labor and his paper carried many articles on the living and
working conditions of the poor. He also supported union efforts to improve
wages and working conditions, particularly those aimed at securing a maximum
10-hour work day.
As it had under Bishop Hendricken's direct control, the
Visitor continued to defend the interests of Catholics when they were
subjected to the prejudice of their neighbors. In 1876, the Rhode Island
legislature tried to limit the exemption from local taxes to public schools
only. Both the Visitor and The Providence Journal had provided their readers
with extensive coverage. Among the issues were the legislative investigation
of reported abuses by tax-exempt organizations of their preferred status and
the subsequent decision, in its January 1876 session, to remove the tax-exempt
status of private schools. To keep the issue before the Catholic population,
the cathedral parish took up a special collection each year to pay the taxes
on the cathedral schools, an occurrence regularly noted in the Visitor.
Walsh also provided extensive coverage on its news and editorial pages of
the efforts on the part of Charles Gorman and others aimed at expanding the
right to vote to all of the state's naturalized citizens. Gorman's efforts
achieved a measure of success in the passage of the Bourn Amendment to the
Rhode Island Constitution in 1888.
Diocese buys fledgling newspaper
- Third in a series
- By Father Robert W. Hayman
- Even if one never
knew the nationality of the Visitor's editor and manager, Michael A.Walsh, the
prominence of news of Ireland and the Irish community in the state would have
given his nationality away. For Irish news, Walsh drew on the pages of the
Kilkenny Journal. For local news, in addition to the events he covered, he
continued to rely on amateur correspondents in the various communities to send
The chief public focus of the Irish community in the state
was the annual celebration of St. Patrick's Day held in Providence each year.
In view of the hard economic times created by the 1873 financial panic, as
well as the hard times Ireland faced during these years, a debate arose in the
1870s among the various Irish organizations in the state as to whether they
should parade on St. Patrick's Day or use the money they would have spent to
aid the poor and those in distress. The Visitor provided a wider forum for
this debate than the convention of Irish societies at which plans for the
annual celebration were made. It also provided a great deal of space for news
of the Land League struggle in Ireland and of the meetings and activities of
the Rhode Island branches of the Land League and of the Irish Aid Association.
While the Visitor in its early years regularly printed ads which contained
illustrations, it printed only a few illustrations on news pages. Among the
few early illustrations that did appear in the paper during the 1880s was a
portrait of the Irish leader, Charles Stewart Parnell, and a drawing of the
apparition of Mary at Knock, County Mayo, Ireland, on Aug. 21, 1879.
its issue on Oct. 1, 1881, the Visitor began its seventh year of publication.
The article announcing the beginning of the new volume also announced a major
change in the ownership of the paper. Rather than continue publication as the
paper's sole owner, Walsh petitioned for and received from the General
Assembly a charter of incorporation creating the Visitor Printing Company.
With the money raised from the sale of stock, the company acquired its own
press to print the paper. The new company offices remained at 56 Weybosset St.
until Sept. 5, 1888, when the paper's offices moved to 27 North Main St. In
January 1884, the Visitor Printing Company undertook to reorganize and improve
itself. As part of the reorganization, the company discontinued publishing two
editions and changed the paper's name to The Providence Visitor with its Feb.
2, 1884 issue, in order to avoid a confusion of names with the Weekly Visitor,
another paper intended for state-wide distribution, published in Central Falls
by Edward L. Freeman. The prosperity of the paper dictated a modest further
enlargement of its facilities and also its size. With its March 27 issue, the
paper expanded from seven columns to eight.
In May 1887, the subject matter
of the paper was further expanded by including regular columns on women's
fashions and on science, both of which were often accompanied by drawings. It
was in 1887 that one of the first references to the Visitor's editor and
publisher as "Doctor Walsh" appeared.
At some point during these years,
Walsh took leave from his newspaper work to acquire a medical degree in
Burlington, Vt., where he specialized in "electro-medicine." It was also in
1887 that an article appeared noting the wedding of a Visitor employee. As was
the custom of the time, the article listed the wedding gifts the couple had
received. Among the gifts were one from "Dr. Walsh" and another from "Mrs. E.
A. Walsh." While the exact date of Walsh's wedding cannot be found out at this
time, the "Mrs. E. A. Walsh" referred to was the former Elizabeth A.
FitzSimon, whose nephew, Father James A. FitzSimon, was an assistant pastor at
St. Charles, Woonsocket, and later pastor of St. Brigid's, Johnston, and St.
