It was an historic assembly of priests that launched the first issue of Wel-com in September 1984 and the National Assembly of Priests again features in this 250th issue nearly 24 years later. Then the newspaper was just eight pages moving to 12 the following year.
The newspaper’s founding editor was Fr Bernie Hehir, who lived and assisted at St Teresa’s, Karori, and worked on communications for the archdiocese.
‘I remember the truck coming into the old convent in Brougham Street bringing the first bundle of Wel-coms—the anxious wait to see what the first issue looked like on newsprint.
In those days the Religious Education Centre, the Media Studio and the Renew office were housed in Brougham Street. Other parts of the archdiocesan administration were scattered through the city to be brought together when the present Catholic Centre opened in 1990.
The germ of an idea that became Wel-com belongs to Archbishop Reginald Delargey (1914-1979) who was concerned that the Catholic press—The Tablet and the Zealandia—were not covering Wellington news.
So Fr Bernie Hehir was commissioned to investigate possibilities.
He consulted Karori parishioner, Maurice Kitching, who had taken over the Karori and Western Suburbs News in 1961 and started two other community newspapers covering southern and eastern suburbs.
Then Archbishop Delargey died and everything went on hold.
The project was later revived when Archbishop Tom Williams also expressed disquiet that Wellington Catholic news wasn’t being covered. Further discussions with Maurice Kitching led to Wel-com being devised as a newspaper with the help of a former youth movement colleague of Archbishop Tom’s, Pat Scrimshaw, an advertising manager who helped get the project underway.
Getting the news out
Stories came from many sources—individuals and parishes, correspondents in the Wairarapa and the South Island. The Catholic Education Office and Catholic Social Services were also good sources of news.
Because many of the stories coming in were handwritten, the secretary to the CEO did the typing. Pat would then take the typewritten stories with Bernie’s headlines and ordered notations to Wellington Typesetters where they were produced in columns with headlines on a separate page.
Pat and Bernie would then proofread them, cut and lay them out on large sheets. Pat would return to the typesetters with the mock-ups and they would make up the pages. One more proofread to make sure everything was in the right place and the camera-ready copy was taken to the printer.
The first print run was 10,000 but soon 12,000 copies were printed and distributed from Brougham Street, packed and labelled according to each parish’s needs.
Free to all
Archbishop Tom was keen that the newspaper be free so that every Catholic family in a parish or on the electoral roll received a copy. Many parishes distributed to those who were not regular mass-goers.
‘The perennial problem was getting people to meet their deadlines.’
Bernie also found deadlines difficult.
‘I was a bit of a perfectionist. I wouldn’t let a page go until was absolutely satisfied with layout. I would pull it entirely to bits sometimes.’
The second issue which appeared in December 1984 was a 20-page special to carry archdiocesan financial news. Throughout 1985 Wel-com came out every two months and became a monthly in the following year.
Colour was an extra expense so used sparingly. It was gradually introduced in the name and for some front-page pictures.
‘I’ll never forget the excitement of the first colour issue. It was red which signified Holy Spirit, vibrant, exciting.’
The name was a pun on the sound of ‘welcome’ using the first syllables of Wellington and Communications.
A change of editorship came in the late 1990s when Marilyn Pryor, took over from Bernie. Marilyn had started as a secretary with the Archdiocesan Development Fund, then worked on special projects for Cardinal Williams and offered to do some typing for Wel-com.
She then became the director of Archdiocesan Pastoral Services while working as assistant editor for Wel-com. Fr Barry Edwards took over the advertising at about the same time.
New technology meant the staff could do their own typesetting and eventually Marilyn was able to do whole pages leaving gaps for photos and advertisements which the Wellington Typesetters scanned and inserted.
The newspaper went through four printing firms, in Levin, Stratford and Paraparaumu before settling with the Wanganui Chronicle which has printed the newspaper since the late 1980s.
Getting it there
The distribution was another challenge. Bernie would drive the camera-ready copy in a hired van to Whanganui (or Levin, Stratford or Paraparaumu) check proofs and bring back the printed papers the following day calling at parishes on the way. South Island parishes received their copies by air and Catholic Centre staff helped get them to parishes in Wellington.
Today the document is made into a pdf and emailed to the printer. Distribution of the
24,000 copies printed is done entirely by couriers.