All posts by Nancy Piccione

Meet a Reader: Pamela Suresca {@TheCatholicPost}

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

How we know you:

In August I will celebrate two years of being a part of the Peoria Diocesan family. I proudly work for Students for Life of Illinois by building a culture of Life on college campuses all around IL. Currently serving University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as their Campus Mentor in the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center and am a parishioner at St. Matthews in Champaign IL.

Why I love reading:

Reading is a gift. I read to encounter.

Books are always inspired by some-one, some-thing, or some-time. We write to share knowledge, reflect, and imagine. There is always a muse, an inspiration. Each writer has a voice and deep perspective. It is through reading that allows us to sneak a peek at life through another person’s lens.

I am always looking for spiritual readings and books or essays that will help me grow in my Catholic Faith. It is through these writings where words do not just stay on the page but inspire a physical extension of self- a call to action. Some of my favorite reads have dramatically changed my life from the inside out.

What I’m reading now:

“The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”- Edith Stein

I’ve been on reading marathon dealing with any and all books on women. If it isn’t a book, it is an essay, if it isn’t an essay its an article, if it isn’t an article is a reflection, if it isn’t a reflection, it my old journal entries. I do this quite often these days ;).

But right now I am currently reading Essays on Women by Edith Stein later known as St. Teresa Benedicta. As a young catholic woman I adore the writings and reflections of Edith Stein. She has a rawness to life and a deep wisdom of the Church. Her writings are truly a gift to women for they highlight the very gift we are women and the crucial role we play in the church, home, and society.

My favorite book:

Every book has a season and every season I have a new favorite. In this season my favorite book is Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves by Helen Alvare.


After hearing her speak at the Given 2016 Forum in CUA (Catholic University of America) I knew I had to get my hands on this book. She highlights the daily struggles Catholic women face in this 21st Century. Each chapter is a new woman with a new story, new wounds, new cross, and new victory.

“Strangers in a Strange Land” Helps Us Be “Healthy Cells” in Society {My June column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my June column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

In the last year, there have been several important books about the need for sincere Christians to be much more intentional about living their faith and sharing it with their children, loved ones, and the wider community. I’d like to focus on two of those books.

The most well-known and bestselling is The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians, columnist Rod Dreher’s book-length argument that Christians need to live as the early Benedictines did. These first monks, led by St. Benedict, the father of monasticism, retreated from the world at large to focus on prayer, work, and community in a disciplined way. Dreher makes the case that committed Christians need to consider living that way now.

Dreher, once Roman Catholic but now Eastern Orthodox, is a gifted writer, and so The Benedict Option has a lot of food for thought, especially when he is profiling people and families living out faith in a robust way.

But the book falls short. Dreher’s particular insistence that sincere Christians need and in fact should not be in the political life, because those battles are already lost, is particularly short-sighted. I, for one, am glad there are honorable people involved in political and public life. The book is great for talking about and gleaning good ideas, but ultimately, something is missing.

Much more successful, and more hopeful, is Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, by Archbishop Charles Chaput. It also has a much more pastoral focus, probably because Chaput is an archbishop and long-time pastor. And that makes it more effective.

Initially, I felt skeptical about reading Strangers in a Strange Land. I didn’t want to read more bad news about how bad the world is, and how we as Christians need to withdraw from it as quickly as possible.

I am happy to report that I was really, really wrong.

Strangers in a Strange Land is far more about engaging the culture, while knowing and embracing our own Catholic culture, than it is about the evils of the world. And that is why it is so refreshing and encouraging to read.

Consider this quote:

“But (the earliest Christians) didn’t abandon or retire from the world. They didn’t build fortress enclaves. They didn’t manufacture their own culture or invent their own language. They took elements from the surrounding society and “baptized” them with a new spirit and a new way of living.”

Or this, probably one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Our task as Christians is to be healthy cells in society.”

Strangers in a Strange Land is divided into four sections. There is one chapter that’s an overview of the book; another chapter that is a summary of Catholic history in America; then five chapters that explain where we are as a culture; and five chapters explaining our reason for hope in the face of this cultural shift.

Strangers in a Strange Land is not a casual or breezy read, but it’s worth the modest extra effort it takes to read it. As Archbishop Chaput puts it, “Adults deserve adult food for thought, and in these pages I’ll try to honor that.”

