The Southern Messenger, for many years the only English-language Catholic newspaper in Texas, was first published under that name in 1893. It had its origin as a small parish bulletin founded in 1890 by Oblate historian C. J. Smith, pastor of St. Mary's Church in San Antonio. In January 1891, under the name St. Mary's Review, the monthly circular grew into a semimonthly publication that six months later became a weekly newspaper. In February 1892, J. C. Neraz, bishop of San Antonio, endorsed it as official organ of his diocese and changed its name to San Antonio Messenger. In April the printing plant burned and the bishop decided to cancel the publication, but in October operations resumed under the direction and with the capital of L. William Menger, son of the founder of the Menger Hotel. Menger expanded the newspaper, made it regional in scope, and on March 4, 1893, changed its name to Southern Messenger. He edited and published it until his death in 1919. Two sons succeeded him. The Southern Messenger was the first statewide Catholic newspaper in Texas. It served as official publication of all the dioceses until 1935, when the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo established its own newspaper. Eventually, several dioceses and parishes started publications to serve their particular needs. But the Messenger continued to be published as a well-respected Catholic newspaper, approved by a long list of bishops and adopted as an official organ by the Knights of Columbus and other prominent Catholic organizations. In 1941 the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio founded the Alamo Register, which became in a few years the largest Catholic newspaper in the Southwest. In 1957 the Menger family sold the Southern Messenger to Robert E. Lucey, archbishop of San Antonio. The result was the merger of the two best-known names in Texas Catholic journalism into the Alamo Messenger, which began publication on August 4, 1957.
For the historian, the Southern Messenger is an important depository of Catholic news, information, and ideas, which covers seven crucial decades of recurrent debates about religious freedom and patriotism. The Messenger set out early to prove that no conflict existed between Catholicism and American citizenship. In 1891 the paper published in installments "A Catechism of the History of the United States," in which the patriotism of American Catholics, both in peace and at war, was emphasized. The newspaper also took a nativist position against the San Antonio Polish Catholic community, which had requested a Polish bishop. In other matters, the paper supported traditional Catholic causes: Irish home rule abroad, for example, and the attempt to secure public support for parochial schools at home. Although not polemic in nature, the Review did engage in controversies with anti-Catholic factions in San Antonio such as the Washington League, which opposed nuns as public-school teachers. The San Antonio Messenger had editorial confrontations with the American Protective Association, an organization rumored at the time to be responsible for the burning of the newspaper in 1892. L. William Menger was politically loyal to the United States and spiritually loyal to the Catholic Church. At the same time, as editor, he increased the Messenger's polemic tone in defense of Catholics against the relentless accusations of the APA. He did not hesitate to borrow arguments from national and local newspapers-including the Iconoclast-although the Messenger warned its subscribers against indiscriminately reading William C. Brann's publication. Menger favored neutrality in the Cuban conflict up to 1898, but once the United States declared war on Catholic Spain, the Messenger firmly supported the American cause and summoned Catholics to show their patriotism. This pattern was later repeated in both world wars.
Culturally, the Messenger presented Catholic doctrine and perspective in a sober, articulate manner, and thus gradually increased the religious understanding of its readers. It frequently published articles on earlier deeds and trials of the Catholic Church in Texas and always brought to the present a historical sense of continuity. Though it engaged in controversy only as a last resource, the Messenger had to confront attacks from the Ku Klux Klan and other anti-Catholic organizations in the early decades of the twentieth century. Even then, the Messenger showed relative restraint and fairness. In 1924, for example, the paper published three consecutive supplements addressed to non-Catholics, which contained an objective exposition of Catholic viewpoints and attitudes. During Al Smith's unsuccessful presidential campaign, the Messenger published in forty-three installments a solid historical study on "The Catholic Question in the United States." A long-enduring anticlerical government in Mexico brought great pressure on the church. Many priests fled from Mexico, some of whom went to San Antonio. Father Eugene Sugranes interviewed many of them there and published their first-hand accounts in the Southern Messenger between 1917 and 1941. The articles were quoted around the nation, and many prominent people sought Father Sugranes's opinion on the Mexican situation. The ultimate acceptance of Catholics by most of the Texas population in the following decades was partly made possible by the Southern Messenger.