Who We Are
Novalis is the largest bilingual religious publisher in Canada. Founded in Ottawa in 1936 by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It publishes periodicals and books, primarily in the spiritual and religious fields, in English and in French. Well known for its missalette Living with Christ, Novalis is also the publisher of other periodicals, as well as around 50 new books every year.
In all its publications, Novalis expresses the Christian faith in an accessible and comprehensible manner. Novalis provides original and affordable works that help readers understand their Christian heritage and to better live their faith. Novalis seeks to assist women and men as they face the challenges of today's world by helping them develop a deeper understanding of who they are. For that reason, Novalis has a mission of service: to create and publish resources that will enable people to better understand their faith and to integrate this faith into their daily life and worship.
Novalis maintains offices in both Toronto and Montreal to better serve Canada's two official language groups.
Since 1 October 2008, Novalis has been a trademark of Bayard, owned by the Augustinians of the Assumption.
The Catholic Centre of the University of Ottawa, later known as Novalis, was founded by André Guay, OMI, on 8 December 1935. Father Guay was among a group of Oblates, all professors at the university, who worked on behalf of the victims of the Great Depression, an economic crisis that gripped the country and most of the Western world throughout the 1930s. These priests were intimately involved in the Catholic Action movement. In fact, Father Guay was one of the founders of the first Canadian branch of Jeunesse ouvrière catholique in 1930.
This experience in the Catholic Action movement very much influenced the young priest and his vision of what the Catholic Centre would be. He was clearly preoccupied by what he described as "the lack of understanding and direction among the faithful concerning the fundamentals of the Christian life." The Catholic Centre immediately became a sort of think tank where priests and laypersons together – an unusual arrangement at the time – could study the challenges facing the Church and seek solutions that were both practical and within reach of the general public. The Centre functioned as an adult outreach service that allowed the university to contact people it wouldn't otherwise be able to reach.
Father Guay was never short of new ideas and projects to spread the gospel message. His achievements rely on a few basic principles which he himself enumerated: to be creative in providing useful resources for the average Catholic; move effectively from theory to practice; and reach the greatest number of people by mass production and low prices.
Ever the entrepreneur, Father Guay knew his market well, and he continually stressed the importance of simplicity, creativity and daring: simplicity of means and language to reach ordinary people; creativity in identifying needs and responding with a selection of liturgical and sacramental resources; and daring in marketing and promotion.
Under Father Guay's leadership the Catholic Centre launched several truly innovative products. Two in particular merit special mention: the missalette and the marriage preparation program.
In response to wishes expressed at a Catholic Action congress held in Ottawa in 1935, the Catholic Centre undertook its first major project. The congress had expressed the desire that the faithful be able to attend Mass "missal in hand" in order to better understand what was taking place. Father Guay, borrowing an idea from a pamphlet published in Austria since 1928, adapted it to local needs and hired some unemployed locals and young people from Catholic Action to sell it at church doors on Sunday mornings for one cent.
Thus, on June 7 1936, Prie avec l'Église was launched. By the end of the year, the English edition appeared: Pray with the Church, which later became Living with Christ in 1948. By providing the texts in English and French as opposed to Latin, these liturgical pamphlets helped each reader to participate more fully in the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist. This publication marked the true birth of Novalis.
On January 1, 1965, as the Second Vatican Council was drawing to close, Prie avec l'Église became Prions en Église. More than simply a change of name, the new name reflected a deeper theological understanding expressed by the Council: the People of God at prayer do not simply unite themselves with the Church, but rather, they are the Church. On 2 October, 1966, the Centre launched the first monthly edition of Prions en Église which offered the liturgical texts for daily Mass. In English, the first monthly edition appeared in 1977. In 1978, the Sunday edition of Prions reached a peak print run of 650,000 copies. A few years later, in January 1989, to meet the needs of an aging clientele, a large-print edition of Prions was introduced; Living with Christ appeared in large-print format beginning in December 1994. In addition, Novalis began publishing the yearly Living with Christ Sunday Missal in 1986 for the Canadian market. In 2005, Novalis launched its new Living with Christ Sunday Missal for Young Catholics in collaboration with the Mexican Jesuit publishing house Buena Prensa.
Novalis also published an edition of Prie avec l'Église according to the Dominican rite (1944-1964) and a children's version (1947-1957). As well, Novalis has twice (1990-1992 and 2004-2006) launched a magazine called Prions en Église Junior in partnership with the French publisher Bayard Presse International.