Mrs. Walsh was born into a literary family and received
an excellent education. Before her marriage, she had been a principal of a
boys' high school in Louisville, Ky. After her marriage, she was a frequent
contributor to the Visitor's editorial page and the writer of miscellaneous
Several years after Bishop Matthew Harkins became the second
Bishop of Providence in 1887, he and Dr. Walsh began discussions over the
possibility of the clergy acquiring control of the Visitor Printing Co. On
Nov. 25, 1892, Bishop Harkins met with the pastors of the parishes in
Providence and its vicinity about taking over the Visitor and making it "a
good and creditable Catholic paper." The pastors not only voted unanimously to
adopt the proposal, but also agreed to buy the stock of the company. The next
day, the bishop met with Dr. Walsh to work out the details of the transfer of
the company's ownership. On Jan. 2, 1893, the new stockholders met with the
bishop at the Cathedral rectory to adopt new bylaws for the company and to
Six priests and Dr. Walsh were elected as directors of the
company while one of their number, Father Michael McCabe, the vicar general,
was elected president. Dr. Walsh continued as manager of the paper and two
priests, Father John C. Tennian, pastor of Assumption Parish, Providence, and
Father Michael P. Cassidy, pastor of St. Patrick's, Valley Falls, were chosen
as editors. The next week, in the Jan. 9, 1893 issue, in which the paper
announced the clergy's taking charge, there also appeared for the first time a
letter from Bishop Harkins recommending the paper to the "attention and good
will of the clergy and laity of the diocese."
The new money raised from the
pastors who bought stock in the company went in part toward the purchase of a
new press on which to print the paper, a complete supply of new type, and the
refitting and improvement of the editorial and business offices at the paper's
North Main Street address. A key element in making the Visitor a "good and
creditable Catholic paper," was the hiring of an editor-in-chief to oversee
the editorial elements of the paper and to provide articles.
1893, Bishop Harkins spoke with George Parsons Lathrop, who had worked on the
editorial staffs of the Atlantic Monthly and Boston Courier and as a writer
for Harper's Magazine, about becoming editor-in-chief, in addition to the
writing he was currently doing.
Lathrop, together with his wife Rose, the
second daughter of the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, were converts to the
Catholic faith. During his meeting with Bishop Harkins, Lathrop was reluctant
to take the post because he felt that the responsibilities of editor would
interfere with other work he was doing. Five days after meeting with the
bishop, however, Lathrop wrote to Bishop Harkins to inform him that he had
rethought the matter. In a subsequent letter, he began by explaining again why
he was reluctant to take on new responsibilities. Nevertheless, he saw the
editorship as an opportunity to serve the church and Bishop Harkins and he
agreed to take on the post.
In the course of his letter, Lathrop outlined
what the new clerical directors of the Visitor needed to give the paper a
distinctive character and make it pay its way. He advocated a considerable
investment at the beginning, to establish the paper in the manner envisioned
by its new owners. While he appreciated the value of Dr. Walsh's talent for
gathering local news and in making up the paper, he did not believe that Walsh
possessed the necessary talent or energy to advance the business side of the
company, which, because of its new press, also sought to expand its commercial
printing business. He advocated that the company hire a young man with
experience on the business side of a newspaper as publisher or business
manager who could devote his full energies to publishing and circulation.
When Bishop Harkins delayed in answering his letter, Lathrop wrote again
that he would be willing to accept the position as editor-in-chief even if the
Visitor Printing Company chose not to follow his suggestions for the
management of the paper. When Fathers Tennian and Cassidy favored hiring
Lathrop, Bishop Harkins agreed, and arranged to have him take over editing the
paper during the second week of May. In the Visitor's May 15, 1893 issue,
Lathrop introduced himself to the paper's readers and discussed the changes
made by the new directors.
While Lathrop's entrance into the field of
Catholic journalism as editor of the Visitor was hailed by his colleagues in
the East and Midwest who knew him, his tenure at the Visitor lasted only 10
weeks. He found the time demanded by his responsibilities to be greater than
he had anticipated. He also found it difficult to live in New London, where he
had recently built a new home, and work on the paper in Providence.
Furthermore, he was disappointed when the directors of the company failed to
provide the resources he felt were essential to the well-being of the paper.
In view of these circumstances and the strain they created on his health,
Lathrop informed Bishop Harkins that he could not continue in the work. The
directors of the company continued to offer Lathrop less than what he felt
necessary; it sought some compromise to limit his involvement to two editorial
pages. Lathrop found the proposed restriction a breach of contract and left
the paper at the end of July.
Visitor stature grew
amid flood of editors
- Fourth in a series
- By Father Robert W. Hayman
- Diocesan Historian
For several years after George Parsons
Lathrop resigned as editor-in-chief of the paper, the Visitor did not list
anyone's name on its editorial page. Fathers John C. Tennian and Michael P.
Cassidy most likely continued to write for the paper as did Dr. Michael A. Walsh
and his wife. With the Diocese of Providence becoming the Visitor's new owners,
coverage of parish news expanded and was highlighted with bolder headlines.
