September 18, 2012 // Local

Archbishop John Francis Noll — founder OSV

‘Priest, journalist, apologist, catechist and publisher’ 

“John Francis Noll, fifth bishop of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and founder of Our Sunday Visitor, was one of the most influential Catholics of his day. His accomplishments were legion; he made his mark on nearly all of the major Catholic ventures of his time, and many of the institutions and works that he founded or influenced are still thriving today, although he died in 1956. His life spanned one of the most tumultuous periods of American Catholic history, from the era of Pope Pius IX and the First Vatican Council to the threshold of change inspired by Vatican Council II. He lived during a period of unprecedented expansion and immigration in this country, when the American Church was growing exponentially. Catholics in America needed a sense of identity, a sense of self-confidence and pride. … A great churchman, Noll was always concerned with the welfare not only of his own diocese, but also of the Church at large. He stands today as the most outstanding Catholic publisher in America,” wrote Ann Ball in a “Preface,” who with Father Leon Hutton, authored “Champion of the Church: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Archbishop Noll” — Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2006.

“John Noll was a missionary at heart, whose influence extended through the printed word and his work as a bishop in the Catholic hierarchy. Through his leadership and strength of character, he aspired to educate against religious bigotry, racism and prejudice. He fought anti-Catholicism in all its forms. He promoted the values of a nation based on the principle of ‘One Nation Under God,’” added Father Hutton in the introduction to “Champion of the Church.”

“One of the things that I think is under appreciated is that … for all intense and purposes he came out of nowhere,” said Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. “He was what is now known as an early adopter. He embraced the communication tools of his day — print, radio and television — with an eye toward how they could best serve the mission of the Church,” said Erlandson in the forward to “Champion of the Church.”

“He had an incredible gift for writing and speaking, and was challenging the anti-Catholics in the area. In any sort of national sense, he was a diocesan priest who came from a small town in the northeast corner of Indiana, and he built this national and international organization,” Erlandson said. “He was really an amazing man and a great treasure for the diocese. And what pride the diocese can take in that one of their own created an enterprise that now is involved with the Vatican — we’ve published 16 books by Pope Benedict XVI — all of this has come from an idea he had in 1912 for a national Catholic newspaper.”

“While an apologist and teacher first and foremost, Father Noll was also a brilliant entrepreneur, and he soon built up a publishing empire,” wrote Erlandson in an article titled “Toward a Second Century” published in The Priest, September 2012. “He was a prolific pamphleteer, the author of books and a preacher who was unafraid to address the issues of his day. He saw Protestant churches using offering envelopes and was the first to adopt the idea for the Catholic Church,” he continued. “He was also an early adopter of new technologies. He owned one of the first radios in Huntington and also one of the first television sets. He traveled widely and was always on the lookout for new ideas that he could adopt or develop.”

“… Father John Noll, then pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Huntington, Indiana, with funds from his own pocket, purchased a printing press for $10 and began Our Sunday Visitor. … The greatest example furnished by Father Noll, and an objective of Our Sunday Visitor now as throughout its years, has been to summon Catholics — and priests — not to fear, to stand tall, and to speak out. After all, believers — and priests — have in their very faith the most empowering of understandings, and the best of blueprints. ‘Come to me all you who are burdened, and I will refresh you,’” wrote Msgr. Owen F. Campion in an article titled “Our Sunday Visitor at 100” in the September 2012 issue of The Priest, which he serves as editor along with his position as associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor. 

“The father of OSV was a priest, pastor, journalist, apologist, catechist and publisher. He was also a bishop and then an archbishop and is honored especially as one of the great pioneers in Catholic publishing,” Matthew E. Bunson wrote in The Priest, September 2012, in an article titled, “The Bish.” Bunson is editor of OSV’s Catholic Almanac and The Catholic Answer magazine.

“John Noll was born on Jan. 25, 1875, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary of West Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ordained to the priesthood at the age of 23, he was named pastor of St. Patrick Church in Ligonier within a year and served his flock by walking or riding a horse.”

“Within a short time after he started in active ministry, Father Noll discovered that there were very determined enemies of the Church across the country, including Indiana, who were spreading the worst kinds of lies about Catholicism,” continued Bunson. “… Father Noll created the first in a series of pamphlets on Catholic teachings that he titled ‘Kind Words From Your Pastor.’ Given the overwhelmingly favorable response, he began offering them to pastors in the area and soon across the country.”

“… To keep up with the demand for subscriptions, Father Noll purchased a local print shop in Huntington, Indiana, where he was assigned in 1910, and hired a staff to help him,” said Bunson. “… Noll realized that more Catholic publications were needed, … and in 1911, he helped found the Catholic Press Association to give technical and material support to Catholic publishers and publications. Next, on May 5, 1912, he officially launched a new national weekly newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor, with an initial print run of 35,000 and a determination to serve the Church by offering in each edition a strong, steady and authentic Catholic voice.”

“The newspaper cost a penny and was an instant hit. … For the next 40 years, the priest served as editor and came to be known to the staff simply as ‘The Bish,’” he wrote.

“… Noll received the title of monsignor in 1921, and through his accomplishments as a publisher, he was fast establishing himself as a nationally known priest and an influential voice in Catholic publishing,” wrote Bunson. “Given his prominence and the level of respect he had earned in the Church in the United States, few were surprised by the news that Noll had been named bishop of Fort Wayne by Pope Pius XI on May 12, 1924. He was ordained a bishop on June 30 and took as his motto, ‘Mentes Tuorum Visita,’ from the hymn ‘Veni Creator Spiritus,’ calling upon the Holy Spirit to ‘visit the minds of Your people.’”

“… On Jan. 3, 1926, Bishop Noll introduced a diocesan newspaper, essentially a local edition of Our Sunday Visitor (ed. note: currently called Today’s Catholic but no longer a part of Our Sunday Visitor),” Bunson continued. The bishop also used Our Sunday Visitor facilities to print the newspapers of other dioceses who found his model of Catholic communication a powerful means of evangelization.”

“Bishop Noll’s prominent national status also made him a valued voice in wider Catholic affairs,” wrote Bunson. “He was appointed secretary of the recently founded National Catholic Welfare Conference (the early form of today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and used his role in the conference to help start the Catholic News Service and the ‘Catholic Hour’ on NBC radio. In 1933, he helped to begin the Legion of Decency to resist the growing threat of pornography.”

“Bishop Noll next led the national fund-raising campaign to complete work on the National Shrine (later Basilica) of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., using Our Sunday Visitor as a means of galvanizing donations. The shrine was dedicated on Nov. 20, 1959, and Noll was honored for his leadership with the title ‘Apostle of the Shrine.’”

Bunson continued, “… On Sept. 12, 1953, Bishop Noll was granted the personal title of archbishop by Pope Pius XII, meaning it was bestowed upon him alone and would not be continued by the succeeding bishops of the Diocese of Fort Wayne. … His passing on July 31, 1956, was greeted with immense sadness across the diocese and the nation. His funeral was attended by more than 10,000 people, 500 priests, 30 archbishops and bishops and two cardinals. … At exactly the time he was needed most by American Catholicism, Archbishop Noll provided imagination, strength, love for the Church and a willing embrace of innovation in publishing and social communication that are still being felt today.”


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