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Meet the short-run nuns

Sep 1, 2005 12:00 AM


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Some printers target business-to-business (B2B) customers. St. Joseph Press (LaGrange Park, IL) serves a more specialized B2B niche: religious to religious (R2R). Founded in 2004, the shop produces calendars, prayer and greeting cards, art prints, bookmarks and marketing materials as well as jobs for other religious organizations and non-profits.

As part of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the year-and-a-half-old St. Joseph Press can claim a rich history. Founded in LePuy, France, in 1650, the Sisters of St. Joseph came to the United States in 1836 to teach deaf children in Carondelet, MO. Today, there are approximately 30,000 Sisters of St. Joseph on four continents, including 7,000 in 23 congregations located throughout the United States. Established in 1899, the LaGrange Park congregation currently numbers 94 nuns.

Serving the community for more than a century
In addition to St. Joseph Press, the Sisters of St. Joseph also run Nazareth Academy, a Catholic high school founded in 1900. Other activities include:

  • Ministry of the Arts (religious sculpture, art work, cards and jewelry sold through a catalog and gift shop).
  • A spirituality center.
  • School on Wheels, a custom fitted bus that serves as a mobile classroom where tutors teach English literacy to adult immigrants.
  • A hermitage retreat center.
  • Campaigns for global justice and socially responsive investments.
Counting blessings (and greeting cards)
Equipment highlights at St. Joseph Press include an HP Indigo 5000 and a small-format cutter and folder. Operations manager Sister Judy Sikorski, CSJ, heads a three-person production team that includes Sister Dorothy Oursler (postpress) and two laypeople: Regina Migacz (prepress) and Denise Carey (backup press/postpress operator). But on any given day, just beyond Sister Dorothy’s cutter, visitors will see four to six volunteers cheerfully collating or counting and packaging greeting cards or doing other bindery hand work at a large table. Ranging in age from 75 to 94, all of these women are nuns and most are retired teachers.

“It’s a blessing,” says Sister Judy. “We were looking for an opportunity for our sisters who are retiring from education but still want to help in the ministry. They want to be a part of what’s going on and it helps us keep our costs down.”

These senior citizens also offer a glimpse of St. Joseph Press’s daunting mission. On a spiritual level, the work it prints reflects the Sisters of St. Joseph’s commitment to “live and work that all people may be united with God and one another.” On a practical level, St. Joseph Press must be sufficiently profitable to help support the congregation’s older members.

An unlikely COO
As fewer Catholic women are becoming nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph’s retirees soon will outnumber active members. Moreover, lacking younger sisters to fill the jobs, the congregation is outsourcing more teaching and administrative positions. Traditionally, for example, a nun has served as the congregation’s finance director. More recently, the Sisters have had lay finance directors. But after its finance director and treasurer passed away several years ago, there was no one within the congregation qualified to replace them. So the Sisters of St. Joseph hired Ed Sutoris to fill the post. Sutoris is their first COO.

“You get drawn in,” says Sutoris. He first started working with the Sisters of St. Joseph about five years ago when their 48-year-old finance director died suddenly. Sutoris, who has a Masters of Engineering Management from Northwestern and an extensive background in computer sales, says the COO job’s modest salary didn’t deter him. “It’s a chance to give back,” he explains.

According to Sutoris, cost control issues were the genesis of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s printing operation. “We asked ourselves how we could reduce the cost of goods to the Ministry of the Arts while increasing its profitability to the congregation,” explains Sutoris. “We said, ‘What if we printed [everything] ourselves?’”

While it was impractical for the Sisters to produce the 250,000-run, 28-page Ministry of the Arts catalog in-house, Sutoris thought many catalog items, such as note cards and art prints, were excellent applications for an internal print operation. He created a business plan, and after months of discussion, the sisters’ Leadership Council, a group of five nuns that serves as the congregation’s board of directors, approved it. Sutoris then began investigating equipment options. Originally, he considered an offset press. “It was overwhelming,” he recalls. “We don’t have a background in that and there were a lot of environmental and other issues.”

One day, while glancing at his office inkjet printer, Sutoris had an epiphany. “Isn’t there something like that, only bigger, that would work for us?” he wondered. Sutoris considered a NexPress and iGen3, but ultimately determined an HP 1000 was the best fit.

HP arranged for Sutoris to tour another customer site: Alpha Beta (Tinley Park, IL), a full-service commercial printer that has two HP Indigo 3000s as well as one half-size and two 40-inch Mitsubishi presses. Tompkins (Schiller Park, IL), an equipment dealer, provided a lot of postpress advice. Other key resources include distributor xpedx and paper supplier Bradner Smith.

