Meet a Reader: Jenny Witt {@TheCatholicPost}

Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.

FullSizeRenderHow you know me:  The seeds of my faith were watered here in our Peoria Diocese at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Peoria Notre Dame High School, and OSF College of Nursing. While serving children and families in the Pediatric Intensive Care unit at OSF God called me to care for the spiritually poor in our country on college campuses as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, FOCUS. During my time as a missionary with FOCUS God rooted me and launched me into our life long mission as Christians to make disciples of all nations. After my time in FOCUS, I returned to medicine serving as a Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner and nurse for Dr. Jillian Stalling, OB/GYN. I currently serve as the Director of Evangelization at St. Philomena Parish. There is so much adventure and joy in following Christ as his disciple.

Why I love reading:  I love reading because it opens doors and allows for an encounter with Christ. My love for reading developed in nursing school as I began to study and discover the many layers of God’s design to the human body. The turning of each page was like walking into a new room and the opening of a present that filled me with awe and wonder. As I began to use this knowledge to care for the sick and vulnerable I saw my time of reading and study bearing fruit. Reading lead me to knowledge, knowledge to gaining skills, skills to providing care, care to bring forth healing, healing to an encounter with God, who is love. Reading is such a gift as there is always more to discover!

What I’m reading now:  I am always reading a few books in a sprinkling of different disciplines that range from scripture, science, the saints, and documents of the Church. The current book marks are resting in 2 Timothy in the Bible, “Essays on Woman” by Edith Stein, and “The Way of Trust and Love” by Jacques Philippe.

I just finished the book, “Chiara Corbella Pertillo: A Witness to Joy.” Her picture on the cover struck me from afar. Her face was radiating with the light of Christ. I could not put Chiara’s story down and completed in a day and her testimony has remained with me. Chiara proclaimed the joy that can found in the cross, the anchor we have in God’s love for us, the gift of our vocation, children, the Church, and our Blessed Mother. As with all good books and stories it is one you want to share with others.

My favorite book:

The Holy Bible is my favorite book. We were required to read the entire New Testament before arriving to our training as FOCUS missionaries. It seemed like a big task and is the best assignment I have ever been given. While reading the scriptures the words struck me to the heart. It was as if I was walking side by side Jesus and the early Christians in the Land of Israel. I was encountering the living God and discovering the way to live and love. For the first time I felt I was loving God not just with my whole heart and whole soul, but also my whole mind. The scriptures are my daily read and continue to be an encounter with God where He gives me His love, direction, rest, peace, and hope.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near…For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways-oracle of the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Yet just as from the heaven the rain and snow come down and don not return here till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:6, 8-11

Celebration Season {My May column @TheCatholicPost }

May kicks off a busy season filled with first Communions, Confirmations, graduations, and other celebrations. From Mother’s Day to Memorial Day, there are parties galore and gift-giving opportunities abound. Here are some gift-book suggestions for those holidays:

If someone you know would love a trip to Rome, but a cross-ocean trip is not in the works, consider giving a virtual pilgrimage with The Vatican Cookbook: 500 Years of Classic Recipes, Papal Tributes, and Exclusive Images of Life and Art at the Vatican by the Pontifical Swiss Guard.

This volume, written by several members of the Swiss Guard, the soldiers who have protected the Holy Father and the Vatican for many centuries, is much more than a cookbook.  Yes, there are recipes, but the book is chock full of essays and gorgeous photographs that describe and show life at the Vatican for the popes, the Swiss Guard, and visitors. 

The recipes are classically European, and most are do-able by home cooks.  They are ell-written and designed chiefly by Swiss Guard member David Geisser, an accomplished chef.  Vatican photographer Katarzyna Artmiak supplies most of the photos in the book, ranging from breathtaking Vatican vistas, to Swiss guards in action, to personal photos of recent popes.

At first look the recipes could appear too complicated, since the photos and the ingredient lists sometimes made them look complex.  But most are relatively simple recipes featuring classic cuisine, from soup to desserts.  They offer a great taste of Swiss, Italian, German, and other European foods, and would be great special occasion ideas for a family or group of friends to plan a meal “from the Vatican.”

