Southern Cross history – Part 5: The 1950/60s
Managing editor Andrew Murray, appointed in late 1950, and editor Fr Louis Stubbs, appointed just two years earlier, steered The Southern Cross through a golden age that would see dramatic changes in the Church before Mr Murray’s departure in 1969.
Working conditions were not ideal. Because Fr Stubbs was working only part-time, Mr Murray often had to put together the entire newspaper on his own, as had his predecessor. In the mid-1950s, he finally received an assistant – of all people Mr Rowntree, who would remain with the newspaper until 1965, accumulating almost four decades of service. His record would be broken by Mr Murray’s eventual successor, Gene Donnelly, who worked for 41 years for The Southern Cross, until his retirement in 2010.
The Southern Cross had provided one bishop for the Church already, its ex-editor Archbishop McCann. In 1951 another former Southern Cross staffer, Mgr Hugh Boyle, became the bishop of Port Elizabeth (and in 1954, bishop of Johannesburg). On a smaller scale, in 1947 The Southern Cross employed 18-year-old bookkeeper William D’Arcy. He later worked for the Catholic Bookshop before becoming a priest. And in 1960, Southern Cross shorthand typist Celeste Santos left the company’s employ to become a Dominican nun.
On August 28, 1952, the board of directors elected Mr Drew, who had served on it since 1920, for a second stint as chairman. Three days later, he died. In his place, Mr JG Coates was elected for a fourth term as chairman, soon to be succeeded by Jean Pothier, who would hold that position for the next quarter of a century.
The 1950s was a time of healthy circulation, no doubt helped by such exciting events as the Marian Congress of 1950, and the establishment of the hierarchy the following year. To mark the latter, a series of daily editions was published under the banner The Southern Cross Daily. It was the first instance of a South African religious publication bringing out a daily edition.
The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s energised the Church around the world. The Southern Cross had a particularly well-placed correspondent from the Council: Archbishop Denis Hurley, who contributed incognito.
It was a heady time, and this was reflected in The Southern Cross. When Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968, the newspaper carried the reaction of the regions leading bishops, which can be paraphrased thus: Bishop Boyle: The pope is 100% right! Cardinal McCann: The pope has spoken, we must now follow. Archbishop Hurley: I am distraught by the encyclical. Bishop van Velsen of Kroonstad: What else did you expect?
Between 1953 and 1963, circulation had increased by 57%. In 1956 it stood at 15,000, in 1964 at 18,500. That was, of course, in the midst of Vatican II. From here on in circulation started to drop, as it did at many other newspapers. In 1970 it was still around 16,000, two years later 14,000, and in 1974 it had decreased to 12,600. By the mid-1990s, circulation dipped to below 10,000 for the first time since the war. In the 2000s it stood steadily at above 11,000.