40th Anniversary -- The History
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Issue Date:  October 22, 2004

The “cool joy” of survival: 40 years of reporting on church and world


There was no National Catholic Reporter in 1963, when, on the heels of the second session of Vatican II, an American priest addressed a meeting of the International Union of the Catholic Press in Rome.

Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray, speaking on “The Social Function of the Press,” was sheepish about his own experience in journalism. He had spent just a year in the 1940s with the Jesuit weekly America before being transferred to a teaching position. “Apparently,” Murray told the room full of Catholic press, “I was not a great success.”

Still, he had a vision. And in the spirit of the times, with the church and the world dizzy from change, he issued a challenge:

“The Catholic press,” he insisted, “does not exist to further certain interests of the church merely, especially if these interests be conceived in some narrow and rather sectarian sense.

“The Catholic press does not exist to glorify the clergy. The Catholic press does not exist in order to create a public image of the church that will be untrue to the reality of the pilgrim church, the wayfaring church, the church that trudges along the road of history and gets her feet dusty at times, the church that has hands by which she takes hold of dirty stuff of history ... because history is rather dirty stuff!

“The freedom of the press knows only one limitation,” he said, “and that is the people’s right to know. And I think that within the church, as with civil society, the need of the people to know is in principle unlimited.”

NCR founding editor Robert Hoyt, who died last year at 81, identified so completely with Murray’s vision that he distributed the address one year later in a four-page flyer announcing and explaining a new, lay-run, independent Catholic newspaper. That was August 1964. By the end of October, the first issue was in the mail.

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National Catholic Reporter, October 22, 2004

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