The overarching message of the book is the vital need for Christians to be active about their faith life and also conscious of living it out within a community. As Chaput writes,

“That means cultivating in our clergy and laypeople a better sense of who and what the Church is, separate and distinct from the culture around us—a family of families; an intimate community of Christian friendship with a shared vocation to sanctify the world; a mother, teacher, and advocate; the path to eternal joy; and an antidote to the isolation and radical individualism of modern democratic life. It means recovering a sense of Catholic history and identify; a deepened habit of prayer and adoration; a memory of the bitter struggles the Church endured in this country; a distaste for privilege; and a love for personal and institutional asceticism.”

The book calls believers back to a childlike wonder about the gift of creation, the gift of our faith, and the gift of the world. Towards the end of the book, Archbishop Chaput— to illustrate the importance of inculcating a sense of the sacred in children— tells the story of an older woman who still remembers how her father would marvel at lovely things in the world with the sentence, “God made the world beautiful because He loves us.”

May we always remember that truth, and share that message with our families and all those in the world.

Meet a Reader: Teresa Gwardys {@TheCatholicPost}

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

Teresa Gwardys

How you know me:

I’m currently serving as the team director for the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) team at the University of Illinois. I’m finishing up my third year as a missionary and will be returning for a fourth year when school starts again. I’m originally from the Diocese of Rockford and graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

Why I love reading:

I love reading because it allows me the opportunity to step outside of myself and encounter new worlds as well as gaining new knowledge. I think being a constant learner is important in life because we can always grow in our understanding of everything around us.

What I’m reading now:

I’m currently reading the Bible and Catechism of the Catholic Church because it’s part of the reading plan FOCUS encourages all missionaries to read. It’s fascinating to realize how much I both know and don’t know about the Bible. I’ve been Catholic my whole life so some stories are engrained in my head but reading the Old Testament gives me a better understanding of how Jesus in the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. The Catechism enlightens me in the richness and depth of the Catholic Church. If you’ve never read the Catechism, I really recommend starting a few paragraphs a day!

For fun, I’m hoping to start rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy this summer.

 My favorite book:

I have a favorite author more so than a favorite book because in college I did a lot of work with Flannery O’Connor. I read her works in literature classes from a literary perspective as well as in theologically based classes from a religious and Catholic perspective. Her short stories are thought-provoking on anagogical and moral levels.

Staying Catholic Everywhere {My May column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my May column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

It’s graduation season, and time to consider gifts for students in your life. A new book, How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students is a standout among potential gift book ideas. 

But despite its title, the book is not just for students going to Harvard, or students going to college, or students. It’s for everyone.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is a genuinely helpful and charmingly written guide for anyone from high school on up, wanting to living a faithful, balanced, joyful Catholic life in the midst of our busy, diverse culture and world. As I look through all the quotes that I pulled from this book, each one is applicable and practical not just to students or grads, but to every Catholic.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is written by Aurora Griffin, a recent Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar. I would be inclined to buy this book just for the following quote, in which Griffin talks about distraction in prayer:

“A friend of mine once said that when we focus on the mystery in a decade of the Rosary, we give Mary a flower. When we get distracted, we give her a frog. That may be, but we are lucky that moms love us so much that they still like getting frogs.”

As you may be able to tell, the book is not written in a super-scholarly way, but informal and friendly, like a conversation with your bookish, agreeable friend who’s serious about her Catholic faith and wants to encourage you in yours.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is full of great little nuggets of advice. For instance, in a brief discussion about fasting, Griffin makes the case that refraining from good things we like is not just a virtue and character building practice, but can also help open us to God’s grace:

“The important thing is that if you wish to grow in your spiritual life, you have to get used to saying no to yourself in small ways so that you can be open to God’s grace in big ways.”

After a basic introduction about Catholic life, the book is divided into four major sections: Community, Prayer, Academics, and Living it Out. Each of the 40 “tips” is in one of these four sections.

Griffin puts “Community” first because she considers it the most vital aspect of living out a Catholic faith. But that can be true in life in general—so many studies have shown that people do better in physical and emotional health with social support. She also encourages Catholics to recognize and embrace the diversity of how people live out their faith:

“If you find yourself in a leadership position in a Catholic organization on campus, you’ll need to accept that there are other ways of looking at the Faith apart from your own. If you try to force your views on everyone else, you will waste time and damage the community. Instead, try to appreciate the incredible diversity that comes from being part of the universal Church.”

