Treasures from Archives: Providence Press
The Sisters of Providence have a long history of printing and publishing. Take, for example, “Lest We Forget: The Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods in Civil War Service,” by the late Sister Mary Theodosia Mug. It was printed in 1931 by Providence Press of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Yes, indeed, having a print shop to help not only share information about the Congregation and its many schools, but also to evangelize has always been of great importance to the Congregation.
According to information gathered by Sister Mary Roger Madden, Congregation historian, there was a small printing office established in the old novitiate in 1898. Six years later, a new novitiate was built and the office was moved there to the first floor and a Gordon Press was added in 1905. By 1913, the printing office was moved to the second floor of the cannery building. (Note: the cannery building was razed in June.) Four years later, an improved Linotype was purchased.
What, exactly, did Providence Press print? Well, there were always exams for the schools, including the old Academy, the predecessor to today’s Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. There were prayers, death notices, place cards, menus and much larger jobs including Les Bois, the college’s annual; Fagots, the college newspaper; the Aurora, the college magazine; Alumnae News; and The Bugle Call, the missionary magazine of the Congregation.
By the late 1920s and early 1930s Congregation leadership questioned the wisdom of having a printing office. The sisters began researching the possibility of contracting the work and also investigating more modern equipment. They also turned to St. Joseph and intercessory prayer. St. Joseph and the sisters’ research came through and soon money became available to begin purchasing new equipment. In 1931, Mr. W.H. Niccum was hired as a printer. By 1938, two sisters were working full time in the print shop, and Mr. Niccum employed four men to assist in the office. One of the sisters who was assigned to the print shop was Sister Cecile Morse, who died in 2006.
Sister Cecile had printer’s ink in her blood. Her father owned his own print shop and she and her siblings learned the ropes of printing at an early age. When Sister Cecile graduated from high school in 1926, she joined the International Typographical Union and worked in the printing industry until she joined the Congregation in 1935. In 1938, Sister Cecile was assigned to Providence Press, a position she maintained until 1979.
From 1979 to 1982, Sister Mary Lee Mettler took over Providence Press. New equipment was purchased allowing for offset printing. The shop was also moved to the first floor of the laundry building. In 1983, the leadership of the print shop was transferred to Sister David Ellen Van Dyke, who died in 2011. She ran the office until 1988. It was on May 1, 1988, that Providence Press ceased operations, and Providence Printery, as the office is now known, was opened June 7 on the first floor of Owens Hall. Today, the Printery is managed by the very capable Roberta King, a staff member of the Congregation since 1987. Roberta is also a Providence Associate.
In the stacks in Archives there is a plethora of information about Providence Press/Printery. Included in the files are invoices for several jobs. The following shows the price for some publications in 1931:
- The Bugle Call: 8,800 copies with 16 pages including cover — $345
- Aurora: 400 copies with 76 pages including cover — $184.50
- Alumnae News: 850 copies with 24 pages including cover — $153.25