The Story Behind OSV
Archbishop John Francis Noll
John Francis Noll was born in 1875 in Fort Wayne, IN, one of 19 children. When he was 13, he entered a preparatory seminary and went on to Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati for his theology and philosophy studies, where he was ordained at the age of 23.
At the turn of the century, Fr. Noll became interested in mission work among non-Catholics and began to offer popular public lecture courses on Catholicism. He became more aware that many of his parishioners knew very little about their faith and had no opportunity for religious instruction outside the Sunday sermon, in addition to non-Catholics who might be attracted to the faith, but were misinformed.
With this spirit of evangelization, he embarked on his literary career with no idea that he was launching an enterprise that would become one of the largest Catholic publishing houses in the world.
Fr. Noll's first publication entitled Kind Words From Your Pastor was a series of small pamphlets about various aspects of the faith. The pamphlets were so well received by his parishioners that Fr. Noll sent copies to priests in other parts of the country and subsequently received many requests for his pamphlets. He had to hire a local printer to handle the orders, becoming more convinced that Catholic periodicals were the best way to spread knowledge of the faith.
By 1908, Fr. Noll was writing an original, 32-page periodical called The Parish Monthly, which is still in print to this day under the name The Family Digest. After Fr. Noll he was reassigned to a church in Huntington, IN in 1910, he purchased a state-of-the-art print shop from a local printer and hired a team to begin publication.
But new socialist anti-Catholic publications like The Menace were beginning to spring up. Without a national organization, the diocese-based Catholic press had no form of retaliation.
Fr. Noll consequently decided that a national weekly publication was needed to defend the Church and serve as a clearinghouse for information on anti-Catholic activities.
Backed by priests across the country, Fr. Noll's printing plant turned out 35,000 copies of the first issue of the national weekly Our Sunday Visitor on May 5, 1912. By the end of the year, circulation was at 200,000 and grew another 200% over the next two years, confirming Fr. Noll's keen business instincts. Our Sunday Visitor would go on to have a circulation of more than one million, becoming one of the world’s largest Catholic publishers.
Then, as circulation grew and Fr. Knoll began expanding his operations, he found himself in the uncomfortable position of a priest making money. In 1915, he formed an eleemosynary corporation to distribute all profits to religious, educational and charitable causes, an endeavor that would go on to fund many projects of the growing Church in the United States. Unlike a foundation, with no endowments, money generated from publishing and printing activities would be reinvested into the Church, benefiting countless parishes, dioceses and apostolates. Many years later, in 1975, the organization officially received its name, the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, as well as a more formalized program for distributing the funds. At more than a century old, it is one of the oldest Catholic institutes or foundations in the U.S. today.
Amidst the growth of his printing endeavor, Fr. Noll began experimenting with a Protestant plan to give parishioners a box of weekly contribution envelopes instead of charging “pew rent” and taking up a monthly collection. The method drew more than twice as much money as before, prompting Catholic churches across the country to adopt contribution envelopes, which are still in use and printed by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. to this day.
Through his various publications and generous financial assistance to Church projects, Fr. Noll became well-known for his astute understanding of Church issues and was consequently asked to join the boards of many national organizations, including the Catholic Press Association and the Catholic Church Extension Society. He was assigned the title of monsignor for only four years until he was named fifth bishop of Fort Wayne in 1925.
Because of his experience with national and international issues, Bishop Noll was named secretary of what is now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and was a longtime member of its administrative committee. In his role, he again demonstrated his foresight about the coming information age, helping to launch Catholic News Service and the "Catholic Hour" on NBC radio. He then began Catholic Charities to aid families and children who were devastated by the Depression and oversaw a massive building program of churches, schools, hospitals, a seminary and an orphanage. While in office, Bishop Noll confirmed 133,000 people and ordained 500 priests. As a sign of Vatican esteem, Bishop Noll was given the honorary title of archbishop in 1953, even though his see was not an archdiocese.
In spite of his many outside activities, Bishop Noll never neglected his own growing diocese and reportedly turned down assignments to more prominent dioceses.
In 1955, Archbishop Noll suffered a stroke that left him unable to communicate. His surviving relatives recall his year of disability as a difficult time for a man who had spent his life in communications, but he endured his condition graciously until his death on July 31, 1956.
Today, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. carries on his legacy, always supportive of the Church and its leaders, helping Catholics see the world through the eyes of faith and resolute in defense of the Church and its teachings.