Digitized documents offer insight into early days of diocese

Categories: Around the Diocese,Special Features

By Nikki Rajala
The Visitor

In January 1916, Bishop Joseph Busch introduced “My Message,” a monthly magazine, to the St. Cloud Diocese.

Thanks to a team at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, the magazine — published between 1916 and 1919 — is again available. Today, however, it is in a digital format.

“Bishop Bush was a progressive Catholic,” said David Wuolu, collection development librarian at CSB and SJU. [“He] used the newsletter to communicate with the people of the diocese at a pivotal time. These were three important years for German Catholics, covering the end and immediate aftermath of the First World War.


Bishop Joseph Busch/The Visitor archives

“Imagine having a time machine to look at German Catholic communities in Minnesota after World War I. We can now see what was going on with respect to Catholic life in parishes and the relationship to the diocese. … And now “My Message” and other materials from our past are available for [anyone] to use.”

Telling the story

The Minnesota Digital Library (www.mndigital.org) has digitized documents of historical interest in its “Minnesota Reflections” section, Wuolu said. The basic goal in these efforts is to preserve and help tell the story of Minnesota’s history with primary sources that illuminate daily life. St. John’s Abbey and St. Benedict’s Monastery were early contributors to “Minnesota Reflections.”

Wuolu’s team also digitized an earlier publication, “Diocese of St. Cloud – Official Record and Messenger,” from January 1891 to April 1894. It was published under Bishop Otto Zardetti, the diocese’s first bishop.

The Digital Library is free for all to use, Wuolu said. “And the full text of all of the documents has been made searchable,” he said. “You can search for particular words, names, etc., or you can browse and let serendipity lead you where it takes you.”

Bishop Busch wrote on the introductory page of My Message, “It is my fond expectation that this Message will reach all the Catholics of this diocese and furnish not only a medium of regular communication between us, but will also give proper expression to the intimate bond that unites us all in the holiest of causes.”

In the first pages of each “My Message,” Bishop Busch wrote reflections on topics like piety and religious instruction and connected them to current interests, such as lessons parishioners might derive from inventions like the submarine. He also encouraged Catholics to seek public office and wrote about abstinence, prohibition and the “liquor problem.”

Regular features included Children’s Corner, Health Department, Poultry, Bee Culture, For the Housewife, Question Box and a serialized story continued over several issues.

An ad promoted a Fourth of July event at St. Joseph Parish in Waite Park, with a sermon at Mass by Bishop Busch, music offered by St. Mary’s Choir and a band of the St. Cloud Institute, and “ample provision for sports and amusements.” Dinner provided by the women of the church cost $.35, supper $.25.

my_messageThe covers featured photographs of the diocese’s churches, schools and hospitals. A subscription cost $1.

Part of national heritage

The material contributed, Wuolu said, becomes part of the Digital Public Library of America (http://dp.la), with the metadata being “harvested” in September. That means local history becomes part of the national heritage and information about people in central Minnesota will stand along with the projects contributed by the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian, the Getty and other major cultural heritage organizations.

“The Internet and digital tools available to us are a work in progress,” he said. “We’re using the tools available to us today to carry out the same work done for ages by Benedictine organizations relating to the preservation of the written word. We hope for future upgrades in the system to make digital materials easier to use.

“Our content tells the story of the everyday person in Minnesota,” Wuolu added, “not of the governor or the military, but of everyday life. It helps to remind us we were a state of immigrants then. In these documents, many German people and those from other countries had just arrived in the U.S., looking for a better place to live. That same situation exists today — with many different peoples having just arrived, looking for a better place.”