Even after more than 150 years, Ave Maria Press remains committed to the core mission set by Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., in 1865 as he established the Congregation of Holy Cross in the United States.
Ave was the third apostolate of Holy Cross founded in the US by the missionary priest, following the University of Notre Dame and St. Joseph’s Parish in South Bend, Indiana. Fr. Sorin started The Ave Maria magazine to honor Mary, focus on Catholic families, and showcase the best American Catholic writing. The first issue was a 16-page weekly edited by Fr. Sorin himself. Many had doubts about whether the publication would survive because of the fate of other Catholic periodicals, as well as the mainly poor, immigrant makeup of the American Church, but The Ave Maria did thrive for more than 100 years and at one time was the most popular Catholic magazine in the country.
Fr. Sorin believed that The Ave Maria would “be the source of most abundant blessings, one of the best things ever done in the Congregation, and ultimately a glorious work for our Blessed Mother.”
Under the leadership of Rev. Daniel E. Hudson, C.S.C., who served as the third publisher from 1875 to 1930, the magazine grew from 10,000 subscribers to 35,000. It boasted contributions from every important Catholic writer of the time, as well as Holy Cross religious that included Revs. J. A. Zahm, C.S.C., and John Cavanaugh, C.S.C. Under Fr. Hudson, Ave began publishing hardcover books of inspirational Catholic stories.
Eight Holy Cross priests served as editors and publishers between 1865 and 1994, but Holy Cross brothers and sisters also have been an important part of Ave Maria Press as well. Br. Stanislaus, C.S.C. (John A. Clarke), was the first printer, pressman, and proofreader for The Ave Maria. He trained Mother Angela Gillespie, C.S.C., and her Holy Cross sisters to set type, proof, fold, and stitch sheets by hand. About 1873, the sisters assumed more of the work at the magazine and served in a variety of roles, including writers and proofreaders, which continued until about 1950. Holy Cross brothers served with zeal as printers and handlers for more than 100 years. Traveling by foot, train, trolley, buggy, and car, the brothers also acted as canvassers to get the magazine into Catholic homes in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
Rev. John L. Reedy, editor and publisher from 1955 to 1983, oversaw the last issue of The Ave Maria in 1970. He wrote in that issue, “The identity of Ave Maria magazine submerges itself in a new effort to serve the religious needs to today’s audience.”
During the 105-year run of the magazine, Ave also published books and pamphlets, a program it began to develop more fully in the 1960s. When declining circulation forced the magazine to cease publication in 1970, book publishing was pushed into high gear. Over the years, Ave Maria Press has published such important Catholic authors as Mike Aquilina, John Bergsma, Joseph Champlin, Tom Corcoran, Brian Doyle,Thomas Green, Edward Hays, Lisa M. Hendey, Francis MacNutt, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Christine Valters Paintner, Michael Pennock, Rev. Stephen Rossetti, Joyce Rupp, Bob Schuchts, Mother Teresa, Brandon Vogt, Michael White, Robert Wicks, and Macrina Wiederkehr.
Now established as a major Catholic book publisher and still under the ownership of the United States Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Ave Maria Press is home to Sorin Books, Forest of Peace, and Christian Classics. It perpetuates Fr. Sorin's vision to honor Mary and provides an important outlet for good Catholic writing and remains one of the oldest, continually operating Catholic publishing houses in the country and a leader in publishing Catholic high school religion textbooks, ministry resources, and books on prayer and spirituality.
- The Ave Maria magazine was published for 105 years, ending in 1970.
- Henri Nouwen published one of his first books, With Open Hands, with Ave in 1972. Ave also published his last book, Can You Drink the Cup?
- A long association with author and teacher Michael Pennock began in 1976 with the publication of Christian Morality & You, Ave’s first high school religion textbook. He continued to write and revise Ave’s textbooks until his death in 2009.
- In 1985, Ave published Joyce Rupp’s first book, Fresh Bread; 2015 marked 30 years of partnership with Rupp, who now has twenty books with Ave.
- The Sorin Books imprint launched in 1999 to reach spiritual seekers.
- In 2003, Ave acquired the Forest of Peace and Christian Classics imprints.
- Ave published its first digital book (for the Kindle) in 2009 and its first digital textbook in 2010.
- Bestselling and award-winning Rebuilt, by Michael White and Tom Corcoran, was published in 2013. Rebuilt and its sequels have sold more than 130,000 copies.