The Veritas Story

The Veritas Story 


Veritas, the Irish religious publisher and book distributor, has announced its imminent closure. The Veritas story goes back well over a century. It begins with the establishment of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland around 1900, following on a proposal at the meeting of the Maynooth Union a year or two before. The Latin for Truth is Veritas, and in 1928 the Veritas Company Ltd. was set up, to give a solid legal and commercial footing to the Society’s work. At that time there was one shop. The Headquarters of CTS/Veritas was in a large Dublin city centre building: Veritas House, 7–8 Lower Abbey Street, just off O’Connell Street. Publications were small booklets, designed to be popular and affordable, and distribution was via the familiar CTS rack in church porches all over the country.

By the 1960s the Catholic Truth Society was in decline. Radio and Television were growing, and the Irish Government decided to set up a national television station, initially called Telefís Éireann. Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, with extraordinary foresight, sent two young Dublin priests, Fr Joe Dunn and Fr Des Forristal, to America to train in the making of television documentaries. They proved to be apt students, capable of the highest quality of production, and by the time Telefís Éireann was launched they already had ten documentaries ‘in the can’– ready to go. Between 1959 and 1996 they produced over 400 documentaries, shot in about 75 countries around the world, supported by the wide network of Irish Missionaries. UNDA (Latin for wave), the international Catholic Radio and Television organisation, held an annual festival in the beautiful setting of Montreux in Switzerland, in association with WACC (World Association of Christian Communications). They presented awards for excellence in programme production. Radharc won the top award, the UNDA/WACC Dove (religious television’s Oscar), five times over the years: 1964, 1966, 1968, 1977, and 1984. Joe Dunn had a few of the bronze doves scattered over his desk like up-market paperweights!

The Second Vatican Council gave a new impetus to the work of communication in the Church, leading to the setting up of a Communications Commission by each Bishops’ Conference. Archbishop Tom Morris of Cashel became President of the Irish Bishops’ Communications Commission.

From this point on, the pivotal characters in the Veritas story are Archbishop Morris and Fr. Joe Dunn. The phenomenal success of Radharc led to the setting up of the Communications Centre in Booterstown, the Irish equivalent of the St Gabriel’s Communications Centre established at Hatch End in London by Fr Agnellus Andrew, the well-known voice of Catholic broadcasting on the BBC. Fr Joe Dunn was appointed Director of the Communications Centre. A new purpose-built structure was created on a green-field site on the corner of Booterstown Avenue and the Stillorgan Road, courtesy of the Irish Christian Brothers. The architect was Andy Devane. The building had a beauty based on simplicity and functionality: it was built in brick, with an outer one-story complex of offices, store-rooms, and a radio studio with control-room and sound desk. The central space was a single unit, the height of two stories, designed as a full-size television studio with all the height and space needed for scenery, lighting installations and the large television cameras of the day. Behind a transparent screen along one side was a fully professional control suite for producers and technicians.

The Irish bishops now found themselves with a new communications infrastructure in two parts, one linked to print, the other to the electronic media of radio and television. Print was represented by a failing CTS; the electronic media by a new free-standing Communications Centre with no clearly defined parameters. There were financial, legal and ecclesiastical implications to be considered. In the end the solution was to amalgamate the two parts. Rather than create a new structure from scratch, it was decided to amend the Memorandum and Articles of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland: a couple of paragraphs were added to include radio and television in the Society’s remit along with print, and the name was legally changed from The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland to The Catholic Communications Institute of Ireland. Fr Joe Dunn was appointed overall Director of the new Institute. Fr. Peter Lemass, who had played a central role as presenter of the Radharc documentaries, was appointed to succeed Fr Joe Dunn as director of the Communications Centre.

