Bishop John Francis Noll John Francis Noll - Our Sunday Visitor
John Francis Noll - Our Sunday Visitor - Huntington Indiana
The Story of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Company


The 1930s were difficult times for Catholics, as for most Americans. The climb up the economic social ladder for the Catholic immigrants was temporarily halted by unemployment; Al Smith’s resounding defeat had left them down in spirit. The pages of Our Sunday Visitor reflected the general malaise in the country. At the heart of the nation’s economic woes, wrote Bishop Noll, was a simple fact: America had turned its back on spiritual values.

The paper became more and more concerned with living one’s faith in a secular society that was growing more lax every day. During the 1930s, Our Sunday Visitor strongly reflected its longstanding emphasis on rooting the lives of the laity in their Catholic identity.

It was during the 1930s, too, that a name first appeared in Our Sunday Visitor that would soon be known worldwide: Fulton J. Sheen. The future bishop, already famous as a radio personality, discussed the problem of living the faith in an increasingly secularized world. A line from his 1938 article was all too prophetic: “The vision of the cross is fading; the borderland between light and darkness is growing dimmer and the world is about to pass over into the hinterland of darkness and ruin.”

The paper did take time out to mark its silver anniversary in the May 2, 1937, issue. Bishop Noll noted in an editorial that every cent the paper had ever made was invested in the Church, including a new order of nuns in Indiana he had supported with Our Sunday Visitor income.

The main object of Our Sunday Visitor’s charity, he wrote, is the maintenance of the motherhouse and training school of the Society of Missionary Catechists (popularly known as the Victory Noll Sisters), which now has 200 members working in the most difficult home-mission fields. The editorial noted that Our Sunday Visitor used all its earnings for the support of religious, educational and charitable works, and pointed out that the firm was the nation’s largest producer of religious pamphlets and the first to promote the use of and to manufacture and print the Every Sunday Collection Envelope for Catholic churches.

  Our Sunday Visitor Dedication
Our Sunday Visitor Dedication

Overseas, Europe moved toward war as the 1930s wore on. Our Sunday Visitor wanted peace, but it dreaded the seemingly unstoppable communist advance. The paper forcefully opposed Nazism, but feared that the U.S. would be drawn into battle against Hitler and allied with Godless Russia. When the war broke out in 1939, Bishop Noll kept Our Sunday Visitor totally isolationist. The bombing of Pearl Harbor two years later ended the debate. The paper called for an early victory and a just peace.

Throughout the war years, Bishop Noll’s newspaper focused on fighting the war of moral armament on the home front. Evils such as birth control, divorce, indecent literature and movies were the target of editorials and features.

But the war in Europe was ever present, too. Many issues featured letters from soldiers. One, signed “A Grateful Soldier,” praised the work of Catholic nurses in preserving the faith in battlefront hospitals. Priests wrote columns of Tips for Soldiers. Many issues contained letters from chaplains at the front, filled with details of Catholic heroism. Editorials urged readers to “send your copy to a boy in the service.”

At home, Catholics read about how Americans were backing the war effort. An Illinois bishop donated the bumpers from his car to the nation’s scrap drive, painting their wooden replacements with aluminum. Bishop Noll praised such efforts. But the paper found fault with the general drift of the times: “Society adrift from God: If the world doesn’t return to Him in spirit of repentance, it is doomed,” read a banner headline in early 1942.

Father Smith Instructs Jackson  

As the year came to an end, the bishop wrote: “The year that is coming to a close has probably been the saddest year in the history of our nation. Nearly 5,000,000 of the flower of our manhood . . . are either scattered over the globe to fight or . . . are in training."

With the Nazi war machine pressing forward relentlessly, Our Sunday Visitor editorialized: “Religious liberty is the most important of all freedoms, and it is important to keep this thought before the minds of all Americans during the period of the war.”

As the years passed, the Allies turned the tide overseas. But Our Sunday Visitor and its writers worried about the United States. We were losing the war at home, proclaimed one columnist. Birth control, divorce and godless communism were deliberately undermining the strength of the nation, our families.

