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History of The Catholic Weekly

Key dates:
• 3 August 1839 - The Australasian Chronicle launched.
• 27 June 1850 - The Freeman’s Journal launched.
• 9 November 1895 - The Catholic Press launched.
• 5 March 1942 - The Catholic Weekly launched, as amalgamation of both.
• 11 September 2003 - The Catholic Weekly re-launched.
• 8 December 2004 - New look website launched

For more than 160 years a Catholic newspaper has been published in NSW, beginning with The Australasian Chronicle, which underwent several name and management changes (The Morning Chronicle, The Chronicle, Sydney Chronicle). It was succeeded in 1850 by The Freeman’s Journal, which was printed on an old hand-turned “mangle” in the gallery of St Mary’s Seminary, in a building adjacent to the first St Mary’s Cathedral.

The Freeman’s Journal was not an “official organ” of the Church, but a general newspaper with a focus on Catholic and Irish affairs with an unashamedly Australian outlook. It was able to draw on the best minds of the day to become an eminently intelligent source, one that was never out of touch with what was happening in the local community. One of its greatest achievements was its work for Catholic education and its tireless (although unsuccessful in its time) crusade against unfair discrimination of denominational schools.

In November 1895, a new Catholic newspaper — The Catholic Press — began, arising from a meeting some months earlier of Sydney clergy who desired to take up the call of Pope Leo XIII for Catholic newspapers to “counteract the appaling efforts of torrents of infidel filth that deluge the homes of our people, that desecrate the sacred sanctuary of family life, that poison the fountain-springs of society”.

The Press promised in its first editorial to offer a “sound healthy Catholic opinion on the great questions of the day”. The two papers remained vigorously independent and often had editorial positions that were notably divergent, especially on such questions as conscription during World War I. The Freeman adopted the style of the condescending, older and more authoritative journal, habitually referring to The Press as “our junior contemporary”.

In early March 1942, several weeks after the last issue of The Freeman had appeared, The Press also announced that it would cease publication. From these two a new publication arose, The Catholic Weekly, as the official organ of the Archdiocese, to provide a single editorial voice for the Church in Sydney. The new paper, with its bright, modern look, was able confidently to describe the life of Sydney’s Catholics with its own mix of local and international news, with special features, regular columnists and supplements. The Weekly did not back away from engaging in the often gritty politics of the day, especially regarding issues that challenged the rights of Catholics to practice their faith or uphold their Christian principles. The Weekly continued to serve its community well, with a peak circulation of 63,000 during the 1950’s.

Now in a new century, The Weekly assumes a new image and feel, with a new look in recognition of a growing younger Catholic population. The Weekly seeks to take on a broader reach beyond the white Anglo-Celtic Catholic to the wider, truly universal, contemporary Church in Sydney.

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