Salina — In its 80 year history, The Register’s most noteworthy editor remains Msgr. Raymond Menard. A priest for 67 years for the Diocese of Salina, he was the editor for six decades, serving from 1944 until 2006 when he retired. He had a brief break from duties at the newspaper from 1971 to 1975. “It was his passion,” said Doug Weller, who took the helm of The Register upon Msgr. Menard’s retirement. “Virtually his entire time in the diocese was producing The Register on top of being hospital chaplain (at St. John’s Hospital in Salina) for most of that time. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.” An ever-present presence at diocesan events, Msgr. Menard was known for having a camera in his hand. “So many people would say ‘You’d know monsignor was there because you would see two arms sticking up in the crowd with a camera,’ ” Weller said, and added that Msgr. Menard was about 5 feet, 4 inches tall, so it was necessary to hoist his camera into the air to capture photographs of an event.
The Northwest Kansas Register published its first edition on Nov. 21, 1937 in the Diocese of Salina. It was one of many Register newspapers established by Msgr. Matthew Smith in Denver. The “Register” newspapers contained several pages of local content, provided by a diocesan editor and diocesan contributors. It was delivered every Sunday, and an annual subscription cost $1.
The Jan. 18, 1941 newspaper reads: “In the summer of 1936, Father Brown was connected with the Chancery and was sent by the Bishop in the fall of that year to the Register school of journalism, where he later received the degree of bachelor of journalism. “Bishop Tief recalled Father Brown to Concordia in October of 1937 and appointed him as editor and business manager of the Northwestern Kansas Register, which started publication Nov. 21, 1937. Father Brown has served in this capacity since that time and has effected a steady development of the diocesan organ. It now reaches every Catholic household in the diocese, which numbers approximately 43,000 Catholics.” In 1941, Father Brown — who later became Msgr. Brown — was appointed chaplain of Catholic Boy Scout troops of the Diocese of Concordia, and Father Bernard Jaster became the editor from 1941-44.
Over the years, diocesan newspapers transitioned from the national platform of The Register to a local one, where an editor was responsible for all of the content in the newspaper, not just the local news. Msgr. Menard was appointed to The Register in 1944. In 1945, the seat of the diocese moved from Concordia to Salina, and with it, Msgr. Menard.
A July 28, 2006 story about Msgr. Menard says: As Register editor, Monsignor traveled frequently. In the early days, that often was with the bishop, and he developed close relationships with them. He laughed at one recollection. “Bishop (Daniel) Kucera would say, ‘My God, don’t quote everything I say. I’m running out of material.’ ”
For decades, Msgr. Menard produced The Register with a manual typewriter and Yashica medium format camera. As retirement neared, then-Bishop Paul Coakley began to search for a replacement. “The goal was to modernize the whole system,” said Doug Weller, who was the editor from 2006-16. “We were really limited in who could print the paper because he was relying on a print shop who could take copy and paste up a paper in a way that newspapers haven’t done in years.” So while Weller worked with the printer in Abilene and produced a newspaper as Msgr. Menard had done for decades, he simultaneously worked on designing a new, full color newspaper. “Bishop Coakley wanted color and a more modern design and more local coverage,” Weller said.
In his younger days, Weller said Msgr. Menard was a visible presence throughout the diocese. As he aged, he relied on local parish contacts, as well as priests to provide news for The Register. Throughout his tenure, Weller said he enjoyed the special newspaper dedicated to rural life, as well as a story on Sister Kathryn Ann of the Holy Angels, a hermitess who lives in the diocese. Like Msgr. Menard, Weller said the multitude of parishioners who contributed news items are vital to producing the newspaper.
Another large project Weller undertook was partnering with French publisher Editions du Signe to publish “A History of the Salina Diocese,” which was a book commemorating the 125th anniversary of the diocese. “I had a year and a half to put the book together,” Weller said of the book which was produced in addition to the weekly newspaper. “That was pretty monumental. I think it was about a 40,000 word output, and then hundreds of photos.”
Weller departed the diocese in 2016 to design a new magazine published by B the Change Media in Lawrence. After one year, the magazine folded, and he is now a communications specialist for the Kansas Judicial Branch in Topeka, while also a freelancer for The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City. He said the continuation of a diocesan newspaper for 80 years is a milestone. “I think it’s really important in this day and age that a diocese can still do this,” he said of a diocesan newspaper. “A lot of larger dioceses have abandoned their newspapers and gone to monthly magazines. Maybe they’re good for a highly populated diocese, but our whole diocese is small-town Kansas. They want a newspaper that has stories about people they know and is close to home.”