If you’re looking for a first-rate gift book for younger readers, here is one that is that and more.  Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World is a charming picture book, but deep in theology.

Jesuit communities around the world collected letters from more than 250 children, and they were presented to Pope Francis.  He answers in this book several dozen of these letters, on such far-ranging topics from spiritual fatherhood to suffering to soccer to miracles.  Each spread contains a facsimile of a letter and drawing created by a child somewhere in the world, with its English translation if necessary.  On  the facing page is the Holy Father’s answer.

The book also includes the author Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., as “in conversation with,” which means that Fr. Spadaro interviewed Pope Francis with the questions from children.

As Fr. Spadaro writes in the short afterward describing the process of how he interviewed the Holy Father for the answers to these questions, “the language of Pope Francis is simple and that he lives in simple words.  Because God is simple.  The tenderness of God is revealed in his simplicity. One must not complicate God.”

The book would be a delightful gift for first Communion or other spring milestone, but it shouldn’t be reserved only for the young.  My older teens loved this book and found it not just enjoyable to read, but also profound.


(Brace yourselves—it’s another year of mercy book).

For moms, consider the gentle, simple, and yet thorough, introduction to the Divine Mercy devotion: Divine Mercy for Moms: Sharing the Lessons of St. Faustina by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet.

Divine Mercy for Moms offers a way for mothers to encounter Divine Mercy in a mother—specific way.  The two authors, both moms, share many stories of their lives that aid a realistic and nitty-gritty understanding of how Divine Mercy can be understood and lived out in a normal mother’s life.

This small volume is an excellent primer to the devotion of Divine Mercy for those who have little knowledge of (or even interest in) the Divine Mercy devotion.  But it’s also good for people like me, who love the Divine Mercy devotion, and pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, but have felt too daunted to read Saint Faustina’s diary.  A friend was reading Saint Faustina’s diary in a book group, and she mentioned that it was “too much” to take in big chunks, but it’s difficult to know what to focus on.

That’s why one of my favorite parts of Divine Mercy for Moms is an appendix titled “Thirty Days of Mercy,” daily reflections on motherhood.  Each day begins with a short, sentence-long excerpt from the diaries, and then a few questions, and a short prayer.  What a great way to start a day, spending some quality time with one specific and very short quote from St. Faustina’s diary.

For those who know a high school graduate (and I “might” know one in my immediate family, but I’m in denial that my first baby is that old), the best book gift hands-down is “Your College Faith: Own It!” by husband-and-wife writing team Matt and Colleen Swaim. 

I recommended Your College Faith highly when it was first published in 2013, and it definitely stands the test of time.  The high school graduate in our house will be receiving it (shh), and I hope gleaning wisdom from the sensible, detailed advice.  What I love is that Colleen and Matt Swaim share ways to succeed in college from every perspective, and show how integrating faith into one’s life makes for a happier, holier experience throughout college and beyond.

Meet a Reader: John Donnelly { @TheCatholicPost }

Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.


How you know me: I teach religion and Spanish at Peoria Notre Dame High School, and also bartend at Donnelly’s Irish Pub most Saturday nights.

Why I love reading: Reading is my absolute favorite thing to do. One of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace, once said in an interview that reading makes him less alone intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I love it as a form of communicating with others. You never know exactly what someone else is thinking, but sometimes reading brings us close to achieving that. The really great books let us know that others may have felt what we feel, thought what we’ve thought. The hundreds or thousands of years between author and reader can just fall away. My favorite books speak to Faulkner’s verities and truths of the heart. Another writer I came across recently talks about finding out what matters in the world and what it means to be human – I think the best books do that too.

What I’m reading now:

I’m currently reading (re-reading in fact, but it’s been over 10 years now) Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude along with some other teachers from school. I spent a couple of years in Latin America after college – it’s astonishing how much history he weaves in and out of the story. I’m also halfway through Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me after seeing it on so many “best of” lists last year. It’s amazing – he does a really fantastic job of interrogating himself and the world around him.

