This week marks the debut of Boston College’s newest student-run publication, the Catholic monthly The Torch. Led by Christopher Canniff, editor-in-chief and A&S ’14, Natalie Yuhas, interim managing editor and A&S ’16, and Stephanie Johnson, business manager and CSOM ’15, The Torch will release a monthly 16-page print issue, with its inaugural issue printing this Wednesday, Sept. 25.
The Torch replaces The Observer as BC’s Catholic issues student publication. Canniff explained that his decision to cease publishing The Observer and start a new publication stemmed in large part from the way The Observer mixed politics with religion.
“I took over [as editor-in-chief of The Observer] back in January,” Canniff said. “As a theology major, the one thing that always concerned me was the way that the paper presented Catholicism, since it did call itself a Catholic paper-and recognizing that sometimes the other half of its mission, which was political, could end up twisting the religious side to fit a political view. So it was sort of a contentious connection of ideals in our mission that needed to be resolved, one way or the other.”
In addition to the The Observer‘s often-controversial pieces, Canniff said that declining staff numbers-from 60 contributors in the fall of 2010 to around 15 or 20 in the spring of 2012-made it clear that change was necessary. According to Canniff, he consulted with two faculty members-Margaret Schatkin, an associate professor in the theology department, and Susan Michalczyk, a professor in the A&S Honors program-and came to the conclusion that the best way to move forward was to focus more completely on Catholicism, and to change the publication’s tone.
“The Observer, of course, was known for being rough and abrasive at points, and it’s not the best way to win anyone over to your side,” Canniff said. “So, if the pursuit was to be presenting the truth-if we failed to present the truth in charity, then we failed to present the fullness of the truth, because in God, truth and charity are one.”
The Observer was founded in 1983, and Canniff said that he spoke with several alumni in the course of making his decision to discontinue its publication. One alumnus explained to Canniff why The Observer was founded. “It was a response to the way The Heights was at the time,” Canniff said. “He agreed with me that, basically, the need was no longer there for the type of paper that The Observer aimed to be. The political climate on campus, the cultural climate on campus, has changed … Catholicism isn’t being celebrated left and right … but at the same time, there’s not the hostility that was here during his time.”
Canniff mentioned that a few alumni were not supportive of the transition, but said that they failed to appreciate the changes to BC. “The paper was no longer serving its purpose-serving a purpose, really,” he said.
As of now, around 18 or 20 people are on the Torch staff, only five of whom also worked on The Observer last year.
The mission statement of The Torch declares that, by “taking seriously the values to which Boston College is committed as a Catholic university, The Torch desires an active and healthy exchange of ideas. Moreover, its chief end is to be a tool for the new evangelization, spreading faith in Jesus Christ as a source of conversion and new life.”
The publication will update its website weekly-according to Canniff, the site is expected to launch early this week at thetorchbc.com. The Torch runs a Twitter account with the handle @TheTorch_BC and operates on Facebook as well. The paper will be printed by TCI Press, which is based in Seekonk, Mass.
“We’ll have a few pages on campus Catholic news, a few pages on world Catholic news,” Canniff said. “Then we’ve also got topical columns-each issue we’ll have a column on liturgy, ecumenism, pro-life issues … and we’ve also got a friend of mine, he’s an atheist and wanted to write a column-we’ve got sort of the dissenting opinion over there-and he decided to call it ‘The Devil’s Advocate.'”
In addition, each issue will feature pieces by different Jesuit and lay faculty members, and six senior staff columns by students. “Those writers are, for the most part, either theology or philosophy or Perspectives majors, who are just sort of reflecting on any topic of their choosing,” Canniff said.
Although Canniff said that the staff of The Torch has a cordial working relationship with members of the University-Rev. Tony Penna of Campus Ministry and Vice President for Mission and Ministry Rev. Jack Butler, S.J., in particular-the paper is financially independent from the University. Johnson said that she was reaching out to Catholic and Jesuit organizations around the country in order to form advertising contacts.
Funding for the paper comes in part from a onetime donation from a private citizen who, Canniff said, wishes to remain anonymous. In addition, The Torch has a yearlong grant from the Collegiate Network, an organization of conservative college newspapers to which The Observer had previously belonged. Canniff was adamant, however, that neither the donor nor the Collegiate Network would be influencing The Torch‘s content.
“We do want to be clear, this is a very serious intention to approach religious faith in a very different manner than The Observer ever did,” Canniff said.