When victory was achieved in 1945, the paper — which had remained remarkably free of the jingoism of the period — celebrated with the rest of the country, but feared that the final victory only laid the groundwork for a communist advance.

With the war behind us, Bishop Noll kept his eye on the situation around the globe. Editorials had denounced Franklin D. Roosevelt (and later his successor, Harry Truman) for selling out to the Russians, which in the paper’s view doomed Eastern Europe to communist oppression. The development of the atom bomb, first used against Japan by the United States in 1945, opened a new and terrifying chapter in the history of humanity.

By 1947, the minds of post-war readers were on lighter topics. Popular Notre Dame quarterback Johnny Lujack answered the mail personally, the paper reported. But coverage of serious world problems remained. Pope Pius XII, for example, urged active participation in politics, saying Christians could not be passive in the midst of the ruins of war.

John Francis Noll
John Francis Noll

The cold war between Russia and the United States grew more intense. The paper stepped up attacks against communism. As early as November 1947, editorials warned Catholics to be wary of joining communist organizations that appealed to Americans’ sense of love of country under the name patriotic — a theme to be repeated often during the next decade.

As the 1950s arrived, Catholicism entered what many considered at the time to be its golden age in the U.S., and Bishop Noll (named Archbishop Noll in 1953 by Pope Pius XII) entered his final years as editor. The 40th anniversary issue, published May 4, 1952, carried a banner headline showing that the paper had not stopped dealing with the topics of the day. It read, “They Do Not Want God in Our Schools: Secular Trend is Certain to Bring Disaster.”

Reflecting the growing interest in social justice in the Church in the 1940s and 1950s, that issue carried a flag advertising the paper as the popular National Action Catholic Weekly.

Our Sunday Visitor called for a day of national prayer as America began the Eisenhower years on Jan. 18, 1953. Headlines of the day warned readers that “There is a Hell,” despite wishful thinking and the paper, in those pre-ecumenical times, noted that the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II would take place in Anglican Westminster Abbey, a church built by Catholics.

Reflecting its interest in family life and problems, a 1953 headline asked, “In your movie going, do you encourage stars who do not live morally?”

After four decades as editor, Archbishop Noll’s health began to decline. A 1954 stroke finally led to his death on July 31, 1956. He died knowing a Church still revered for its steadfastness of devotion, ever-increasing vocations and rock-solid optimism, all reflected in the pages of his newspaper.

As America expanded, so did its fear of communism. The war against communism at home and abroad became a benchmark of Our Sunday Visitor in the 1950s. The paper never officially supported the anti-Communist crusade of Wisconsin’s Catholic senator, Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy, but many of the paper’s columnists lauded his actions.

  John Francis Noll Funeral
Funeral for John Francis Noll

Beneath the serenity and optimism of the Eisenhower era, major changes were afoot. The years 1958 through 1963 would change the face and the direction of the Church worldwide. Following the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, Catholics rejoiced at the election of the jovial, easygoing Pope John XXIII, who soon surprised everyone with a call for the first ecumenical council since 1870. In 1960 a Catholic named John F. Kennedy became president. Optimism among Catholics ran high, as the Pope was expected to renew the Church, and Kennedy the United States. The pages of Our Sunday Visitor fairly shouted with exuberance of a new era that Catholics were expected to lead.

The Jan. 31, 1961 issue of Our Sunday Visitor was the first to reach more than a million readers. Such unprecedented growth created the need for a new facility: A new 250,000-square-foot building was dedicated in 1960 and occupied in 1961. Three employees who had been original members of Father Noel’s staff in 1912 were still working with Our Sunday Visitor when the firm celebrated the newspaper’s golden anniversary in May 1962.

Like the nation and the Church it covered, Our Sunday Visitor of the mid-to-late 1960s was a newspaper in transition.


Copyright © 2001 Our Sunday Visitor

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