BY Amanda Connelly | June 15 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


From pamphleteer to papal publisher: 150 years of the Catholic Truth Society

In a special report, AMANDA CONNELLY looks at the rich legacy of the Catholic Truth Society as it releases a special collection of past publications to mark a century and a half of Faith education

The Catholic Truth Society was founded in 1868 by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan. He was born into a rich Catholic family on the Welsh borders, the oldest son of 13 children, many of whom were called to a religious life.

Having harboured a long-held desire to be a missionary for Wales, as a young man he was beset with a weak heart and ill health. A shy man who upset many with his seemingly blunt nature, he devoted two hours daily to prayer, but would make his peace with enemies by asking forgiveness of those he had hurt.

He would later train for the priesthood in Rome, after which he was appointed vice rector at the new seminary at Ware, co-founding the Oblates of St Charles and later the Mill Hill Missionaries at the age of just 34.

Becoming Bishop of Salford at 40, he founded the Children’s Rescue Society, St Bede’s Commercial College for Catholic Children and other organisations, including the Catholic Truth Society a few years prior.

CTS remains one of his many enduring legacies, giving Catholics across the world knowledge, answers and room for thought.

Cardinal Vaughan, who also built Westminster Cathedral, established the society some 18 years after the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in the UK.

He took up the mantle of Catholic communities ‘living in the shadows, persecuted and neglected,’ founding CTS as a means of driving away ‘prejudice and ignorance, offer spiritual support, formation and education in Faith and morals, to reconnect UK Catholics with the wider life of the universal Church, papal teaching and the spiritual riches and treasures of the Church.’

The society began issuing small, inexpensive pamphlets through ‘boxtenders’ who met people at UK churches, with small wooden boxes displayed booklets priced at a halfpenny.

As the world changed dramatically through the 19th and 20th centuries, CTS was a financially affordable way for people to access Catholic publications and literature.

It took advantage of the growing advances of print media, communications, and technology, beginning to publish books, host lectures and magic lantern shows. Meanwhile, demand for publications grew so that volunteers took to peddling them in wheelbarrows on the streets.

Parishes eventually grew to have permanent bookracks set up for CTS booklets to be displayed and sold in their churches.

“1868 to 2018… is something to celebrate,” Fergal Martin, CTS general secretary, said, who noted the society had uncovered the ‘huge range and diversity of CTS publishing across a century-and-a-half’ from the archives.

“The CTS archive represents a unique and valuable resource chronicling the changing concerns of the Catholic population of the British Isles and beyond over the last 150 years. There is something original and special here for everybody. Our hope is that readers can dip into the past—and find the present.”

Today, CTS stands as Publisher to the Holy See, an honour awarded during the Second Vatican Council. Down the years, its readers have been addressed by a host of towering figures, writers and thinkers of our time, publishing some of society’s biggest names from Robert Louis Stevenson, GK Chesterton, and Cardinal Newman, to Francis Ripley and Martin D’Arcy.

CTS continues to have a strong presence in Scotland. Jean Syme has been its representative at St Francis Xavier’s Church, Falkirk for 16 years, calling it ‘a great source for a variety of people of all the different paths of their religious journey.’ She added that the parish has a lot of people who come into the Church at Easter, and said it is a great resource for them.

“I find it a great source from the very beginning, as I say people who are really just at the beginning of their Faith journey,” she said, also praising it as an excellent resource for Catholics, as it helps them to find ‘a different way to look at the Scriptures and the Bible and everything.’

She lauded its publications for children receiving the Sacraments, with titles such as The Lives of the Saints, and some of the practical help on offer.

“There’s leaflets, packs of leaflets, for practical things like the what to do when somebody dies, and about being Baptised and what does a sponsor do, things about going back to penance, going back to the Church if you’ve been away for a wee while for whatever reason,” she added.

150 years on, Ms Syme spoke on its relevance for Catholics today, praising its variety.

“I’ve seen quite a difference since I started about 16 years ago—it’s definitely become, I’d say, more vibrant,” she said.


Blast from the past

As part of the celebrations of the publishers’ history, CTS is publishing a series of fascinating books that chronicles the Faith over the years.

The CTS OneFifties series is a unique collection drawn from the CTS archives of more than 7,000 publications to mark the anniversary.

The 25 slim collectors’ books range from eyewitness accounts of the World Wars, to dialogue on some of the biggest political, social and culture shifts in modern history, to 18th-century advice on courtship, and short story collections.

Each, perhaps, can teach something about CTS’ impact on the lives of so many people across the years. They feature a range of very different authors, from various times, all bringing their own individual snapshot of Catholic life as seen through the lens of their day.

It is this wide and varied style of writing, content, author and period that suggests why CTS has continued to thrive amid rapid social change. CTS has captivated audiences with works which are relevant, teach the lessons of the past, are varied in literary style and appeal to all, opening readers to a range of writers from all walks of life.

One of the books had a particular resonance for me: The Day the Bomb Fell, an eyewitness account of the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and written by German Jesuit Fr Johannes Siemes SJ.

In just 24 short pages, Fr Siemes describes watching the glowing light of the bomb, the force of the impact that shattered the windows in his room, and the devastation of the immediate aftermath.

Harrowing scenes of men, women and children, clergy and families, workers and those in their own homes unfold as he shares the horrors he saw, and the many vain attempts to treat the wounded, injured, burned and dying.

His account finishes by saying that among themselves, the priests discussed the ethics of the bomb. “It seems logical to me that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of a war against civilians,” he said. “The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences, which far exceed whatever good might result? When will our moralists give us a clear answer to this question?”

His account is perhaps worth thinking of as we see countries across the world again become embroiled in war, and the devastation such often brutal conflicts have on ordinary civilians.

The idea of the modern world as each writer knew it is a theme that runs across many of the books in the series, and very obviously noted in Islam, Britain and the Gospel. It looks at some of the contemporary religious responses to the growth of Islam in Britain, in the wake of mass immigration in the last half of the 20th century.

It documents the responses of three priests: Mgr John Coonan of Westminster Diocese, Fr William Burridge of the White Fathers, and Fr John Wijngaards, formerly a priest of the Mill Hill Missionaries.

The priests’ writings present some of the basic tenets of Islam, pointing out the differences and similarities between Islam and mainstream Christian beliefs. The book offers readers the chance to understand the differences and the commonalities shared by persons of Faith, in a manner not common in the current media storm around issues such as Islamic radicalisation.

While the writings of theologians, philosophers, politicians and clergy may have considerable weight for us, perhaps what is surprising about this unique collection is the great breadth of authors in the series, from the expected to the unexpected.

Imagine my surprise when the name of popular TV cook, Delia Smith, appeared on the cover of Life Within Us!

Sandwiched between the work of writer and Catholic convert Caryll Houselander, and a priest of Arundel and Brighton Diocese, Delia composes a simple but deep piece that covers a ‘journey into prayer,’ discussing ‘simplicity’ that is key toopening ‘the door of obscurity to let in the clear breeze of God’s wisdom and refresh our jaded minds’ and prayer as ‘ultimately a journey into loving.’

As CTS marks 150 years, its special anniversary collection provides us with a chance to explore the literature which has been devoured by and resonated with Catholics across the past century and a half, and offers us a chance to find new ways of reading these texts in the context of our own present day.


– For more on the CTS OneFifties series, visit

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