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Archbishop Joseph Harris seems fascinated as he admires the Catholic News’ archive. Photo: Elmo Griffith

By Kaelanne Jordan,

Addressing the launch of the Catholic Media Service’s 125-year Catholic News’ online archive on its redesigned website, outgoing Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Nicola Girasoli described the project as “an important source of documentation of the life and history” of Catholic and Christian communities in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Vatican, through the Papal Foundation, funded the project. Archbishop Girasoli said archives ensure and perpetuate the truth, adding that digitalisation meant that these sources of knowledge would be always “alive”. He thanked the Catholic News for its tireless and committed work in ensuring and perpetuating truth for the future generations.

The Nuncio expressed gratitude that such an “historic event” occurred at his 11 Mary Street, St Clair, residence, former home of the country’s first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams.

Minister of Public Administration and Communications Maxie Cuffie and Permanent Secretary Joan Mendez, Consular and Deputy Head of Mission at the Nunciature Msgr Julien Kabore, Vicar General Msgr Christian Pereira, historian Fr Anthony de Verteuil CSSp, Professor Bridget Brereton and media representatives were among the attendees.

In his welcome remarks Archbishop Joseph Harris said it was extremely important for the Church and nation to preserve its history in digital form. He congratulated the Catholic News, which he said was the “best weekly” in the country and thanked Archbishop Girasoli for associating himself with the project. “Without him I don’t know whether we would have done it,” he said.

The online archive consists of all editions of the paper since 1892 with the news items; features; editorials; local, regional and international reports; photographs; illustrations and advertisements that constitute its 125-year-old history. It includes French language columns up to the mid-1900s. The archive forms a significant part of the country’s tangible media heritage, contributing to the collective memory for both the region and the Vatican Archives.

Online access to these press records is expected to attract 20,000 weekly readers, historians, theologians, local and international journalists and cultural researchers.

Since partnering with the National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago to conserve and digitise the collection, the records now form part of their official listing/remit for document protection.

In her presentation, independent curator, Cultural and Haitian Studies scholar Dr Kwynn Johnson said the role of the National Archives was central to the project, the country’s first concise digital newspaper archive. She said she hoped that the digitisation of many other newspaper collections would continue, including ones which predate the Catholic News, among them, the 1825 Port of Spain Gazette.

Dr Johnson referred to the 15 editions of Catholic News’ mastheads, which she found to “bookmark or punctuate the archive at interesting moments”. As a collection of texts, she said, through a specific “visual grammar”, they articulated a range of cultural situations.

“These mastheads symbolically figured a variety of narratives in the pages which they bannered, and in a sense, they branded the journalistic vision of the editor and the columnists of each period. Thus, these visual bookmarks index key moments in the 125 years of the Catholic News,” she said.

She highlighted the first era (1892–1941) when the masthead was retained for 49 years, the period 1975–1994 and the 15-year period, 1994–2009. “One can read the archive in the context of a society recovering or trying to suture the wound left in the wake of the muslimeen coup and an Archdiocese deciding how or if to carry on with the Anthony Pantin legacy.”

Dr Johnson added, “As to this launch, one acknowledges that the Catholic News has had an online presence since 1997. In 2012, under the editorship of June Johnston, five years of columns were available online; between 2008 and 2012, there was also an e-paper, as well as a social media presence.”

Today, she commented, as a continuation of these incremental document preservation activities, carried out over the years, the concise Catholic News digital archive is accessible online, via another redesigned website.

“I hope this archive will always remain online, thus digital record preservation will have to function in the way the hard-copy was archived for continuity. This is not unique to the CN, it is a concern for all print media houses as we transition further into the ever-changing digital/web-based platforms,” she said.

The evening’s proceedings included the unveiling of the Catholic News’ redesigned website by CAMSEL Digital Media Manager Tracy Chimming-Lewis and distribution of limited-edition prints to individuals that have significantly contributed to the success of the Catholic News over the years.

The 1892 masthead was reproduced on acid-free watercolour paper with a matte finish. Among the recipients of the framed prints were Archbishop Harris, Archbishop Girasoli, June Johnston, Owen Baptiste, Andrew Pitman, the Holy Ghost Fathers, the National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago, former Vicar for Communications Msgr Cuthbert Alexander and Dr Johnson.