Among the changes made possible by a new printing press was the capability
of printing more sketches and, as technology developed, photographs. A new flag
appeared with the Visitor's May 15, 1893 issue. The flag, which was used until
October 5, 1901 when the paper went back to a simpler one, included sketches of
the new Providence city hall that Mayor Thomas Doyle had built, the cathedral
built by Bishop Hendricken and the state seal. Among the first photographs
printed in the paper were those of the bishops of Hartford, Conn., who had lived
in Providence and those of Bishops Thomas F. Hendricken and Matthew Harkins.
They accompanied a series of articles on the history of the diocese written by
the Visitor's first editor, Father William D. Kelly. The new flag and the
articles were part of the Visitor's response to the charges of the nativists of
the day that the Catholic Church was a foreign and anti-American institution.
In December 1895, Father Thomas F. Doran, who had succeeded Father Michael
McCabe as vicar general and as a director of the Visitor, approached Bishop
Harkins with the suggestion that the bishop offer the position as editor to
Father Austin Dowling, a priest of the diocese who was then assigned to St. John
Seminary in Brighton, Mass., where he held a position as professor of church
history. Father Dowling had contributed to the paper previously and was familiar
with its work. When Bishop Harkins spoke with Father Dowling on Jan. 10, the
young priest agreed to take on the responsibility. The board of directors
announced the change in an editorial in the Visitor's Feb. 22, 1896 issue.
Under Father Dowling, The Providence Visitor became, in the words of a later
Visitor writer, "one of the leading exponents of Catholic thought in America and
attained a foremost place in the ranks of Catholic journalism." Father Dowling's
work as editor set a standard which subsequent Visitor editors had "no little
difficulty in maintaining."
One of his innovations was the writing of short
biographies of the saints which were widely recognized for their excellence. In
his personal editorial greeting to the readers of the Visitor, Father Dowling
expressed his conviction that a Catholic paper "ought to be an indispensable
thing in every Catholic family" so that it might serve as an antidote to what
was printed in the daily papers.
While Father Dowling's work helped raise
the value of the Visitor in the eyes of other journalists, too few Catholics in
the diocese subscribed to the paper to make it financially secure. By January
1897, the priest directors of the company had come to the same conclusion as had
former editors Walsh and George Parsons Lathrop. Aside from many editorial
contributions, an editor of the Visitor needed to have the business skills and
vision necessary to push the financial side of the paper. For his part, Walsh,
who continued to work at the paper having served as the editor from 1876 through
1893, believed that the paper's difficulties were created "by injurious
expenditures ordered by the directors." In any case, the directors decided that
a change was necessary and asked for Walsh's resignation, which he submitted at
the annual meeting of the company in January 1897. In noting Walsh's
resignation, the editorial that week complimented him by saying that his
"experience, ability and prudence have given the Visitor a standing in the
diocese which shall be its highest ambition to maintain." At the end of January,
William L. Kenefick was hired to take his place.
After two years at the
Visitor, Father Dowling went to Bishop Harkins in June 1898 to ask for a change
of assignment because his duties as editor left him "little time for study." At
the time, he was working on a history of the diocese that was to be a critical
contribution to the "History of the Catholic Church in the New England States,"
published in 1899 by the New England Catholic Historical Society.
1898, Father Dowling was replaced as editor by another priest-scholar, Father
Thomas L. Kelly. Father Kelly had taught Greek and Moral Theology at Mount St.
Mary Seminary in Emmittsburg, Md., from 1891 until 1895. Subsequently, he was
pastor of St. Mary's, North Easton, Mass. Like Father Dowling before him, Father
Kelly had previously contributed articles to the Visitor. He was widely read in
classical and modern literature and his book reviews had appeared on the front
page of the paper. In part, because of his new assignment, Father Kelly was made
pastor of Assumption Parish in Providence at the beginning of 1899. Father
Tennian became pastor of St. Mary's, Pawtucket.
Father Kelly, like his
predecessors, found the dual responsibilities of editing the paper and
administering a parish "too weighty a burden." To ease the situation, the
Visitor hired a talented young priest to serve as associate editor. The priest,
Father Cornelius C. Clifford, had been ordained for the Jesuits in 1898, but had
left the order the following year. When Father Kelly asked to retire as editor
in June 1901, Father Clifford was chosen to succeed him.
tenure as editor was a relatively tranquil and productive one until March 1902.
