At the end of its fifth year of publication in 1912, the editors of The Messenger wrote in a front-page commentary:
“There were then (in 1907) many who doubted that we should exist even a year, having no capital, not a cent to back us, and an unknown field wherein to work. The one year has grown into five by this time and we see no reason now why it should not grow into a hundred.”
That 100th year of publication has arrived. The first issue of The Messenger was printed in December of 1907.
Begun as a 12-page quarterly, seven by 10 inches, in December 1907 by the enterprising young St. Peter Cathedral assistant, Father Francis Tecklenburg, the publication was called variously a pamphlet or news sheet, though it announced itself as “The Official Paper of the Diocese of Belleville.”
The first edition included an editorial, decrying the proliferation of secular newspapers, where “most of the stories they offer are tinted with atheism or the denial of the existence of a God …,” described as godless papers and often portraying anti-Catholic sentiments. Published were the obituaries of two pastors: at St. Boniface Parish in Germantown, Father J.N. Enzlberger, 57, and at St. Michael Parish in Radom, Father P. Lucas, Mierszowski, OFM, 49.
News items from 28 parishes focused largely on church and school construction plans and completions, though the entry of St. Anthony’s in Lively Grove described the re-interment of their former pastor, Father L. Quitter, who had died at St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis in 1891, and then buried in St. Henry’s Cemetery. St. Henry Parish in East St. Louis, with their parish cemetery surrounded by city growth, purchased 80 acres of ground near Edgemont for the new — and current — Holy Cross cemetery.
The first installment of “A Trip Across the Ocean,” a table conversation among believing and disbelieving passengers, about the existence of God and validity of faith was published. (The believers were winning the debate after the first installment, which continued through 10 installments.) The subhead of the second installment read: “Mr. Meer Thinks His Ancestors were Monkeys.”
A “Census of the Diocese” synopsis listed the Catholic population at 65,144, the number of parishes and missions at 114, an enrollment of 8,708 pupils in 67 parish schools, 2,606 baptisms, 599 marriages, 844 burials and 103 secular priests.
The 10,000 printed copies of the new Catholic press venture were distributed at church doors for 5 cents. From the beginning it was the hope that the paper would find its way into every Catholic home in the diocese — a hope that was a reality for many years of the publication’s nearly 100 years. Copies of the second issue in the spring of 1908 were mailed to paid subscribers. (A year’s subscription was 25 cents.) The second issue doubled in size to 24 pages.)
Advertisements supported the publishing adventure from the beginning, with 27 ads, all from Belleville businesses in the first issue. The second issue contained 33 ads, nine from East St. Louis businesses.
Father Tecklenburg continued as editor of The Diocesan Messenger (with Father Christopher Goelz as co-editor for a few years), even after he was assigned to the pastorate of the Mounds/Mound City parishes in 1914. The assignment dismayed both him and his many Belleville friends and supporters. He continued as the editor until 1915 when the distance became an insurmountable impediment.
The Diocesan Messenger had been printed by the Joseph N. Buechler Publishing Company in Belleville since its inception. It continued in the monthly publication magazine format until 1915, when Buechler Publishing acquired the “right, title and good will of The Diocesan Messenger.” Buechler, who assumed full financial responsibility for the paper, changed it to a weekly eight-page newspaper. The weekly publication continued at Buechler’s “own initiative and expense” until 1937, when rights to the publication were relinquished for financial reasons, severely aggravated by years of economic depression.
Editors of The Messenger during Buechler’s ownership included two professors, Bernard L. Miller and S. F. Lindenberger, and Father Edward Dahmus. At Mr. Buechler’s request in 1934 for a diocesan priest to assist him, Bishop Henry Althoff named Father Albert Zuroweste the editor. When the Messenger became diocesan owned in 1937, Father Zuroweste continued as the editor until his appointment as Belleville’s third bishop in 1946.
A fire at the Buechler Publishing Co. destroyed all existing copies of the 1915-1918 issues of the diocesan newspaper. Continuous bound volumes in The Messenger office begin with the 1926 issues.