What I love best about the book is that Griffin is intensely practical about so many things, and yet also calls readers to go deeper in their faith. Even for those who aren’t in college, being intentional about practicing faith is a big part of progress in the spiritual life. Griffin especially recommends a daily “routine of life” for prayer and spiritual practice.

In the tip, “Read Catholic Literature,” Griffin writes that “reading good stories makes us better people: it’s humanizing.”

While it is applicable to everyone, there is a lot of Catholic college-specific advice that is sound and important to consider. For instance, in the “Living it Out” section, Griffin writes about how living one’s faith can be a countercultural act:

“The secular world tells us that college is about getting all our wild days done with before we enter the real world and have responsibilities. It’s absurd, but I’ve even seen parents buy into this myth. The truth is that you never get to put real life on hold—not even in college. Your actions have as many, if not more consequences in college as they do later in life.”

I would consider How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard a great book not just for high school graduates, but those in college, as well as those earlier in high school, so they can begin to consider and integrate some of these ideas into their own developing faith life.

You might also be interested in:

I also highly recommend another book for college-bound students. It’s Your College Faith: Own It! by husband-and-wife team Matt & Colleen Swaim. You can read my reviews of this book here and here, among others. Turns out I’ve mentioned this book (and gifted it) a lot.

Meet a Reader: Father Timothy Hepner

How you know me:

I’m one of the Directors of the Office of Priestly Vocations for the Diocese of Peoria. I traverse the Diocese speaking about vocations, spending time with young people, and helping young men who feel a call to the priesthood. You may have seen me around – I am kind of a hobo priest.

Why I love reading:

When I was younger I would often flip through the encyclopedia searching for random articles just for the joy of learning something new. I thought this was weird until Wikipedia was invented. Now lots of people do it! Besides my love for learning new things, reading helps me grow closer to the great minds of the world and of the Church, it helps me become more contemplative, and it helps me always have something new to talk about.

What I’m reading now:

The Angels and Their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church by Jean Daniélou explains the role of the Angels through salvation history and in our own lives. It’s fascinating to read about how the Church Fathers believe the choirs of angels reacted to the incarnation and rejoiced at the ascension.

I’m also reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the founder of behavioral economics, explains the different biases that creep into the way we make everyday judgments.

I’ve also been listening to Moby Dick on audio book as I drive across the diocese. It’s a long book, but I’d like to see what happens at the end.

My favorite book:

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I could read that book a hundred times and have a different approach. As literature, t’s incredibly compelling, and Dostoevsky shows how only the forgiveness and solidarity found in Christ can save society. If you read it, get the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky.

Praying the Angelus Offers Moments to Sanctify Everyday Life

Following is my April column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

My friend Michele is a busy mom of many kids, who in the last year has worked very hard to take better care of herself through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. One of her starting points was the “Whole 30,” a month-long eating plan of whole foods that forbids sugar, dairy, grains, among other restrictions. “Challenging” would be an understatement for this.

At the beginning of her journey, when she wanted to cave on her resolutions, Michele repeated to herself, “I am worth it and I deserve to be healthy and strong.” She said this helped her get over some of the bumps in the road, and saying that to herself has helped her stick with healthy habits for many months.

Researchers call this a “virtuous circle,” where one choice to do the right thing helps one make better choices in other areas. These choices eventually become good habits, a good routine, and a healthy pattern. And a brief affirmation like, “I deserve to be healthy and strong,” can aid greatly in momentum to keep that virtuous cycle going, and help a person succeed in big goals.

I had Michele and this “virtuous cycle” when I read Jared Dees’ new book, Praying the Angelus: Find Joy, Peace, and Purpose in Everyday Life.

Yet at first, I admit I was skeptical. How does one write a full-length book about the Angelus— that humble prayer that combines short Scripture/prayer statements on the Incarnation and Redemption (“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”) with three repeated Hail Marys, and a closing prayer? The simple prayer that takes about a minute to say? The devotion that Christians have been saying for centuries at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. each day? An entire book?

The answer? Absolutely, yes.

Praying the Angelus is an instructive book about the origin and importance of this modest prayer, and how it can be transformative in shaping a “virtuous cycle” that can promote spiritual growth and an openness to grace.

Dees, a religious educator and founder of TheReligionTeacher.com website, begins Praying the Angelus with a short preface on how like many Catholics, he was ignorant of the Angelus, but learned about it when he was a young teacher from a newly ordained priest. The priest explained how the Angelus was begun in the Middle Ages as a way for laypeople to share in the regular structured prayer life of religious in monasteries, whose lives revolve around times of prayer.

