Page 3, 8th December 2000

8th December 2000
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Page 3, 8th December 2000 — The last months of a historic Jesuit magazine
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The last months of a historic Jesuit magazine

By Simon Caldwell TirE Issurrs are to close down one of the most famous magazines of the British province.

They will cease to publish The Month from April next year. ending a history spanning 136 years.

The decision was taken by British Jesuit Provincial Fr David Smolira at the end of an 18-month review and consultation period because of "a reducing readership and increasing financial burden".

Fr Smolira said: "I am aware that many loyal readers and contributors of The Month will greatly regret this decision and 1 share their sadness at the closure of such an illustrious magazine.

"Times do change, however, and the ways and means by which the British Province of the Society of Jesus attempts to serve the Church most effectively must change too."

The Month was started by a laywoman, Frances Taylor, in 1864 and it was taken over by the Jesuits the following year.

It widened its focus from apologetics and theological speculation to embrace literary critique and sociological research and eventually to include an arts and fiction section.

It was most famous for first publishing The Dream of Gerontius by Cardinal John Henry Newman, and in 1876 for rejecting The Wreck of the Deutschland, the finest work of the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Sonic critics now regard Hopkin's 35-verse, 280-line meditation on suffering as "the greatest 20th century poem of the 19th century". It was written after five Fran

ciscan nuns, fleeing persecution under Germany's Franck laws, were drowned in a shipwreck on the Thames.

In the years leading up to the Modernist crisis of 1907, The Month came in for severe criticism from the Jesuit Generalate in Rome because it was considered to be excessively liberal.

Later, it enjoyed a golden period under Fr Philip Caraman, the editor from 1949 to 1963 and a good friend of such prominent Catholics as Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh whom he persuaded to contribute stories for free.

One of Waugh's novels, Helena, was first published in The Month.

Recurrent themes over recent decades have been liberation theology, the Church in Eastern Europe and Northern Ireland, marriage, education, the decline in Mass attendance, and — particularly under the editorship of Hugh Kay in the 1970s and 1980s — social justice in the workplace.

The Month also made amends for its great mistake of the previous century by carrying much on the life and writings of Hopkins. According to current editor, Fr Tim Noble, The Month "has been surprisingly consistent over the years in terms of the interface between society, theology and culture".

However, readership has been slowly declining over the last 20 years.

The Month, which is produced at the Jesuit provincial offices in Mount Street, Mayfair, London, now has sales of a mere 1,130 copies, half of which are to overseas subscribers.

The magazine has also been heavily subsidised by the province since revenues cover just two thirds of production costs.

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised that "fewer and fewer" Jesuits were writing for it.

Its closure was also influenced by the impending departure of Fr Noble, who who is leaving to complete his tertianship and could not be replaced by another priest, meaning the Jesuits would need to seek a salaried lay editor, and to massively subsidise the publication even further.

"After such a long time, it is sad but the reasons are very

understandable," said Fr Noble. "I think it is a decision which probably reflects the nature of the problem that there are fewer Jesuits in the country and we have to think about how we want to concentrate our resources.

"There are things opening up, especially in the areas of adult education and spirituality."

The British Province also publishes The Way, a quarterly about Jesuit spirituality; The Heythrop Journal, which focuses on academic theology, and Jesuits and Friends, a free magazine which deals mostly with the missions. Jesuit-run Heythrop College, at the University of London, is now considering launching a journal "on dialogue with culture" to fill any gaps created by the demise of The Month.

Fr Fergus O'Donoghue, a Jesuit of the Irish Province, conducted market research into Jesuit journals in Spain, Britain and the United States in preparation for his appointment next year as editor of Studies, a quarterly in the Irish Republic.

He said reviews which were general rather than specific had been forced to re-appraise style and content in view of changes to the profile of readerships.

"An awful lot of under-35s don't read," he said. "People want short, snappy presentations, and this has been a difficulty in producing a magazine or journal which will be a Catholic voice in media circles."

In Spain, Razon l' Fe monthly is now regarded as having a secure future, while America, a Jesuit weekly published in New York, was increasing in circulation after acting on market research.




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