Since the first issue of NZ Catholic was published on October 6, 1996, many things have changed about the paper. There have been four editors/managing editors, various reporters and designers/ layout people, as well as managers, advertising and administration people. The cover price has changed over the years, but it has been unchanged since 2014.
Various members of NZ Catholic’s board have come and gone and maybe returned. There have been many different advertisers. There have been three Popes in NZ Catholic’s years of publication — St John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
In terms of people, there have been many changes, but one or two names from the first edition are still appearing in NZ Catholic this year — for instance, Ronald Rolheiser and Sue Seconi (the paper’s Whanganui correspondent). Also, on page 3 of the first edition is an advertisement from St Peter’s College in Epsom. An advertisement from that college is on page 3 of this edition.
One other name has remained in the paper throughout its 23 years — and that is the name of its publisher, Bishop Patrick Dunn.
His named was listed — as publisher — on page 10 of the first edition of NZ Catholic. It is again printed in this capacity on page 2 of this edition. There would be few publications in New Zealand who could cite such a span for an individual who is a publisher.
The world of media has certainly changed a lot since 1996. The world upon which media reports has changed greatly too.
Since Bishop Dunn was ordained as a bishop 25 years ago (he was installed as Bishop of Auckland in 1995, a few months later), there have been six Prime Ministers of this country. There have been six mayors of Auckland (seven different mayoralties — John Banks was mayor twice). On the Church scene, there have been two Anglican Bishops of Auckland in Bishop Dunn’s time — Bishops Paterson and Bay.
Only one Catholic Bishop of Auckland has had a longer time in charge of the diocese — that being the redoubtable Bishop (later Archbishop) Liston(Bishop Pompallier was Bishop of Auckland for 21 years —before that he was Vicar Apostolic for Western Oceania and then New Zealand).
Early on in his time as bishop, Bishop Dunn was a key mover in the establishment of NZ Catholic as a truly national Catholic newspaper, following on from the closure of The Tablet and of New Zealandia.
In an interview with Nicholas Reid in 1999, Bishop Dunn said that “NZ Catholic is bending over backwards to pretend it doesn’t come from Auckland. We’d even put non-Auckland news before Auckland news to create the impression that we are not an Auckland paper.”
Analysis of NZ Catholic’s readership this year shows that nearly half are from Auckland, with the balance roughly in proportion to each diocese’s percentage share of the national Mass count. Past studies of the geographic distribution of NZ Catholic articles in terms of national coverage have shown a similar percentage breakdown.
In 2016, 20 years after the publication of the first issue of NZ Catholic, Bishop Dunn was still emphasising the importance of a national Catholic newspaper.
In this newspaper’s 500th edition he wrote: “Without such a newspaper, most Catholics would hear Church news either through snippets on mainstream media, or via the Internet, or through their local parish newsletter.
“These and other sources are helpful, but a newspaper provides the opportunity to give fuller coverage forlocal and international stories.
“In a secularised culture, like our own, it is imperative that committed Catholics strive week by week to keep abreast of issues that Pope Francis and others in our Church see as critical if we are truly to bear witness to Christ at this moment in history.
“The world is always in a state of flux and no one believes that our learning ends on the day we leave school, yet many Catholics still rely on an understanding of our Faith which we may have acquired only as children.
“A product like NZ Catholic can help us to inform our faith at every step of life’s journey. What could be more important than this?”
From the perspective of NZ Catholic’s readers and staff, what could be more important than having a publisher like Bishop Dunn? As he marks 25 years as a bishop, this newspaper can only say “congratulations”, “thank you” and “God Bless You”.
-Michael Otto, editor