Ave Maria Press serves national Catholic community
Thomas Murphy | Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Across St. Joseph’s Lake, past Moreau Seminary and beyond Moreau Drive, there stands a flat, unassuming building adorned in brick familiar to the quads of Notre Dame. But despite its ordinary appearance, the building is home to one of America’s oldest and largest Catholic publishing houses, complete with over a century and a half worth of history.
It was Fr. Edward Sorin, Notre Dame’s founder, who established Ave Maria Press in 1865. The press has since found its way into the homes, parishes and schools of Catholics across the country.
Ave Maria Press CEO and publisher Thomas Grady said Sorin founded the press in honor of Saint Mary in order to provide spiritual direction to the growing community of Catholics in America.
“Fr. Sorin had apparently long dreamed of starting a Catholic press in the United States,” Grady said. “ … He wanted to showcase the best Catholic writing in the country and provide sustenance and nourishment to a largely immigrant Catholic community at the time.”
Sorin began working on his dream by buying a printing press in Chicago, hauling the machinery back to Notre Dame and setting it all up in Brownson Hall. Out of these humble origins grew Ave Maria Magazine, which quickly became a popular national publication featuring Catholic history, theology, children’s stories, poetry and biographies of saints.
As Notre Dame grew and Sorin took on more responsibility at the University, he turned the press over to Sister Angela Gilsepie, who had previously served as a nurse in the Civil War. By 1900, Ave Maria Magazine was the most popular Catholic magazine in America.
But as time wore on and trends in Catholic readership changed, Ave Maria Magazine’s circulation declined. In 1970, after 105 years of publication, Ave Maria Magazine came to an end. The end of this era, however, became the beginning of a new one as Ave Maria Press focused its efforts on publishing books, again hoping to feature the best Catholic writing in the country.
Now, 154 years after its founding, Ave Maria Press is a leader in American Catholic publishing, especially in high school textbooks, Grady said. He estimates the company has books in over 50 percent of the 1,200 Catholic high schools in the country, holding “46 percent of the Catholic high school market in terms of the number of books sold.”
The nature of the publishing industry is always changing, and in recent years Ave Maria Press has expanded its business into e-books and videos. In fact, Ave Maria Press no longer physically prints books and works only as a publisher, Grady said.
Through its many evolutions, Grady said Ave Maria Press has remained determined to serve and nourish the spiritual lives of Catholics.
“The nature of the mission hasn’t changed,” he said. “As a ministry of Holy Cross … it’s our mission, in the words of Holy Cross, to make God known, loved and served and to operate and act as what Holy Cross calls ‘educators in the faith.’ So, our mission has been conversion of hearts, formation of Catholics and ongoing nourishment of those Catholics in the Church and in their spiritual lives.”
The business of publishing demands variety and value from all market entities. Senior publicist Stephanie A. Sibal said the aim of promoting Catholic families and faith is consistent throughout the many books and products Ave Maria Press publishes.
“The variety of books that we publish each season, a goal of a lot of them is to strengthen the faith of average Catholics in the pew,” Sibal said. “We’re building the Church by providing resources — whether it’s a high school textbook or a prayer book or a book on spirituality or a book on apologetics — we’re helping to build the knowledge of the Church and deepen people’s faith.”
Associate publisher and director of sales and marketing Karey Circosta said employees at the Ave Maria Press take pride not only in their work’s purpose, but also in its quality.
“We are a ministry, but we’re also here, we’re trying to sell lots of books that promote our ministry and at the same time making really good ones,” Circosta said. “Everybody is dedicated to that throughout the whole company.”
Sibal said Ave Maria Press’ impact on the Church is what motivates her work.
“I think that we’re providing a great service to the Church,” Sibal said. “One of the reasons I like working here is because I feel like I’m working for the Church and I’m helping to spread my faith.”
Several of the employees at Ave Maria Press had worked at secular publishing houses before arriving at the ministry. Grady said working at the press has allowed him to join together the facets of his life in a way most others cannot.
“I’ve been in publishing for 40 years this year, and this is really the first time that I’ve been able to unite my spiritual faith, my Catholic faith, with my work,” Grady said. “ … It’s nice to not have to compartmentalize your work life and your personal life.”