ALLOUEZ — It’s been 60 years since the first issue of “The Green Bay Register” rolled off the presses. The Register was the first in a continuous line of papers and magazines that today is “The Compass.” Even though The Register debuted on Nov. 2, 1956, it was not the first effort at a Catholic newspaper in northeastern Wisconsin.
The North Wisconsin Catholic
The first newspaper ever published in the Green Bay Diocese was the short lived North Wisconsin Catholic. It first appeared on May 17, 1890 in De Pere, and billed itself as “The Official Paper for the Diocese of Green Bay.” The first edition, launched under Bishop Frederick Katzer, the third bishop of the diocese, promised to be “a weekly family paper and advocate of the Catholic school.”
Only one issue of this paper exists in the diocesan Archives and the Library of Congress lists it as a publication during the year 1890 only.
The Green Bay Register
After 1890, more than six decades passed before the next “Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay” appeared. Since 1956, there has been a continuous newsprint presence in the diocese.
On the feast of All Souls, Nov. 2, 1956, The Green Bay Register debuted, under the leadership of Fr. Orville Janssen, founding editor. It was part a group of diocesan papers known as “The Register System of Newspapers,” based in Denver. The Register System, founded in 1927, also had a national edition which continues today: “The National Catholic Register.”
The papers in the Register System contained the national pages of The Register in their own papers and everything was printed on its Denver presses. Each week, The Green Bay Register’s final copy was sent by airplane to the Denver presses. Green Bay was the 35th diocese to join the Register System.
The founding publisher of The Green Bay Register was Bishop Stanislaus Bona. The paper found a permanent home in what was then the Diocesan Office Building at 131 S. Monroe St. in Green Bay, across from St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.
To prepare for the new publication, Bishop Bona asked all pastors to provide at least one parish correspondent to write news articles. He asked the same of groups such as the Knights of Columbus and even asked schools to provide one “student correspondent” each. The bishop also urged all Catholic entities to announce their news first in the diocesan paper.
“If local papers get their Catholic news from the columns of the diocesan paper, their reporting on Catholic subjects will be more accurate,” the bishop wrote to pastors.
There were many congratulatory ads in that first edition of 20 pages — including one from Sen. Joseph McCarthy. An annual subscription was $3.50. (In 2016 dollars, that same annual subscription would cost $31.)
One aspect of the newspaper, which today would be controversial, was political advertising. The Nov. 2, 1956 edition included voting ads for Dwight Eisenhower for president and Vernon Thompson for governor. Political cartoons were also sprinkled in. There was an ad for a newly-published book about Dominican Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, called “Medicine for Wildcat.” The sainthood cause for Fr. Mazuchelli, founder of the Sinsinawa (Wisconsin) Dominicans, is underway and he has been declared “Venerable.” Fr. Mazzuchelli was, for a time, assigned to what became the Green Bay Diocese and founded what is today St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay.
In his first “Editorial Comment” column, Fr. Janssen explained The Register’s mission: “It exists not just to inform or to disseminate information; it exists also and even primarily to instruct. It is an instrument of the church founded by Christ to teach and therefore it must be to some extent a teacher in our world.”
There were 15 counties and one Native American reservation (now Menominee County) for the paper to cover, and only three employees: Fr Janssen, Doris Stimart (secretary) and Ray Wanek, ad manager. A dedicated group of local freelance writers and national and local columnists were also part of the team.
The early Register was printed in two sections — one contained local news, official announcements, parish notes and school sports coverage. The second section held world and national church news, as well as nationally syndicated columns — including then-Bishop Fulton Sheen, who was declared “Venerable” on June 28, 2012 — and a full page of comics, all provided by The Register Group. (Today, The Compass runs its own monthly Kids’ Page with cartoon graphics.)
During its final year in 1970, The Register experimented with using color on some pages: the center four-page feature — Family Pages — was printed on green paper.
For the centennial celebration of the diocese in 1968, then-editor Fr. William Stengel produced a 72-page paper. It included aerial photos — taken by Fr. Stengel — of every building important to the diocese: 300, including every parish and school.
One of the last major features of The Register was a 40-page supplement on June 19, 1970, for the ordination of Fr. Mark Schmitt as auxiliary bishop of the diocese. Bishop Schmitt was later appointed to head the Marquette Diocese from 1978 to 1992, when he retired.