In the Visitor's March 1, 1902 issue, he wrote an editorial entitled
"Anglophobia," in which he gave the English-speaking people credit for bringing
the principle of toleration to the world at large. The editorial prompted a
protest from a group of Irish men in Pawtucket who were members of the Pleasant
View Literary Society. Society members, gathered to commemorate the birthday of
Irish revolutionary Robert Emmet, wrote to Bishop Harkins protesting Father
Clifford's praising the English. Father Clifford again ventured editorially into
the volatile area of Irish nationalism with an editorial in the Dec. 20, 1902
issue. The editorial discussed the position of Irish politician John E. Redmond
and his followers in regard to the School Bill, which recently had been
discussed in Parliament. This editorial provoked another protest from the Irish
in Pawtucket, which led to three Society leaders meeting with Bishop Harkins on
Jan. 9, 1903, to discuss the question. At the meeting, Bishop Harkins disclaimed
responsibility for the Visitor and its opinions and expressed his own criticism
of the Irish party deserting the cause of education. Father Clifford defended
himself against his critics in the Visitor, published the next day, by saying
that he had no concern with politics at all "save insofar as they trench upon
In addition to the controversy with his Irish
readers, Father Clifford also experienced difficulties in the internal
management of the paper. He visited Bishop Harkins at the episcopal residence on
January 11 to discuss a "dual management" that existed at the paper. The bishop
recommended that Father Clifford take up the matter with the paper's board of
directors at the annual meeting, set for the next day. The day following the
directors' meeting, Father Doran met with the bishop to talk about the Visitor.
He reported that the directors had given Father Clifford complete control of the
A measure of tranquility returned to the paper until October 1903,
when Father Clifford wrote a piece for the editorial page on the Archdiocese of
Boston, which was observing the centenary of the dedication of Holy Cross
Cathedral. Bishop Harkins perceived the article as "most abusive of Boston
Catholics and sneering in its allusions to Boston Irish" and immediately wrote a
letter of apology to Archbishop John J. Williams and the Catholics of Boston.
However, before his letter reached Boston, Msgr. William Byrne, the vicar
general of the Boston Archdiocese and a longtime friend of Bishop Harkins, wrote
to the bishop expressing his surprise at the Visitor article, referring as well
to a previous article which he also found in poor taste. The Boston issue was
particularly sensitive because Bishop Harkins was friendly with Archbishop
Williams and many other Boston priests. It also came at the moment when Bishop
Harkins was one of those most often mentioned as the archbishop's possible
Unlike the previous incidents concerning the Irish in Pawtucket,
the offense given by Father Clifford's editorial forced Bishop Harkins to act.
On the day that the article appeared, the bishop called in Father Doran to say
that he was withdrawing his commendation of the Visitor and advised a change in
its editor. Father Clifford wrote a letter of apology to the bishop the next
day. He declared that he had no intention of criticizing individual Catholics in
Boston, but admitted that he might have been influenced by prejudice. He offered
to resign and asked the bishop for advice. Bishop Harkins suggested that he
offer his resignation. The Visitor Printing Company held a special meeting on
Monday, Oct. 5, 1903, at which they voted to accept Father Clifford's
resignation. When told of the directors' action, Bishop Harkins wrote in his
diary simply, "a good riddance." After leaving Providence, Father Clifford went
on to a distinguished career as a professor and pastor in New Jersey.
For the Visitor: First turmoil, then new
- Fifth in a series
- By Father Robert W. Hayman
- Following Father Cornelius C.
Clifford's departure from the editorial offices of The Providence Visitor,
Bishop Matthew Harkins sought an editor from the ranks of his own priests. On
Nov. 14, 1903, the bishop spoke with Father James E. Cassidy, then assistant
at St. Mary's, North Attleboro, Mass. - at the time a part of the Diocese of
Providence - about the editorship of the Visitor. Father Cassidy was quoted
often in the local papers when he spoke out on issues and he would continue to
do so as a pastor in the Diocese of Fall River, when that See was formed a
year later, and eventually as bishop of that diocese. Father Cassidy, however,
did not feel he was able to take on the work of editor.
Four days after he
had spoken with Father Cassidy, Dr. Charles Rivier, who had served for a time
as professor of Church History at St. Bernard Seminary, in Rochester, N.Y.,
called at the episcopal residence to inquire about the job. The bishop was
favorably impressed by him and sent him to Father Thomas F. Doran, who was
chairman of the board of the Visitor Printing Company. The bishop met with
Father Doran later that same day to further discuss Rivier's suitability for
the position. When the Visitor's board of directors later voted to hire
Rivier, Bishop Harkins met with him again. On Dec. 19, two weeks later, Rivier
introduced himself in the Visitor. In his introduction, Rivier said that the
bishop "spoke at length on the conduct of the paper." The bishop had insisted
that the Visitor must be "a Rhode Island paper" and that only incidentally
should it treat outside matters and then "only for general interests of
However, the choice of Rivier as editor proved to be an
unfortunate one. At their meeting on Feb. 19, 1904, the Board of Directors of
the Visitor expressed dissatisfaction with work of Rivier and the paper's
manager, William L. Kenefick. The board did not take action at the time. In
subsequent weeks, Rivier adhered to the guidelines Bishop Harkins had laid
down. However, in the Visitor's April 16, 1904 issue, Rivier printed an
editorial entitled, "Is It Absolutism?" In the piece, he criticized the writer
of a letter to the editor in the New York Sun for discussing church matters in
a "Protestant paper." The subject of the letter was the Vatican's passing over
of Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, whom the American hierarchy had recommended
to be archbishop of Chicago, in favor of another man. In the course of his
editorial, Rivier leveled a certain criticism of the papacy and of the Italian
church, raising the ghost of Americanism. After its publication, several
readers of the Visitor sent copies of the article to the apostolic delegate.