A nun-run pressroom
The press was installed in January 2004. The goal was to have a nun run it, but Sister Judy, the designated operator, wouldn’t be available until school was out for the year. So a local graphic designer, Joe Wood, filled in while Sister Judy wrapped up her teaching career at St. Francis Xavier’s in LaGrange, IL. Although Sister Judy had spent 41 years as an elementary school teacher and principal, she had little time to reflect on her old career before embarking on a new one. “School got out on a Friday,” recalls Sister Judy. “I left immediately for a two-week training workshop in Littleton, MA. I took over running the press on June 18, just in time for the Christmas rush.”

Six months later, Sister Judy went to Boise, ID, for a training session on press maintenance. “There were four HP technicians, one lifelong printer, an industry expert and me,” she recalls. “I was at the bottom of the class, a place I had never been.”

Ultimately, Sister Judy found that running the press was fairly easy. The real challenge lay in coping with paper static and humidity issues as well as a job printed on stock that was too thick for mechanical folding. “We folded 15,000 cards by hand,” she recalls.

These days, if she has a question or problem running the press, Sister Judy knows she can rely on her Boise contacts. “It makes a difference knowing [them],” she says.

‘Like a BMW vs. an Escort’
By the end of 2004, St. Joseph Press has exceeded the HP 1000’s capacity. “The press was running all the time, but we couldn’t run it fast enough [to keep up],” explains Sutoris. In June 2005, the sisters replaced the HP 1000 with a seven-color HP Indigo 5000 capable of producing 4,000 full-color pages per hour. “The Sisters of St. Joseph are on pace for a 36-month payback on the new press based primarily on internal work,” says the COO. “But the 5000’s improved productivity leaves more time to perform jobs for external clients.”

Sister Judy says stepping up to the new press is “like driving a BMW vs. an Escort. The 5000 requires a lot less physical labor. It can print on a wider range of substrates and it’s easier to duplex heavier stocks—the new feeding mechanism is amazing.”

As the daughter of a Linotype press operator, Sister Judy says she’s pleased to carry on her family’s printing tradition. With the exception of changing cutter blades, the press staffers now run and maintain all printing and bindery equipment. “They’re not intimidated,” says Sutoris. “They do it all.”

Sutoris says St. Joseph Press’s experience with HP personnel has been extremely positive. “HP likes to say they have six vertical markets. Well, with us, they have seven. We’re not their typical customer, but every single HP person has been great.”



About the Sisters of Saint Joseph
St. Joseph’s Press isn’t a typical digital printer, but then again, the Sisters of St. Joseph aren’t what most people would consider typical nuns. This is especially true if your idea of what a nun should look like is based on characters played by Julie Andrews, Whoopi Goldberg, Ingrid Bergman or Sally Field. Most Sisters of St. Joseph wear contemporary clothes rather than habits.

Not just in the classroom
Moreover, the nun’s day-to-day activities aren’t as dramatic as their Hollywood counterparts. While some of the nuns have pretty good voices, the hills of LaGrange Park, IL, are not alive with the sound of music. And, lacking Sister Bertrille’s famously aerodynamic headgear, the congregation doesn’t have any flying nuns. There are quite a few teachers among the Sisters of Saint Joseph, but that’s only part of what they do. According to its national Web site, “Sisters of Saint Joseph can be found in soup kitchens, shelters universities, schools, hospitals, courtrooms, prisons, retreat centers, offices, nursing homes, laboratories, studios and hospices.”

A more modern image
So when it came time to choose a logo for St. Joseph Press, the Sisters of St. Joseph were adamant: No cartoon nuns wearing old-fashioned habits. “That’s not who they are anymore,” says COO Ed Sutoris.

The sisters ultimately selected a colorful logo based on a modern stained-glass window created by a Sister of St. Joseph. It shows St. Joseph hard at work, an appropriate image that reproduces well on the HP 5000. For more about the Sisters of St. Joseph, see www.csjlagrange.org.

From a calendar to a catalog
The Sisters of St. Joseph’s Ministry of the Arts started in 1986 after its annual calendar was advertised on a one-page flyer. By 1994, the sisters had created a catalog featuring cards, music and sculptures. With the founding of St. Joseph Press in 2004, almost all of the Ministry’s cards and printed artwork is produced in house on an HP Indigo 5000 press. See the catalog online at www.ministryofthearts.org.


Katherine O’Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at kobrien@primediabusiness.com.