Perhaps even more important than the appointment of the day-to-day managers of the business of the Institute was the carefully planned support structure which would surround them. Three bishops formed the episcopal commission for communications. One of them, the President of the Episcopal Commission – initially Archbishop Thomas Morris of Cashel – kept closely in touch with the overall director and the department heads. Working closely with the President was the Executive Committee, who met once a month with the Institute Director – initially Fr Joe Dunn. The twelve members of the Executive Committee were drawn from a wider group of thirty members, called the Council of the Institute, who met four times a year. They were predominantly lay people with various skills and from very different backgrounds. A few were priests or religious (Fr Eddie Daly was a member during his time in RTÉ). They were exceptionally gifted and committed people, happy to give their time to an important Church project. The Institute witnessed to the value of collaborative relationships between clergy and laity. Today it might be described as a bit synodal in its approach. The Institute, through the good work of Fr Joe Dunn, a Dubliner from a business family, was blessed from the start with people of significant creativity and professional experience. The first Chairman was Ivor Kenny, Professor of Business Studies in UCD and Founder/Director of the Irish Management Institute. Another Chairman of note some years later was Liam Healy, Financial Director of Independent Newspapers.

The Gift of Persistence

The appointment of Fr. Peter Lemass to the Communications Centre was easy – it was Joe Dunn’s own field, and he knew Peter’s calibre. Finding a new person to head what had been the Catholic Truth Society’s work of publishing was not going to be so easy. The Vatican Council had ended in 1965, and the world of religious publishing had changed – both with changes in the Liturgy and all the other effects of the Council. While in principle a lay person might have been preferred in many ways, Fr Joe Dunn and the Executive Committee agreed that not only would a priest be required to lead the publishing at this time, but it would have to be a priest ordained during or after Vatican II, whose training would have made him acquainted with the Council and its outcomes. Joe Dunn drove out to Maynooth and consulted two Professors for whom he had great regard, and whose judgment he trusted: Dr J.G. McGarry, Founder and Editor of The Furrow magazine, and Dr Enda McDonagh, Professor of Moral Theology. When he asked about priests ordained in recent years, they both mentioned my name.

It was the Autumn of 1969. ‘The Troubles’ had begun. I was teaching in St Patrick’s, Maghera, Co. Derry. One Friday in October I was heading home after my last class. I had three classes in a row with my Form Class, 2B: Latin, History and RE. They were a great group of lads – one of them was Mickey Moran, known more recently for managing Kilcoo to success in the All-Ireland Clubs in 2022 – but the last three classes on Friday always left me drained. As I walked towards the front door I was stopped by a strange priest; he was tall, dark, and angular in appearance. ‘I’m Joe Dunn, from Dublin’, he said, ‘Is there anywhere we can talk?’ I took him down to my aunt Mary in Craigadick. She put us in her sitting room, brought us hot milky coffees and a plate of biscuits and left us to it. Joe filled me in on the situation. He asked me an unexpected question: ‘Could you make decisions?’ I said I thought I could, but they mightn’t always be the right decisions. Then he asked me, ‘Do you think you might be interested in publishing?’ I had nothing to lose. I knew Bishop Neil Farren would say no anyway, so I said ‘Yes, I might’. Joe drove over to Derry and met Bishop Farren. Bishop Farren said no.

Joe Dunn had the gift of persistence. He drove back to Dublin. The next day he drove to Thurles and spoke to Archbishop Tom Morris. Archbishop Morris rang Bishop Eugene O’Doherty of Dromore (the bishop in charge of the Catholic Truth Society). Bishop Eugene O’Doherty was a close personal friend of Bishop Neil Farren, and a fellow Derryman. He rang Bishop Farren and told him about the CTS and the Communications Centre and what was planned. He suggested that this was going to be an important apostolate, and one worthy of his support. Bishop Farren relented, and I was on the way to Dublin. It was arranged that on the way to Dublin I was to have lunch with Bishop O’Doherty in Newry so that he could brief me. The lunch was more politically significant than I knew: when I got to Dublin I was welcomed by the interim management of the Catholic Truth Society, because I came with the blessing of ‘their’ bishop. For three weeks I was effectively the last Executive Secretary of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland. Then the legal changes to the Memorandum and Articles took effect, and I became the director of publications for the new Communications Institute: we opted for the name ‘Veritas Publications’.

I had no idea what might happen next. For the remainder of 1969 there were a few booklets slowly progressing – remnants of the interim CTS. I renewed acquaintance with Shane Sinnott of John English and Co. Wexford, who had printed the Irish language student magazine in Maynooth. I had edited the magazine and knew the printers’ symbols for marking up proofs for the typesetters – it was still the era of hot metal typesetting, monotype or linotype. I also had the privilege of getting to know Leon Ó Broin, who was doing some voluntary editing for us. He lived on the Stillorgan Road. He had been Secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, and was a historian and writer, in Irish. He never spoke to me in English.


Meanwhile, people needed to be informed about the existence of the new Communications Institute and of its importance in an era of mass communications. In the lead-up to World Communcations Day 1970 copies of a once-off tabloid style newspaper were sent out to every parish; it was called ‘Orbit’, and had punchy articles on communication, illustrated with Terry Willers cartoons and large photographs. One memorable photo showed a Third World farmer ploughing with oxen. Strapped to the long horns of one ox was a transistor radio.

 ‘Orbit’ was for the parishioners. In addition every priest received a magazine called ‘Intercom’. It was edited by Fr Gerry Reynolds CSsR who had been editor of ‘Reality’. It was printed in black and white in A4 format, illustrated with photographs. ‘Intercom’ might well have been a once-off, like ‘Orbit’, but even though it was only about 16 pages in size, the reaction of priests was so positive that it became a monthly magazine. It is still going strong. For the last number of years it has been about 48 pages long, in full colour, beautifully designed and typeset by Colette Dower in Veritas.

A Time for Publishing

From January 1970 everything was about to change. Though I didn’t know it, it was about to be a great time to engage in religious publishing. The new liturgical books began to come out, beginning with the new Rite of Baptism. Suddenly I was a very busy publisher, editor and proofreader, in both English and Irish. All the parishes needed the new texts, especially the Mass booklets and Holy Week books. We were a going concern.

We advertised for an editor. Fr Dermot Ryan was Chair of our publishing committee. He and Joe Dunn formed an appointments panel and employed Seán O’Boyle. Seán was a natural publisher, and a fast learner. We were part of a surge of new Irish publishing. The Irish Government were considering putting VAT on books. All the Irish publishers got together and founded the Irish Book Publishers Association. Then the Association began to hold weekend conferences, providing advice and training for all the young publishers. Liam Miller (Dolmen Press) and Michael Gill (Gill and Macmillan) were totally selfless in sharing their expertise – even their costings – with all of us. The association was cross border from the start, including John Murphy of Appletree Press (Belfast), and Jim and Diane Gracey of Blackstaff Press (Newtownards).

The Irish Bishops, encouraged by Bishop (later Cardinal) Cahal Daly, decided to create an Irish catechetical programme. A group of writers was set up, and after some negotiations Veritas Publications was given the task of organising the publishing. Fr Dermot Ryan was made Archbishop of Dublin, and we needed a new Chair for our publishing committee. Fr Joe Dunn tracked down Tom Marmion, who had had a long career in educational publishing with Longman, Browne and Nolan. He was an inspired choice. It was Tom who suggested Bill Bolger as a possible designer for the new Primary Catechetical Programme. Bill was key to the wonderful colourful graphics and layout for what was called The Children of God Series.

Another publishing opportunity arose with the new Altar Missal of 1974. The Smurfit company had bought the well-known Irish imprint, The Talbot Press, and approached us to create a joint venture to publish the Altar Missal. They employed Alex Tarbett who had worked with Geoffrey Chapman. Bill Yeomans SJ was editor. Talbot Press had the Smurfit money behind them; we brought local and ecclesiastical credibility. The Missal was designed by our friend Liam Miller of Dolmen Press, a classical typographer. He commissioned line drawings from Berthold Wolpe in London. We were very much the junior partner, but the Altar Missal was a success, and it gave us experience, standing, and confidence which we were going to need later when Pope John Paul II came to Ireland in 1979.

The papal visit to Ireland was huge. It demanded extraordinary organisation nationally and in each venue. Veritas was involved in all the publishing: altar missals for the Pope and Bishops, lectionaries, and millions of people’s booklets, all designed by Liam Miller. Seán O’Boyle was in his element, supported by our whole team, including our production manager, John McCurrie. John was a wonderful man; as a Northern Ireland Presbyterian he took great pleasure in sourcing a linen-based deep red material from a Belfast firm for the binding of the bishops’ altar missals and lectionaries. The Pope didn’t get one – his Missal was a one-off, bound in gold-embossed white leather!

As a spin-off from our preparation for the expected visit of Pope John Paul, we created two new departments in Veritas: Veritas Family Resources, led by Mickey and Terri Quinn of Newry, and Veritas Parish Resources, led by a Redemptorist priest, Fr Johnny Doherty CSsR.

We still continued to publish booklets, such as national bishops’ pastoral letters, and individual books. We published Dr Brendan Devlin’s Íseáia, and several paperbacks, including Bishop Joe Duffy’s Patrick in His Own Words, and a few books by Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich (Columbanus in His Own Words, and Oliver Plunkett). We did some joint publishing with American publishers, such as The New Testament Message series with Michael Glazier. We had an agent in Britain, Nigel Fowler-Wright, and with the help of Córas Tráchtála grants we built up some export trade in the US. Cassell and Collier McMillan in London produced a British Edition of The Children of God series. They called it The Veritas Programme.

The Veritas Shop

At the beginning there was only one Veritas Shop, in Lower Abbey Street in Dublin. Joe Dunn found a new manager, Bob Farquharson, who had turned around Eason’s in Dún Laoire and made a success of it. He began to rebuild the Veritas business in the Lower Abbey Street shop. Egans in Cork were our best wholesale customer, and when they were bought by Waterford/Wedgwood the religious books section was being squeezed out. With Bishop Lucey’s enthusiastic help we established a Veritas Shop on Bridge Street, opposite Mercier Press. Tom Egan became the very experienced manager. The other shops followed later, spreading around the country. The ground was partly prepared by the part-time local representatives we had hired to facilitate the distribution of the catechetical programme to schools in the seventies.

Footnote for a Friend

There were many providential aspects to the Veritas story: the timing after Vatican II, the new liturgical and catechetical texts, the Irish Book Publishers’ Association, the Papal Visit to Ireland in 1979, but there is no doubt that a great deal depended on the pivotal figure of Fr Joe Dunn. Fr Tom Stack wrote in 2012:

‘In our parish church at Milltown, Dublin, there stands an attractive large bronze bust of Blessed (now Saint) Pope John XXIII, Pope of the Second Vatican Council. This sculpture was fashioned by Robin Buick RHA. In the figure, Angelo Roncalli’s features express a personality both wise and affectionate. To my knowledge, it is the only public monument in Ireland to this memorable Christian leader, who gave the Papacy a fresh vision, and set before the Catholic Church a renewed understanding of its mission to the world.

 On the wall behind the statue there is a plaque dedicating this bronze cast to the memory of Fr Joe Dunn, priest, writer and filmmaker; the only such formal recognition of a modern non-episcopal figure to be found in a church of the Archdiocese of Dublin. The link between these two churchmen came about because of Joe Dunn’s singular esteem for John XXIII. Joe had long championed, both in film and the written word, the enlightened ministry of this man which had touched the whole world, well beyond the confines of the Catholic Church.’

(Introduction to the Columba Classics edition of Joe Dunn’s No Lions in the Hierarchy)

Joe Dunn was a straight speaker. Some people, even occasionally some Dublin priests, thought that what he said was to promote himself. They misread the signs; Joe hadn’t a selfish bone in his body. It was for the opposite reason that he could speak freely: because he wasn’t concerned about people’s opinion of himself. As a filmmaker, Joe didn’t create what he filmed and he didn’t create the opinions of the people he interviewed. But he turned a fearless camera lens on what was before him. It was no accident that Joe and Des Forristal chose the twelve apostles panel from the High Cross at Moone, Co. Kildare, as the Radharc logo – that typical expression of the close-knit community of the Church which we find on so many of the great Scripture Crosses. Joe and Des could make such credible films because they were not afraid to look at the Church around the world, in whatever circumstances. They were not afraid of the lens of truth, because they looked on the Church, in all its expressions, with the eyes of affection. Joe wrote:

   ‘I believe in the Church and I love the Church, and I would be deeply grieved if I felt that anything I say here would do anything to weaken anyone else’s love or belief’.

(No Lions in the Hierarchy, 1994)

The story of Veritas and its vibrant history is worth reflecting upon as we enter a new era of communications challenges.

Fr Oliver Crilly