On April 25, 1904, Archbishop Diomede Falconio sent a copy of the article to
Bishop Harkins suggesting that, because the paper carried his recommendation,
it could appear that Bishop Harkins approved the article in question. In order
to avoid any misunderstanding, the delegate suggested that the bishop or a
priest appointed by him should examine future articles before they appeared in
On the day he received the delegate's letter, Bishop Harkins
called in Kenefick and again withdrew the printed commendation that had been
appearing in the paper. Two days later, he went to the Visitor's office to
speak with Rivier about the article about which the delegate had complained.
The bishop watched the paper carefully over the next few weeks. When on June
4, 1904, two articles appeared which the bishop also found objectionable, he
resolved that Rivier had to go. The directors asked for the editor's
resignation, which he gave, in what Bishop Harkins described as an "ugly
The directors lost no time in appointing another layman, James I.
Conway, as editor. In his first editorial on July 9, 1904, Conway informed his
readers that he would not concern himself with political and nationalistic
questions as Rivier had because he believed that "a Catholic journal issued in
the interests of Catholics of every nation should not be a medium of preaching
or engaging in controversies regarding the superior excellence of any
particular nation over others. Least of all should the editor of such a paper
take sides in a question entirely foreign to his mission." He therefore
excused himself from printing a letter he had received from a correspondent
who had taken issue at something Rivier had written.
complaints about the Visitor ceased and the bishop returned his commendation
to the paper. However, the paper did not fare well financially under Conway's management after
he accepted that added responsibility to his other duties when Kenefick
resigned on Oct. 1. Over the next three years, the financial condition of the
paper continued to weaken. One of the problems was that the Visitor's
equipment had become outdated. The paper was also unable to take full
advantage of the new technology driving the newspapers of the day. In March of
1907, Conway spoke to Bishop Harkins about having the paper printed by an
outside company. In May 1907, now Msgr. Doran, in his capacity as chairman of
the board of directors, spoke with Bishop Harkins about the possibility of
leasing the paper to the publisher of The Monitor, a Catholic newspaper in New
Jersey. The publisher of The Monitor agreed to take the paper for a year on a
trial basis, but apparently the conditions he laid down for so doing were not
satisfactory to the Visitor board. Finally, in August of 1908, Bishop Harkins
met with Conway and the Visitor Printing Company's directors to discuss the
future of the paper. Nothing specific was decided at the meeting, but a
general consensus emerged that change was necessary.
Over the next two
weeks, Bishop Harkins met twice with Msgr. Doran about the Visitor. On Oct.
23, 1908, the two met with the pastors of the English-speaking parishes in the
Providence area to discuss the paper. At the meeting, the priests agreed to
support the paper financially out of parish funds. Bishop Harkins finalized
plans for the assessment of the parishes to help the Visitor when he met with
his Board of Consultors on Nov. 23. The bishop announced the plan to the
priests of the diocese as a whole in a letter written on Dec. 1.
As part of
the reorganization, Conway was replaced as business manager by Edward J.
Cooney, and as editor by a board of priests drawn from Providence, headed by
the director of the Mission Band, Father Peter E. Blessing. The paper
also opened new offices in the Lederer Building at 139 Mathewson St. The first
issue of the reorganized paper appeared on Nov. 28, 1908. The new editors
committed themselves to supply the Catholics of the diocese with full and
accurate knowledge of church affairs in the state and in the country, and to
assert the church's rights and defend its principles. Under Father Blessing's
direction and Cooney's efficient management, the Visitor regained the
influence and esteem which it had enjoyed a decade earlier under Fathers
Austin Dowling and William D. Kelly.