My favorite book: As much as I could talk about Flannery O’Connor, or David Foster Wallace, or Andre Dubus, or Raymond Carver (especially “A Small, Good Thing”), I’d still choose J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’ve never gotten as lost in a book as I have that one. John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy would be a close second. They have a similar tone – I’d like to imagine the conversation those two might have had together. I think they were both at Oxford together at the same time – maybe they did.

“The Prodigal You Love” Offers Hope {My April column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my April column that appears in this week’s print edition of The Catholic Post. 

When Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday this year, there were myriad tributes to her life and influence. Many quoted her pithy, tongue-in-cheek, but often pretty true, zingers. One of my favorites was shared on Facebook by Catholic Memes. It’s a laughing photo of Mother with the caption, “If it wasn’t for people, we could all be holy.”


Isn’t that the truth? It’s easy to be a “good Catholic” in theory. It’s when reality sets in—that of our own weaknesses and flaws, combined with the weaknesses and flaws of others— that our best intentions and desires to “be good” are often thwarted.

So how do we try to live holy and inspire others to live the Catholic faith? That’s the premise of an appealing new book on attracting people to (or back to) the faith.

It’s The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church by Sister Theresa Alethia Noble, FSP.

Sister Theresa, once an atheist but now a Daughter or St. Paul, has written an incisive and spiritually rich book both about her own experience. She grew up Catholic, left the faith (and any faith) for many years, and then not only returned to the Catholic Church, but discerned a vocation to the religious life. She writes about how people can approach those who have left the faith, not just to convert them back, but to model a healthy, wholesome faith.

Sister Theresa weaves the story of the Prodigal Son parable throughout the book, showing how we ourselves are prodigals, along with those who may have left the faith behind. The Prodigal You Love  explores how Scripture, the saints, and our own struggles, offer us the way to inspire others in ways we may never understand fully in this life.

For instance, in a chapter on doubt, Sister Theresa points out that how we encounter our own questions and uncertainty can help others:

“We can learn to model a healthy relationship with doubt by living our doubts honestly, while at the same time holding them lightly.”

 Sister Theresa also shows how while our ultimate goal may be having those we know in the fullness of the Catholic faith, we have to respect the free will of others to choose, as she did for a time, a different expression of faith, or even no faith, all the while praying for conversion and for Christ to reach each person in a different way. She quotes Saint John Paul II’s statement, “It is necessary to keep those two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation.”

Several months ago, a young woman I know posted her disgust and frustration on Facebook about her college alma mater supporting something dreadful. A priest friend commented: “Be a saint. All the outrage in the world goes nowhere. Saints change hearts.”

Ultimately, that is the message of The Prodigal You Love. When we seek holiness and live a life of prayer amidst our daily responsibilities, desires, and faults, we will change hearts, starting with our own, as well as those dear to us, and even those we may not know well or at all. As Sister Theresa writes, “Precisely because it is difficult and requires holiness, the evangelization of our loved ones in an intense path to sanctity.”

Meet a Reader: Father Paul Langevin, OFM Conv. { @TheCatholicPost }

Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.


How you know me:

I am the (relatively new) Parochial  Vicar at Holy Family Parish and School (Go Crusaders!). Perhaps you may know of my award-winning cole slaw served at Holy Family’s famous Fish Frys (mark your calendars for first Fridays during the school year and every Friday throughout Lent).  They say it’s some of the very best cole slaw this side of the Illinois River….or maybe they said “this side of the Mississippi” (I told you I’m still new here and trying to get my bearings!!!).  Perhaps our paths crossed before I was ordained to the holy priesthood when I was a clinical social worker for 20 years working with children and families first in Ohio and then for the Department of Children and Family Services in Illinois.  But if we’ve never met and you see me out and about I sure hope you’ll introduce yourself as I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  Or, if you ever see me jogging down Sterling Avenue give me a honk and I’ll be sure to wave!

Why I love reading:

I must confess, as a child I wasn’t much of a bookworm because it was one of those “have-to-do” things.  But once I discovered that reading opens the mind and the heart to a world of possibilities, I was hooked.  

Whether it’s a novel with a plot that engrosses all my senses (even to the point of losing track of the time!!!) or reading for general knowledge/information, reading is fascinating.  I never read so much so fast as during graduate school at Michigan (M-GO-BLUE) for my Master of Social Work degree.  That is, until I went back to school after 20 years for my Master of Divinity degree at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.  “So many books… little time” was the reality I faced both times in graduate school.  

