The Sacred Heart Messenger celebrates its 130th birthday this year. The iconic magazine was founded in 1888 by Father James Cullen SJ. He was given a room and a £1 note and ‘the rest is history’, says Donal Neary SJ, the present Messenger editor. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications he tells some of that history, including the unique way it was delivered to every part of the country through a network of ‘promoters’.
He outlines how its popularity spread through the range of material in it, including religious articles, helpful advice, letters of petition, and praying with the Pope. He shows how the social history of the Irish people can be tracked through the development of the magazine, whose sales at one stage reached over quarter of a million. Helpful articles in the early days offered advice ranging from how to iron a blouse to the good rearing of hens.
During the Second World War when no paper was to be got anywhere, The Messenger somehow still got published. And Donal remembers the angst of the publishing team (of which he was one) when in 1968 they decided to abandon the old cover, with the statue of the Sacred Heart on it, for a more modern front. The angst was shared by more than the editorial group, it would seem, as many young ladies had also used the dampened red cover as a rouge cosmetic!
Today, though sales of The Messenger have dropped to around 52,000, it is still one of the largest-selling magazines in Ireland. The letters of petition and thanksgiving flood into the Leeson St office at the rate of over 100 per day. And the content reflects the concerns of a new Ireland seeking to welcome migrants and refugees to its shores. There are regular articles on caring for refugees and other aspects of social justice. Post-Vatican II Jesuit theologians contribute thoughtful and accessible pieces on a variety of topics. And the advice offered is more in the line of productive gardening tips and good cooking recipes.
The Messenger team have organised a series of events around the country to mark the 130th anniversary of the magazine. On 15 April there will be a special Mass in Portlaoise followed by one in Portadown on 29 April. Gardiner St Church will host a celebratory Mass also, in September. The annual Messenger Day of talks, prayer and retreat will take place in Gonzaga College in Milltown Park on the 23 June. Donal says all are welcome to join them at all and any of these events for this special birthday.