Chaz Muth, of CNS, recently visited our offices for an extensive piece on the magazine's history, just posted on the CNS website. In case you don't have access, here it is:
America magazine reflects on century of triumphs, debates and faith
By Chaz Muth Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) -- For the past year the editors of America have searched for the right balance of celebration and reflection to mark the 100th anniversary of the Jesuits' weekly magazine of opinion. Only a handful of magazines have been around longer than America, and its impact on American Catholicism and society has been substantial.
As Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen -- editor in chief of the magazine -- discussed the landmark anniversary during an April 21 interview with Catholic News Service in his New York office, the 64-year-old scholar couldn't contain his pride when reflecting on America's past century or when contemplating its future. The magazine championed civil rights and battled racism decades before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the pre-eminent U.S. leader of the cause, and took issue with U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy's 1950s anti-communism campaign. Its approach to some Catholic issues over the years has infuriated a few U.S. bishops who have made their objections known to the Vatican.
"I'm really proud of the history of the magazine," said Jesuit Father James Martin, who is currently the culture editor but has served in several capacities in the 10 years he has lived and worked in America's nine-story New York office building. As Father Martin gave a CNS reporter a tour of the magazine's home since July 1964, he proudly pointed out framed covers of some issues, which numbered 4,851 by the April 17 anniversary date. The walls also are adorned with letters of appreciation to the editors from U.S. presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and, most recently, Barack Obama, who sent a letter April 1. The first four floors are for the magazine, and levels five through nine have living quarters and offices for the Jesuits who help produce the publication.
The editorial bullpen resembles an old-time newsroom, with rows of desks and leather-bound issues of the magazine lining the ample built-in book cases. The elegantly decorated John LaFarge Lounge -- named after the Jesuit priest who was on the staff from 1929 until his death in 1963 -- is the formal conference room. The more modestly furnished Associates Room -- decorated with scores of framed photos of past associate editors and contributors -- is used for the magazine's day-to-day business. "I've been here for a tenth of the magazine's existence," Father Martin said. "It's a little humbling when you look at it that way."
Before the first issue of America was published April 17, 1909, there was no publication in the U.S. about the country's Catholics and culture, like The Tablet in London, he said. The Jesuits viewed having a magazine as part of their mission, said Father Martin, 48, the author of nine published books and two others in the works. "A Jesuit is supposed to explain the church to the world, and the world to the church," he said. "That's pretty much what the magazine does."
Over the past century, the magazine has been housed in four different locations in New York. It has been in its current home the longest -- nearly 45 years. Most of the key players in the magazine's early days were Jesuits. Now several are laypeople, including literary editor Patricia A. Kossmann. She joined America shortly before its 90th anniversary and was the first woman to serve on the magazine's editorial board.
In recent years America has reached beyond its pages to engage in public debate on current issues. Father Martin has been the magazine's spokesman on National Public Radio, CNN and even on Comedy Central's<