Local priests take Visitor to national
- Sixth in a series
- By Father Robert W. Hayman
- Diocesan Historian
The improvement in the quality of the
paper after Father Peter E. Blessing and the priests of the Diocesan Mission
Band took charge prompted Catholics and others to take out an increasing number
of subscriptions. As a means of further increasing the number of subscribers,
the Visitor, beginning in May 1910, offered a free trip to the major cities of
Europe and to the Passion Play at Oberammergau, Germany to seven women who
gained the most votes from Visitor readers. Official ballots to be used for
nominating prospective winners were printed in each issue of the paper during
the length of the contest. The paper divided the diocese into seven districts,
and the woman who received the most nominations in each district was declared
The success of the paper made possible the establishment of a
new printing plant at 23 Mathewson St. This, in turn, made possible the printing
of the paper in a new modern format. The first issue appeared on Sept. 30, 1910
and won praise from many quarters. Among those who wrote to compliment the
editors on the new format of the paper was its first printer, Andrew P. Martin,
who was enjoying a successful new career as a Providence police
Under Father Blessing, the Visitor highlighted local news,
particularly the work of the diocese's institutions, and attracted attention to
the articles by the printing of pictures or sketches of the buildings that
housed them. Because nativism was again beginning to stir, the Visitor also
carried articles on the contributions of the Irish to the building of the nation
and of Rhode Island. In addition, the Visitor continued to be a vigilant
defender of Catholic rights and principles. One example of the Visitor's
aggressiveness was the paper's first special issue, a 56- page, seven-section,
Anti-Socialist and Industrial edition, which appeared on May 19, 1911. Among its
features were a survey of the history of the church in Rhode Island and several
articles on the economic and industrial life of the state.
In addition to its
regular articles and editorials which commented on the national and local scene,
the Visitor, from January 1910 until early 1912, also carried a column, written
by a Catholic layman who signed himself "The Bystander." The column surveyed and
commented on the local political and religious issues. "The Bystander" regularly
called his readers' attention to examples of religious and ethnic bigotry on the
part of local ministers, the Providence Journal and other opinion makers. In
addition to that weekly column, the paper also carried a weekly column on
Christian doctrine. Such columns became standard fare in the paper.
the Visitor ran numerous front-page articles challenging what it regarded as
bigotry in the Providence school system and in the actions of the Providence
School Board. The strident tone of the Visitor during this controversy caused
Bishop Matthew Harkins, in November 1910, to suggest to Msgr. Thomas F. Doran
that the Visitor should "be quiet for a little while" in respect to its
criticism of the school committee. Shortly after this conversation with the
bishop, Msgr. Doran returned to say that Father Blessing wished to retire from
the management of the paper "on account of nervousness." Bishop Harkins was
reluctant to grant his request because he felt that he had no one to take his
place. However, in July 1911, the bishop agreed to a change and asked Father
Michael F. O'Brien, another priest assigned to the Providence Apostolate,
and who had worked with Father Blessing on the paper, to take over the editor's
chair. When Father O'Brien accepted the post, he also retired from the Mission
Shortly after he left the Visitor, Father Blessing and Edward J.
Cooney, the Visitor's business manager, played significant roles in the
formation of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. The
association was created during a convention of Catholic editors held in
Columbus, Ohio, in August 1911. Cooney opened the convention and was elected its
permanent chairman. Father Blessing served on the committee which drafted the
association's bylaws and delivered an address entitled "A Catholic Associated
Press" in which he advocated the need for Catholic papers to publish news of the
whole Christian world in addition to their local coverage.
would maintain the high standard set by Father Blessing. Under Father O'Brien,
the Visitor published one of the largest of its special issues on April 19,
1912, to commemorate Bishop Harkins' 25th anniversary of his ordination as
Bishop of Providence and the work that had been accomplished during those years.
Other special issues were published on Feb. 12, 1915, to celebrate the Visitor's
own 40th anniversary and, on Oct. 22, 1915, the Visitor printed a 40-page,
five-section "Safety First" issue to emphasize safety in the home, on the
highway and in the workplace. These special issues were in part a response to a
request Bishop Harkins made to Father O'Brien that he "make the paper more
interesting to Rhode Islanders by touching on our own matter."
Harkins' remaining years as head of the diocese, the editors of the Visitor met
frequently with him to discuss their plans and to receive suggestions.
January 1913, Father O'Brien asked Bishop Harkins to be relieved of his
assignment as editor. The bishop agreed to his request and gave charge of the
Visitor to the paper's associate editor, Father Thomas C. Cullen, who had
joined the paper in September 1912. Father Cullen was a relatively young priest
when he took over the paper and often discussed the Visitor's affairs with the
bishop during his first year or more on the job. Under Father Cullen, the paper
again moved its offices, this time to the Hanley Building at 63 Washington St.
The paper announced its move in its Sept. 3, 1915 issue. At this time, the
Visitor appeared as an eight-page, seven-column paper with a circulation of
about 3,300. In time, Father Cullen's work as editor won him recognition
throughout the country. In 1918, his former seminary professor, Archbishop
Edward J. Hanna, who was then Archbishop of San Francisco, invited him to come
to California to take charge of the San Francisco Monitor.
