By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
BREWSTER, Mass. — Nestled back within a wooded area not far from the bustling traffic zooming along Route 6A in Brewster is a modest-looking metal frame building that looks like any other office building on Cape Cod.
So it’s remarkable to think that this nondescript structure is the headquarters of Paraclete Press, a ministry that has blossomed into one of the preeminent and best-selling Christian publishing houses in the world over the last two decades.
On any given weekday, the quiet rural exterior belies the beehive of activity within as some 40 employees work to create, promote, design and direct-market between 40 and 50 book releases a year — titles that will be distributed worldwide via Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-million, Sam’s Club and other major retailers.
“We sell to Barnes and Noble and Amazon and all the big distributors, but most of our sales are done in-house by calling people,” said Pam Jordan, head of marketing for Paraclete Press. “Our sales department has a personal relationship with about 4,000 churches, with bookstores, with gift shops, with monks in monasteries. We sell all around the world and have distributors in Singapore, Australia, and England.”
What makes Paraclete Press even more unique is the fact that the majority of its workforce is comprised of members of the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical Christian community that lives next to and attends the Church of the Transfiguration in nearby Orleans on scenic Rock Harbor.
“We’re a Benedictine community of about 270 people, including the children,” explained Blair Tingley, spokesperson for the Community of Jesus. “We’re comprised of a religious sisterhood of about 60 sisters, a priory of about 20 celibate brothers, and the rest of us are families who live in privately-owned homes in the surrounding neighborhood, usually two or three families per home. But we all work and worship and interact completely together, and the families take the traditional, monastic Benedictine vows of conversion to Jesus Christ; obedience to God, to our superior and to each other; and then, when we’re ready, we make a final solemn vow of stability, making the monastery our life home.”
Formed in 1970 with a scant “26 or 27 people,” Tingley said the Community of Jesus built its first church — a small, white clapboard meetinghouse-style structure — in 1972.
It was also during those fledgling years that the seeds were first planted for what would eventually become Paraclete Press.
“You’re talking about the early days in a garage with mimeograph machines just trying to get out a newsletter for people who were interested in the (Community of Jesus),” said Father Martin Shannon, pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration. “Father Hal Helms came here in 1972. He was a Congregational pastor and he had a profound gift for writing. He started a small magazine called Life Together that at the very beginning was mimeographed before it was printed. It eventually moved from mimeograph to an actual four-color press, but that was all done in a garage as well, and he was the editor.”
By 1983 Father Helms had left pastoral ministry to devote more time to writing and editing, and the printing press operation was soon moved from the church garage in Orleans to a new building in Brewster where the present-day Paraclete Press offices are now located.
“We started publishing some of the Christian classics — titles like ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ and ‘The Practice of the Presence of God,’” Jordan said. “(Father Helms) would say he ‘moderately modernized’ the language. We started selling those books and that little bit of publishing and printing eventually turned into Paraclete Press.”
Even though Paraclete Press never set out to cater to any one denomination and its founding community is decidedly comprised of members from “different traditions” including people with “Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical and Roman Catholic” backgrounds, according to Tingley, its first breakout title was tailor-made for a Catholic audience.
“There was a Lutheran reporter named Wayne Weible who was fascinated with the story of Our Lady and Medjugorje in the early 1980s, and he went over there and he ended up writing a book called ‘Medjugorje: The Message’ about these visionaries and he was praying about where he should take his book to be published,” Jordan explained. “By that time he was becoming more interested in Roman Catholicism and he had heard about Paraclete Press and he was convinced that the Blessed Mother wanted him to publish with us.”
Fresh out of high school, Jordan recalled working in those early days at Paraclete Press and frantically fulfilling the “hundreds of orders” that came pouring in for “Medjugorje: The Message.”
“I remember receiving little slips that people had cut out and sent in with their checks,” she said. “We would have stacks of checks (coming in). Over time it literally took us into the million-dollar category; and it enabled us to expand from a small, garage-type operation to the building in Brewster. That was the financial kick we needed to move into a larger scale operation.”
In recent years, other Catholic books have been equally successful for Paraclete Press: titles like “Will I See My Dog in Heaven?” by Friar Jack Wintz, OFM, and “Freedom and Forgiveness: A Fresh Look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation” by Father Paul Farren, which has become a popular resource for parishes as part of their Catechetical Sunday observance.
“Father Albert Haase, OFM, has also published a book, ‘Catching Fire, Becoming Flame’ and done a DVD series with us,” Jordan said. “It’s just very step-by-step how to live your life for Christ. He’s a very dynamic and animated speaker and author. His sister’s book, ‘Generous Faith’ by Sister Bridget Haase, was also endorsed by Cardinal Séan P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap. ”
Soon-to-be-former Bishop George W. Coleman has even given his imprimatur to two recent Paraclete publications — “The Mystery of Faith: Meditations on the Eucharist” and “Amazing Nearness: Meditations on the Eucharist,” both written by Father Tadeusz Dajczer.
And Paraclete Press’ single biggest-seller is “My Baptism Book” by Sophie Piper, a wonderful hardbound volume that makes the perfect gift for parents, Godparents, and children alike.
“We’ve sold 100,000 copies of this book in Catholic bookstores and gift shops alone,” Jordan said. “I think it’s amazing how many copies we’ve sold of this title.”
Up until 1990, Paraclete Press remained a self-contained, full-service operation where all the books were designed, typeset, printed, bound and then shipped out from that same location in Brewster.
Subsequent advancements in computer technology suggested it would be more cost-effective to outsource the printing and binding work, so Paraclete Press sold off its presses and binding machines and invested the money into upgrading its design and layout operations.
Last year, the employees banded together to renovate the lower level — which formerly housed the huge printing presses — into a mailing and distribution center while the upper level — where the book binding had previously been done — was converted into office space for designers and sales representatives.
In addition to releasing upwards of 50 books a year, Paraclete Press has branched out into producing and selling a line of educational videos; recording and marketing CDs of Gloriæ Dei Cantores, the choir from the Church of the Transfiguration, while distributing the recordings of the Monks of Solesmes, France; providing website design and hosting services; and publishing and selling Liturgical sheet music.
“We have a whole line of Sacred sheet music that we publish,” Jordan said. “We actually now do printing-on-demand sheet music, so we can get rid of some of our physical inventory. That way when orders come in, we just print 10 at a time and ship them out so we don’t have to store extra music. We publish choral as well as organ music, and some brass parts as well.”
Although the company is branching out into other endeavors, Jordan maintains that printed books are Paraclete’s bread and butter.
“Even in the digital age, people love beautiful books that they can hold in their hands and read,” Jordan said. “Most of these books are also available as Ebooks, but our sales of Ebooks tend to be flat at the moment. I really think readers of religious books prefer to read a physical book. We’re also experimenting with some lovely packaging to increase the whole tactile experience of a book.”
Noting that the history of Paraclete Press essentially mirrors the history of the Community of Jesus and its members, Father Shannon said both entities owe much of their success to early pioneers like Father Helms and devoted Catholic readers over the years that have yearned for “a (Christian) publisher of serious material without being academic.”
“It’s a very public face for us, but its growth has all been steps of faith for us, too,” Father Shannon said. “It’s fascinating to me, from an ecumenical point of view, that we’re predominantly a Protestant community, we’re located in Puritanical New England, we’re singing Gregorian Chants, and the first book that really puts Paraclete Press on the map is a Catholic book, ‘Medjugorje: The Message.’”
For more information about Paraclete Press, including a listing of current titles, visit www.paracletepress.com.