Now it’s good to be reading once again what I want to read.  I’ve also heard that reading helps keep the mind sharp…..and I’m needing all the help with that I can get!

What I’m reading now:

I find myself reading several books at a time.  Right now, I’m reading and meditating on Christoph Cardinal Schonborn’s We Have Found Mercy.

 The message of Divine Mercy (as we understand it through Saint Faustina Kowalska) runs throughout Cardinal Schonborn’s writing and his message of God’s merciful love.  He takes the reader on a spiritual journey of God’s mercy through the Sacred Scriptures, the life of Christ, the sacrament of mercy-which is confession, and the rich catechetical tradition of the “works of mercy” as well as how Christianity throughout history has become an “engine” of mercy in the world.  No literary work on God’s mercy would be complete without considering Mary, the Mother of Mercy.  And Cardinal Schonborn shows us how we can be like Mary: touched by God’s mercy, we become visible signs of His mercy for all people.

I am also reading Daniel Pambianchi’s Techniques in Home Winemaking as I prepare to showcase Buona Ventura Cellars “Tarnished Halo Wines” — a St. Bonaventure Province Conventual Franciscan premier wine made right here in Peoria out of our friary basement.

My favorite book: 

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen is by far my favorite spiritual book.  I have never heard God speak so clearly to me through it as I was coming back home to the Catholic Faith.  I still find it a treasured pearl of great price in my library as it continues to guide me back home to our loving Father’s merciful embrace and the transformation that always awaits me there. 


Let Mercy and Grace Lead {My March column @TheCatholicPost }

Following is my March column that appears in this week’s print edition of The Catholic Post. 

There’s at least one person in everyone’s life, more than one if you’re fortunate.  Being around that person often makes you feel better, braver, and more peaceful  After a conversation with the person, you feel loved and cared for.

This may date me, but to me the concept is most fully expressed in the 1990s Rich Mullins song, “Let Mercy Lead.”  The refrain includes the line:

“Let mercy lead

let love be the strength in your legs

and in every footprint that you take there’ll be a drop of grace.”

This quality doesn’t mean the person is always perfect, or you always have that experience with him or her.  But it does mean that in many interactions, the person is a conduit of grace.

Sometimes the one who “leads with mercy” is a family member, or a dear friend. Sometimes, the person is one we know only as an acquaintance, or only meet on one occasion.

Sometimes, that person can be an author.  One such authors is Dawn Eden, who writes from such a place of peace and spiritual depth that nearly everything she writes contains a “drop of grace.”

Her latest book, Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories is an excellent example of this gift.  As Eden writes in the preface: “I wrote this book to share the good news that Jesus Christ heals our memories.”


Eden’s 2012 book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, was chiefly written for those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.  Even for those readers, like me, who have not experienced abuse, that book was relevant and edifying. That book was part memoir and part meditations on what the saints can teach us about wholeness of body, mind and spirit, even in the face of searing memories and experiences.

After the publication of My Peace I Give You,  Eden received many requests to write a book that included the same healing spirituality, but for those who have not suffered abuse.  Remembering God’s Mercy is that book, and it covers in a fresh way many of the same themes.

What sets Remembering God’s Mercy apart is Eden’s focus on the work and words of three Ignatians:  St. Ignatius, St. Peter Faber, and Pope Francis.  Each chapter of the book is titled with a line from Ignatius’ “Suscipe” prayer, (Receive, O Lord, all my liberty…”), and surveys the theme of the line from an Ignatian perspective.  This framework works extremely well in organizing the book and allowing for depth.  Pope Francis’ words on memory, and how God heals our memory, is especially fascinating and well worth pondering.

Ever since she wrote My Peace I Give You, Eden has often been invited to parishes and groups to speak.  People’s questions & comments also helped inform what’s covered in Remembering God’s Mercy.  For instance, a question from a woman asking if there are any parts of the Bible that reference people who block out their memories, and then get their memories back.  After reflection, Eden shares Pope Francis’ writing on memory, and how the first thing Jesus does after his resurrection is “that he restores our memory.”

