SOUTH BEND — As the city of South Bend recognizes the 150th anniversary of its incorporation, theUniversity of Notre Dame’s Ave Maria Press, publisher of Catholic books, is also gearing up for its 150th-anniversary celebration.
Begun in 1865 by Notre Dame’s founder and longtime president, the Rev. Edward Sorin, the press publishes ministry resources, spiritual books and textbooks for Catholic schools.
Publisher Tom Grady said the company will mark the anniversary by renovating its facility, building a photographic display, designing a new logo and holding an open house, celebratory dinner and Mass on April 30 and May 1.
Grady said Sorin founded the press in order to provide a space for religious writings for the United States’ growing Catholic population.
“He borrowed some money from the bishop of Fort Wayne and bought a printer for us, and that was what started both Ave Maria Press and its only publication at the time, the magazine known as Ave Maria,” Grady said.
The magazine began in “a turbulent time,” he said. The Civil War had ended only a month before. Seven Holy Cross priests and more than 80 Holy Cross sisters at Saint Mary’s Academy (later Saint Mary’s College) had joined the war effort as chaplains and nurses, according to a history of Notre Dame by the Rev. Arthur J. Hope.
At the same time, because northern Indiana was relatively safe during the war, Notre Dame’s enrollment skyrocketed to 500, said Notre Dame professor emeritus of history the Rev. Thomas Blantz. Sorin retired in 1865, and his successor, the Rev. Patrick Dillon, added several floors to the main college building. The new Main Building contained classrooms, dormitories and a science museum. It burned down and was rebuilt in 1879, but for 14 years, it was the center of student life.
Blantz said while students were forbidden to go to the newly incorporated South Bend and even faculty had to have permission to do so, the relationship between the city and the university was good.
“On big feast days he would invite important people in South Bend to make good relations and to try to be as open, because there was suspicion of Catholics and foreigners,” Blantz said.
Behind the Main Building was the original Ave Maria Press — an anachronistic name, Grady said, since its only publication was the Ave Maria magazine.
In a society where the largely immigrant Catholic population was not considered intellectual, the magazine was high-brow, Grady said.
“If you look at the writing in the first issues of the magazine, it’s very sophisticated writing,” Grady said. “There are Latin quotes that go untranslated. It demanded quite a bit of its readers, but it was a success from the beginning, and I think (Sorin) proved those doubters wrong about the market for a magazine of that sort.”
For several decades, the press published only the magazine, Grady said. It diversified around the turn of of the century, releasing books and pamphlets as well as the magazine. After the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, its circulation dwindled and it stopped printing in 1970. At that point, Ave Maria Press shifted its focus exclusively to publishing books.
Grady said the structure of the company has changed in the past 150 years — it now publishes textbooks as well as devotional material, it employs primarily laypeople, though members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross still write books and serve on the board of directors, and it is now located on Moreau Drive on the edge of Notre Dame’s campus.
However, Ave Maria’s mission has not changed.
“If you go to the first issue of the Ave Maria, and you’ll find meditations on Our Lady or on the Rosary,” Grady said. “We continue to publish books that do the same thing and provide the same resources for Catholics.”
In the coming years, Grady said the press will continue to publish Catholic books and develop the graphics and digital components of its textbooks.
“We simply hope to continue our ministry to the church and our service to the church in what we do and as the means of delivering the content of our books change,” Grady said.