Priest, Publisher, Prophet

Champion of the Church: The Extraordinary Life & Legacy of Archbishop Noll

by Ann Ball with Father Leon Hutton

144 pages, $14.95

To order: (800) 348-2440

All of us have dreams. John Francis Noll was no exception. He had the good fortune and God-given ability to turn his into reality. This nicely written little book has been published just in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of this bishop and pioneer of Catholic publishing. 

As I read about this man of faith who fought bigotry, prejudice and anti-Catholicism head-on in his day through educating Catholics and non-Catholics alike on the truths of our faith, I often asked myself, “Am I not called to the same?”

Since the laity interacts daily with non-Catholics, we have a great opportunity to lead others to the fullness of our faith. And here’s a model who can show us how to do that most effectively — a holy man who was aware that many Catholics, as well as Protestants, are not well-versed in the basic tenets of Christian faith. Discipleship was a great part of his mission as a priest, bishop and publisher.

Through his life’s work, Archbishop Noll showed the world that one “could be a good Catholic and a good American.” He also saw an increased role for laypeople coming prior to Vatican II. It was an intuition born of lived experience.

“John Noll had his roots firmly planted deep in the Indiana soil,” we read. “The Noll family had settled in this sleepy little farming community in 1834, when his grandfather, George Johannes Noll, a tailor, emigrated from Germany. The family rode in a wagon from Detroit, Mich., over an almost impossible road, as there was no railroad or waterway to get to Fort Wayne.”

The book recounts the Noll family’s ordinary, yet fascinating, history. The future archbishop and defender of the faith was the sixth of seven children. He was born on Jan. 25, 1875, next door to the house in which his father had been born. A week later he was baptized at the same cathedral church in Fort Wayne in which his father had been baptized 34 years earlier.

His mother’s death when he was a toddler, and his father’s marriage a year later to a Protestant woman, would help young John hunger for the ability to explain the Catholic faith in all its fullness. Eventually John’s stepmother, Mary, ended up converting. This sparked a lifelong interest in bringing new souls into the arms of Holy Mother Church.

A pioneer in publishing, this founder of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper and book-publishing company was bold enough to use the latest technical advances of the day.

Reading this book, one meets a man who said Yes to God not once but, essentially, every day of his life. A humble man, he must have been surprised himself at what God was able to do through his faithfulness.

“This is the story of a man who committed his life to the Christian principles that made him a faithful Catholic and a loyal American,” writes Father Leon Hutton in the book’s introduction. “Like many of his contemporary bishops, who were builders with ‘brick and mortar,’ Archbishop Noll also used his numerous skills to organize and advance the apostolate of the laity to be a catalyst for the good of the Church and society. As the ‘Harmonizer,’ a title associated with his paper, he promoted an America rooted in the firm conviction ‘In God We Trust.’ As an American and Catholic, then, John Francis Noll was right on the money.”

So is this book. Read it and learn how to evangelize and catechize as naturally as you live and breathe and have your being in Christ.

Bill Zalot writes from Levittown, Pennsylvania.