Remembering God’s Mercy is appropriate during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy not only because of its title, but primarily because Eden explores so capably how God’s mercy heals and transforms our memories.


You might also be interested in:

This column is part of the “Brace Yourselves” series.


Never say you weren’t warned.

Here is my 2012 review of Dawn’s prior book, My Peace I Give You. As I mentioned above, it’s a truly worthwhile read.

Meet a Reader: Jackie Scott

Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.

How you know me:  I am a Regional Coordinator of Parish Evangelization for the Diocese of Peoria.  My region includes parishes in Champaign and Danville and the surrounding towns.  Prior to moving to Champaign I coordinated the Adult Faith Program at St. Jude Catholic Church in Peoria and co-coordinated Bible Studies for Women Who Believe in Peoria. 

My husband, William, was ordained a Deacon in 2012, and he serves at St. Matthew Church in Champaign.  We have two amazing daughters.  I am an immigrant of Indian descent.  I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, where my father worked for the U.S. Embassy and my mother for the Library of Congress, and my ten siblings and I spent much of our time with our noses buried in books which my parents brought home from their respective places of work. Books were hard to come by in Kenya and we were fortunate to have the access that we did!

Why I love reading:  As a child my favorite genre was Westerns – Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.  I loved the action and adventure of Westerns and I was inspired by the courage of the characters, especially the women of the “Wild West”!  Yes, I wanted to be a cowgirl when I grew up.  Reading gives you the ability to dream, to be inspired and to aspire to be greater than you are.  I have long grown out of that genre yet this is no less true today.  Whatever I am reading, it continues to challenge and inspire me.  I aspire to have the courage of Mother Teresa, Edith Stein, Saint John Paul II, Abby Johnson, and the simplicity of Saint Therese.  I want to be more loving, kind and merciful  like Popes Benedict XVI and Francis.  I want to be more spiritual and to know Jesus as I read in the Bible.

What I’m Reading Now:


The Love of God and the Cross of Jesus, Volume One  by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

My favorite book: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton and of course, The Bible.

Brace Yourselves: The Year of Mercy is Underway {My February column @TheCatholicPost }

Following is my February column that appears in this week’s print edition of The Catholic Post. I realize that the reference to internet culture may be a bit strange to read online, but keep in mind that my column appears in print, and many of the print readers may not understand about memes.  So I created one to appear in the paper, and it’s republished here. Brace yourselves! 🙂

Those with a bit of internet culture knowledge are doubtless aware of some of the most popular memes—those humorous text boxes overlaid on a photo or GIF (a short photo/video loop) of something goofy, and the Catholic ones can be genuinely funny. If you’re not aware, Google “Catholic Ryan Gosling,” or “Victory Baby”, or “Grumpy Cat,” and you’ll know what I mean. I’ll wait.

One enduring meme is what always thought was Boromir (from The Lord of the Rings), but is actually called “Imminent Ned.” Now imagine that with the text “Brace Yourselves: I’ll be Writing About ‘Year of Mercy’ Books All Year Long.” That’s the visual that jumped into my mind when I realized how much I plan to write about books related to the Year of Mercy during this year.


This is partially because like many people, I’ve been especially drawn to the messages and the beauty of the Year of Mercy.

It’s also because there are just such a good collection of books that have been released, or are yet to be released, with mercy as the theme.

No doubt many were released (or at least named) specifically for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, but enough have such promise for being spiritually edifying and well-written that I plan to share a number of these with readers of The Catholic Post in coming months.

The start of Lent offers an excellent time to consider some form of spiritual reading and reflection.

A trip to your local Catholic bookstore or online resource offers myriad choices and resources for the Year of Mercy, but let me offer a few stand-outs.

One idea is to explore one or more of an Of Mercy series written by the  Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

But don’t let the official-sounding author name discourage you from picking up one or more of these eight excellent titles. These are all short (less than 100 pages) of accessible writing about the topic (the sacrament of confession, the parables, etc.) as they relate to mercy. So, for instance, in “The Psalms of Mercy” reflects on the Psalms that relate to mercy, and “Celebrating the Year of Mercy” lists some of the special dates in the year, as well as the rich liturgical life of the Church that helps Christians live mercy through prayer.

