Thursday, April 16, 2009

A History of the Wanderer, 1867-1931: Article One, by Paul Likoudis

The Wanderer at 140....


by Paul Likoudis

On November 16, 2007, The Wanderer will mark 140 years of continuous publication, having survived nine major financial meltdowns, including the Panic of 1873 and the Great Depression from 1929-41, two World Wars, to say nothing, for now, of 140 years of internecine warfare between Catholics.

And for the first time in its history – and this is cause enough to celebrate – Der Wanderer has a German Pope.

From its founding to the present day, The Wanderer’s defining characteristic has been loyalty to the Holy See. In fact, in the same month a small group of German businessmen and their local pastor met in the basement of a German bookseller in St. Paul to discuss launching a newspaper that would serve the religious and cultural needs of the region’s growing German-Catholic population, Pope Pius IX issued an encyclical On The Afflictions of the Church, which opened with these baleful words:

“Lift up your eyes, venerable brothers. Look about you and grieve at the evil abominations which now defile unhappy Italy....Here triumphant impiety rears her ugly head, and here We grieve to see all kinds of injustice, evil, and destruction. Hence the many phalanxes of rebels, men who walk in impiety and fight under the standard of Satan—a leader branded with deceit. Raising their mouths to the very heavens, they blaspheme God; polluting and scorning all that is sacred, they trample underfoot all laws, divine and human....Then they sadden the lowly and the poor, making widows of wives and orphans of happy children. They pardon the impious and condemn the just, for there are bribes to take and goods to steal; with a corrupt heart they satisfy every depraved desire, to the detriment of all civil society.”

On its masthead, which depicted a “wanderer” with staff in hand, looking ahead against a pastoral background was the paper’s slogan: Glaube! Hoffe! Liebe! – Believe! Hope! Love!

From its inception, Der Wanderer, writes Fr. John S. Kulas, OSB, in Der Wanderer of St. Paul: The First Decade, 1867-1877 (Peter Lang, 1996), volume nine in the German American Studies Series, was characterized by “a strong community base, fervent Catholicity, passionate espousal of things German, and an animated interest in civil affairs,” and it had the support of St. Paul’s second prelate, Bishop Thomas L. Grace, O.P. who endorsed Der Wanderer, as did three other regional bishops, whose names appeared on the paper’s masthead.

The Wanderer was just one year old, in October 1868, when Pope Pius IX published his call for an ecumenical council, which resulted in the Declaration on Papal Infallibility, which Der Wanderer enthusiastically supported.

The Wanderer was just six years old when Germany’s Chancellor Otto von Bismarck denounced this newspaper as “an enemy of the state,” because of its criticism of his policy aimed at weakening the influence of the Church on German politics, the kulturkampf. Bismarck’s blacklisting of Der Wanderer, at a time when it was widely circulated in Europe and available in major city libraries, anticipated that of his successor Adolph Hitler, who banned the 1,200 copies mailed to Germany each week.

At the time of its founding as Der Wanderer, it was just one among hundreds of German and specifically German-Catholic newspapers, and it has outlived them all. German-language newspapers numbered nearly 500 in 1886; and within a decade nearly doubled, before going into freefall as anti-German hysteria spread with the U.S. entry into World War I.

The Wanderer’s first ten years are told well by Fr. Kulas, professor emeritus of German at St. John’s University, Collegeville, who notes that, from the beginning, this Catholic newspaper was unique in that it was published by laymen and was distinguished by the quality of its reporting on political, social and theological issues, both at home and abroad.

For example, wrote Fr. Kulas, Der Wanderer “played its own significant role in the [immigration debate] drama, emerging as a conscious promoter of immigrants, an influential advocate of their interests, and an unflagging voice of encouragement.

“Public policy toward immigrant groups and especially Germans was of great interest to readers of Der Wanderer, and the editors campaigned extensively for measures that would regularize and facilitate immigration procedures, ameliorate the worst of the conditions of passage and entry, and promote immigrant welfare in the new country....

