150th Anniversary of the Catholic Standard newspaper

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150th Anniversary of the Catholic Standard newspaper

By Dr Nicholas Brodie

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of a regular Catholic press in Tasmania. On 20 July 1867 ‘Vol. I. – No. 1.’ of The Tasmanian Catholic Standard was published. This new journal was, the editor enthused, something the Catholics of Tasmania have long wanted and much needed. ‘Living in the midst of a community divided into various religious sects, who either know not their tenets, or have false notions of them, Catholics become objects of the strongest prejudice, and very frequently the bitterest hostility manifests itself against their Church’ – or so explained commentary in the first edition. The Standard hoped to combat such external antipathy, but also sought to drive off what some saw as apathy within the Catholic community towards religious matters. The earliest Tasmanian Catholic press was, therefore, a means of offering ‘reading, information, and facts’, all geared towards inculcating a sense of ‘the eternal principles of truth, justice, and religion.’ In other words, the founding of the Standard marks an attempt to move from simple tribalism to a more thinking and nuanced form of spiritual community.

While there have been interruptions since – including differing theological flavours and intellectual qualities – the Catholic press proved one of the great cultural achievements of the Colony and State of Tasmania. The hundreds of old pages remain a repository of a great deal of historical information and sometimes wisdom.

Rather than starting with Tasmania, however, the opening page of this new endeavour was wholly filled by a report from Rome dated April 1867 describing the Easter Ceremonies. This article was taken from The Tablet, an English publication which is still going strong today. Coincidentally, The Tablet itself had a Tasmanian origin of sorts. The Tablet was founded by a Quaker convert to Catholicism, Frederick Lucas, who was encouraged towards his conversion by another convert, Thomas Chisolm Anstey, son of a wealthy Tasmanian settler. Young Anstey’s conversion paralleled that of a neighbour and friend of his father, Roderick O’Connor, who donated £10,000 towards the construction of St Mary’s Cathedral. Anstey was also likely encouraged towards Catholicism by a regular traveller in the midlands in his youth, and occasional visitor to the Anstey household, one Fr Philip Conolly who first occupied land by Harrington and Patrick Streets in Hobart for the Catholic Church. As it so happened, the first death notice in the first Standard was for Catherine Aherne, Fr Conolly’s sister, and elsewhere in that first edition the paper reported commemorations of the one-year anniversary of the death of Bishop Robert William Willson, and printed Willson’s last letter to his Tasmanian flock from Nottingham. The early Tasmanian Catholic community was thus demonstrably part of a wide-reaching spiritual community, even if the proof was a little convoluted, and in July 1867 the full effect of a local press yet to be seen.