Presentation by Tom Grady, CEO and Publisher, and Fr. Tony Szakalay, C.S.C., Chairman of the Board of Directors, at the open house for Ave Maria Press's 150th Anniversary.

Open House Presentation Transcript 

I’m delighted that you all had a chance to stop by today and help us celebrate our 150th anniversary. We take pride in having reached this milestone both as a Catholic publishing house and as a ministry of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and we’re grateful to all of you – members of the Congregation, members of our board of directors, former and retired employees, authors who have come from near and far, representatives of local parishes and schools, people with whom we do business in a variety of ways – for taking a few minutes from your day to be with us.

I’m not going to speak too long but I do want to thank a number of people, introduce some special guests along the way, and tell a little bit of the story of Ave Maria Press.

First, thank you, Fr. Tony, for your remarks and especially for all the support, the encouragement, and the guidance that you and the U.S. Province have given to me and to Ave over the years. I’m especially grateful for your leadership of our board.

I’d like to introduce the other members of the Board of Directors, and ask them to identify themselves if they’re here: Jerry Baumbach, John Cavadini, Fr. Andrew Gawrych (also an author), Fr. David Guffey, Donna Lamberti, Fr. Ed Obermiller, and John Soisson. We depend on your wise counsel in so many areas. Thank you for your service to Ave Maria Press.

Turning back to home, very special thanks are due to the four vice presidents who make up Ave’s core management team. Each member of this group played a major role in preparing for this event, while at the same time carrying out the duties of their day jobs: Bob Hamma, editorial director; Kristen Bonelli, creative director; Karey Circosta, director of sales and marketing; and Mark Witbeck, director of finance and operations. Together they have devoted 79 years of service to Ave Maria Press.

A committee has been meeting for a long time on nearly a weekly basis to plan our anniversary events. This group includes several members of the management team, plus Irene Ostrom (whom we lured back from her December retirement to be our Anniversary Czar), Pattie Gates, our HR manager, and Stephanie Sibal, our publicist. Thanks to all of you and to Joel Houston, our shipping and warehousing manager, who might as well have been on the committee, so often did we ask for his help. I don’t know if any of you will still be working here when Ave celebrates its 175th anniversary, but you could do far worse than reuniting this same team to manage it. I know I’d be willing to come out of retirement to do what I do best, which is to fret.

This group – the core team and the planning committee – along with virtually everyone in the company tackled many projects over the past year. Not least was the renovation of our offices – new paint, new carpeting, some reconfigured spaces. Mark oversaw all of this, with aesthetic help from Kristen and Karey, and I want to thank them all.

The Anniversary 

For now I want to focus on three efforts that speak to the heart of Ave Maria Press as a publishing house:

In January we unveiled a new Ave Maria Press logo, and I want to applaud the team that worked on this project, including Chris Tobin, who designed the logo, and Kristen, who managed the process from start to finish and helped adapt the logo to its many uses in our corporate life. What I think is important about the logo – and why I’m bringing it up here – is that it simultaneously looks to the past and to the future. Previous logos had identified us as AMP; our new one clearly recalls and celebrates the ongoing importance of our Marian heritage. We are Ave, just as the magazine that gave us our start was often called “The Ave.” We look to the future with the sheaf of pages that flutter in the blue circle. Yes, they are pages, but they are unbound in any conventional way, a nod to our digital present and future.

The second effort I want to applaud is the scattering of quotations throughout the building. This was Karey’s great idea. All the departments helped select the quotations for their space, and Kristen and her group designed them and had them installed just a week ago. These quotes will serve to remind us of our mission – that we are “educators in the faith,” that our work is to “make God known, loved, and served,” and that we should continue to pray that Ave remains, in Fr. Sorin’s words, a “source of most abundant blessings” for the church and for the Congregation. And on the days when these noble aspirations seem out of reach, we can retreat into the editorial department and read the sobering words from Ecclesiastes that Bob chose for his group: “Of the making of many books there is no end.” (Add to that the designing, marketing, selling, and shipping of them too.)

Perhaps the most impressive achievement is the visual timeline that runs along the wall of the main hallway right behind many of you. This is the work of many people: Bob and the editorial crew looked through virtually every volume of The Ave Maria, mining it for interesting stories, trends, and quotes, consulting histories and the archives, and basically coming up with the text for the timeline. Fr. Kuhn and Deb at the Province Archives, Br. Larry at the Midwest Province Archives, and Peter and Charles at Notre Dame also helped tremendously by supplying us with photos and documents. Then Kristen and her crew took over and made it all come visually alive. I’ve been saying for years that I think we produce the best book covers of any religious publisher around  – Catholic is too narrow a category – and now this. Wow.

Ave Maria Press History 

As extensive as it is, the timeline tells a necessarily compressed version of the story of Ave Maria Press. Let me recite a few highlights (and let me also tell you that if you don’t have time to review it today, you’re welcome back any time, and you can also see the whole thing on our website):

To begin – briefly – at the beginning. On May 1, 1865, Fr. Edward Sorin, who had founded the University of Notre Dame 23 years earlier, published the first issue of The Ave Maria, initially a 16-page weekly devoted to our lady and featuring some of the best Catholic writing in America. For 105 years (until 1970), week in and week out, the magazine appeared. Seven Holy Cross priests served as editor, and the organization employed, over the years, hundreds of Holy Cross priests, brothers, and sisters in its offices and its printing plant.