Following the publication in 1930 of Pope Pius XI's encyclical Casti Connubii, the Catholic Action movement intensified its teaching about Christian marriage. In Canada, one of the highlights of these efforts was the celebration of 100 marriages at Delorimier Stadium in Montreal in July 1939. One of the organizers, Father Albert Sanschagrin (future Oblate provincial and bishop), realizing the benefits of serious preparation, initiated marriage preparation courses that were entrusted to Jeunesse ouvrière catholique. Before long, other Catholic Action groups and dioceses came aboard. Within a few years, it became clear that a manual was needed. Organizers turned to the Catholic Centre for editorial assistance.
The first edition took two years to complete with the collaboration of physicians, psychologists, priests and other professionals. The package of 15 lessons appeared in 1944 in French; the following year, the English version was ready. Success came quickly. In 1947, the United and Anglican Churches of Canada decided to adapt the program and encouraged their faithful to follow the course. In 10 years, the Catholic Centre distributed more than 100,000 copies of the course. When Father Guay left in 1960, the Centre's marriage preparation program was available in 16 languages in 25 countries.
Over the years, the content of the marriage preparation course has been regularly updated, adapted to changing social conditions and the problems facing modern couples. In French, the name of the program became Projet mariage (1970) and Oui, je le veux! (2004), while in English it went from Mosaic (1968) to When a Couple Marries (1990) to Saying I Do (2006) to its current edition, published in 2014, What God Has Joined. Presenting a serious reflection on Christian marriage in the Church, the program looks at all aspects involved in the life of a couple: psychology, sexuality, social life, finances, legal questions and, of course, the wedding ritual itself. Each review is done in collaboration with experts and practitioners and organizations dedicated to marriage preparation across the country.
At the same time that it launched this program, the Catholic Centre also launched a marriage preparation correspondence course in English and in French for engaged couples unable, for whatever reason, to attend sessions in person. Registered couples receive texts for reflection and directed activities, to complete alone or together. Once the homework is done, couples answer questionnaires that they return to their counsellor, who adds comments. The course takes twelve weeks to complete. In the early 70s, eight counsellors dealt with 850 couples per year. Today, the course reaches more than 400 francophone couples annually in Canada (primarily in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick) and the United States.
A Change of Name
On 1 July, 1965, the University of Ottawa, along with its civil and pontifical charters, became Saint Paul University, while the Government of Ontario established a new University of Ottawa. Father Guay's creation was now the Catholic Centre of Saint Paul University. That was step one. Step two came in September 1969 when the Catholic Centre officially changed its name to Novalis. Besides the fact that "Novalis" was easily understood and pronounced in both official languages, it distinguished the publishing house from the many Catholic centres and diocesan information centres which sprang up after the Second Vatican Council. From poetic Latin, the word Novalis means "cleared land ready for sowing." The logo is a buried capital "N" sprouting a small plant in the sunshine.
Birth of a Partnership
An agreement reached in 1973 between Saint Paul University and the Ottawa daily, Le Droit, meant Novalis could continue to grow while reorganizing the various tasks involved in publishing. Under this agreement, the commercial team at Le Droit held a service contract with Saint Paul University to oversee the technical details of production, marketing and customer relations. The university, while retaining general control of the enterprise and ownership of the trademarks, assured the literary and pastoral quality of the products. This commercial partnership was one of the first of its kind in Canada, and it has served as a model for other joint ventures between universities and the private sector.
Over the years, the university has worked with three business partners: Le Droit (1973-1983), Unimédia (1983-2000), and Bayard Canada (2000-2008). In October 2008, Saint Paul University withdrew from publishing and sold its Novalis licence to Bayard Canada, owned by the Augustinian Fathers of the Assumption.
Trade Book Publishing
The Church has changed considerably over the past 40 years. So too has religious trade book publishing for Catholics. Catholics currently make up the largest denomination in the country, approximately 43% of the population. Though Catholics no longer attend Sunday Mass on a weekly basis in the massive numbers they once did (now 1 in 4 nationally, 1 in 7 in Québec), most continue to strongly to identify themselves as Catholic. This, of course, poses a tremendous challenge to a parish-focused publisher: How do you reach the person who used to be in the pew, or visits it only occasionally, while continuing to focus on the people who are still there?
In response to the changing demographic, Novalis continues to uphold the values articulated by its founder, Fr. Andre Guy over 75 years ago: to produce creative, affordable and accessible resources that engages Catholics more deeply in their faith.
"Novalis produces creative and affordable resources that help people explore their religious heritage, live their faith, deepen their relationship with Christ, pray, actively participate in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church and to join in the creation of a more just world."