Matthew Gambino

Two years ago a large ash tree in my backyard finally succumbed after years of declining health. Rather than find it crashed into our garage, the century-old leafless tree had to be removed. Most days I walk past that remnant stump cut to ground level.

Recently from its edge, new stems have arisen and their small leaves again are breathing life into the world, aided by those still functional roots of the old tree. It’s a sign of growth, the new relying on the old.

My observation of unexpected newness from what was thought to be dead has me reflecting on a similar occurrence with what you are reading now.

A decade ago this this summer, CatholicPhilly.com sprouted. A daily presentation of the news from the Catholic Standard and Times began to bring that newspaper’s content to new audiences who, for whatever reason, were not picking up the paper.

Then nine years ago this month, the venerable CS&T, founded in 1895, produced its last issue. Things come to an end in their own time, but they do not always pass into oblivion. Like my former ash tree, the former Catholic newspaper’s mission and commitment to excellence in service of the Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would nourish the nascent CatholicPhilly.com.

Walking past the statistical vital signs of this website, I find that our audience of 10,000 visitors per month in that first year of operation has grown now to 115,000 users per month. That’s more than a 10-fold increase.

And all those people now view monthly almost a quarter-million pages – each page presenting some aspect of the life and teaching of Christ in his Body, the church, in Philadelphia.

Although it’s difficult to make a direct “apples to apples” comparison, our digital audience now exceeds the CS&T’s high-water mark of more than 80,000 copies printed weekly in the early 2000s.

There’s another sign of growth in CatholicPhilly’s weekly email newsletter. We now serve more than 9,000 subscribers who view the newsletter and click on items of interest which they read on CatholicPhilly.com.

The free newsletter is a simple, seamless way to expose more people to CatholicPhilly’s news and feature stories, photos, podcasts, videos, catechesis and commentary, plus spiritual enrichment.

The mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire readers – which was at the core of the CS&T’s work for 117 years – continues to nourish the work of the still-young CatholicPhilly.com.

Neither former editors Cardinal John Foley or Father Paul Quinter, nor other staff members from yesteryear, could have imagined a staff of two plus a handful of freelance and voluntary contributors running a daily news operation like this. But the dedication to accuracy, orthodoxy and professional creativity is as unmistakable today as it was then.

A few examples of it, with apologies to everyone else:

* No one visually documents church life with consistent excellence as photographer Sarah Webb, whose corpus of impressive work stretches back to the 1990s.

* Sports writer John Knebels has been charting the triumphs and sometimes the heartbreaks of local athletes right up to deadline since – and this is no typo – 1982.

* Msgr. Joseph Prior is closing in on his 450th weekly column reflecting on the Scripture readings of the Sunday Mass. That is priestly dedication to unpacking the Word of God for people every week.

* Lou Baldwin has perhaps an unparalleled resume of writing thousands of news and feature stories on the life of the Philadelphia Archdiocese since 1984, including into this year. He has brought history to life and the present to light, and he deserves the grateful prayers of this region’s Catholics.

* If you ever wondered how Lou could write so many stories in a given week over all the years, you might also wonder how CatholicPhilly’s senior content producer, Gina Christian, also produces such consistently high-quality material.

The answer for these professionals, and so many more, lies in their dedication to the mission of telling the Good News to the best of their ability, aided by grace, one day at a time, year after year.

It continues to be my privilege, as editor, to present a deeper understanding of our world and Christ’s redemptive action in it to you, our readers. You keep CatholicPhilly.com sailing steady as she goes, no matter how stormy conditions become – especially over the past year.

The donations from 250 people this year are indispensable to our operations, and you readers have my most sincere and prayerful thanks.

Thanks also goes to the Ambassador’s Fund for Catholic Education for a grant that will grow our audience further. A digital advertising campaign funded by the grant over three years is drawing more readers to CatholicPhilly.com through paid ads placed by us on third-party websites visited by local residents.

At the same time we’re inviting new subscribers to sign up for the free newsletter. Since February, we’ve added 700 new subscribers as a result of the campaign.

These cost-effective efforts to produce news and information come to a screen, not a printed page. This has disappointed many, but the growth we are seeing indicates that we are reaching new audiences of people encountering the person of Christ, our Vine, in his church today.

Thank you, readers, for nourishing this new life in the digital soil through your prayers, your support and by every click on CatholicPhilly.com.

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Matthew Gambino is editor of CatholicPhilly.com.