The Register continued until September 1970, when it became clear that printing locally would be less expensive than sending pages to Denver.
A “name the paper” contest resulted in a list of 130 names. The winner was The Spirit.
Ties with the Register System ended and The Spirit began as a weekly diocesan paper on Sept. 11, 1970.
The new paper was locally printed in Denmark, Wis., by Brown County Publishing (BCP). The relationship continued until 2006, the year when BCP’s presses were sold.
Bishop Aloysius Wycislo presented the vision statement of the new paper: “With this first issue of ‘The Spirit’ … we embark upon a brave venture. … So much is happening today, so much that is new and exciting in religion, that we need our own means of communication with all of you.”
In keeping with that new beginning theme, the first issue of The Spirit ran a photo story visually explaining its new name: “In the Beginning God Created, … and the Spirit of God Moved.” The photos portrayed the first days of creation from the Book of Genesis.
Bishop Wycislo was the new paper’s president and publisher; Fr. William Stengel, who had been an editor with the paper since 1957, was named as editor.
The first issue — retaining the traditional newspaper broadsheet format — ran 20 pages and had columns by several priests, including the late sociologist and novelist Fr. Andrew Greeley. Besides news, there was a farm page, family pages, book and movie reviews, comics and high school football schedules.
A main story of that first issue dealt with the funeral of Vince Lombardi. The former Green Bay Packer coach had helped initiate the Bishop’s Charities Game in 1961.
Within a year, The Spirit was assisting in the composition of The Badger Bulletin — a quarterly publication by the Wisconsin Knights of Columbus — and The U.P Catholic — the newspaper of the Marquette Diocese (which is now an independent paper). A new editor, Reinhard Wessing (who was later ordained to the diaconate), was named in 1971. The additional workload caused Bishop Wycislo to found a diocesan communications department in 1973, with Wessing as its first director. The Spirit remained an independent department and the paper’s third editor — Jim Alt — was named.
The Spirit Magazine
To attract new subscribers, The Spirit newspaper was changed from a weekly format to a monthly magazine in October 1977. It was dubbed the “Green Bay Diocese’s official Catholic family magazine,” and sent to every Catholic household in the diocese: a total of 89,000 homes. (The change came following a pilot of the magazine format in January 1977.)
Alt became general manager/editor of the magazine and Doug Landwehr became the news editor. The Spirit magazine was divided into two major parts: one section called “Accent on the News;” and another named “Religious Education and Features.”
The magazine was a monumental undertaking, even by today’s computerized standards, since it was not really a single magazine — but several different magazines produced each month. Each contained the same main body of The Spirit — columns and national, state and diocesan news –
and then added four pages of regional news for each of six different regional issues.
Such comprehensive coverage required a system of correspondents — writers who, while not employees of the paper, covered a “regular beat” like big city reporters. That regional correspondent system continued into the late 1980s.
In The Spirit’s premier issue, Bishop Wycislo explained the new format: “This issue of The Spirit marks the beginning of a new era of communications for our Green Bay diocese — the first time we will be able to reach all our families each month.”
Because it was such a large undertaking — producing basically six magazines a month — The Spirit magazine did not succeed. Its last issue — September 1978 — announced the death of Pope Paul VI.
Green Bay Catholic Compass
In the month between the last Spirit magazine and the debut of The Compass, another pope had been elected — and died. The Oct. 7, 1978, premiere of The Compass headlined the death of Pope John Paul I. It was a time of waiting, both for the church — since Pope John Paul II was not elected until Oct. 18 — and for the new paper (which returned to the newspaper broadsheet, weekly format.)
In his first column, Bishop Wycislo explained his choice of the paper’s name — which also explained its purpose: “Sailors and boat people in our beautiful lake-studded area of northeastern Wisconsin will understand why we chose to name our new diocesan paper ‘The Green Bay Catholic Compass’ (shortened in later years to ‘The Compass.’). The implications of providing direction, education and steering a correct course in keeping with the teachings of the church are obvious.”
Then-Fr. Steven Halbach was the first editor, Doug Landwehr became associate editor. (He later became editor until 1987.)
The Compass was at first a black and white production. In the 1980s, a single color was added to its front page (green). Full color covers — known as four-color processing — did not become a regular feature until 1993.
