The Last Editorial
This is the last of more than 5 200 editorials that have appeared in The Southern Cross since the first edition was published on October 16, 1920.
Back then, founding editor Fr James Kelly declared a national Catholic newspaper a necessity to “to stimulate Catholic life and activity in South Africa and to aid our priests and Catholic laity in their work of keeping bright and clear the lamp of Faith”.
Over the next 100 years, The Southern Cross accomplished this mandate, sometimes better than at other times, but always at the service of the People of God.
But now this incredible run of appearing consecutively for more than 5 200 weeks—through the Depression, World War II, the upheaval of apartheid, the collapse of the post office, and lately the coronavirus lockdown and subsequent retrenchment of all staff— is coming to an end.
In the age of digital media, newspapers are becoming obsolete. The Southern Cross held off the decline in demand for newspapers longer than many other publications. But dark clouds were casting their shadows over the horizon even before the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the demise of this weekly newspaper.
The idea to transition to a monthly magazine had already been mooted, but lockdown forced our hands. The result is what we believe to be a vibrant, exciting and classy monthly Catholic magazine, still called The Southern Cross, which will fulfil the mandate to edify, educate and entertain.
So as we say farewell to this great newspaper we are also looking to the future, awaiting with anticipation The Southern Cross’ new life as a magazine.
But for the moment, we cast a thankful eye to the past. We recall Fr Kelly and Fr Leo Sormany OMI, who first hatched the plan to launch a national Catholic newspaper. We recall the editors who followed Fr Kelly: Mgr John Morris, Mgr John Colgan, Fr Louis Stubbs (the longest-serving of them all, from 1948-72), Mgr Donald de Beer, Fr Bernard Con-nor OP, Michael Shackleton— and, of course, Cardinal Owen McCann, who edited The Southern Cross as a young priest from 1941-48 and again after his retirement from 1986-92.
The editors got the glory, but behind them they had dedicated journalists as managing editors, with names like Donovan, Rowntree, Murray and Donnelly.
And they in turn were backed by generations of administrative staff, some of whom served for many years in their positions— and none more so than Pamela Davids, who has been with The Southern Cross since she was a teenager 47 years ago.
And the whole operation was kept on track by generations of boards of directors, with the Robertson, Pothier and Peart families crossing the generations.
The Southern Cross had a galaxy of world-class writers. The contributors and columnists are too many to list, but four stand out. Fr Nicholas King SJ has contributed a fresh reflection on the Sunday readings every week since 1992. And in Owen Williams, The Southern Cross featured one of South Africa’s finest journalists every week for 24 years.
And it is fitting that the two towering Catholic clerics of the 20th century, Mgr Frederick Kolbe and Archbishop Denis Hurley, wrote for The Southern Cross.
Mgr Kolbe wrote learned theological tracts, travelogues and the “Children’s Corner” (of which young Denis Hurley, who was baptised by future Southern Cross editor Mgr Colgan, was a member in the 1920s).
Archbishop Hurley wrote as a participant about the Second Vatican Council for The Southern Cross—an insider scoop which the newspaper couldn’t brag about because he wrote anonymously.
The Southern Cross did much to serve the community, perhaps most memorably by being at the spearhead of the 1950s campaign to save Catholic schools from apartheid’s Bantu Education.
Many generations of Catholics accompanied their newspaper on that long journey. And over the past 17 years, many of these readers contributed to the Associates Campaign, which has helped keep The Southern Cross to stay afloat.
Many more readers have given financial support in the past few difficult months. It is thanks to them that The Southern Cross can live on as a magazine.
The November edition of The Southern Cross magazine will remember these first 100 years, when we shall look back with a tear of sadness in our eyes with which we are nonetheless looking forward to a bright future. May there be many more occasions to celebrate.
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