By Kathleen Naab
HUNTINGTON, Indiana, NOV. 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- After Tuesday’s re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama — who again this year won a majority of votes among Catholics — the editorial board of Our Sunday Visitor made this observation: The Church “must not abandon its powerful witness on behalf of the human dignity of all — the unborn, the poor, the dying, the prisoner, the undocumented. It must find ways to communicate the basis for this witness effectively to its own people and to society.”
Our Sunday Visitor is itself a key player in the Church’s effort to communicate “to its own people and to society.”
This year, the newspaper marks its 100th anniversary. On May 5, 1912, Father (later Archbishop) John F. Noll published the first issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper, with a press run of 35,000 copies. Today, the organization includes a publishing house with an extensive line of Catholic books, magazines and other materials, as well as a support system for parishes.
ZENIT wanted to recognize OSV’s 100 years with a conversation with its president, Greg Erlandson. We asked him to reflect not only on OSV’s rich history and success, but also the plan for the future, as the Church, in the Year of Faith, redoubles her efforts to communicate with her people and the world.
ZENIT: What enables a Catholic publishing company to be successful for 100 years?
Erlandson: First and foremost is a sense of mission, of a focus on serving the Church and of being responsive to the needs of one’s audience. In a large sense, we understand that these needs have remained remarkably similar over the past 100 years: Catholics need formation in their faith, just as they did 100 years ago. They need information about their Church and about the events of their world as seen through the eyes of faith, particularly since the secular media is such an inadequate source for this information. And finally, the Church needs to be defended when it is under unjust attack, whether from anti-Catholic movements of 100 years ago, or the omnipresent secular mindset of today.
How one responds to these needs involves flexibility. Today that means that our mission of service must be accomplished through new technologies and new means of distribution. Archbishop John Noll, our founder, was what we would call an “early adopter.” He also had a great entrepreneurial spirit. We are inspired by his example today as we look at the opportunities and challenges we face.
ZENIT: OSV has seen countless changes in the last 10 decades. Does the advent of the Internet age present bigger challenges than any it has previously faced?
Erlandson: It is hard to say if it is any bigger than previous hurdles, but it is certainly a big challenge, and a big opportunity. On the one hand, it opens up the world to us. We hear from Catholics all around the world, and they in turn can buy our books on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or access our materials online. It is a remarkable tool of both commerce and evangelization.
At the same time, for brick-and-mortar companies like Our Sunday Visitor, the business model is still unproven. We find that we must adopt a both/and strategy: e-books plus print books. Web access to articles as well as print access. For books, this is overall a very positive development. For periodicals and advertising, it has proved more of a challenge. I am absolutely convinced, as Archbishop Claudio Celli suggested in a speech at our anniversary dinner recently, that Archbishop Noll would be excited by the possibility of reaching people via smart phones and other devices. We have great opportunities in this new media to build community, respond to inquiries, evangelize and inform. But I’ll be honest: we are still finding our way in this new communications universe.
ZENIT: What role do you see for a company like OSV in the Year of Faith?
Erlandson: What a great blessing the Year of Faith is for the Church! We are very excited about it, because it is an opportunity for us to pursue our mission: to form, inform and defend. I think that Our Sunday Visitor, like many other Catholic publishing companies, can be great collaborators with the Holy See and with our bishops in providing a wide range of materials for the Year of Faith.
Our Sunday Visitor’s focus is to serve the Catholic in the pew, so we have produced inexpensive, easy-to-use products and services to meet the needs of parishes and individuals. These include a Bible study, pamphlets, bulletin inserts, posters and other books. We even have a magnet you can put on your refrigerator to remind yourself of a few key messages for the Year of Faith. That magnet has been a big hit!
ZENIT: Is a Catholic publishing company key for the new evangelization or do you find that it’s hard to get beyond “preaching to the choir”?
Erlandson: Two responses here: First, the “choir” is likely to be the people who are going to be at the heart of any evangelization effort. That is, we are reaching Catholics in the pews, parish staff, pastors, religious educators. They are the ones who will be taking the message of the Year of Faith, the message of the New Evangelization, out to their communities and neighborhoods and workplaces. We want to fire up and support those who are most likely to seek out and read Catholic materials.
Second, this is where the web can be such a great tool, because it not only facilitates contact with committed Catholics, but it also reaches way beyond parish or church boundaries. We can find the seekers, the lapsed Catholics, the I-don’t-knows and allow them to get answers to their questions anonymously or at their own pace and in their own style.
And there are products like our pamphlet series that can do both. We can get into the hands of parishioners, but we can also become the material that gets left in the mailbox or at the door or handed out at events. These little communications vehicles can be very non-threatening tools for helping people of all sorts find out what the Church teaches and why.
ZENIT: OSV seems to be constantly innovating and updating. What is the source of your many initiatives?
Erlandson: It really comes down to two things. First is the passion of the organization that we serve the needs of the Church. We are not making widgets here and we know each and every one of our products makes a difference in the lives of individuals. We know that we are serving the Church and striving to do the work of the Lord, and that makes it easy to operate at a high level of commitment and dedication. And second, it has always been a priority of ours to listen to our customers. These listening sessions and personal relationships that stretch across audiences – from those who buy books and parish resources and periodicals to those who buy textbooks and offering envelopes – give us a unique perspective and appreciation for the people we serve.
By Kathleen Naab