Insights on The Angelus
The Angelus: Fr. Novak, could you re-introduce yourself to our readers?
Fr. Novak: I have been a priest in the SSPX for 22 years. I got involved with the apostolate of The Angelus in 1992, 17 days after being ordained, and I stayed there for 17 years.
The Angelus: Why were you chosen to be the editor?
Fr. Novak: That is a good question! I think the word got out that I was involved with the yearbook and worked at a newspaper when I was in high school. Perhaps they thought that I had the gift of gab, and was able to keep people interested in the magazine.
The Angelus: What was the state of the Angelus Press and the magazine when you began?
Fr. Novak: Angelus Press was in debt but had a reputation for printing books that English-speaking traditional Catholics should read on Archbishop Lefebvre and the crisis. Some of the books published under me were Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, Spiritual Journey, The Mystery of Jesus, Open Letter to Confused Catholics (three or four reprints), and I Accuse the Council.
The Angelus: Do you know what had been printed before you came on the scene?
Fr. Novak: There was The Church’s Year by Goffine. And even earlier, Angelus Press had printed the Apologia books of Michael Davies.
The Angelus: Which books do you remember printing as you came in?
Fr. Novak: We did the Divine Office, which was a big project for us. The idea was to give the priests the ability to teach it to the faithful, who could have the Divine Office in their hands. Good fruits came out of it as it is still quite popular and our Third Order members are using it often. There were some handbooks on Communion in the hand, the liturgy, and children’s books. And, of course, the magazine!
The Angelus: Speaking of The Angelus, could you give us some historical background?
Fr. Novak: The magazine had existed since 1978. It contained interesting issues like announcing the opening of Ecône and other Society news. Before me, Fr. Doran was in charge for a short time, and before him, Fr. Cooper and Fr. Pulvermacher. Fr. Terry Marx did it for a time also. When Fr. Scott became the District Superior, he wanted the crisis in the Church to be put on the front burner, so that people would understand why the Society existed, why Archbishop Lefebvre was proven right given the deterioration of the Church. We wanted to justify the charism of the SSPX in preserving the Mass and the priesthood.
The Angelus: You are describing the magazine as a vehicle to defend the SSPX with sword uplifted, correct?
Fr. Novak: Absolutely! And to shine a bright light on bishops misusing their authority and on the unfortunate behavior of some clerics in the Church. There was a critical desire to show our faithful that they should avoid participating or supporting in any way the Novus Ordo. But also, we wished to show them how to live the traditional Mass and the lifestyle which flows from the Mass.
The Angelus: What were practically the types of articles you presented?
Fr. Novak: We always tried to keep a little text of Archbishop Lefebvre. We touched a lot on family life, on life as it was meant to be led, politics, economics, medicine, moral issues, embryology, cremation. When computers became popular, we wrote about them too. Social issues became prominent and we pushed them to stay grounded in reality.
The Angelus: You also had some foreign writers, didn’t you?
Fr. Novak: French Dominican Father de Chivré became very famous in later years. Examples of his articles would be What a Soul Is or Walking with Mary. He had an attractive style, maybe more conversational and spontaneous. We introduced him to the English-speaking world.
We also translated SiSiNoNo of Don Putti, and that was big as well. It was reproduced at least every other month, exposing so much wrongdoing. Then, Fr. Scott wanted more emphasis on the family. Thus, on the alternate months, we would republish articles that were being written in Australia by Fr. de la Tour under the title of Catholic Family. Although written in a popular tone, at home, there was too much other material that people could read about Catholic families and therefore we realized it was not our readership.
The Angelus: What, then, was the demographic makeup of your readership? At the present moment the average reader of the magazine is of middle age and is eager to share it with family members. What was it before?
Fr. Novak: I think that statistics haven’t changed much, in fact. You’ve got people who have read themselves into Tradition. They saved the Mass by bringing it to the local drugstore, 2nd floor, every other Tuesday night! They made it a point to preserve the Mass that matched the lifestyle that they had been raised in, and that Mass is what nourished them. They had to have that Mass! These people were interested in The Angelus. We constantly had letters of people thanking us for The Angelus, and the readership stayed strong.
Now it may be that the lifestyle has been compromised in the next generation and the Mass is what they haven’t had to fight for. It has become easier and more casual, and so the necessity for the laity to read and inform themselves has been compromised.
The Angelus: What was the most popular of all the articles?
Fr. Novak: It was always Questions & Answers, especially those written by Fr. Pulvermacher. Archbishop Lefebvre, of course, was always appreciated. Another popular thing was Father Schmidberger’s or Bishop Fellay’s conferences and their Letter to Friends and Benefactors, always including the latest developments with Rome. They always spoke cogently, simply, with little parables: it was excellent. They were quite lengthy, running for several pages, and I think the readership went outside of Society circles. We always made a flyer out of those so that they could be distributed. People would have them and pass them on to their friends and acquaintances.
The Angelus: Do you think that there was a real crusading spirit among these readers, which does not seem to be so visible today?
Fr. Novak: Bingo! You have it right here. That was before people could communicate easily with emails and computers. Even things like the Regina Coeli Report (which we typeset) was a lifeline for people: they liked to read about a particular mission or parish, which provided a human element to the work of Tradition. Too often today this personal touch has been lost.
The Angelus: Did you sense that there was a time when the tone had to change?
Fr. Novak: We pretty much kept up the same line. You must keep in mind that there was a time when Angelus Press was treated like a leper, which is why we started Sarto House, with an address in New York City, to print books under a different label. For instance, even other traditionalist publications would not advertise our books because we were schismatics at best and excommunicated at worst. So, we started another publishing house with a secretary hoping we would get these books outside of the regular Angelus Press customers into Catholic circles.
The Angelus: Was that successful?
Fr. Novak: It worked! Iota Unum went out, and other books as well, under the Sarto House imprint. I think Fr. Dörmann’s books were a big publishing effort and they will always be a reference to what went wrong with Vatican II. We published much of the Integrity series: Fatherhood and Family, Motherhood and Family, My Life with Thomas Aquinas. The laymen who directed the Integrity magazine in the 40’s and 50’s were already seeing that the Catholic Faith was on the verge of a crash because it was not being lived at the parish level, at the seminary level.
The Angelus: What were the great successes of Angelus Press under your leadership?
Fr. Novak: The 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal, even if we had a lot of problems getting it out. Also, the Divine Office. And I will never forget the one addressed to most Novus Ordo priests of this country: Priest, Where is Thy Mass?
The Angelus: Which other items did you address which you felt were important?
Fr. Novak: We would take many issues, like art, virtues, warfare, agriculture, and pull them apart. We had good books too: anything that was available written by Archbishop Lefebvre. Now, we are getting Digest Anthologies, where we have excerpts from everything he said on the Mass of All Time or on the Priesthood by Fr. Troadec, and now the Spiritual Life. The Archbishop is like a doctor of the Church; we need to keep him alive, and his writings need to be made available.
The Angelus: Although things are very different from twenty years ago, would you have any advice to give Angelus Press in order to expand its apostolate?
Fr. Novak: Junior needs to read! Twenty years ago, people read because that was what everyone did! Now, you can surf the internet and get your three minutes’ satisfaction and then go to the next topic. Or you can search around for what you want to read, and if you do not find it, you leave it. But the problem remains: how can you educate a mind to read? The challenge is there: how can you move people today to take up a writing and read—Tolle, lege—and let the Holy Ghost speak to them?