After listing the prayers and order of the prayers of the Angelus and the Regina Caeli (the substitute for the Angelus during Easter season), the book is divided into three sections.

First is “An Invitation,” with an explanation of the origin of and how to pray the Angelus, what to expect, and why it’s important to pray in today’s hectic world.

The second section is “Angelus Meditations,” contains a short and incisive meditation and prayer for each line of the Angelus. The third section echoes that in “Regina Caeli Meditations,” with prayers and reflections for each line of that prayer.

I’ve prayed the Angelus and the Regina Caeli for years, but very inconsistently. Reading this book helped me re-set my phone alarms to remind me of the Angelus, and to make an effort to focus on the prayers, and encourage those who are around me to do the same.

Contemporary Christianity, including Catholicism, has tended more towards spontaneous prayers and praise in recent years. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But Dees makes a provocative but compelling case that structured devotional prayer is vital to a healthy prayer life.

To me, the nucleus of the book is contained in the “lessons” Dees shares of the Angelus & Regina Caeli, such as “We are called to be humble,” Repetitive prayer is more powerful than spontaneous prayer,” and “Time is a gift from God.”

Among these lessons, “time is a gift from God” is one of the most-needed in our current culture. An openness to “Angelus moments” is a positive “side effect” of praying the Angelus, Dees writes.

He makes the case of how stopping at “inconvenient times” regularly to pray the Angelus primes a person to be available for “Angelus moments,” a receptivity to others and situations in which a person can be a conduit of God’s grace. As Dees writes, “Praying the Angelus trains you to welcome interruptions as a possible gift from God.”

Reading Praying the Angelus and putting it into practice can help readers to learn the prayers of the Angelus and their beautiful message.

“I did not take up the Angelus hoping to solve a specific problem or curb some specific bad habit,” Dees writes. “But through my prayer my habits did change, and the sinful temptations and tendencies in my life were made plain. Here’s why: when you recite these same holy words again and again, they sink into your psyche.”

Meet a Reader: Kim Padan {@TheCatholicPost}

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

How we know you:

I currently serve as President of the Peoria Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. You may also know me from the evangelization column “Called to Witness” found periodically in The Catholic Post. My husband Bruce and I are members of St. Paul parish in Danville.

Why I love reading:

I grew up in a home where reading was encouraged and valued. Our family was working class with very few extras. However, every month in grade school my siblings and I could order books off the Scholastic order form. There was nothing like taking home 4 or 5 brand new books…each! We all enjoyed reading then, and still do, but because I was physically unable to participate in many activities with my peers, I would just soak up a good book whenever I had the chance.

As I grew older, I remember hiding out in my room to read a Nancy Drew novel on a single Saturday, always trying to solve the mystery before the last chapter. For most of our lives my parents would give each of us a new hard cover book for Christmas, signed with the year on the inside front page. To this day, I look forward to my mom calling in October or November, asking for a book wish list.

What I’m reading now:


Currently, I am reading multiple books. This wasn’t my style before (except when required for school) but it is what I enjoy doing now. I am reading The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech by Kirsten Powers. She is a liberal journalist who articulates her views respectfully and with much-needed balance. When she called out the mainstream media for ignoring the Kermit Gosnell scandal, I became a fan of hers.

For fun, I am reading Nameless which is the second part of The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan by Erin McCole Cupp. It is a futuristic re-telling of the classic Jane Eyre. For my Lay Dominican group, I just started another von Balthasar, Heart of the World. Finally for Lent, I am reading Eucharistic Adoration: Holy Hour Meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ by Charles M. Murphy. I generally have a mix of fiction and non-fiction beside my comfy chair.

My favorite book: It is impossible to pick one favorite book, so I will mention a few. The first book that I can remember deeply impacting me was Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther. I read it in eighth or ninth grade so the details escape me, but it is the story of a teen’s battle with cancer. I just recall being moved by the courage of this young man. Reflecting on it now, I believe it is worth rereading.

For a quick Saturday read, I enjoyed Don’t You Forget About Me by Erin McCole Cupp. This book is a contemporary mystery-romance with Catholic themes woven in beautifully. I am Facebook friends with the author, a fellow Lay Dominican, and I encouraged her to get going on the sequel! For spiritual reading, I would have to list The Confessions of St. Augustine and Prayer by Hans urs von Balthasar. Both are beautiful in their entirety, but also can be appreciated in small portions for reflection.