Visitor hailed as best
Catholic paper in America
- Seventh in a series
- By Father Robert W. Hayman
- Diocesan Historian
When Father Thomas Cullen accepted, with
Bishop Matthew Harkins' permission, Archbishop Edward J. Hanna's invitation to
become editor of the San Francisco Monitor, Bishop Harkins asked Father James P.
O'Brien, the brother of the former editor, Father Michael F. O'Brien, to take
over the paper. Like his brother, Father James O'Brien was Irish-born and had
come to the United States as a boy. He had later returned to Ireland to study
for two years before entering St. Mary Seminary, Baltimore, to prepare for the
As had his predecessors, Father O'Brien used his editorials to
comment on the local and international scene from his Catholic perspective. He
continued to support the Catholic Church in Mexico that was suffering under the
hands of a revolutionary government. He also offered his views on America's and
the world's efforts to create a world based on justice that would ensure peace
in the days after World War I. However, on the issue of statehood for Ireland,
an issue brought to the fore by the Easter Uprising of 1916 and the guerilla war
fought by the Irish Republican Army in the aftermath of England's defeat of the
rebels, Father O'Brien was particularly passionate.
Frequently enough, Father
O'Brien's editorials were directed at the positions taken in the editorials by
the pro-British editor of the Providence Journal, John Ravelstoke Rathom. Rathom
was as passionately pro-British as Father O'Brien was pro-Irish.
pages of the Visitor, Father O'Brien readily defended the Irish nationalist
cause in its struggle for the independence of Ireland from British rule.
Rathom's credibility was tarnished in 1920, following the publication of a
confession he had made in 1916 to the U.S. Attorney General in which he admitted
to manufactured news of anti-American German espionage during World War I. The
animosity between the two editors escalated with the climax of the Irish
struggle in 1922. On March 17, 1922, Rathom asked the Journal's cartoonist,
Milton Halladay, to picture the Free State's President, Eamonn de Valera as a
cobra with the legend, "Another St. Patrick Needed." Rathom had the cartoon
printed on the Journal's front page. Seeing the cartoon as an insult both to the
Irish and to the church, Bishop William A. Hickey invited Rathom to a meeting
with him and a lawyer in the Chancery. Toward the end of the meeting, he called
in Father O'Brien. That same day, Bishop Hickey noted in his diary that the
meeting ended "with friendly conclusions."
At the beginning of his
episcopacy, Bishop Hickey decided to make the advancement of Catholic education
his legacy to the diocese. He saw the Visitor as a key component in informing
and strengthening the faith of his people, and set as a goal that the Visitor be
read by every Catholic in the diocese. To achieve that end, he was ready to
provide the Visitor with a building to house its presses and its editorial and
business offices. In 1923, he dedicated a newly-constructed home for the Visitor
at Fenner and Pond streets across from the Cathedral rectory. In order to
increase circulation, Father O'Brien, with the bishop's support, embarked on a
preaching tour of the parishes to encourage the people of the individual
parishes to subscribe to the Visitor.
The new facilities and the financial
support provided by Bishop Hickey enabled Father O'Brien to increase the Visitor
to 16 pages. He filled them with local news and columns supplemented by the
newly-established news service created by the American bishops' National
Catholic Welfare Conference. To make the paper financially viable, Bishop Hickey
announced a new circulation plan to all the pastors of the diocese during
Catholic Press Month in 1922. He was allotting each of them a specific number of
subscriptions which the pastors were to pay for by selling subscriptions to
their parishioners or by taking the money from parish funds. Beginning on March
1, 1924, the Visitor began running a new masthead with the statement that the
Visitor was "America's Largest and Best Catholic Newspaper." More than a boast,
this claim was substantiated in part by the School of Journalism at the
University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., which, during the 1920s and '30s,
consistently selected the Visitor as the leading Catholic newspaper in America.
The quality of the paper bore practical results. In 1933, the Visitor could
claim that it led the Catholic newspaper field in the United States and Canada
in advertising lineage for diocesan papers.
The rise of the Visitor to the
first rank of American Catholic newspapers was made possible not only by the
support of Bishop Hickey and the talent of Father O'Brien, but by the hard work
of a dedicated staff of priests and lay people who helped put out the paper and
managed its printing department. In July 1923, Bishop Hickey appointed Father
James C. McCarthy to the editorial staff and sent him to Columbia University's
School of Journalism to prepare him for his work on the paper. When ill health
forced Father McCarthy to take a new assignment in January 1926, Bishop Hickey
appointed Father Francis J. Deery as the paper's assistant manager.
