By PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA — When Bishop John J. Russell appointed Msgr. Roy F. Aiken to be the editor of The Catholic Banner in 1951, neither the priest nor the newspaper had any background to rely on. Father Aiken was a young priest without any training in journalism; The Banner’s predecessor had been out of print for 90 years.
Today, The Banner is The New Catholic Miscellany, a national award-winning publication that relies on professionals across South Carolina and state-of-the-art electronic technology to come up with a stylish product each week; then, it was Father Aiken with his red pencil in a basement office.
“Actually, I was the whole thing,” Msgr. Aiken said. “I had no staff. The diocese was very poor at that time. We didn’t have anything.”
The chancery then was located in three offices in the basement of the bishop’s house at 114 Broad in Charleston. Technically, the offices were on the ground floor, since the first floor is elevated and the water table in peninsular Charleston is too near the surface to permit bonafide basements. One office was the bishop’s, the second the chancellor’s and the third was for Father Aiken. He was vice-chancellor and Bishop Russell’s secretary.
The Georgia Bulletin was accepting and publishing submissions from the Diocese of Charleston, but the bishop decided that his diocese needed its own paper. He instructed his secretary to look into the possibilities. Father Aiken went out to the offices of Our Sunday Visitor in Huntington, Indiana. The national weekly agreed to print and mail The Banner with their own paper included as a source of world-wide church news. All the young priest had to do was collate, write and submit local news. The OSV editor agreed to correct anything “egregiously wrong.”
“Fortunately, he never had to. I had an old typewriter to write stories, a red pencil with which I drew out headlines and I pasted in pictures and the like. I relied on the pastors to supply (news items). We had a wonderful spirit in the clergy in those days and I received good support. I knew even then, through some kind of sixth sense, that if you don’t work with the pastors you can’t be successful,” Msgr. Aiken said.
The first issue of The Banner was dated Nov. 11, 1951. It was two pages of diocesan news, followed by 14 pages of OSV. That format continued until Dec. 2, 1951, when the back page also originated with the Diocese of Charleston. By March 23, 1952, the first four pages were The Banner and the last page was used to jump some local stories. On Oct. 5, 1952, OSV started a series of graphic religious stories, comics style; it was the only regular color in The Banner. All the advertising was national and The Banner editor’s name did not appear in the paper. Most stories ran without by-lines. But the design and content were Father Aiken’s, despite his lack of training.
“I read newspapers and got ideas from them, learning as I went. My idea was to produce a chatty kind of thing, with the bishop’s letters and schedule in it. I was trying for strictly diocesan news that people could not get elsewhere, not from the other newspapers or the radio. And since people like to see their names in the paper, I published as many names as I could get. We did First Communions, weddings, Confirmations, and church organizations.” It took 10 days from the time the editor sent his pages to Indiana for subscribers to get their paper. Msgr. Aiken said that he and Bishop Russell knew that the time lag was unsatisfactory, but it was the best they could afford.
Despite the financial constraints on the diocese, The Banner’s first editor said that Bishop Russell “raised the vision” for the Diocese of Charleston. One of the ways he did that was to reintroduce a diocesan newspaper for the faithful of South Carolina. When Msgr. Aiken was offered a pastor position in 1953, “I grabbed it.” He was succeeded as editor by Traynor Ferillo, who had been doing some writing for The Banner.
The Banner continued in operation under Bishops Hallinan, Reh and Unterkoefler. The editorial offices moved to Columbia in 1962. Bishop Thompson brought the paper back to the see city and renamed it after the original American Catholic publication, The United States Catholic Miscellany, which was published from 1822 until the Civil War by the first Bishop of Charleston, John England.
So, Bishop England was the first editor of The Miscellany, Msgr. Aiken was the first editor of The Banner. To readers of the Catholic press in South Carolina, they are both in good company.