“Hurting in the Church” a Must-Read {My March column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my March column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

“The reality of the Catholic Church today in developed countries, and certainly in the United States, is that we are a church of the hurting.”

Does that quote make you a little —or a lot —uncomfortable? It’s meant to be—-not as a provocation, but as an invitation to dialogue and healing.

The quote is from the must-read new book, Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics, by Father Thomas Berg.

 

I know I’ve said before that not every book is for every reader. Sometimes a book is intended for a specific audience, like moms, or young readers, or new Catholics.

But: every so often, a book is published that is so noteworthy and whose message is so significant that I believe nearly everyone should read it. These books are written that a wide range of readers—from professional theologians to average Catholics (like me!) — can and should read them to glean many good insights and grow in faith.

Forming Intentional Disciples  by Sherry Weddell is one. Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories by Dawn Eden is another.

Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics  is the latest of these books.

Fr. Berg is a seminary professor and diocesan priest in New York. He was originally a member of the Legionaries of Christ, but discerned out of the order after disclosures of the founder’s decades of sexual abuse and many other misdeeds. Fr. Berg writes that he felt devastated by the revelations about something to which he had devoted much of his young life. As a result, he experienced a years-long crisis of faith and vocation. Writing “Hurting in the Church” was a major part and process in his own healing.

Hurting in the Church does tell Berg’s own story, as well as the stories of others that have experienced harm within in the church, whether through clergy sexual abuse or other issues.

But it’s much more than a narrative of horrifying experiences. Instead, it offers the stories of others as a way to heal, understand, and integrate the reality of evil in the world, and even in the Church, within one’s faith.

As Father Berg writes, many Catholics are “hurting in the church,” either in small ways or giant ways, from parish issues to lack of community to clergy sexual abuse. How to reconcile those hurts with our faith life and experience of Christ is vital to wholeness and peace, and “Hurting in the Church” is devoted to that process.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1: “The Ways We Hurt” identifies the problems and hurts we can experience as members of the Church. Helpful here is Berg’s assertion that we not minimize our hurts just because others have been “hurt worse.”

Part 2, “Toward Personal Healing” outlines Fr. Berg’s own process of recognizing himself as a “wounded healer,” and also shares the stories of others who have worked to heal thoughts and memories and use those experiences and healing to serve others who have been hurt.

Finally, Part 3, “Towards Healing a Church,” proposes ways to continue to have faith in Christ & the Church, to ensure that children are protected. The final chapter, “A Revolution of Tenderness,” beautifully offers ideas for the Church in being more responsive to hurts, as well as a caution to all of us in “controlling our tongues,” especially in a digital world, and avoid being knee-jerk in our reactions to others.

One vital message from “Hurting in the Church” is that each person—without exception—is affected and changed by the things that happens to that person. But it’s how each of us handle and integrate those experiences in a psychologically & spiritual healthy and truthful way that affects our well-being and ability to live whole lives.

In the chapter “First Steps,” Fr. Berg shares how spending time with friends who were Hurricane Katrina survivors, and who told him he had been through his own “spiritual Katrina.” Those friends helped show how their acceptance, continued hope, and faith that God would help them endure and thrive.

“The wound and how I chose to deal with it would have a lasting influence on who I would become from that point on in my life.”

One of the most helpful messages was Fr. Berg’s recommends a robust and multi-faceted approach to working through trauma. He describes a combination of spiritual and emotional tools, including just plain time, that assisted in his healing. Restoration is not just about “praying it away,” or “offering it up,” though prayer and sacrifice are part of this. It’s about the entire process, and not rushing it.

It’s may seem strange to say that you love a book with such intense content and forceful message for us all. But I did love it, and I believe a book like Hurting in the Church is so needed in the Church right now. Read it if you’ve been hurt, or you’ve known someone who was hurt, or if you love the Church. That covers just about everyone.

