A History of The Printery House

The Printery House began as a print shop serving the in-house printing needs of the Benedictine monastery and its school at Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri. At least as early as 1933 the monastery had a hand-fed bed press and in 1936 had a Babcock press. The first record we have of a monk assigned to the work was Fr. Alfred Meyer in 1935, who in the Latin fashion typical of Catholic institutions of the time was assigned as “Typographus” (type setter). Fr. Malachy Riley held this position from 1939 to 1942.

The beginning of Conception Abbey’s publishing apostolate was probably the decision to publish Altar & Home, a modest monthly paper whose goal as part of the larger liturgical movement of the time was to help readers to bring the fruits of the Catholic liturgy into their homes in a practical way. Altar & Home was published from 1934 to 1960 and was largely the endeavor of the clericate. These young monks who were studying to become priests wrote the articles, created the artwork, prepared the mailings and did the bookkeeping.

In 1941 the print shop moved into the basement of a new addition to the carpenter shop at the Abbey. The publishing of a popular liturgical monthly for the home along with the ongoing desire to promote the Liturgical Movement spawned various other liturgy-oriented publications from time to time. A 1954 order form lists these publications: 1 book, 9 booklets, 4 leaflets, Altar Chart and antependia, Holy Week record, Stational Church map, and 3 assortments of stationery.

The Liturgical Movement quite aptly embraced the promotion of good liturgical music and art. This was reflected in Altar & Home Press undertaking to promote liturgical art in Christmas and other greeting cards. Under the leadership of Fr. Daniel Schuster from 1950 to 1956, Altar & Home began to publish liturgical and Christian greeting cards under the name Conception Abbey Press. One of the first artists of Conception Abbey cards was Sister Leonarda Longen of Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, SD. In 1953 twenty Christmas cards were offered. In the fall of 1954 the offerings included 27 Christmas cards and 40 occasional greeting cards. The publishing of greeting cards was beginning to make a significant impact in determining the future direction of Conception Abbey Press.

In about 1954 the Press set up its offices and shipping department in a former parish hall just north of the Abbey church. The printing equipment remained in the addition to the carpenter shop. In 1957 Fr. Alphonse Sitzmann was appointed general manager. He would remain in that position until 1984.

From December 1960 to May 1963 Altar & Home was changed into a Liturgical Pocket Missal, a kind of missalette combined with a magazine section containing several liturgical articles. This was a joint project with Bernard Benziger and Frank Kacmarcik. The contents, editorial responsibility and some of the artwork were provided by Conception monks and the printing and marketing were the responsibility of Benziger. The format was smaller than the usual missalettes and designed to be put into the pocket and taken home. For whatever reason, the promise of the venture was not realized.

The purchase of a Harris offset press in 1962 initiated large-scale offset printing. As the years rolled by the publishing of liturgical materials declined and the publishing of Christian greeting cards increased until the latter became the major thrust of our offering. By 1964 the number of greeting cards had increased to 211.

The current building occupied by The Printery House was built in 1965. This building allowed the scattered operations of Conception Abbey Press to be consolidated under one roof and provided space for growth.

In 1966, Conception Abbey Press began offering products from the Terra Sancta Guild, the first products in our catalog not produced in-house. Argus posters followed in 1969, and Maria Laach products in 1976. During the same span, we also added equipment to augment our production capabilities, including a hot stamping Heidelberg foil press in 1966 and a 2-color Harris offset press in 1967. In 1968 we produced our first desk calendar.

In 1973 Conception Abbey Press changed its name to The Printery House to avoid confusion with Abbey Press, which was operated by St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. The first marketing material produced with the name “The Printery House” was in 1974. For a time, marketing materials were produced using both names, The Printery House and Conception Abbey Press. 1974 was also the year of our first wall calendar. The first wholesale Christmas catalog produced in 1974 with the name “The Printery House” included this introduction:

We, the Benedictine Monks of Conception Abbey, offer Christmas cards to a very particular sort of person. In choosing our designs and colors and texts, in printing and folding and boxing the cards, in packing and shipping, we keep this person in mind.

The person we have in mind is one who, first of all, realizes that Christmas is a Christian feast, a religious celebration. It is a day that demands a religious, Christian expression.

Next, this person is one who is a contemporary man; someone who wishes to express himself according to his time through an art that is simple, forceful and virile.

In this selection of Christmas cards we present to you designs by some of America’s outstanding religious artists so that you may be able to greet your friends and relatives in the most Christian way possible during this holy and sacred season—the age old message of the Christ Child, the hope of joy and peace, of love and goodness.

In 1981 The Printery House purchased its first computer, a Hewlett-Packard 3000 mainframe which filled a good-sized room. The following year we purchased a small Hamada offset press to handle one-color jobs, especially imprinting. In 1984, Br. Patrick Caveglia was appointed general manager. That year we offered 45 Christmas cards, 487 other greeting cards, and 10 Christmas postcards.

In 1988, the year we published our first Spanish-language Christmas cards, the number of greeting cards offered was 468. June of 1989 saw the arrival of a Solna 4-color sheet-fed offset press. Br. Michael Marcotte was appointed Assistant Art Director in the fall of 1992.

In 1995, The Printery House hired its first non-monk general manager, and also a non-monk marketing director. Br. Michael Marcotte was appointed Director of Pre-Press. That same year, we introduced our toll-free phone number for retail customers. In 1996 we introduced our line of contemporary icons. By 1997, all printing was done on offset presses. In 1998, the HP mainframe was replaced by a PC computer network. The following year, Br. Joseph Cecchetti was appointed Director of Pre-press, and Br. Michael Marcotte was appointed Art Director.

In March of 2000, the first Printery House website became operational, and Br. William Buchholz was appointed as general manager. Summer of 2001 saw the introduction of our first 5” x 7” everyday cards. In 2002 we discontinued the use of film in our Pre-press department, making all printing plates directly from computer. Christmas of 2003 marked the introduction of our first 5.5” x 8” Christmas cards.

In 2004, Fr. Peter Ullrich was appointed Director of the Printery House, and internet sales reached 25% of all orders. In 2007, we launched a separate website for wholesale accounts. That year, the number of cards offered was 543. That same year, we introduced the first icon by a Conception Abbey monk, the Divine Mercy by Fr. Pachomius Meade.

In 2008, The Printery House acquired its first digital press, a Hewlett-Packard Indigo. That same year, we started marketing via email. In June of 2013 Fr. Adam Ryan became general manager of The Printery House. Under his direction, the Printery House modernized and expanded its product line considerably. In 2014 we started offering images on acrylic blocks. In 2016 we sold our aging offset presses and replaced the Indigo with a Xerox digital press which includes a finisher. That same year Fr. Guerric Letter took over as general manager. In 2017 we purchased a Duplo automated cutting machine and a Thermotype foil press.

In 2018 we purchased an inserter which inserts cards into envelopes. Our database now includes well over 100,000 names of current and past customers. We send around 10 catalogs per year to various segments of our mailing list.

The mission of The Printery House is to proclaim the Gospel and share the Christian faith through the creation and distribution of printed products and contemporary religious art.

VIsit our website at www.printeryhouse.org to request a catalog or to order our products.

(prepared by Fr. Norbert Schappler, October 1988; updated August 2001 and May 2007. Edited and expanded by Br. David Wilding in April 2018.)