After 32 years in the publishing industry, including 20 years as editorial director at Ave Maria Press, Robert Hamma is retiring on July 8.

Hamma’s retirement is the second major recent staffing change at the Catholic publisher. In May, Jon Sweeney, previously editorial director of Franciscan Media,, was named Ave Maria’s executive editor. "Ave is searching for [my] replacement, but adding Jon as executive editor of the trade line is a big help in acquisitions,” said Hamma.

With two theology degrees from Immaculate Conception Seminary and Notre Dame, Hamma was drawn to Catholic publishing, and his career began as an editor at Paulist Press in 1984. He joined Ave Maria as an editor in 1991 and simultaneously became editor of the publisher’s book club, Spiritual Book Associates. Five years later, Hamma was promoted to editorial director. Over the course of his career, Hamma estimates he’s edited about 200 books, including those of Robert Wicks, Henri Nouwen, Macrina Wiederkehr, Fr. Ed Hays, and Br. Loughlan Sofield.

"It's hard to pick a favorite. I developed relationships with the authors and maintained them over the years, really getting to know them," Hamma told PW. "I always think; publishing is such a relational business with strong personal connections."

Over the years, Hamma has seen digital technology change the publishing industry for the better, while also increasing the pace of the work. He especially notices a difference in conversations between editors and authors.

"The pace enables more productive conversations," said Hamma. "Instantaneous communication improves interaction with authors, which leads to stronger concepts and better books, and there is more direction from the author—they can push back in a more personal way," he said.

Changes in the Catholic Church have also impacted the books being published at Ave Maria, which primarily published books for clergy members in years past but now publishes for a wider audience. "The role of women in the church has developed more,” he said. “Women are taking ownership, parishes are hungry to know more. [Our] readers are no longer just priests and religious leaders.”

The books available today also reflect another changing demographic. “Younger Catholics want to know about their faith traditions, such as fasting,” Hamma told PW. “Families want a strong Catholic identity and to understand their faith.”

Following his retirement, Hamma will remain active at Ave Maria, but in a limited way. “Editing, but not full time,” he said.