Meet a Reader: Hannah Schinkel {@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 hail from the great state of Nebraska, but I have lived in Illinois for nearly two years. I have the great privilege of serving the students at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois as a FOCUS missionary. FOCUS is a Catholic campus ministry that invites students into a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church through group bible studies and one-on-one discipleship. I have loved my time in Champaign and wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

Why I love reading:

I’ve loved reading since I was a little girl. My dad always had a book by his bedside growing up and would always get me books for Christmas presents—it’s always been “our thing.” My grandma (my dad’s mom) passed away when I was about four years old, but every memory I have with her is sitting on her lap little corner chair in the library, and listening to her read me a story. For me, it’s a way to honor her and always keep my mind engaged!

What I’m reading now:


Thankfully I had a lot of time last semester to do my own personal reading.  Right now I’m reading: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis. 

Big Magic is all about how to live a creative life and how to practically use that creativity in everyday life. This books speaks to my artist heart and has been such a great read about a subject that plays a huge role in my life! 

I’m also reading is Pope Francis’ encyclical The Joy of  the Gospel. I have picked this book up about three or four times, but I’ve finally finished it. Being a missionary, it is always good to have a renewed zeal in the missionary effort of evangelization for the whole Church, and this encyclical provides that.

My favorite book:

One of my all time favorite books is one called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is a timeless book that can be read over and over again. I’ve been reading it almost every year since I was a sophomore in college and it always strikes a chord in my heart. It is a book in the form of a parable about a young shepherd boy who has a prophetic dream about finding treasure in Egypt. Along the way, he meets multiple people who impact his journey and his life. There are so many amazing themes in this book. Everyone who reads it will get a little nugget of knowledge and inspiration from it! 

Let the Fire Fall {My February column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my February column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

When Father Michael Scanlan, the legendary president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, died last month at 86 years old, there were an outpouring of tributes to him.

Like many Catholics, I know quite a few people who have attended Franciscan University of Steubenville, and many of them paid tribute on social media such to his personal influence in their spiritual journeys and lives. A few highly recommended reading, Let the Fire Fall, Fr. Scanlan’s autobiography.

Inspired by these friends, I read the book, which was first published in 1986, but updated in 1997 and 2016, and co-authored by Jim Manney.  I loved it.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about this holy priest and how he allowed himself to be used by God to do so much good throughout his life.

Catholic memoirs—and really, any narrative about how someone lives out their convictions— are an especially powerful way to share the faith, rather than just a description of Catholic belief and practice.

Hearing the story of how one person struggled through the ins and outs of faith over the course of a long, active life lived largely for God, is not just interesting to read, but also can be inspiring and instructive for one’s own life.

Let the Fire Fall is Fr. Scanlan’s personal history, from his early life as a child of divorce, to Harvard law graduate, to a Franciscan priest. But the book is also the story of American Catholicism in the late 20th century, and how Franciscan University at Steubenville came to have such a large influence in the American Catholic culture and the country at large. 

Fr. Scanlan was willing to obey his Franciscan leaders’ guidance to leave behind his dreams of foreign missionary work to enter the world of academic administration.  As a result, he not only becomes involved in the Catholic Charismatic renewal, but makes a critical difference in one small Catholic college that’s become a leading Catholic university.

Each relatively short chapter of the book covers a theme, with titles ranging from “Vocation” about how his realization he was being called to be a priest; to “Power in the Spirit,” in which Fr. Scanlan became involved with the Catholic Charismatic renewal and healing ministries, to the chapters, “Rebuild My Church,” and “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” detailing Fr. Scanlan’s obedience in coming to the College of Steubenville. 

That obedience, and his hard work and collaboration with others, led to its renaissance as a distinctly Catholic institution with a large influence over the decades on the life of the Catholic Church in America.

Fr. Scanlan narrates how “dynamic orthodoxy” came to be a hallmark of Franciscan University from the 1970s on, as he attracted other Franciscans, prominent theologians, and faithful Catholics to live and work in the University.  Fr. Scanlan and others worked hard to make the theology department a vibrant part of the University’s renaissance.

As he writes, “Theology at the University has become what John Henry Newman called it—the Queen of the Sciences.”

This renewal did not come without hardship, and Fr. Scanlan wrote honestly about his own struggles over the years, and his own mistake and failings.  But overall, Fr. Scanlan’s story tells of how a person willing to devote his life to the Lord and continually trying to use his gifts and talents to serve, can work wonders and do so much good for so many.  It can be an inspiration for any one of us to reflect on how we can listen to the voice of God better, as well as serve in our own corner of the world.

Let the Fire Fall also includes an afterwords with a short history of Franciscan University, both before, during, and after Fr. Scanlan’s tenure there from 1976-2011.