With this special anniversary issue, we are not just celebrating 100 years of a great publication, but the vision and mission of a diocesan priest named John Noll, a gifted man with a talent for communications and an entrepreneurial spirit that made the best uses of his talent.
Even before he founded what is today OSV Newsweekly, Father Noll had made a name for himself as a pastor who cared most of all for forming and informing his people — often more devout than educated — and defending the faith from hatred and prejudice. Catholics — many of the recent immigrants who were viewed as un-American in their loyalties and willing to work for less money than other workers — were the target of great hostility.
Father Noll stoutly challenged anti-Catholics and sought to bolster the self-identity of Catholics so as to be able to make a valuable contribution to American society. While an apologist and teacher first and foremost, Father Noll, who later became a bishop and then an archbishop, was also a brilliant entrepreneur who used all the means at his disposal to communicate the truths of the Faith and to address the issues of his day. He also introduced the concept of offering envelopes to Catholic parishes, and Our Sunday Visitor is the world’s largest Catholic producer of such envelopes.
Since his death in 1956, both Church and society have been transformed in ways he might never have imagined.Yet the vision he traced — to form Catholics in the Faith, to inform Catholics about their Church and the world through the eyes of faith, and to defend the Faith when it was under attack — remains as relevant as ever.
The education of Catholics in the Faith remains the Church’s greatest challenge. The decline in Catholic marriages and baptisms, the large number of lapsed Catholics, and the constant evangelizing message of a secular culture have made our age seem strangely similar to the age Archbishop Noll first grew up in.
The Church spends a phenomenal amount of its resources on the education of children and sacramental preparation. However, as any educator will quickly confirm, the lack of support by parents remains the biggest challenge to religious education in the parish or school. Until adults and parents are successfully integrated into a process of lifelong faith formation, the Church’s education system will continue to frustrate pastors and educators alike.
In our second century, my hope is that authentic collaboration between Catholic publishers and the Church they serve can be renewed. Both with new technologies and old, Our Sunday Visitor is committed to producing adult faith formation tools that are contemporary, relevant and true to the Church’s teaching. OSV Newsweekly from its creation was first and foremost an adult faith formation resource, and faith formation remains the heart of this company’s many media enterprises.
Seeing the world through the eyes of faith and being informed from a Catholic perspective on the events of the day, may never have been more critical. The current showdown between the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Church is Exhibit A for why the Church must have its own means of informing its people. The secular media coverage of this crisis has been appallingly inadequate, with the issue generally presented as a war on women or a war on contraception.
The only reliable source of information remains the Catholic press: newspapers, websites, blogs, magazines, radio and television. We do have an impressive network of media, but it is under great stress. Diocesan newspapers are being trimmed back and even closed at an alarming rate. Investment in well-educated, well-trained staffing is targeted by budget cuts.
While there are many freelance sources of Catholic information, particularly in the new media, distinguishing the voices that are with the Church from those that pursue other agendas is a growing concern for Church leaders. In this environment, established organizations like Our Sunday Visitor must play a vital role as trustworthy sources of information. Together with the bishops, Catholic publishers must make a renewed commitment to invest not only in the technical training and resources of their staff, but also in their theological understanding and living commitment to the faith.
Defending the Faith
If the recent years are any indication, defending the faith will be as important in the second century of Our Sunday Visitor as it was in the first. The recent religious liberty battles – which extend far beyond the HHS regulations – suggest that the Barque of Peter is likely to be buffeted on several fronts.
In the days of Archbishop Noll, anti-Catholicism was often related to denominational hostility toward Catholicism. While this has waned, the rise of secularism has meant a much greater suspicion of the Church on the part of those who dislike its teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. At the same time, the Church resides uneasily amid the partisan political divide, given its positions on immigration, taxation and defense of the poor.
Efforts to punish the Church for its political incorrectness are likely to grow, and will continue to be addressed in our pages. After decades of seeking to prove themselves good American citizens, Catholics in coming decades may have to ask themselves whether integration and accommodation will be worth the cost in terms of the pressure put on the Church to mute its witness.
This anniversary is not simply an occasion to look backward at past accomplishments. Instead, it must be an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the mission of Our Sunday Visitor as envisioned by Archbishop Noll. To deepen Catholics’ understanding of their faith, to help them see the world through the eyes of faith and to always defend the Church from unjust criticism and hostility remains our mission as we begin our second century.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.