Four hundred years ago, Henry Hudson sailed into New York Harbor under Dutch auspices. Three centuries later, an enterprising group of Jesuits launched a new venture, America magazine, from the same shores. They subtitled it a “Catholic Review of the Week,” and sought to create a journal that would eventually equal London’s then seventy-year-old Tablet. Their ambitious title suggested the scope, character, and freedom the editors hoped the new journal would reflect. As they noted in the magazine’s inaugural edition, they chose the name because it “embraces both North and South America, in fact, all this Western Hemisphere.”
Now, 4,851 issues later, as historian Charles R. Morris observes in his thumbnail history of the magazine’s first fifty years in its April 13 anniversary number, America has lived up to its name and promise commendably. It has been reasoned, persistent, and sometimes passionate. Week in and week out, it has called readers’ attention to issues of state, morality, theology, and the arts, and it has done this while giving voice to the marginalized and the oppressed in every corner of the globe—and sometimes within the church itself. In its centenary issue, the editors write that, “even more than in the past,” they dream of an America that “will be a place where the church will do its thinking in open dialogue, free of fear.” That they feel it necessary to write of such hopes nearly fifty years after Vatican II speaks volumes.
To their credit, America’s editors have been willing to get in Dutch with both church and state, a fact that attests to their independence and resolve. In turn, they have honored their founding editors’ commitment “to broaden the scope of Catholic journalism and enable it to exert a wholesome influence on public opinion.”
On America’s hundredth birthday, we salute the men and (increasingly) women who have maintained and continue to expand the magazine’s founding vision. Congratulations, and more of the same, please!