The Catholic Almanac celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004 with this special coverage.
Articles by Matthew Bunson, D.Min.,
and Gregory Erlandson
by Matthew Bunson, general editor
The 2004 edition of Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Almanac marks the 100th anniversary of the publication’s foundation. The origins of the Catholic Almanac are traced to a publication known as the St. Antony’s Almanac, a 64-page annual with a calendar, feature articles, and an emphasis on devotion and prayer, but its chief purpose was to foster knowledge and devotion to St. Antony of Padua. St. Antony’s Almanac was published by the Franciscans of Holy Name province from 1904 to 1929 under that name, save for 1911 when the title Franciscan Almanac was adopted.
No edition was published in 1930, but recognizing a genuine need in Catholic social communications, the editors of The Franciscan Magazine received permission to start up the Almanac once more with a revised organization and mission. The result was what was described by the editors of the time as a work "to serve as a factual handbook of basic and current information on matters pertaining to the Catholic Church and its members"; the new Almanac also, but secondarily, included general information in the style of an "almanac." The new version was published under the title The Franciscan Almanac and was 320 pages with a general sense of organization that would be vaguely recognizable to readers today. The early years of the Great Depression prevented continuous publication, however, so there were no editions in 1934 and 1935.
In 1936, however, the St. Anthony’s Guild renewed the life of the Almanac, establishing a relationship with the volume that lasted until 1971. From the 320 page count, the Almanac grew in size and scope steadily over the next years, reaching a massive length of 808 pages by the 1940’s. Content was by now well-established with a stress upon the Liturgical Calendar and events pertaining to each year. The Almanac also eventually included over 100 pages of useful secular information, including the United States government, the Constitution, census information, postal regulations, the United Nations, and a chart on governments and rulers around the globe.
The title The National Catholic Almanac was used for the editions from 1940 to 1968; in 1969, the present title, Catholic Almanac, was adopted. In a statement of the influence of the Church in the United States, an agreement was made in 1959 to have the Almanac distributed each year by the New York publisher, Doubleday. The arrangement was in effect until 1971, with several editions sometime being printed throughout the year when events warranted.
For most of its first decades, the Almanac was produced every year by a large staff. The 50th anniversary edition in 1954, for example, declared: "The work of preparing material for each edition of the Almanac is divided between two staffs. Franciscan students for the priesthood at Holy Name College, Washington. D.C. compile most of the statistical information, conduct surveys, check standard articles for revision, write portions of the new copy, and do the preliminary work necessary to keep material up-to-date . . . From beginning to end, editorial work is under the over-all supervision of a professional staff at St. Anthony’s Guild, which shares the tasks of the editors at Holy Name College and completes the work of preparing all materials for publication."
In 1951, meanwhile, a general editor was named to oversee the complex process of research and production, Fr. Felician Foy, O.F.M. In an interview shortly before his passing in February 2002, Father Felician remembered that he had been serving as a teacher in a high school and had just returned from an ice-skating outing when informed of a new appointment as editor of the Almanac. Father Foy confessed that he would have though it impossible to imagine at the time of his appointment, but his tenure as general editor of the Almanac endured from 1952 to 1998, meaning that he served as editor for over 45 years. Throughout most of that service, he was assisted by Miss Rose Avato (1927-97).
In 1971, Our Sunday Visitor acquired the publishing rights to the Almanac. The guiding force in the acquisition was Father Albert J. Nevins, M.M., then editor-in-chief of Our Sunday Visitor. Father Nevins considered the Almanac a prestigious work and the key element of his plans to improve and expand OSV’s presence as a publisher. The first edition was launched in 1972, and OSV has remained the publisher of the Almanac.
The change in publisher from the St. Anthony Guild and Doubleday to Our Sunday Visitor meant as well a challenge for Fr. Foy and Rose Avato. Each summer, they drove from New Jersey to Huntington, Indiana, just outside of Fort Wayne, and spent several months readying the vast amounts of information for publication. Their work entailed not only finishing the news and other vital updates but laboring with the typesetters and printing staff on the pages and then proof-reading what was by then a 700-page annual. Their annual trek ended only with the entry of the Almanac into the digital age in 1991.
While the Almanac demanded much of Father Foy’s time, he remained always first and foremost a Franciscan. His ministry included prison visits, direction of Third Order Franciscans, outreach programs for the growing Latino population in New Jersey, and chaplain work in a local hospital. In order to serve the Spanish-speaking people of the diocese of Patterson, Foy taught himself Spanish. He was also an accomplished guitar player.