If you know anything about The Ave Maria, you know that its first editor was Fr. Sorin and its last was Fr. John Reedy, a great Catholic journalist. What you may not know or remember is that for more than half of the magazine’s life (from 1875 to 1930 – a span of 55 years) the magazine was edited by Fr. Daniel Hudson. That’s more than one-third of Ave’s total history. Daniel Hudson grew up in New England, a summer neighbor of Longfellow’s. In 1870 he boarded a train intending to enter a Trappist monastery in the Midwest. A fellow traveler persuaded him to hop off in South Bend to take a look around at Notre Dame. He did, and he stayed (no lake-effect snow that day, I gather), and by all accounts he never left campus more than a dozen times before his death 60-some years later, so great was  his devotion to the magazine (although it’s also reported that after he retired, he never read another word of The Ave Maria again). It was because of Fr. Hudson’s industry and passion that The Ave Maria became the most popular Catholic magazine in America. And it was on his watch that Ave began publishing books, the earliest of which dates back to 1909, as far as I can determine.

When the magazine ceased publication in 1970, the operation turned in earnest to publishing books and pamphlets. It also it continued print its own books and provide printing services to Notre Dame and other customers until just a few years ago. The Press certainly hit a home run in 1970 when it published a little guide to preparing for your Catholic wedding written by a relatively unknown priest named Joseph Champlin. That 95-cent publication, called Together for Life, has never been out of print, and it remains the centerpiece of our parish ministry resources program.

A few years later, in the mid-1970s, Ave began a long association with Mike Pennock, a legendary high school theology teacher from Cleveland. Now, almost 40 years later Mike’s theology textbooks have been read by millions of Catholic high school students across the country, and I’m proud to say that we are one of the leading Catholic high school curriculum publishers in the country. Doc Pennock, as he was fondly called, died in 2009, but I’m pleased to say that his widow, Carol, and one of his four children, Amy Anhold, are here with us this afternoon. Please welcome Carol and Amy.

In 1985, about ten years after we released Mike’s first textbook, we published Sr. Joyce Rupp’s first book, Fresh Bread, and with  that publication we began what is now a thirty-year-long partnership with Joyce, which (and whom) we treasure immensely. The relationship has yielded such enduring classics as Praying Our GoodbyesThe Cup of Our LifeOpen the Door, as well as such recent titles as Fragments of Your Ancient Name and her brilliant and moving new book, Fly While You Still Have Wings, which just came out in February. I’m delighted that Joyce has come out from her home in Iowa to be with us.

Bob Wicks is another treasured Ave and Sorin author. Bob is clinical psychologist and an expert in the integration of psychology and spirituality, and in the early 1990s he brought us a book called Touching the Holy, which we published in 1992. Ten more books have followed, including Riding the Dragon, his all-time bestseller (and I think Bob’s favorite book). Bob has the honor of having been awarded a papal medal for his service to the Catholic Church by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II in 1996. Thank you, Bob, for joining us.

Scrolling ahead about fifteen years, let’s say hello again to Fr. Drew Gawrych. Fr. Drew is the editor or co-editor (with Fr. Kevin Grove) of several important titles in our Holy Cross series of books. In some ways you could say that Fr. Drew helped launch that series with the publication of The Cross, Our Only Hope in 2007. Last year we proudly published Drew and Kevin’s definitive collections of the essential writings of Basil Moreau, which has just been named a finalist in the theology category of the Association of Catholic Publishers book awards. Welcome, Fr. Drew.

Three years later, in 2010, we published Lisa Hendey’s first book, A Handbook for Catholic Moms, which grew directly out of her website, which has become the most important gathering place for Catholic parents on the Internet. Five years later, we have published 3 more books by Lisa, and we’ve launched the series of books, all of which tells you something about Lisa’s spirit, energy, and dedication. Her most recent book, The Grace of Yes, is also an ACP finalist in the inspiration category. Welcome, Lisa.

Closing in on the present, in the spring of 2013 we published a book that had emblazoned on its cover an endorsement from Cardinal Timothy Dolan who said, “If you love your parish, read this book!” Well, apparently lots of people must love their parishes because Rebuilt, Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s candid and compelling account of how they set out to revive a dying parish in Timonium, Maryland, quickly became one of the most talked-about Catholic books of the year and arguably the most important book on parish renewal in a decade. Last year it won the first-place Catholic Press Association award in the pastoral resources category. Thank you for being with us, Fr. Michael and Tom.

A Lasting Legacy 

In closing, let me reflect for just a moment or two on this anniversary. Ave Maria Press is one of the oldest continuously operating Catholic publishing houses in the country. Sadlier and Benziger, both curriculum publishers, predate us by a few decades, and Paulist, a scholarly and trade house, opened its doors just a month earlier than we did in 1865. How have we lasted for 150 years? Survival in publishing is not inevitable, of course.  

To explain it, I guess I would first turn to our Holy Cross charisms – especially zeal – which are evident in abundance when you examine the historical record: Fr. Sorin’s tenaciousness in the face of those who doubted the wisdom of his publishing venture, Fr. Hudson’s energy and steadfastness over a 55-year-long career.  

Blind luck doesn’t hurt either, and maybe that’s just another name for Providence. It certainly didn’t hurt that Together for Life showed up on the Ave doorstep just as the magazine was shutting down or that we were hanging around in our booth at a conference a few years ago when Fr. Michael and Tom came by and to drop off the proposal for Rebuilt.

What I’m proudest of is that through the years Ave has tried to serve the needs of the whole Church, not just one segment of it. While staying true to our mission we strive to be flexible and adaptable. Our attention to the diverse needs of Catholic schools, Catholic parishes, and individual believers and seekers has been the foundation of a publishing program that – we pray – continues to give glory to God, serve God’s people, and honor Holy Cross.

Thank you and thank you again for being here with us.

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Open House Presentation


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