Monday, September 10, 2007

jubilee jells

The following article about Jubilee, a Catholic publication founded by Ed Rice and co-edited with Merton and Lax, appeared in TIME magazine on February 22, 1954. The magazine was meant to be, among other things, a “bridge between the religious and the secular”.

According to Jim Forest, "Jubilee was not a voice of opposition so much as a journal searching for what was most vital in Catholic Christianity".

Monday, Feb. 22, 1954

Jubilee Jells

From a bare Manhattan loft last spring, a young magazine writer and his friends, working nights, sent out the first copies of a new religious magazine to 8,000 venturesome subscribers.

Ambitiously, they billed it as "the first national picture magazine for a Catholic audience." This week Editor Edward Rice, 35, and a full-time staff, busy setting up copy for next month's issue, had reason to feel their optimism justified. With a press run of 38,000 and a steady stream of subscriptions, the magazine was on course. Its name: Jubilee, from the Latin of the Psalm, Jubilate Deo, omnis terra (Sing joyfully to God, all the earth).

Jubilee is something new in Roman Catholic publishing in the U.S.—a good upper-middlebrow monthly that cuts a path of its own between the intellectual themes of such small-circulation magazines as Commonweal and the Catholic World and the folksy but heavy-handed news-plus-doctrine of the average diocesan weekly. In its neat packages of pictures and text, Jubilee can equally well explain the dogma of the Assumption, illustrate the life and work of modern Catholic artists like the late Eric Gill, discuss historical figures like the Venerable Bede, or give its readers a handy briefing (by a Catholic psychiatrist) on the dangers of too-severe toilet training for

The magazine was planned four years ago by Editor Rice and Roving Editor Robert Lax, 35. Rice and Lax, a convert to Catholicism, had been talking religion since their student days at Columbia—where Rice was the godfather of another Manhattan convert, Thomas (The Seven Storey Mountain) Merton. Working with Peter J. McDonnell, a printing salesman and now Jubilee's advertising manager, they financed their project by offering one share of stock with each $5-a-year subscription. When they had a slim $60,000 to go on, they put out their first issue. Now Jubilee has Editor Rice and eight others working full time, with four more part-time assistants. In the February issue, the editors felt fat enough to make their first standard introductory offer (six months for $2).

To fill their current issue, Jubilee's editors characteristically let their cameras run over a singular combination of everyday Catholic problems and the Church's backgrounding in history and the liturgy.

Included: a mass baptism at Harlem's Church of the Resurrection, the day-today life of a Pittsburgh steelworker. The leading article is a suggested plan for a first reading of the Bible, written by a French Dominican nun, Sister Jeanne d'Arc, for Catholics who want to go through their Bibles cover to cover without getting bogged down in the "arid passages" of the Old Testament.*

Editorially, Jubilee has a calmness that other religious publications might envy, but the editors' religious premises are nonetheless uncompromising. Said Editor Rice: "[The people] we cover are the heroic, the altruistic, the honest, the holy —instead of the glorified confidence man and the lovable fraud who get so much space these days."

Sister Jeanne d'Arc's formula: begin with the Gospels and the Psalms, following with the books of the Old Testament arranged by chronology, e.g., Ruth with Judges, and ending with Machabees and Wisdom; close with the New Testament Epistles and The Apocalypse.


  1. Back in the day, I used to pick up a copy of Jubilee in the parish magazine rack. I was disappointed when it stopped publication. It was a brave, new, breath of fresh air at the time.

  2. One of my long range projects is to peruse these magazines, Barbara. There are some universities around that have copies. Dr. Pearson at the Merton Center in Louisville says that they have a full collection there.

    My friends who remember the magazine say, like you, that it was a breath of fresh air. Jim Forest says that if he won the lottery, he would attempt to start such a magazine again. I think that it is just what Catholicism needs about now.

    Anyway, at some point I hope to devote a significant portion of this blog to my review of these magazines.

  3. I look forward to that, Beth. One thing left unmentioned so far and part of my recollection of Jubilee was the quality of the photography. I kept a picture of a meditating Japanese Buddhist monk which I had clipped from Jubilee at my desk in my research lab while in grad school. It touched me in some way that I only understood much later and then, only partially. I believe I visited the Zen temple where it was shot while I was living in Japan.

  4. nancygoughriley@yahoo.comOctober 22, 2007 at 3:59 AM

    I really enjoy this article about Jubilee.


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