In 1996, he and Rose received a commendation by the Catholic Press Association for their decades of service. Two years later, Father Foy was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal for his contributions to the life of the Church. Rose died in her sleep on October 20, 1997, after she had just completed the final corrections for the 1998 edition of the Almanac. She had been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, since 1995, yet did not let the disease interfere with her work. Foy stepped down officially as general editor starting with the 2000 edition, although he remained actively involved with the Almanac until his death on February 21, 2002, from complications of heart surgery.
Matthew Bunson began working with Father Foy with the 1999 edition, taking over the editorship for the 2000 edition. The Jubilee edition of the Catholic Almanac began an extensive revision and updating of long-standing material and introduced sections with revised material in order to reflect current developments in the life of the Church. The current 640-page edition is a one-of-a-kind factual volume of basic and contemporary information on an encyclopedic range of subjects pertaining to the Catholic Church and its activity in the world. The centennial of the Almanac serves as a reminder of the vitality and stability of the Catholic Church in the United States whose activities, statistics, and commitment to the Gospel the Almanac has documented and celebrated for 100 years.
The 2004 edition of the Catholic Almanac honors to the hundreds of priests, women and men religious, and laity who have contributed to the success of the Almanac over the last ten decades. It is hoped that their commitment and zeal will continue to inspire the work of the Almanac in this new century.
–by Matthew Bunson
Return to top
by Gregory Erlandson, Publisher,
Our Sunday Visitor
Our Sunday Visitor has been publishing the Catholic Almanac for 32 of its 100 years, having acquired the publishing rights in 1972. In many ways it was a perfect match.
Our Sunday Visitor is known for its commitment to the Church, its solid resources, its trustworthy approach to matters of the Faith, and its dedication to make these materials accessible to the average Catholic, as well as to those who are professionals on the educational and pastoral levels.
The Catholic Almanac is dedicated to that same audience. For all of its 100 years, it has sought to educate, inform, support and reinforce the faith of all Catholics who opened its covers.
In its early years in the last century, it served as a forum for promoting the devotional cause of St. Anthony of Padua, not much resembling the information-packed resource it has now become. As the Church it served became more of a presence in the life of our country, as its people grew in confidence, as its school systems and parish structures blossomed, the Catholic Almanac blossomed as well. By the 1930s, the Catholic Almanac was devoted to chronicling the facts about this robust Church, and documenting the facts and history of America as well.
This Golden Age of the Catholic laity and lay organizations saw the Catholic Almanac become a resource that would serve them at home, in the parish, at school or on the job.
With the tremendous changes that accompanied the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Almanac found itself taking on a new task: providing trustworthy reports on the Council documents and their aftermath, and chronicling the changes and developments that grew out of this epic pastoral council.
For the last 25 years, it has also found itself devoting dozens of pages to the magnificent pontificate of John Paul II. You might call him a pope made for an almanac. How else to assemble the record of his many travels, his numerous documents, and the groundbreaking historical actions he has taken year after year since 1978?
The Catholic Almanac exists today because of the hard work invested in it by many, many dedicated authors and editors over the years. For the last half-century, the team of Father Felician Foy, O.F.M., and Rose Avato carried this Herculean burden as they reported on all the changes that occurred from Pius XII to John Paul II. Since 2000, an equally impressive team headed by Matthew Bunson and Cathy Dee has done the same.
Matthew and Cathy have overhauled almost every section of the Catholic Almanac, bringing in new contributors and new resources, and incorporating changes that reflect the demands of our digital world, including the creation of Our Sunday Visitor’s www.CatholicAlmanac.com website.
In their hands is entrusted the beginning of the Catholic Almanac’s second century. Each year they strive to do better than the last, providing journalists, professors, pastors, students, moms and dads with a phenomenal amount of information at their fingertips. It is an entire resource shelf in one volume, a compendium that should be on every Catholic shelf.
Through all the changes that have occurred at Our Sunday Visitor and that have occurred in the Church it serves, the mission of the Catholic Almanac remains unchanged: To provide accurate, trustworthy and accessible information that serves the truth and encourages the faith of every generation of Catholics it is honored to serve.
All for the greater glory of God. All for his Church.
–Gregory R. Erlandson, President and Publisher
Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs