Orbis Books is the publishing arm of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, popularly known as the maryknoll fathers and brothers. Established in 1970, Orbis continues a tradition of book publishing initiated with the founding of the Society in 1911 by James A. walsh (1867–1936) and Thomas F. price (1860–1911). Editorial offices are located at the Society's headquarters at Maryknoll, N.Y., near Ossining, N.Y., 35 miles north of New York City.
Historically, the books published by the Maryknoll Society have focused on educating the public about missions and missionaries. Cofounder James A. Walsh, himself the author of the first three books published by Maryknoll, formulated the policy clearly: "Our book department has developed considerably…. Our principle, however, in the scale of mission literature, is to seek little or no direct profit. Our aim is to find readers. Substantial interest usually follows" (Field Afar, April 1921,p. 119). Orbis has consistently operated on the principle that "Maryknoll has never been afraid to publish a book that may not turn a profit, as long as that book has the potential to heal or enlighten or enoble" (Maryknoll, June 2000, p. 46).
Early Maryknoll books were popular accounts of people around the world and the work of missionaries among them. In the post-World War II period an increasing number of books focused on the deeper issues confronting peoples, their societies, and their churches. Directors of Maryknoll publishing at that time were Frs. John J. Considine and Albert J. Nevins, whose own works significantly advanced knowledge about the missionary world. Many of these books were contracted out to commercial publishers—Scribners, Longmans, Kenedy, and others—to assure a wide distribution.
The aftermath of the Second Vatican Council saw a rich production of theological and pastoral writing in Europe and North America. New voices soon emerged in Latin America, then in Asia and Africa. In 1970 the director of social communications for Maryknoll, Fr. Miguel d'Escoto, recently returned from service in Latin America, and Mr. Philip Scharper, the experienced former editor of Sheed and Ward, proposed that Maryknoll commit its efforts in the coming years to enabling these voices to be heard in English, thus to challenge and inspire as wide a world audience as possible. The Society endorsed the project under the new "Orbis" logo. Titles would carry the note: "Through Orbis Books, Maryknoll aims to foster the international dialogue that is essential to mission. The books published, however, reflect the opinions of their authors and are not meant to represent the official position of the society."
Among the earliest titles was A Theology of Liberation (1973) by Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, later signaled by Time magazine as one of the most important books of the decade. Other authors included Juan Luis Segundo, Leonard boff, Jon Sobrino, from Latin America; C.S. Song, Kosuke Koyama, Michael Amaladoss and Aloysius Pieris from Asia; and Jean-Marc Ela, Lamin Sanneh, and Allan Boesak from Africa. Orbis soon became the leading publisher in English of the liberation theologies. There followed reflective studies in black and native American theology, and works by Hispanic and feminist authors. Scripture studies were abundant. A pioneering methodological study appeared with Robert Schreiter's Constructing Local Theologies (1985). The publication of David Bosch's Transforming Mission (1991) provided a comprehensive summary of the evolution of missiology and paradigm shifts in mission. Interreligious dialogue was served in studies by Jacques Dupuis and others. Historical studies have increased in recent years, including G. Gutierrez' Las Casas (1993) and the monumental History of Vatican II, five volumes, edited by Giussepe Alberigo and Joseph Komonchak (1995 ff.). Recent lists likewise reflect the current search for a deepened contemporary spirituality. Finally, Orbis has made available collections of key papal teachings, bishops' documents, and international synods along with the critical commentary of scholars. In all its publications, Orbis seeks "to examine the global dimensions of Christian faith, to invite dialogue with diverse cultures and religious traditions, and to serve the cause of reconciliation and peace."
Bibliography: g. g. higgins, "Orbis Leads Its Chosen Field," Maryknoll (April 1981) 55–57. m. leach, "Impossible Dream Comes True," Maryknoll (June 2000) 42–46.
[w. d. mccarthy]