“The newspaper was able to provide a voice for all German-Americans, particularly those of lesser education. It articulated a satisfying self-image, provided a sense of pride that helped sustain its readers in the often difficult circumstances in which they lived and defended them when their character or patriotism were impugned. But it not only spoke for the immigrants; it also spoke to them, encouraging them to remain true to their cultural inheritance, admonishing them to transmit it to their children, exhorting them to maintain a sense of solidarity with their fellow German immigrants, and beseeching them to provide assistance to those less fortunate.”

Der Wanderer not only advocated on behalf of immigrants, it played an active role in recruiting Germans to come to the United States, going so far as to translate, and publish, the state of Minnesota’s promotional materials for its readers in Germany.

Every issue of the paper contained a poetry page, a theater page, music reviews (Der Wanderer’s editors were major figures in St. Paul’s German music groups) and edifying, instructive stories for young readers, but its main issues involved Church and civic issues.

Kulas observes that while the newspaper’s first editors wanted a truly popular paper, they “clearly did not pander to the lowest common denominator. They endeavored as well to provide a thoughtful and reasoned approach even to issues of complexity, demanding thereby some attention from their readers. With numerous articles of more than superficial quality in the political and religious arena, it sought to broaden horizons and challenge understanding.”

Each week’s issue, Kulas adds, offered a “rich variety of features. Many articles were designed to provide readers with information and instruction on the Catholic faith. There were stories on the Pope, on the observance of Sundays and religious feasts, and on the history of the Church....Others were practically sermons....

“Der Wanderer was primarily a newspaper, and numerous articles had to do with contemporary Church affairs – internal ecclesiastical matters as well as issues with a wider public concern. The early [Franz] Fassbind years (he was the paper’s third editor, following Eugen Ehrhadt and Theodor Mullenmeister) were filled with reports and discussions of the Vatican Council and the growing tensions in Church-state relations within the new German empire. Detailed coverage of important events with an ecclesiastical dimension both in Europe and the United States was characteristic of the newspaper throughout its existence,” wrote Kulas.

Der Wanderer’s coverage of Vatican I, Kulas adds in a footnote, was considered the best “west of Chicago,” and editor Mullenmeister boasted that he had secured the services of a high prelate at the Council to provide its comprehensive reports, with additional reporting on the Council provided by Archabbot Boniface Wimmer of St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., who was also present at the Council.

Bismarck’s kulturkampf against the Church, his accruing of power and his waging of war, Kulas adds in several footnotes, drew strong denunciations from Der Wanderer, and punitive action from Bismarck, who branded Der Wanderer as a staatsfeindliche (enemy of the state) and blacklisted the newspaper. Such was the influence of Der Wanderer at the time that it was able to foment mass anti-Prussia rallies in Cincinnati, San Antonio, New Orleans, as well as across Minnesota and Wisconsin, because as one Wanderer reader wrote to a German editor, Der Wanderer’s coverage of the Franco-Prussian war was superior to any reporting by German newspapers.

“Like any Catholic newspaper on the frontier, Der Wanderer had a strong apologetical bent,” Kulas continues. “It determined to be not only an instrument of instruction in the faith but also an aggressive means of shielding the Church and its teaching from attacks from any quarter. Anti-Catholic bias was still rampant in American society and evidence for it was not difficult to find within other church bodies, some political groups, various intellectual circles, and the population in general. In Der Wanderer this bias was widely reported and bitterly attacked....

“Examples locally and from abroad abounded in issue after issue. It was deemed necessary to defend Catholics’ right to engage in politics; other reports sought to counter the outcry in the Austrian press advocating the dissolution of monasteries; a satirical piece was aimed at demolishing the canard that Catholics were forbidden to read the Bible...”

As The Wanderer approaches its 140th birthday, its editors intend to take a look back over those 14 decades, insofar as it is possible, since the newspaper was written exclusively in German until the debut of the English edition in 1931, and highlighting the major issues affecting both Church and State over that nearly century-and-a-half. [...]

(Original appeal to readers to share their stories about The Wanderer removed from this posting, April 16, 2009.)

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Note: this is the first in a series of eleven articles written by Paul Likoudis to celebrate the 140th anniversary of The Wanderer. It is posted here by permission of Mr. Likoudis.

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