Founded in 1978, San Francisco’s Ignatius Press has been instrumental in maintaining and promoting the full teaching of the Catholic Church to the English-speaking world. The press’s fidelity to the Church has enabled millions of readers to experience the full richness of the faith. Important books that otherwise might have remained on the shelves of university libraries were, and are, made available to the wider public. This year marks Ignatius Press’ 40th Anniversary, which will be celebrated on November 2-3 at San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Event Center. California Catholic Daily had a chance to speak with the Founder and Editor of Ignatius Press, Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ.

There were plenty of Catholic publishers active in 1978. What impelled you to start Ignatius Press?

When we began there weren’t that many Catholic publishing houses because of the council publishers like Bruce Press and Newman Press began to decline; there was not so much interest after the council in traditional Catholic publishing. That’s why houses like Orbis and Paulist Press were on the rise. But the same circumstances gave us an open field. When we started the Ignatius Institute in 1976, John Galten and I were hosting a reading group with authors like Hans Urs Von Balthazar and Adrienne von Speyr.  John said ‘these books should be available in English!’

At that time Frank Sheed would come out to USF every year to give talks to the Institute students. Frank was the doyen of Catholic Publishing. We had already translated a book by Adrienne von Speyr, and it was published by Alba House. I asked Mr. Sheed whether we should continue along that path or start our own publishing house. He said “Father, by all means but be ready for 10 years of grief.” So we started. We knew nothing. We went to the USF Library and we looked at book sizes, typefaces, paper quality and format. And we designed our first books based on that. We got a grant of $24,700 for our first two books, several thousand of which I wasted on a consultant who was no help at all. But one day I was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to celebrate Mass for the Carmelites. The Mother Superior had asked if I would speak with one of the novices. I said I would and found her a very impressive young woman—with a PhD in printing and publishing! She had worked with the editor of the UC Berkeley Press and gave me a list of people to contact and pretty much all the information we needed.

What do you see as the press’s greatest achievement?

I don’t think we have one greatest achievement.

What about publishing the works of Cardinal Ratzinger in English?

Well, what about saving the English version of the RSV from poor translation? What about the YOUCAT? There’s a lot of things I could say. The English translations of Ratzinger, Bouyer, Von Balthasar, Von Speyr, Henri de Lubac. The restoration of Catholic fiction: Michael O’Brien, Fiorella Nash. The beginning of the Chesterton revival. Peter Kreeft. We’ve published over 700,000 copies of Peter Kreeft’s books. He’s a tremendous philosopher.

Where do you see the press moving in the years ahead?

Heaven, we hope. We’ve grown every year until about 2010. In some ways the market may be saturated. We’ve sold over 2 million books. Each one is a seed that will flower and grow.

We love print books. We sell lots of CD’s and DVD’s now. Tony Ryan, our sales manager, would always put his family to sleep with a bedtime video. He starting adding them to our collection, videos for Children videos of Catholic saints and I think we are now the largest distributor of Catholic videos in the world. But we want to maintain real books. Sewn, not glued. Durable. Acid-free paper so they can be read in 700 years. Typeface clean and crisp. We are now partners and part owners of Bethlehem Books—children’s books. We are partners with 5 Stones and with the Augustine Institute.

You made international news last month when you weighed in on Archbishop Viganò’s letter and the malfeasance and/or nonfeasance at the highest levels of the Church.  You called upon Pope Francis to be transparent. One of the participants at the Youth Synod echoed your sentiment pretty exactly. Would you care to expand on that?

Well, that was said conversationally and might have been phrased differently, but we are not going to restore confidence in the Church leadership without transparency, and it’s got to be from the bottom to the top.

The faithful are deeply troubled by the current situation. Father, short answer if possible: how did we get here and where are we going?

Ultimately, there are reasons for privacy, secrecy, and confidentiality—they serve a purpose. But many at the higher levels, many who want to get to the higher levels, do not want to be embarrassed. But it can’t be about protecting people from being embarrassed, it’s got to be about the greater good of the Church. So we need people who can look into these things who are not worried about being embarrassed but are concerned for the greater good of the Church.

Thank you, Father.

The 40th Anniversary celebration will begin with a dinner on Friday, November 2, with talks by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Francis Cardinal Arinze, and Fr. Fessio. Saturday, November 3 begins with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Cordileone, with Cardinal Arinze serving as homilist. The day’s speakers include Professor Peter Kreeft, authors Steve Ray and Michael O’Brien, and Jesuit Fathers Robert Spitzer and Joseph Fessio.  For more information. and tickets, visit:

California Catholic Daily exclusive.