At a time when hunger for novelty in presenting the timeless truths of the faith can turn into unorthodoxy, a number of Catholic publishers prefer the traditional route.
TAN Books, Roman Catholic Books and The Neumann Press are three companies that specialize in reprinting Catholic classics.
TAN Books was founded in 1967 by Thomas A. Nelson (distinct from the Protestant publisher Thomas Nelson) in response to the misrepresentation of the faith that emerged following the Second Vatican Council. TAN is an acronym for the Latin Tuum Adoremus Nomen ("Let Us Adore Thy Name").
In a confusing era, reprinted editions of popular titles such as The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux shared the truths of the faith.
Despite many successful years of publishing, TAN filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2007 and was put up for sale in 2008. This drew the attention of Robert Gallagher, publisher of Saint Benedict Press. "When TAN was offered for sale, I had two thoughts," Gallagher said. "First, TAN was important to the Church and needed to survive. Second, with the resources of Saint Benedict Press, we could continue the good work of TAN."
TAN’s assets were purchased by Saint Benedict Press in 2008, and, within a few months, the entire business moved to Charlotte, N.C. The business has grown by approximately 30% since the acquisition, with an expected distribution of more than 725,000 units this year.
"Thomas A. Nelson performed a true service in preserving and promoting so many great classics of the Catholic faith," Gallagher noted. "My efforts, with the help of a very talented staff, have been focused on preserving that legacy and building upon it. We have been enhancing existing titles and marketing them in more aggressive and varied ways. We’ve also signed more authors of new works, adding to those TAN already offered."
Some of those offerings have topped the sales charts. The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort is TAN’s all-time bestseller, with more than a million copies purchased.
While Gallagher intends on keeping paper-and-ink productions as the basic means of distributing TAN’s content, other avenues are being pursued. Audio books and electronic books (e-books) have been produced, as has a new program called "Catholic Courses."
"In addition to traditional TAN titles, we are focusing on multimedia through audio and e-books and through our digital imprint of Catholic Courses, which presents DVD, CD and downloadable mini courses on a variety of topics," Gallagher explained.
Roman Catholic Books
A variety of topics has been covered by Roman Catholic Books in its 31 years of publishing. RCB was launched by Roger McCaffrey in response to what he concluded was a dearth of orthodox Catholic materials available at the time.
"By the early 1980s, the once-robust Catholic publishing industry had all but collapsed," McCaffrey observed. "With the decrease in quality of books, there was a corresponding decrease in the quantity of readers. This was a big opening for us to bring back some of the Church’s literary treasure."
While TAN had been publishing various devotional books in paperback throughout the 1970s, McCaffrey was intent on bringing forth scholarly titles in hardcover editions. Out-of-print books on topics such as Church history, apologetics and psychology have been reprinted by RCB with success. In good years, nearly 200,000 copies were sold.
However, sales have decreased in recent years. "While there is a notable resurgence in orthodoxy today compared to when we started RCB, back then there were millions more ‘seasoned’ Catholics with an orthodox background than there are today," McCaffrey stated. "They had been educated in truly Catholic schools in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. It was fairly easy to sell reprinted classics to this type of reader — one who had a solid upbringing in the Catholic faith and who had almost nowhere else to go in order to expand on that knowledge."
Cable television, the Internet and other technological advances have distracted readers from printed books, McCaffrey said. "Our older Catholic population has been replaced by a minimally catechized, technologically-driven one," he said. "Their grounding in the faith is less secure, and their desire to learn more is not as strong as previous generations. With all the technology today, fewer people are interested in taking the time to read, say, The Framework of a Christian State, even among those who are devout."
This does not keep McCaffrey from persevering, however. "Despite our challenges, we have every intention of forging ahead with more reprints," he said. "RCB’s most recent reprint is Looking Toward the Priesthood by Msgr. Charles Hugo Doyle. This edition comes with the endorsement of Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura."
The endorsement is important to McCaffrey because "it shows everyone that our material is not simply a relic of the past, but is very relevant for the present. Cardinal Burke has graciously commented upon our work at RCB, and the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York supported us as well. He did so particularly with the reprinting of the 1962 Missale Romanum (Roman Missal) that priests use to celebrate the traditional liturgy. This approval from Church leaders helps more Catholics to see that ‘traditional’ really equals ‘mainstream.’"
The company has published a few e-books, but as McCaffrey observed, "There’s no replacing a book you can hold in your hands. That’s what countless generations before us have done and what we will continue to encourage this generation to do."
This sentiment is shared by Dennis McCoy, whose company, The Neumann Press, was started in similar fashion to RCB.
Neumann was established in 1981 in order to reprint Catholic classics that were unavailable, although its primary focus would be on fiction and home-schooling books. The company is named after St. John Neumann, the first canonized American man and the subject of one of the company’s biographies.
Another saint was the author of Neumann’s first book, Sermons of the Curé of Ars, which is a perennial bestseller. McCoy believes this is because "St. John Vianney has an amazing ability to get to the heart of the matter on so many topics. These include the gift of the Mass, the power of prayer, distinguishing true and false virtue and the importance of the Final Judgment. His unequivocal writings appeal to our readership."
Missals and hymnals for the traditional Latin Mass appeal to Neumann’s readers as well, McCoy said: "Our readership is largely devoted to the extraordinary form of the liturgy, so it should come as no surprise that we sell a lot of missals — for adults and for children. Our St. Gregory Hymnal is also very popular."
The popularity of some titles remains constant, but it has only been in the last six months that overall sales have picked up. This followed a four-year downturn that corresponded with the economy’s decline. Readers valued Neumann’s products but didn’t have the money to purchase all they wanted.
"We’ve gotten so many calls from people saying they’d love to have one of each of our books, but they just can’t afford that. Aside from our home-schooling materials, we are often seen as a gift-book publisher, a treat for devout Catholics," McCoy explained. "We’re praying and working to overcome that mindset, and sales have increased in recent months."
Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.