Providence Visitor was not the only journalistic enterprise with which Bishop
Hickey and Father O'Brien concerned themselves. In November 1910, Father Antonio
Bove, the pastor of St. Ann Parish, Providence, who, since February 1920, had
been contributing a column entitled, "Events of Interest to the Italians,"
called together several of his fellow Italian priests and a few prominent laymen
to consider undertaking the establishment of an Italian-language Catholic
weekly. With the promise of financial support from Bishop Hickey and with his
encouragement, the priests and laymen formed the La Sentinella Publishing
Company and bought stock in the new company. The first issue of La Sentinella
appeared at Christmas 1920. The new corporation chose Father Bove as the paper's
manager and Scalabrini Father Emilio Greco, pastor of Holy Angels, Barrington,
as its editor.
As had the Visitor before it, La Sentinella made its
appearance during an economic depression caused by the transition of the
American economy from wartime to peacetime production and the demobilization of
America's World War I forces. The paper struggled financially from the
beginning. In 1921, in an effort to see the paper succeed, Father O'Brien, whose
press printed the paper, suggested to Bishop Harkins that La Sentinella be
reduced in size. He also suggested that the Italian parishes be asked to take
and pay for a certain number of copies each week in order to ensure the paper
had the necessary funds. In 1922, Bishop Hickey asked the Italian pastors to
help La Sentinella financially, in the same way he asked his other pastors to
support The Providence Visitor, by agreeing to accept responsibility for a
certain number of papers each week which they would have sent to their
parishioners. When the paper continued to struggle, Bishop Hickey left its fate
in Father Bove's hands. In late 1923, the decision was made to cease
In 1929, when Bishop Hickey returned from a visit to Rome, he
recognized the work Father O'Brien had done at the Visitor by announcing Father
O'Brien's appointment as a domestic prelate with the title of monsignor. In
1934, Msgr. O'Brien's colleagues in the Catholic Press Association also
recognized his work by electing him vice president of the Association. However,
failing health forced Msgr. O'Brien to offer Bishop Francis P. Keough his
resignation as editor in January 1935, after 16 years service to the paper.
Newspaper builds subscriptions, decries
- Eighth in a series
- By Father Robert W. Hayman
- Diocesan Historian
AWARD-WINNING ARTWORK - June Burns, a student at St. Mary Academy -
Bayview, won third prize for her entry to the Visitor's annual Catholic Students
Press Crusade poster contest in 1941. (Visitor
When Msgr. James P. O'Brien became ill and
later resigned as editor of The Providence Visitor, Father Francis J. Deery, who
had joined the paper in 1926 as assistant manager, filled in for him
temporarily, and later was appointed editor. Father Deery's tenure as editor
coincided with the replacement of the Visitor's press with a new high speed one.
The new press enabled Father Deery to increase the size of the paper again, from
seven to eight columns, and to print the paper a day earlier, on Thursday rather
than on Friday. Among the more important issues printed on the new press was the
Visitor's Tercentenary Issue published on April 9, 1936 as part of the
celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Providence. The issue
contained a history of the Catholic Church in Rhode Island written by former
editor, Father Thomas F. Cullen, which the Visitor printed in book form that
Two years prior, Father Deery had begun a new subscription
campaign, the first in 10 years. Starting February 1933 at the Cathedral, he had
been making the rounds of the parishes in the diocese preaching on behalf of the
Visitor. During the first year of the campaign, Father Deery visited 34 parishes
and gained 8,132 new subscriptions for the paper. After becoming editor, Father
Deery put a temporary halt to his parish visits. However, he found other ways to
boost readership and circulation. On March 14, 1935, the Visitor began running a
series on the history of the parishes in the diocese, written in many cases by
their pastors, beginning once again with the Cathedral parish. The series ran
until May 27, 1937 and included most but not all of the parishes. Father Deery
kept the pastors informed as to when the history of their parish would appear,
and many of the pastors responded by ordering hundreds of extra copies of that
week's Visitor for sale in their parishes. Beginning on July 1, 1937, the
Visitor also ran a series on the history of the high schools of the diocese,
drawn from a dissertation done by Edward J. Carroll, a student at St. Mary
Seminary, Baltimore, Md.
In September 1935, Bishop Francis B. Keough sent a
young Father Russell J. McVinney to the University of Notre Dame to study
journalism and appointed him to the Visitor staff when he finished in June. In
the same month, Bishop Keough appointed another young priest, Father Joseph F.
Bracq, an assistant at the Cathedral who had been responsible for the Question
Box column which appeared weekly in the Visitor, to be assistant editor of the
paper. In January 1937, with the aid of his two new assistants, Father Deery
resumed his visits to the parishes with the aim of achieving the goal Bishop
Hickey had set: A Catholic paper in every Catholic home. As in the past, the
campaign focused on the English-speaking parishes, but the publicity generated
also prompted a number of subscriptions to come in from parishes with French-
and Italian-speaking Catholics. In March 1937, Father Deery reported that, since
the beginning of the campaign, the Visitor had gained 5,000 new
In September 1938, Father Deery