In 1974 Father Joseph Fessio, SJ returned to the United States from then-West Germany, where he had completed his doctoral studies in theology under then-Professor Joseph Ratzinger (who would later become Pope Benedict XVI). Previously Father Fessio had been pursuing graduate studies in theology in France, mentored by Father Henri de Lubac, SJ (later to be made a Cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II). It was Father de Lubac who proposed to Father Fessio that he write his doctoral thesis on the theology of Father Hans Urs von Balthasar, whom Father de Lubac described as “the greatest theologian of our time...and perhaps of all time.” (Father von Balthasar was also named a Cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II but died shortly before being officially received into the College of Cardinals.) It was also Father de Lubac who wrote to Professor Ratzinger asking that Father Fessio be accepted by him as a doctoral student.
De Lubac, Balthasar, and Ratzinger were among the most distinguished Catholic theologians of the 20th century, but in the 1970s, few of their works were known in the United States and even fewer were available in English translation.
It was to serve the good of the Catholic Church by making these works available to English-speaking readers, that in June of 1978, Father Fessio, along with Carolyn Lemon, began Ignatius Press as the primary activity of an existing non-profit religious corporation, Guadalupe Associates, Inc.
Ignatius Press grew rapidly and added other European theologians as authors, including Father Louis Bouyer, CO. Manuscripts from American authors began arriving and Ignatius Press expanded its list to include them.
Tony Ryan arrived as Director of Marketing in 1981 and soon thereafter began acquiring rights to distribute Catholic and family-friendly films. The Ignatius Press list of books and films expanded rapidly both in quantity and genre to include a wide variety of titles and authors. The criteria of selection were three: fidelity to the apostolic and evangelizing mission of the Catholic Church; outstanding literary and artistic quality; ability to reach the widest possible readership and viewership, including academics, religious, priests, laity, and children.
Ignatius Press also undertook to assist in the religious education of young people through collaborating with Catholics United for the Faith to develop the Faith and Life series and with a catechetical group to produce the catechetical series Image of God. Later, Father Fessio and Ignatius Press assisted with the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. More recently, Ignatius Press published the YOUCAT series of books aimed at the religious formation of young people. These works were created with the help of an international group of youth and catechists, and were approved by Popes Benedict and Francis.
Ignatius Press is an apostolate, a ministry of Guadalupe Associates, a church-based group of people who use their talents for the greater glory of God. Guadalupe Associates/Ignatius Press’s mission is to collaborate in the evangelizing, catechetical, liturgical, and educational work of the Catholic Church, through the publication and distribution of Catholic print, video, and audio materials, especially books and films, as well as through the internet and social media. Guadalupe Associates/Ignatius Press helps deepen people’s spiritual lives in a number of ways, including by means of its retreat house and through the publication of liturgical and spiritual resources such as the Adoremus Hymnal, the Mass of Vatican II booklet, and the Ignatius Pew Missal for churches. These and other works reflect the liturgical and spiritual vision of Guadalupe Associates, Inc, which is nourished by the communal daily prayer and worship of many of its workers.
Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.