A local Roman Catholic cleric sees the religion being beset by critics and visibly and vocally confronts them.
If that sounds like something ripped from recent headlines – it’s not.
It happened 100 years ago – and spurred the creation of a Catholic publishing house in Huntington that’s still going strong today.
On Saturday, Our Sunday Visitor will celebrate the centennial of the first issue of its now-nationwide Catholic newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, with a free open house.
The paper first came out on May 5, 1912, started by the late John Francis Noll, a Fort Wayne-born priest who would become archbishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese.
Noll’s aim was to counter what he viewed as rampant falsehoods about Catholicism, including those circulated by another weekly publication, The Menace, and publicize accurate Catholic teachings.
Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor’s publishing division, says the independent non-profit company remains true to Noll’s vision, even while embracing new means of communication, from the Internet to e-books and smartphone apps.
I think that one of the great strengths of the company is that it serves the church in a variety of ways, he says.
We’re linked back to Archbishop Noll’s vision to form Catholics and inform Catholics and are operating in whatever the appropriate medium of the day is.
Today, Our Sunday Visitor, with 380 full-time employees, publishes much more than the 50,000-circulation newsweekly – down from its heyday of 500,000 around 1960 but still the largest of four national Catholic newspapers.
On its roster are periodicals, books, textbooks and curricula, resources for parish educational resources, bulletin inserts and offering envelopes.
The organization also has a large interest in a company that works in website design and multimedia presentations for Catholic institutions, runs a service that allows people to contribute to churches electronically and has 100 e-book titles on Kindle.
A new endeavor is distributing smartphone apps, including one that helps users pray the rosary and another that helps the faithful find appropriate saint names for baptisms, confirmations and personal intercessions.
Our Sunday Visitor’s publishing arm, which puts out 30 to 50 books a year, also holds the title as the second-largest publisher of English-language books by Pope Benedict XVI, including his latest, The Environment.
The Vatican focuses on Italian, but we can sometimes get exclusive rights or non-exclusive rights in English, Erlandson says.
There’s a misconception, he says, that the company is an arm of the diocese because for many years the diocese’s newspaper was inserted into Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly. That practice ended around 1990, he says.
However, the company retains a provision that automatically makes the diocese’s bishop head of Our Sunday Visitor’s board of directors, he says. Company profits continue to be donated to Our Sunday Visitor Institute, which distributes them to Catholic causes nationwide.
Besides its site at 200 Noll Plaza, the company has a location in Youngstown, Ohio, that manufactures envelopes for Protestant churches and an educational-products publishing site in Orlando, Fla.
Several hundred million offering envelopes – now taken for granted but revolutionary when Noll introduced them in 1916, according to a diocesan history – are produced each year at a rate of 1,600 an hour in three shifts at the company’s Huntington plant.
Erlandson, 58, says Our Sunday Visitor has not opened its facilities to the public in more than 25 years. Besides the open house from 1 to 3 p.m., the company worked with area historian Tom Castaldi to develop a map of local sites associated with Noll to celebrate its milestone.
Also, a symposium and a Mass of Rededication in Fort Wayne are planned for Sept. 28. The symposium will feature Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Catholic convert/apologist Scott Hahn and Helen Alvare, a Catholic University assistant law professor and proponent of Christian feminism.
As a niche publisher, Our Sunday Visitor faces the same struggles as nearly all providers of print products, Erlandson says. But he holds out hope that a publication that had the foresight to address the need to vanquish socialism on the front page of its first issue will survive.
In general, what is happening in the Catholic press parallels a lot of the trends in the larger world. People are getting their information from other sources, like the Web, he says.
Religious publishing is not always cutting edge. But we’re trying to position ourselves for what is down the road.