Evangelization and education. The two go hand-in-hand in the Catholic intellectual tradition. The English-speaking Catholic world, especially in the United States, has witnessed a renaissance of sorts over the past 30 years with the flowering of apologetics organizations, small publishers and outstanding Catholic liberal arts colleges.
Two such entities in New England are now joining forces to further the mission so dear to the heart of the late Pope John Paul II: the evangelization of culture.
Manchester, N.H.-based Sophia Institute Press has become the publishing division of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H. Located just a short drive from each other, the collaboration seems a natural fit on many levels.
Jeffrey Nelson, the president of Thomas More College, notes that, “Upon taking the helm as president of Thomas More College two years ago, I laid plans to establish a publishing program that further advances the college’s mission of evangelizing the culture by promoting the Catholic intellectual tradition. I have always admired the work of Sophia Institute Press and had hoped to establish a press that mirrored Sophia’s substantial work.”
However, he noted that doing so would have taken a number of years. So, given the physical proximity and complementary missions of the two, discussions were initiated that ultimately led to the collaboration. Nelson says that although both Thomas More and Sophia are relatively small, they will be able to “leverage their respective strengths” in order to further the founding visions of each entity — evangelistic for the press and educational for the college.
Asked to detail those respective strengths, Nelson noted that “Sophia has a 25-year reputation and brand name,” as well as the publishing infrastructure. According to John Barger, founder and publisher of Sophia, Nelson brings a wealth of experience and a long-term vision, as well as “many more contacts in the academic and publishing worlds.” Before assuming the presidency of Thomas More, Nelson was the founding publisher of ISI Books, the publishing imprint of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del.
This collaboration comes at a critical time in the history of Sophia Institute. Like many smaller publishers across the country, Sophia had struggled recently as consumer spending slackened while printing prices increased dramatically. According to Barger, in recent years, Sophia was unable to publish as many books as they had in the past. The new collaboration will enable them to produce not only more titles, but a much wider variety of titles, as well. An immediate result of the partnership that will be welcomed by Catholic readers: More than 50 works previously published by Sophia will return to print.
That is a “first fruit” that especially pleases longtime Sophia reader Ed Cottrill of Greenfield, Mass. Cottrill and his wife used to regularly give By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride by Alice von Hildebrand to friends as an engagement present until it went out of print. But the book is one of the titles Sophia hopes to resume publishing.
“The type of book that Sophia puts out is simply not being published by other presses,” he says. “It was unfortunate to see a number of their books fall out of print. As a Catholic reader and buyer of books, this is very good news.”
The collaboration between the press and the college is not the first step in the development of Thomas More’s publishing division. That began when Thomas More became publisher and distributor of Second Spring, a Catholic journal that explores the intersection of culture and religion. Based in Oxford, England, it is edited by Stratford Caldecott. Thomas More’s existing imprint, Second Spring Books, has published two works of catechesis for children. It plans to publish works that more closely complement its sister journal.
Faith, Reason, Imagination
Other plans include the further expansion and development of Sophia’s current offerings, including additions to the fiction line for young people. The Imagio imprint most recently released The Tripods Attack! by John McNichol, the first installment of The Young Chesterton Chronicles, an imaginative series featuring a young G.K. Chesterton and friends, as well as foes. Referencing the work of Robert Louis Stevenson, Nelson said that they hope to publish a new generation of classics aimed at teens, enduring works of “excellent craft” and a “decidedly Catholic ethos.”
Nelson’s interest in promoting teen fiction is unique in academia, especially Catholic academia. In the renewal of culture, he says, faith and reason are obviously important, but equally so is the moral imagination.
Through this collaboration and the publication of works in all three areas — faith, through Sophia’s traditional line of Catholic spiritual classics, as well as new studies; reason, through the development of a world-class scholarly imprint; and the moral imagination, through exciting new works of fiction — the college and the press will work together to evangelize and educate the English-speaking world and, in the process, “communicate perennial truths afresh,” in the words of Nelson.
Additionally, with Caldecott in England and other contacts, the groundwork is set for the establishment of a “network of English-speaking Catholics stretching from Oxford to Boston to L.A. to Australia,” notes Nelson. Such a network will enable the college to broaden its profile and play a more decisive role in the evangelization of the culture, he says.
Nelson is now chairman of Sophia Institute, and Barger will continue in his role as publisher. Both men look to the future with optimism and excitement.
“We at Sophia Institute Press are excited to be closely associated with an orthodox, Catholic college like Thomas More,” says Barger. “I’m delighted that Sophia’s 25-year tradition of publishing great Catholic spiritual works will continue well into the future.”
Nelson is equally thrilled. “This is great for students and great for faculty,” he says. “All of us at Thomas More College are excited to have the opportunity to form a relationship with Sophia that reduces repetition and enables TMC and the Institute to more fully realize their missions of serving both the Church and society.”
John Moorehouse is based
in Bernardston, Massachusetts.