Saints and Abominable Snowmen
Catholic Digest has changed over the years, but the central mission has stayed the same.
By Dan Connors
Footprints. Giant footprints — like those of an elephant, but made by a beast with only two legs. Many people saw these prints in the snow on the slopes of Mt. Everest, starting at around 20,000 feet. Just the sight of them was enough to fill Sherpa guides with terror and send them running away. What animal was this, whose frightening roar echoed down the mountain? What creature lived in the high snows and was so strong it could uproot trees with ease?
Readers of the July 1954 issue of Catholic Digest knew the answer. It was the Abominable Snowman, of course, the beast of legend and lore, and Catholic Digest readers were assured that one would soon be captured.
I wrote the above paragraphs five years ago, as we prepared to celebrate Catholic Digest’s 70th anniversary. My editorial team and I have spent some time looking through the 840 back issues of Catholic Digest. We don’t pretend to have read all of the more than 17,000 articles, but we’ve been fascinated to see how the Digest has changed, and not changed, over the years.
Now, for our 75th, I’ve been browsing back issues again, and I’m still fascinated by the very wide range of interests revealed in the seven and a half decades of Catholic Digest. In just that year of 1954, when Catholic Digest published “The Abominable Snowmen,” it also published a delightful assortment of articles, including “All Aboard for the Moon,” “Don’t Let Your Car Freeze,” Brainwashing by Surgery,” “Some Hymns are Awful” (some things never change!), “When Boors Drive Cars” (ditto!), Helicopters: Chore Boys of the Skies,” “Ants and their Antics,” “Bread Can Be Good,” and “Glamour Girls of Canada.”
All the explicitly Catholic stuff was there too, of course, but from the very beginning Catholic Digest took an expansive view of what is Catholic or of interest to Catholics. They knew Catholics are citizens involved with American culture, with the same interests as their non-Catholic neighbors — interests in politics and government, art, science, pop culture, health and wellness, maintaining a happy household, and making a living — and that all these subjects were part of our incredibly rich Catholic tradition, whether the connection was immediately evident or not.
And they never hesitated to take material from non-Catholic sources. They realized that a secular publication might have a great article about the pope side by side with a piece about the latest styles of “petting” (as one article about Catholic Digest noted in 1941). But that wouldn’t stop them from reprinting the pope article, or any article that fell within the wide-ranging interests of Catholics, so long as the reprinted article itself didn’t violate Catholic sensibilities.
From the beginning the editors also received negative comments about this approach. If a source ran articles about “petting,” these critics said, even its nice article about the pope shouldn’t be used. If a non-Catholic magazine carried articles that didn’t match with Catholic principles, or if an author had ever made a statement contrary to any Church teaching, these critics said, that magazine or writer should never be used in Catholic Digest, no matter how orthodox and lovely the selected article might be.
The founding editors of Catholic Digest disagreed, and as early as 1937 they began running a reply that appeared in every issue for almost sixty years. The wording changed slightly over the decades, but here is how it appeared in July 1956:
“‘All that rings true, all that commands reverence, and all that makes for right; all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is gracious in the telling; virtue and merit, wherever virtue and merit may be found — let this be the argument of your thoughts’ (St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 4). This is the argument of The Catholic Digest. Its contents, therefore, may come from any source, magazine, book, newspaper, syndicate, of whatever language, of any writer. Of course, this does not mean approval of the “entire source” but only of what is published.”
Catholic Digest continues to follow that editorial philosophy today. We search for good stories that show how the richness of our tradition — and the principles our faith stands on — is being lived out in the world. We believe articles about family, food, health and wellness, community, and fun and leisure are just as Catholic as articles on the rosary, saints, and the sacraments — and we hope you believe it too. And articles on art, science, popular culture, politics, are all of interest to Catholics and important to helping Catholics be well rounded and informed citizens of our democracy, as our founding editors knew so well.
Of course, these are different days from the time of “Ants and their Antics” (which, incidentally, was reprinted from a Catholic, not a secular, publication). There’s an increased need today for Catholics to reconnect with their heritage and traditions and to find ways to live their faith in a culture that provides both exciting opportunities and daunting challenges.
That’s why we’ve added new Catholic material to the pages of Catholic Digest and reinvigorated the Catholic content of some of our continuing columns. Last time, I told you about our new Lives and Legends of the Saints. We’re also excited about our new “Praying” series on the spirituality of various religious orders. We’ve asked a Jesuit, an Assumptionist, a Dominican, a Franciscan, and representatives of various other orders to speak about the heart, the very essence, of their spirituality. While Jesuits, Benedictines, Dominicans, Assumptionists, Franciscans, etc., all fit under the great umbrella of Catholic prayer and spirituality, each has its own focus, perspective, vantage point from which it approaches life, prayer, and spirituality. What makes a Jesuit a Jesuit? a Dominican a Dominican? a Benedictine a Benedictine? etc. Our central goal is this — to introduce readers to prayer and spirituality in these various traditions, so that they might ask themselves: What in this tradition speaks to my heart? How can I, as a lay person, benefit in my own life, prayer, and spirituality from the (Benedictine, Jesuit, Franciscan, etc.) approach and insights?
I hope you enjoy this new series. In the meantime, we’ll be posting classic articles on catholicdigest.com, starting with the complete first issue — November 1936. Keep checking back in the months ahead. We’ll have lots of fascinating old articles, and some covers from the ’50s and ’60s that sometimes definitely fit into the “What were we thinking?” category.
In the meantime, please let me know what you think of our new features. I always enjoy hearing from you!