The Ohio was established in Pomeroy, Ohio, in 1873 by Reverend John Joseph Jessing, a Roman Catholic priest and German immigrant associated with the Sacred Heart Church. Proceeds from the newspaper were intended to support St. Joseph’s Orphanage which Jessing started after seeing the hardships experienced by the orphaned boys of his community. In 1874, Jessing changed the name of the weekly newspaper to Ohio Waisenfreund (“Ohio Orphan’s Friend”), emphasizing its mission. He moved the paper to Columbus, the capital of Ohio, in 1877, hoping to build circulation by publishing in a larger city with access to more railroad lines. Subscriptions increased from around 5,000 in the 1870s to 40,000 by the end of the 1880s. The Waisenfreund was distributed across the United States and was considered a strong and important voice of the German-American Catholic community in Ohio and beyond.
In 1888, Jessing established a seminary, the Collegium Josephinum, in response to interest by some older orphans attending his trade school to join the priesthood. The college was transferred to the Holy See and granted pontifical status in 1892. From that point, the Waisenfreund was published under the auspices of the Pontifical College Josephinum, which would become the leading educational center for German-American priests in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and today is the only pontifical college in the Western Hemisphere. Initially focused on preparing its students to minister to German-speaking Americans, today Josephinum’s students mostly serve those in rural and missionary dioceses, remaining true to Jessing’s original mission of educating and supporting those in financial need.
Subscribers to the Waisenfreund not only supported the education of German-American Catholic priests, but were provided religious instruction and reports from the Holy See in Rome. The “family sheet for truth and law, to instruction and entertainment” also printed political reports; local, national and international news; and serialized literary and historical works. Two regular sections were Auskunft (“Information Desk”), covering a variety of topics from weather to household tips, and Familienkreis (“Family Circle”), which included poems and other reading matter for families. The Waisenfreund also reported on happenings at the Josephinum, donations to the college, and deaths in the community. During World War II, it published advertisements in support of the United States Armed Forces and the purchase of Liberty Bonds.
The Waisenfreund is predominantly German language, and unlike many German-American newspapers, it survived the anti-German sentiment during World War I. It began to include more English-language content and its circulation remained high until the 1940s, at times sustaining over 30,000 subscribers. In 1907, the Waisenfreund absorbed the Cincinnati Wahrheits-Freund (“Friend of Truth”), the oldest German Catholic newspaper in the United States; and in 1943, it absorbed the Buffalo Aurora und Christliche Woche (“Aurora and Christian Week”). For the last decade of publication, the Waisenfreund was printed both in Columbus, Ohio, and by the Wanderer Printing Company in St, Paul, Minnesota (as the “Ausgabe des “‘Wanderer’” or “Wanderer Edition”). The Waisenfreund ceased publication in 1953 by which point its circulation had diminished to less than 5,000.