To Serve the Church
The Story of
Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Company
To the thousands
of Catholics who read a copy every week, the words Our Sunday
Visitor mean a bright, informative, entertaining Catholic weekly
newspaper that has been around, like an old familiar friend, for
most of this century.
Some of them
would be surprised to learn that Our Sunday Visitor is also the
name of one of the largest Catholic publishing companies in the
U.S. — involved in the production of religious books,
catechetical materials and numerous periodicals — as well as the
home of America’s favorite Catholic weekly.
But most know that the story of Our Sunday Visitor — the
newspaper and the firm — begins with the vision of one Indiana
parish priest shortly after the turn of the century.
Francis Noll was a small-town pastor in the first decade of this
century who had grown weary of the anti-Catholic literature
flooding his people. To combat a widely-circulated anti-Catholic
newspaper called The Menace, Father Noll began to write a parish
bulletin. From his work as a defender of the faith grew the most
successful Catholic newspaper the United States has ever seen.
The Menace is long since dead, while the newspaper that he
founded is still read cover-to-cover by thousands of Catholics
nationwide who rely on its strong, steady, authentic voice to
help them view life from a Catholic perspective.
Today, Our Sunday
Visitor and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Our Sunday Visitor
Offering Envelope Company, are housed in a modern
250,000-square-foot printing plant on 14 acres in Northeastern
Indiana. Our name and our high standards are recognized
First Issue of O.S.V.
May 5, 1912
The first 35,000
copies of Our Sunday Visitor rolled off the press with an issue
dated May 5, 1912. Within a year the papers circulation had
skyrocketed to 160,000; by 1914 it had reached 400,000 and
shortly after World War I it was being read by more than 500,000
Catholics a week. Copies were sold at church doors for one cent
apiece; pastors could get discounts by ordering 100 copies for
beginning, the paper was fortunate enough to document the most
extraordinary years in the history of the Catholic Church in the
United States. It’s a story that we’re still documenting today.
From the first
issue, Our Sunday Visitor has followed the simple, clear
editorial policy established by Father Noll: combat
anti-Catholicism, work to educate Catholics in their faith, help
them to preserve their Catholic identity in a sometimes hostile
environment, and combat social and political trends contrary to
decades, Our Sunday Visitor has been a welcome weekly visitor in
millions of Catholic homes, serving as a comforting Catholic
presence in a secular world. And it has never forgotten the
legacy of Father Noll. “To serve the Church” is both our motto
and our belief.
The period between the founding of the publication in 1912 and
the beginning of the 1920s were years of unprecedented growth
for Our Sunday Visitor. The paper, born in an era of grim and
widespread anti-Catholicism, immediately assumed the combative,
unabashedly Catholic stance that would be its trademark in the
early years. Father Noll was determined to answer each and every
critic of the Church. His energy infused the work of the
fledgling paper, and he wrote almost every word of every issue
in those first years.
In 1912, the
priest began a series on Catholic doctrine entitled “Father
Smith Instructs Jackson,” realizing that many Protestant readers
of his publication were interested in learning more about the
Church. Over the ensuing decades, the lessons would be collected
into a book by the same title that, used as a Catholic catechism
worldwide, sold millions of copies.
On March 30,
1913, Our Sunday Visitor offered for the first time a reward
that it would repeat frequently during the coming decades: to
pay $10,000 to anyone who could document the anti-Catholic
charges then circulating. The reward was never claimed.
Convert stories were favorite
reading in the paper’s early years. The stories reaffirmed to
Catholics that their faith was not alien to America. The stories
the readers most enjoyed were those of lifelong Protestants
brought into the fold. The 1918 coverage of the deathbed
conversion of Buffalo Bill Cody was a particular favorite.
Our Sunday Visitor had relatively
little to say about World War I. But Father Noll celebrated when
the war was over with an editorial on the importance of
maintaining the hard-won peace. The soldiers who had gone
overseas would, he knew, return to a radically different
society. It was a society that Our Sunday Visitor would speak
out boldly against in its second decade.
Our Sunday Visitor was first located
in Roche Hall, in 1912,
at the corner of Jefferson and Park Drive. This building
was later sold to Wolf and Dessauer department store.
Especially disturbing was the gathering moral storm brewing over
the birth-control movement. Father Noll and Our Sunday Visitor
fought the trend at every turn.
As the Twenties
dawned, Henry Ford put America on wheels. The population began
to shift from farms to the cities, and Catholics — most of whom
had arrived as penniless immigrants scant decades earlier —
began to move up the social ladder.
flourishing publishing business had already outgrown the first
offices and plant, the old Jefferson Street Roche building,
located in downtown Huntington, Ind. To handle the increased
demand for his publication, a printing establishment designed to
Father Noll's specifications was built at the corner of East
Park Drive and Warren Street in 1924. The building was dedicated
in April 1925, shortly before Father Noll was appointed Bishop
of the Diocese of Fort Wayne.
workers were agitating for fair wages and unionization. The
latter idea seemed communistic to many Americans. But when the
Catholic bishops issued a document strongly affirming the rights
of workers, Our Sunday Visitor defended it, calling for an end
to the antagonism between capital and labor.
Our Sunday Visitor's second home was
a custom built
printing establishment. It was erected on a site back of its
first location and opposite the City Library on Park Drive.
It was dedicated in April, 1925.
By 1922, Father
Noll and Our Sunday Visitor were putting their weight behind
another crusade for justice — the education and acceptance of
America’s forgotten blacks. Columns called for a campaign to
provide them with a Christian education.
There were other battles to be fought. The reborn Ku Klux Klan
was the largest and most organized anti-Catholic group in the
U.S., openly calling for “one hundred percent” Americans. Their
argument: anyone not a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant could never
be a true American. Our Sunday Visitor fought the Klan.
The major focus of the organized
public attack on the Church at the time, however, was the
parochial schools. Bills and initiatives aimed at making
private, Catholic schools illegal were introduced on a number of
occasions in state legislatures. Our Sunday Visitor blasted such
injustices in editorials and stories throughout the mid-1920s,
helping to end this discrimination.
In 1925, the issue on everyone’s mind was the Bible versus
evolution. The Scopes Monkey Trial dominated the news. Bishop
Noll put the situation into perspective: Nothing was determined
other than whether the State of Tennessee had the right to
prevent the teaching of the theory of evolution in the public
schools. At home, Father Noll had become Bishop Noll in late
1925. Despite his demanding schedule, he remained completely
involved in the production of each issue of Our Sunday Visitor.
International Eucharistic Congress held in Chicago was a
highpoint for Catholics. It signaled they had arrived in U.S.
society. But in the midst of the euphoria as millions gathered,
few realized how difficult the coming years would be for
When Al Smith,
the popular Catholic governor of New York, ran for the
presidency in 1928 against Herbert Hoover, the campaign
reawakened every anti-Catholic smear imaginable. The situation
provided Bishop Noll with an opportunity to respond with great
force to the absurd anti-Catholic charges, but the paper,
pledged to neutrality in the campaign, did not endorse Smith.
As the Twenties
came to a close, the Jazz Age reigned supreme: fast cars, easy
money, loose morality. Our Sunday Visitor decried the trends.
But readers soon faced a more immediate problem: The decade
ended with a crash on Wall Street that brought the near-fatal
blow of the Great Depression to the immigrant Catholics still
working to gain a foothold in their new country.
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