The first issue debuted the “True North” column by Bishop Wycislo. Bishop Wycislo had begun the tradition of a regular column by the bishop in the papers upon his arrival in the diocese in 1968. His column in The Register/The Spirit was called “Talks with the Pastor” — some of which were later published as a book. Many dealt with Vatican II, which Bishop Wycislo attended in its entirety.
The Compass offices were still located in the diocesan office building on S. Monroe Street, but soon moved to the old St. Joseph Orphanage on the current diocesan grounds in Allouez, along the Fox River. The Compass was one of the first offices to move into the former orphanage building — and was the last office to move out of that building, which was demolished in 1981.
The Compass was relocated to the lower level of Bona Hall, which had served as a dormitory for the orphanage. It was later renovated so that all the diocesan offices and departments could be centralized. The Compass was the only office to function in that dormitory during its renovation and often functioned with its computers draped in plastic to shield them from construction dust.
In August 1985, The Compass changed to a tabloid size. Richard Cain was named editor in 1988 and Tony Staley became editor in 1989. Nancy Barthel (1987-88) and Patricia Kasten (1989) served as interim editors.
By the late 1990s, the paper was designed entirely on computers and published “in-house” by the staff. This remains the case, with the pages printed on off-site, third party presses.
In the year 2000, The Compass created its first website as part of the Jubilee Year celebrations. The website debuted in Lent. The Compass had been part of the Green Bay Diocese’s website since not long after the diocesan site’s inception in 1997, with the paper’s first official page on the diocesan site dating to January 1998. Even after The Compass formed its own site in 2000, it still has a presence on the diocesan website.
On Oct. 31, 2002, www.thecompassnews.org was formed and the site went live in November of that year.
Retired editor Tony Staley recalled that those early postings had to be “hard-coded” in HTML (a computer language), which took a lot of time and restricted the amount of content. “It’s hard to believe that, back then, content was posted only weekly or biweekly when the new issue came out,” he said.
The paper’s website was redesigned in 2009 and upgraded again in 2013.
“When I was hired as news and information manager in 2007,” said Sam Lucero, “websites were becoming much more robust and the gradual switch was underway from needing a webmaster with coding experience to update stories to creating a content management system website that allowed staff with little or no web background to update content daily. I served as web master, among other duties, while at the Milwaukee Catholic Herald and helped steer The Compass to this new website approach in 2009. Four years later, we redesigned the website to allow readers who use smartphones and tablets to see a mobile-friendly site.”
Today, The Compass staff is able to update the site daily, or even several times each day. The Compass also maintains a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, YouTube, Google+ and Instagram.
The paper also offers online albums of photos from events around the diocese which people can access through its website and social media. Lucero also envisions video and other multimedia projects playing “a larger role in the mission of The Compass.”
The Compass staff consists of Lucero, an advertising and marketing manager, a designer, a part-time proofreader, two associate editors, one circulation assistant and a part time proofreader. In addition to the paper — which is published 42 times a year — The Compass produces Compass in the Classroom — which offers teaching aids and free copies of the paper for classrooms — compiles an annual diocesan directory, hosts an autograph signing at the annual Bishop’s Charities Game and runs pilgrimages each year.
The first Compass pilgrimage took place in 2007, to Poland with Bishop David Zubik. Since then, pilgrimages have been hosted by retired Bishop Robert Banks and Bishop David Ricken. In 2015, The Compass and the diocesan Living Justice Department hosted a pilgrimage to Philadelphia during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. This year, the pilgrimage was to the shrines of eastern Canada. In fall of 2017, the pilgrimage will be to Ireland with Bishop Ricken.
Advertising and marketing manager Amy Kawula first suggested the pilgrimages as a way to promote the paper, as well as raise revenue.
“The pilgrimages have proven to be so much more,” she said. “They have deepened the faith lives of so many people, provided the opportunity for our people to spend quality time in prayer with our bishops and created strong disciples who return to their families and parish community stronger disciples and more engaged. … We leave as strangers and return as family.”
Since 2009, The Compass has received seven general excellence awards from the Catholic Press Association of the U.S. and Canada, including four first place awards in its circulation category. This year, The Compass staff and freelance writers received a total of 18 Catholic Press awards.