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     "The Prairie Messenger begins Vol. 95 with this issue. It will mark the last year the Prairie Messenger will be printed.”
      With this startling announcement in its May 17 edition the Benedictine monks of Muenster, Saskatchewan of St. Peter’s Abbey announced that the Prairie Messenger would close and cease publication in a year's time. The shock waves to its readership and to progressive Catholic journalism began to roll out.
     The multi-time award winning newspaper has been publishing an English edition since 1923, eventually succeeding its earlier German edition St Peter’s Bote which started in 1904.
     The reasons given were strictly financial, subscriptions have fallen to less than 4000 down from a high of 16000 after the Second Vatican Council in the late 1960s. Clearly a sign of the shift to personal internet access for instantaneous information. In an interview, Abbot Peter Novecosky who also serves as its editor, said that the mailing costs for the weekly newspaper were becoming prohibitive and that was just one contributing factor to its 200,000 dollar recent annual shortfall.
     He said that monastic personnel was not an issue but that the press will have to be shut down as it has been part of the newspaper’s charter with the federal government as a federal charity. The paper still has half a dozen part-time employees at its editorial offices and publishing plant on the monastery grounds. The monastery, one hour south east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan also houses a college of more than a hundred students and a productive farm along with its monastery, St. Peter’s Abbey.
     Until 1998 it served as an abbey nulius, the Latin term used by the Roman Catholic Church for an extraordinary diocese or regional district unit of the church. This meant that monks were expected to serve as parish priest and regional hospital chaplains in addition to their monastic responsibilities.
     The Prairie Messenger was a natural offshoot ministry, or apostolate, of the Abbey’s wider responsibilities. It was an important blend of traditional Catholicism and prophetic ministry with its cutting edge reporting over the years on social justice, ecumenism and human development after the Second Vatican Council.
     I was employed as its first lay editor in 1982 on the commendation of Grant Maxwell, the monk’s first choice. Grant had been a Benedictine Oblate for many years and a great booster of the vision and efforts of the paper. At that time there were between eight and nine thousand subscribers to a weekly format. It was a short lived hiatus in my communications career but proved the necessary orientation and formation to start Island Catholic News in 1986.
     The influence of the PM generally has been seminal in progressive church communications circles in Canada. A year earlier The Western Catholic Reporter announced its closure. This Edmonton based journal started by Douglas Roche after the Second Vatican Council was another effort to face the world as Catholics with the gospel in one hand and the daily news in the other.
MOVING FORWARD
     The obvious question is can anything be done in response to mitigate the impact? In a veiled hint, Abbot Peter Novecosky who has served as editor since the passing of fellow monk Andrew Britz, wrote in the announcement: “In 1968, the monastic community faced a similar critical point. A lay board set up by the community advised that the paper be turned over to the laity, newly empowered by the Second Vatican Council. The monastic community decided not to follow its advice and to continue to edit and publish the paper.”
In an interview on September 5, he said no serious proposal has come forward in response to the announcement. He will be addressing the Saskatchewan bishops on the subject on September 23.
QUESTIONS
     Is now the time for such a transformative development? Could the editorial offices be relocated to Saskatoon or Regina and a regional if not national journal be established in the process? This could be on a different publishing frequency, content focus and financial footing.
     With the internet, for contemporary readership the needs, habits and hunger for progressive communication have obviously shifted. Perhaps a monthly or even quarterly magazine such as ICN has evolved to become, could be a different model for discussion. One that relies directly on readership for leadership, stories, direction and overall input.
     As announced in our most recent begging letter, I personally intend to research this question when on an upcoming sojourn to the prairies and beyond. The dialogue has already begun. Fans of the PM and readers of ICN have responded in word and deed, with the financial response to this suggestion bringing in encouraging support of the idea of such an exploration.
     We have until next May to come up with proposal ideas and continue the discussion with the Monks of St. Peter’s.
It would be great to hear from our readership and that of the PM  and spiritually progressive people generally. Coordinates include: email pjjamie@telus.net or cell phone including texting at 250-857-5824. Written communication to PO Box 5424 Victoria BC, V8R 6S4.
     At this point I can visualize a regional or national publication with editorial input from every region including The Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario as well as the four western provinces. I have communication experience in all these regions as well as contacts who may very well be excited by these prospects.
     Certainly the nearly 4000 subscribers would be approached regarding their interest and ongoing input.
     ICN is run on such a participatory networking model where we look upon all the support as 'votes' of confidence in the work of the paper and a way of helping to influence its ongoing spiritual evolution as a vehicle of the Spirit of God moving in our times and place.
 
Mr. Jamieson left September 12 for a three-week long visit to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.