Catholic Northwest Progress archives join the digital age

The Catholic Northwest Progress, which published for more than 100 years, is now available in digital format on the Washington State Library’s website. Photo: Courtesy Washington Digital Newspapers collection The Catholic Northwest Progress, which published for more than 100 years, is now available in digital format on the Washington State Library’s website. Photo: Courtesy Washington Digital Newspapers collection

OLYMPIA – Catholics wanting to research their families and parishes — or just get a glimpse of life in the early 20th century — can now peruse digital versions of the defunct Catholic Northwest Progress newspaper.

 Catholic Northwest Progress
The Catholic Northwest Progress covered national and international news as well as news of the Catholic Church and its people in Western Washington. Photo: Courtesy Washington Digital Newspapers collection

More than 2,500 issues of the paper from December 21, 1900, to December 28, 1945, were recently added to the Washington Digital Newspapers collection of the Washington State Library, a division of the Washington Secretary of State’s Office.

“It is a really useful evangelization tool because it’s a way for sharing our history with Catholics but also showing non-Catholics the importance of what we’ve done in the last 170 years” or so, said Seth Dalby, archives and records management director for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

It also documents “the history and development of this region from 1900 and on,” he said. “It gives a different window onto news coverage.”

For more than 100 years, until its last issue in 2013, The Progress was the archdiocese’s official publication, precursor to Northwest Catholic magazine and NWCatholic.org.

In reading the old issues of The Progress, Dalby said, he realized the paper wasn’t intended as a supplement for the Seattle Times or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “It was meant to be the primary news resource for Catholics, because they did so much local and international coverage that had nothing to do with the church,” he said.

‘An amazing research resource’

Dalby has been working on the digital project for about two years; eventually the state will have a complete collection of The Progress, he said. The impetus, Dalby said, was Greg Magnoni, a former communications director for the archdiocese, who proposed digitizing the newspaper “because it’s just such an amazing research resource for lots of different user groups.”

Finding a home for the digital editions at the state library is financially a big deal, Dalby said, because the state charges no hosting fee. Other options he researched for hosting the digital Progress would have cost around $20,000 per year, he added. The archdiocese paid the cost of having the microfilm scanned and the content indexed by the state; after that, there is no cost, Dalby said. The archdiocese also gave up the copyright to the material, which means researchers and other users “can freely download it and use it” — although the source should be cited, Dalby said.

The Progress joins more than 6,500 newspaper titles in the state library’s newspaper collection in Olympia. Its presence in the collection represents integrating Catholic history into mainstream history, Dalby said.

“It’s nice to be accepted by the state government as a legitimate part of state history,” he added.

Finding family secrets

 Catholic Northwest Progress
The death of Bishop Edward O’Dea on Christmas Day, 1932, was covered in detail by The Progress. He was the diocese’s third bishop. Photo: Courtesy Washington Digital Newspapers collection

The state collection — part of the National Digital Newspaper Program and the Institute of Museum and Library Services — features full-text article search, text correction to improve search results on dark or damaged pages, the ability to attach subject tags to articles and a function to save search history, according to a news release from the state.

“The new site will make it easier for people to browse our historic newspaper collection on a stable platform that will make researching fun and informative,” said Shawn Schollmeyer, National Digital Newspaper Project director at Washington State Library.

Dalby himself recently tried out a search of the Progress archive. Out of curiosity, although his family isn’t Catholic, Dalby queried his last name.

“I found nine articles about my grandfather,” Dalby said. “He was an all-star athlete at St. Martin’s High School [in Lacey]. I didn’t know any of this.” Now Dalby knows how much his grandfather weighed and how tall he was in the 11th grade.

It turns out Dalby’s great-grandparents lived in Union, on Hood Canal. Instead of sending their sons to Seattle to be educated, they sent them to Lacey. His great-grandparents were atheists, Dalby said, so the fact that they sent their sons to a Catholic academy surprised him.

“The Progress probably holds secrets about all kind of family histories,” Dalby said.

Search The Catholic Northwest Progress.

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at jean.parietti@seattlearch.org.