Bishop John Francis Noll John Francis Noll - Our Sunday Visitor
John Francis Noll - Our Sunday Visitor - Huntington Indiana

The Most Reverend John Francis Noll, D.D.
Founding Editor of Our Sunday Visitor
1875-1956

 
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.

Father John 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 worldwide.
 

  Our Sunday Visitor
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 60 cents.

From the 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 the faith.

Throughout the 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 Most Reverend John Francis Noll, D.D.  

 
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 - Huntington Indiana
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.

Father Noll's 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.

Across America, 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 - Huntington Indiana
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.
 

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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.

The 1926 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 Catholics.

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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John Francis Noll - Our Sunday Visitor - Huntington Indiana

A special thank-you to the Huntington County Historical Society and
Our Sunday Visitor for providing this information and pictures.

John Francis Noll - Our Sunday Visitor - Huntington Indiana

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