For a more visual exploration of the Year of Mercy, there is the Disciple of Mercy Journal, published by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. (Local connection: several of this order’s sisters are at Peoria Notre Dame High School and St. Jude Parish in Peoria).

2016 Disciple of Mercy Journal Cover_for_web

The Disciple of Mercy Journal was designed for use by junior high students and older, but it’s too good for the young to keep to themselves. It’s a substantial resource for all ages to reflect on what mercy means in Scripture, as well as how people can practice it in daily life.

The journal provides 12 weeks of study, each with a focus on a Scripture passage, with guided questions, artwork, lectio divina, and suggestions or challenges for living out mercy in one’s life. The journal can be written in, or not—there are spaces to answer questions and respond to the Scripture and artwork.

Even though the journal follows a weekly structure, there’s no need to rush through it. A reader could spend the entire Year of Mercy working through this journal and benefitting from its many-faceted approach.

Finally, if you’re a fan of fiction, or can find spiritual thoughts in one novel for something completely different, if you like fiction as much as I do.

I just finished Fr. James Martin’s first (fiction) novel, The Abbey: A Story of Discovery. While I’ve been impressed with every book I have ever read of Fr. Martin, especially his moving memoir, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, I confess I was a little skeptical of his foray into fiction. Fiction is so hard to get right-especially religious fiction. Mea culpa for that thought.

But  The Abbey is well worth reading, both for enjoyment and for a look at the spiritual life. The book is a poignant, simple story about grief, spiritual growth, and how God reaches out to each individual in myriad ways.

The novel is told through the stories of several people with little or no religious belief, and their connection with an abbey of monks; the story quietly explores how both the laypeople and monks affect each other. The Abbey presents the concept of spiritual direction in a natural way, as well as showing how God meets us in our everyday lives, our imaginations, and the people around us. It’s a good read.

The Triumph of Grace {My January column @TheCatholicPost }

Recently, one of my teens had to give an impromptu speech in class on the subject, “If your life were a song title, what would it be?” She had 60 seconds to think, and then two minutes to give the short speech.

I must have had that in mind as I finished, The Woman Who Was Chesterton Nancy Carpentier Brown’s sweeping biography of Frances Chesterton, the wife of celebrated writer G.K. Chesterton.

That’s because I thought, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards surely didn’t have Frances in mind when they wrote, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but the refrain fits exceedingly well for her life and times.

Frances Chesterton was a poet, a playwright, and a writer.  But she’s best known as the wife of “GKC,” one of the best-known and best writers of the 20th century, who is the author of “Everlasting Man,” “Orthodoxy,” The Father Brown Mysteries, and many, many other books and articles on cultural and Catholic topics.

Their love story, partnership, and her influence on him is  detailed in The Woman Who Was Chesterton. But what’s best about this book is Brown’s careful assessment of Frances’ character and life, and how she bore her misfortunes and struggles with grace and a fundamental hopefulness.

Nancy Carpentier Brown is a writer who’s been a Chesterton authority for some time.  She’s written two children’s versions of Father Brown stories, among other works and writings on Chesterton and Frances Chesterton.

Brown’s The Woman Who Was Chesterton is part a fascinating look at England during a time of vibrant Catholic intellectual and spiritual renewal.  Notables like Chesterton (and eventually Frances) converted to Catholicism with the help of priests like Fr. Vincent McNabb and Msgr. Ronald Knox. And GKC’s own exceptional writing and lecturing career is recounted well.

But the book is mostly about Frances Chesterton, and the many misfortunes, along with happy times, she lived through. She wasn’t perfect, and often began with less than ideal responses to problems she encountered.

For instance, chief among her crosses was infertility. She had written that she and GKC would have “seven beautiful children.”  At first, she found it almost unbearable to see the babies of friends and relatives.  The couple consulted many doctors and Frances had several operations, but all the efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

Rather than stay in despair, she not only made peace with it, but became a beloved aunt to her relatives and friend to many, many children over the years.  She also wrote a number of charming religious children’s plays and helped stage them.

