The first issue of The Monitor in the Diocese of Trenton was published in January 1954. Articles included Pope Pius XII proclaiming a “Marian Year” and Poland’s Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski being arrested for standing against religious persecution and Communism. Monitor file photo
The first issue of The Monitor in the Diocese of Trenton was published in January 1954. Articles included Pope Pius XII proclaiming a “Marian Year” and Poland’s Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski being arrested for standing against religious persecution and Communism. Monitor file photo

In March 1950, Msgr. George W. Ahr was consecrated and installed as the seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, which, at that time, was composed of eight central New Jersey counties. It was a time of great social and moral change, challenges that would have to be met by the shepherd of a rapidly growing Catholic population.

To help his very large flock navigate the challenges, Bishop Ahr launched a weekly newspaper, The Monitor, in 1954, naming veteran newsman and Trenton Times reporter Vincent A. Weiss as editor.

In the first issue, Bishop Ahr promoted the paper as “a means of education, an inspiration to greater zeal and devotion, and incentive to Catholic action in all that the term implies in the way of practical exemplification of Christian doctrine,” adding that the paper would offer comprehensive coverage of Church, world and national news with an emphasis on local parishes, schools, organizations and people in ministry.

Bishop Ahr expressed his intention that the paper would “bring the people of the widely scattered parishes together in a closer bond of friendship and unity, so that common causes might be advanced more effectively.”

That is a mission associate editor Mary Stadnyk hopes The Monitor has fulfilled in its 65-year history as it prepares to transition from a bi-monthly newspaper to a monthly magazine.

“I believe there are countless ways our readers could have been inspired by stories they have read in The Monitor,” said Stadnyk, who began her work with The Monitor in 1989 as an assistant in the circulation department. “When speaking of the Good News, it does not mean the stories are always ‘happy’ stories. Sometimes the stories that are shared reflect heart-wrenching or angering circumstances, but somewhere along the line, it was the faith of the people that shone forth as they dealt with their particular circumstances that served as a source of inspiration or maybe a teaching tool for our readers.”

With the arrival of the newspaper’s last issue Sept. 5, The Monitor is moving toward an expansion of news content on its newly redesigned, mobile-friendly website, TrentonMonitor.com, as well as the monthly magazine, which will be published and distributed the first weekend in October. Between the website, social media and the new magazine, The

Monitor will continue to bring the diocesan community stories about the people, the parishes and the faith shared in the Diocese of Trenton, associate publisher Rayanne Bennett shared earlier this year.

Looking Back

A 1984 issue of the New Jersey Catholic Historical Commission newsletter described The Monitor in its infancy: “Early issues contained a diverse blend of international, ecclesiastical and local news. Readers pursuing the paper in 1954 could find information concerning Catholism [sic] in France, missionary work in Africa, efforts to form an Ancient order of Hibernians chapter in Keansburg, and the Middlesex County Catholic Bowling League standings.

“One consistently conspicuous feature of the early issues was the space devoted to activities of the Catholic Legion of Decency. This organization’s motion picture classifications, efforts to influence Hollywood productions and network television programming, and weekly reviews of controversial films received extensive coverage.”

In 1981, with the Catholic population of the area continuing to grow, the Diocese was split and the Diocese of Metuchen was established by Pope John Paul II for the counties of Middlesex, Hunterdon, Warren, and Somerset.

For a time, The Monitor served both dioceses, until, in 1983, The Monitor began publishing a special weekly edition for the newly created diocese. That continued until 1995, when the Diocese of Metuchen established its own newspaper – The Catholic Spirit.

“My first association with The Monitor was back in 1990 when I was hired by the Diocese of Metuchen to work with the folks in Trenton on our own edition of this diocesan newspaper,” Bennett recalled. “We were lucky to have had the expertise and sense of mission of a well-established Catholic newspaper to guide us as we produced our Metuchen edition of The Monitor. Our ability to start our own newspaper was only possible because of the generous guidance and support given to us by the Monitor team in Trenton.” 

A Catholic Tradition

As a Catholic newspaper, The Monitor’s roots stretch back more than 100 years, to a time when many Catholic newspapers were just getting off the ground. Though today’s format of The Monitor dates back 65 years, an earlier Catholic paper, also called The Monitor, was published in September 1906 in Newark, the center of Catholic leadership in New Jersey. It ran a story on its first page about Pope Pius X, who was elected Pope in 1903.

A 1907 issue of The Monitor published a pastoral letter on the value of Christian education written by Bishop James A. McFaul, the second bishop of the Diocese of Trenton.

Ten years later, the death of Bishop McFaul, who was known as an outstanding speaker and writer of pastoral letters, would be reported in a 1917 issue of The Monitor, which described itself as the “Official Catholic Weekly of New Jersey.” This artifact was revealed during research conducted by Franciscan Father Gabriel Zeis, diocesan vicar for Catholic education, as he prepared an exhibit last fall on the history of the Diocese.

This early version of The Monitor developed a respected reputation and was often excerpted in other publications, such as a 1907 issue of the New Jersey Review of Charities and Corrections, which ran a headline and story, “The Official Catholic Weekly in New Jersey, The Monitor, speaks very earnestly about Penny Arcades,” while a 1913 issue of Harper’s Weekly included a piece from the “Roman Catholic Weekly, the ‘Monitor’ of Newark, N.J.,” about the appropriateness of singing the anthem “America” in Catholic settings.

Keeping Pace

Over the years, The Monitor has maintained its stride in the rapidly changing world of journalism and with the preferences of readers, adding color throughout and expanding to include special sections and keepsake magazines covering milestone events, said those involved in its production.

Included among its memorable coverage were the historic events of three papal visits – Pope John Paul II at Giants Stadium (now MetLife Stadium) in October 1995; Pope Benedict XVI at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., in 2008, and Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in 2015 – as well as a visit from Mother Teresa of Calcutta to St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, on June 18, 1995.

Many of The Monitor’s productions were award-winning, as well. In its history, the newspaper earned more than 50 Propagation of the Faith and Catholic Press Association Awards, including a half-dozen for general excellence.

Longtime editor of The Monitor, Deacon Joseph Donadieu, who retired from that position in 2008, reflected on his experience with the newspaper as a positive influence on his 35 years as a deacon, saying, “It has given me a wider appreciation of the Church. It’s not just my parish.”

Deacon Donadieu, who was a member of a media group accompanying Pope John Paul II on a 10-city tour in the United States in 1987, relayed a story from that trip when he met a fellow deacon in Texas who had grown up in New Jersey. The deacon explained that when he visited the home of his fiancée’s parents, they always had The Monitor on the table. The young man used to read it and acknowledged that it brought him back to the Church, Deacon Donadieu said.  

Father Garry Koch, pastor in St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, and author of The Monitor’s long-running Scripture column, “The Word,” reflected on the evolving mission of The Monitor over the years: “In 1954, the Diocese was eight very diverse and distant counties. Pope Pius XII was shepherd of the Church, and the Second Vatican Council was still eight years in the future. Much has changed since then. The Monitor undoubtedly led the Diocese through these changes, and kept parishioners up to date on the happenings. 

“Today the Monitor is an arm of evangelization as well. As one arm of the total communications mission of the Diocese, The Monitor is charged with not only presenting news, but also in forming and informing the faithful as to the teachings of the Church in these more uncertain times. The Monitor has become a valuable tool for sharing the faith with others.”

Quotes and information from the New Jersey Catholic Historical Commission, Seton Hall University, South Orange, were used with permission.