John Limb poses in his office in 1992 at the start of his tenure as OCP publisher. (OCP)
John Limb poses in his office in 1992 at the start of his tenure as OCP publisher. (OCP)
" Whether it’s chant, traditional hymnody, contemporary music, music for children and young adults, or music for the multicultural community, OCP has something for everyone.

" John Limb
John Limb started his career in the 1970s in parish and diocesan music ministry. When he became publisher of Oregon Catholic Press in 1992, those were the folks he always had in mind.

“I wanted us to do the best we could in meeting their needs,” said Limb, an amiable Kentuckian with whom one naturally desires to sit and sip a glass of smooth bourbon. “The fact that we were non-profit gave us the freedom to do some of those mission oriented things that didn’t necessarily make money but helped meet a need in the church.”

But Limb was also a smart business man who often told his team, “No margin, no mission.”

When he was working for the Archdiocese of Louisville in the early 1980s, Limb often recommended OCP’s “Music Issue.”

A modest feature helped make the book wildly popular: It included guitar chords. That allowed more people to lead music, even those who are not deeply trained. “You could throw that little ‘Today’s Missal Music Issue’ in your guitar case and you had all you needed,” Limb said.

But more than that, Limb liked “Music Issue” because it combined the best of traditional and contemporary repertoire in one small volume that was updated annually. That was new in the church and such broadness is still an OCP hallmark.

“Whether it’s chant, traditional hymnody, contemporary music, music for children and young adults, or music for the multicultural community, OCP has something for everyone,” said Limb. “We’ve been doing this for the past century.”

When Limb arrived to work at OCP in 1986, the offices were in the Archdiocese of Portland chancery building on East Burnside in Portland. The staff was growing so much that there was no desk for Limb. He used a cardboard box for a time and then would occupy the desk of whomever was on vacation. Eventually, he was assigned to a table jammed into a closet.

But in 1986, the company moved to a large warehouse two miles east. The ministry expanded accordingly.

In the decade to follow, including the start of Limb’s tenure as publisher, OCP grew at an even more torrid pace. The acquisition of North American Liturgy Resources and its St. Louis Jesuit-led “Glory & Praise” hymnal opened a new phase.

“That catapulted our business,” said Limb. “We now had an important Catholic hymnal we were responsible for. We welcomed all their music and composers, and business grew geometrically. Almost weekly someone would come to me and say, ‘We need more people. And I would just say ‘Hire them.’”

In the course of a few months in the mid-1990s, the OCP staff went from 70 to more than 100.

At the same time, technology evolved and OCP kept pace, moving from cassette tape to CD, developing a website in 1995 and within two decades digital music libraries.

Limb credits the company’s workers for the success. “What marked all these individuals, be they staff or composers, was not just their immense talent, but also their dedication to serving the People of God,” said Limb.

Workers shifted from manual to electronic to produce manuscripts. OCP still had its own massive presses, the size of a Greyhound bus and almost as noisy. Press operators kept the machines operating with wire and knowhow gained from maintaining their Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They printed millions of songbooks.

Limb’s saddest day as publisher was letting the press staff go. Replacing the big machines would have been wildly expensive, and the presses would have had to run 24-7 to make ends meet and take on outside work, a schedule the company was not designed to meet. And new presses, akin to computers, wear out faster than the old analog versions. So OCP outsourced in 2012 and began having its products printed closer to the center of the country to gain efficiency in shipping costs.

But on the day the presses closed, a cast of colorful and beloved fellows walked out of the building. Limb made sure they were well taken care of.

“I had so much respect for those guys, not only for their craftsmanship but as people,” he said.

Sales of physical products began to decline as sales of digital products grew. OCP began to experiment with digital worship aids.

“Now instead of purchasing bulky binders of sheet music or dozens of CD recordings, customers could instead download digital versions directly to their computer or tablet,” said Limb. “It would only be a matter of time before we could also provide worship aids directly to parishioners’ smart phones.”

Limb’s prediction came true in early 2021 with OCP’s Breaking Bread eMissal.

As technology advanced during Limb’s tenure, the U.S. Catholic Church also was going through dramatic change. Immigrant cultures flourished and energized the church. In particular, the number of Hispanic Catholics greatly increased.

Limb and OCP sought to respond. For Hispanic Catholics, offerings included OCP’s popular “Flor y Canto” hymnal, as well a bilingual missal called Unidos en Cristo/United in Christ.

Asian Catholics also were growing in number and prominence. In 2001, OCP reached out to the most respected Vietnamese composers, both in Vietnam and in the United States, identifying the Vietnamese community’s most-loved hymns, songs and service music, and eventually publishing them in the “Thánh Ca Dân Chúa” hymnal. Limb made a trip to Vietnam to meet with liturgical leaders.

At the same time, Gen Xers and Millennials were coming of age and contributing their own style of music to worship. The folk influence of Baby Boomers gave way to contemporary Christian, flowing with holy emotion. In Limb’s time, OCP published the “Spirit & Song” hymnal while continuing flagship worship aids Breaking Bread and Today’s Missal, along with the hymnals “Journeysongs” and “Glory & Praise.”

“We also started publishing a lot of children’s music, reaching out to all kinds of different groups via schools and religious education programs,” said Limb. “We were serving a broader segment of the church than any publisher.”

Meawnwhile, OCP continued to offer organ music and traditional hymns. “We were trying to serve the whole church, not just segments of the church,” said Limb, who retired in 2017.