And that was true for many of her trials—she struggled in some fashion, but eventually grew into a spiritual and emotional maturity and found a way to rise above things instead of descending into bitterness.

Frances Chesterton’s life exemplifies a triumph of grace, but that was because she cooperated with grace.

Most of us won’t have the trials that Frances faced, or at least not all of them—infertility; the death of two beloved siblings—one to suicide; her own and GKC’s severe health issues; and many more.  But each person has his or her own misfortunes, big and small, that shape us and can affect us. And how we strive to accept and live with these shows our spiritual maturity.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls this kind of faith—corresponding with grace even in the midst of reversals or bad things— “a trusting faith, a hoping faith,” instead of just an intellectual faith.  It’s something all mature Christians can do well to learn more about and to emulate.

As Brown writes in the introduction to The Woman Who Was Chesterton, “I hope that this humble effort will give readers the opportunity to get to know and respect her—as herself, and for herself. … My greater hope is that Frances’s life will be an inspiration to all of us, married and unmarried, to live a more faithful, hopeful, and humble life in the midst of good times and bad, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”

Reading an outstanding biography like The Woman Who Was Chesterton is a great way learn about a fascinating time in Catholic history, and about some of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century.  But more importantly, the book is a lovely telling of how grace works in one person’s life.


You might also be interested:

I have reviewed other books by Nancy Carpentier Brown. Here is one of The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton. Here is a Q&A with Nancy Brown when the book first was released.  I also reference Brown’s books in “Good Books for Kids” here.

One thing I neglected to put in my review of The Woman Who Was Chesterton was one of my favorite parts of Frances’ early life–her family hosted a regular meeting/salon on social, cultural, and political topics in their home called the “IDK Debating Society.”  And yes, IDK means “I Don’t Know,” showing how far ahead of the times Frances and her family were. 🙂

Meet a Reader: Sister Aimee Dominique, Apostolic Sister of St. John {@TheCatholicPost}

IMG_0965How you know me:

I’m a member of the Apostolic Sisters of St. John and part of the larger St. John Community located on Legion Hall Road in Princeville. So you may have seen me if you participated in a Sapientia Saturday, Family Faith Festival, or the Saint John Summer Conference out at the Community. Or you may have seen me at one of the other events we host at our monastery, like the summer Girls Camp or Handmaidens Retreats.

Why I love reading:

Reading is something that has always attracted me.  Funny story: when I was in pre-school I tried to convince my mom that I already knew how to read, by imitating how people move their eyes from one side of the page to the other and flipping the pages of a book.  I had her convinced for about 10 seconds!

I think the attraction to reading is a part of my temperament because I love to learn and I love children’s stories. One of my favorites times during elementary school were the yearly “Read-aThons.” Each student would bring favorite books and a sleeping bag, and read for hours in the school gymnasium. It was awesome!  Above all else, there is the Word of God! I mean, we can READ what God is trying to say to us. That’s great!

What I’m reading now:

I just started 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael Gaitley in order to renew my consecration to Mary and to live Advent with her.

I’ve also been reading Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul which is great for both the Year of Consecrated Life and the Year of Mercy. If anyone is unfamiliar with St. Faustina’s diary, I recommend for those starting to read the diary to read just the parts in bold, which are the words of Jesus to the saint.  Even though it is a private revelation to St. Faustina, I find it very valuable since the Church canonized her and instituted the Feast of Divine Mercy. With the Year of Mercy, I believe that God is really calling us to come to Him with great trust. This book certainly helps get that message across. And my favorite part is “the conversations of the Merciful God with the…” section, starting from #1485. Jesus has a message of mercy for the sinful soul, the despairing soul, the suffering soul, the soul striving after perfection, and the perfect soul. No one is left out!

My favorite book:

My favorite book, which I’ve re-read many times, is the Conversations of Marcel Van, a Redemptorist lay brother. He was a Vietnamese member of the congregation, and he had and wrote about a wonderful interior life close to Jesus, Mary, and St. Therese. I cannot write more… it’s too good. Brother Marcel Van is a servant of God who I hope one day will be canonized. This would be a great book to read for those who love St. Therese.