The writer’s 1993 press pass
The writer’s 1993 press pass

In the first issue of the Catholic Sentinel, dated Feb. 5, 1870, the editors wrote of their newspaper: “It shall ever try to be what its name purports — a sentinel or defender of our faith from outside aggressions and inside disturbances — and a medium for the interchange of ideas, having in view mutual improvement and benefit.”

What does this fine bit of Victorian frontier prose mean 150 years later?

Today, since Catholics are for the most part accepted in broader society, we at the Sentinel have replaced the defensive stance with a positive tone and an analytic eye. We hold up interesting Catholic people, describe innovative ministries and note the progress of parishes, schools and other church institutions.

I am the youngest of six children, all of us Baby Boomers. I’m the only practicing Catholic left. When I choose Sentinel stories and when I write and edit, I always have my older brothers and sisters in the back of my mind. I ask myself: What would convince them of the beautiful truth of the church, persuade them of its vital necessity and fascinate them so much that they’d give the Catholic Church another look? And so we seek to be a newspaper of the New Evangelization, bringing inactive Catholics home via storytelling.

Yet our founders call out to us from the past: “You need some fight left in the Sentinel!” Good advice.

As for “outside aggressions,” there are many. It’s clear that prevailing Oregon culture makes little effort to understand the real Catholic Church and instead laughs or rails at Catholic stereotypes. Culture also resists our attempts to live out our ancient and well-reasoned beliefs, especially in the worlds of marriage and health care. The Sentinel needs to explain and illuminate with zeal.

And the old story of Catholic immigrants who suffer the sting of hate has returned. Like the Irish of the 1870s, Hispanics in Oregon today carry a burden of widespread and official suspicion. El Centinela and the Catholic Sentinel are committed to telling their stories and showing that xenophobia is both anti-Christian and self-destructive.

On this point, a confession is necessary. The Irish-American founders of this newspaper were nasty to later waves of migrants, thus violating their own Catholic principles and experience.

Listen to what the editors wrote in 1873: “One great drawback exists, which deters thousands of the most valuable and industrious people, the working people, to come here — and this is the presence among us of hordes of Chinese. These Chinese are — no one who looks at the matter in its true light will deny it — the curse of the Pacific coast States, and particularly of Oregon, which, more than any other, owing to its great agricultural advantages, requires a white population.”

We of today’s Sentinel decry and reject this racist stain on our heritage. We urge all Catholics to keep a watchful eye out for new racism. In doing so, we’ll face down one of our church’s “inside disturbances” as our founders called them. There are others.

The Sentinel’s most celebrated stories of the modern era identify trends and point the way to make a better church. I think of our series explaining the harmony of faith and science, our look at racism in the church and our exploration of the ways some religious leaders emotionally abuse believers.

We are grateful that the leaders of the Archdiocese of Portland and Oregon Catholic Press support transparency when it comes to church workers committing sexual abuse. The Sentinel must continue to report on abuse when it happens, increasing awareness among the faithful and deterring future malfeasance. This effort aligns clearly with our founders’ call to “mutual improvement and benefit.”

As for “interchange of ideas,” we are one of only a few diocesan newspapers that publish letters to the editor. On occasion, we withstand pressure to do away with them because they can at times be intemperate, off-base and ill-informed. Well, yes. It would be easier if we nixed the whole salty feature. But we accept that these commentators are not popes and bishops. The fact that the Sentinel prints a letter does not mean we and the whole church leadership agree with it. It only means we value the voice of the people and the process of achieving truth via debate. A dim idea might well be what leads us to a bright one. That is a very old Catholic notion employed by no less than the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The Sentinel’s mission, when you whittle to the core, has always come from the mouth of the Lord: We are here to help people love God and love others. Both of those tasks of the Great Commandment involve understanding and loving our wholly human and divinely led institution, the church. That we do. We are all in.

Many call us too liberal. An equal number claim we are too conservative. Like Sentinel editors before me, I claim that these labels say more about the people trying to impose them than about us. We are Catholic, and that does not always fit into the right-left scheme.

Our founders, for all their faults, left us a heavy and solemn legacy; we must defend and enlighten. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we blow it. Pray for us that we remain strong enough to bear the whole endeavor with joy.

Langlois began as a reporter at the Sentinel in 1993 and was named managing editor in 2016.