Category Archives: Saints

Meet a Reader: Father Geoff Horton {@TheCatholicPost}

How you know me:

I’m currently parochial vicar at Holy Trinity, Bloomington; Historic St. Patrick, Bloomington; and St. Patrick, Wapella, along with being part of the chaplain team at Bloomington Central Catholic High School. You may have seen me in Lincoln, or Peoria, or Mendota and Peterstown, or Hoopeston and Schlarman Academy, or any number of other places where I’ve made a guest appearance. Or you might even know me from the almost 15 years I spent in Bloomington before entering seminary (I was ordained a priest in 2008).

Why I love reading:

I was sick a lot as a child, so my parents, who also love reading, gave me stacks of books to read. I’ve stopped being sick regularly, but I never stopped reading.

What I’m reading now:

Thomas Aquinas: Scholar, Poet, Mystic, Saint, by A.G. Sertillanges, O.P. St. Thomas is my confirmation patron, adopted when I came into the Church in 2001. I think I was first intrigued by him when I saw a sample of his handwriting, which is worse than mine. I’ve read many works by and about St. Thomas, and each one I read gives me a deeper insight into the life and thought of my patron.

My Favorite Book:

Searching for and Maintaining Peace, by Fr. Jacques Philippe. This is my go-to book whenever stress starts to get the better of me. It’s short, readable, and enormously helpful. I have given away probably dozens of copies of the years.

On the lighter side, I reread Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog every few years. It’s a time-travel screwball comedy of Victorian manners, and that description barely scratches the surface.

Every Soul a Story {My September column @TheCatholicPost}

In younger days, I felt guilty that I didn’t love all the saints equally. Far from it; I found myself attracted to some saints, holy people, and Catholic thinkers, and almost repelled by others. Not to mention the ones I’m indifferent to!

In theory, I knew that God doesn’t make us all the same, and this diversity is good. St. Thomas Aquinas is not St. Therese is not St. Gianna Molla is not St. Charles Lwanga. But in reality, I was regretful, mostly that I had strong reactions against some, almost as if I were against holiness.

For instance, I don’t like Flannery O’Connor’s writing. At all. I’ve joked with friends that I should turn in my “Thoughtful Catholic” card for even admitting such a thing. But there you have it.

Dorothy Day is another holy person—she’s currently designated as “Servant of God,” a step towards canonization—on my “tried to love” list. Day is the 20th century political activist, then Catholic convert, who, with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker community, to serve the poor and the marginalized. So when I heard there was a new biography of her by one of her granddaughters, I wanted to give her life and spirituality another try.

Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother by Kate Hennessy is beautifully and mournfully written—part memoir, part history, and part spiritual biography. Hennessy is the youngest of the nine children of Tamar, Dorothy Day’s only child. One of the things that makes her book so fascinating is her perspective of growing up and living throughout her life, in and out of the Catholic Worker community.

Forgive the 19th century idiom, but reading The World Will Be Saved by Beauty left me low in spirits. That’s not just because of my “dis-affinity” for Day. Actually, I have much more admiration for and love of Dorothy Day’s holiness now. Nevertheless, in many ways it’s a very sad book.

I was inspired by Dorothy Day’s strong personal prayer life that gave her strength and meaning for her work, as well as her extraordinary devotion to living out voluntary poverty. I also have enormous sympathy for her, her extended family, and friends and how they tried to live out the Gospel.

There is a candor in their interactions with one another, especially in the difficulties of community life. Hennessy writes about Stanley, a close friend and fellow worker of Dorothy, at the time she was often being profiled by news outlets as a “living saint.” He would say, half-jokingly, “There are the saints and there are the martyrs. The martyrs are the ones who live with the saints.”

But I was heartbroken to learn (spoiler alert) that virtually all of her close relatives practice no faith at all, much less the radical, prayerful, open hands Catholicism Dorothy Day embodied. I truly struggled with so much sadness for her and for those souls, since her Catholic faith was so central to her. And I also take hope in the knowledge that one’s spiritual journey is not static, and perhaps some or all of her still-living relatives will embrace the faith that meant so much to her.

That’s why reading another book at the same time gave me so much hope about the possibility of conversion for anyone, full stop: Surprised by Life: 10 Converts Explain How Catholic Teachings on Life Led Them to the Church, edited by apologist and longtime writer Patrick Madrid.

The title may seem self-explanatory, and it is, but the narratives themselves make that title an understatement: they are awe-inspiring and grace-filled.

Patrick Madrid has put together several projects like this, including the popular “Surprised by …” book series, three volumes with convert and revert stories. There’s something about these small, first-person slices of life that are edifying, but not in a cloying or superficial way. Each person shares his or her own personal story, offering a dramatic view of how grace influenced their journey to, or back to, God and His Church.

What’s different about Surprised by Life is that each of the 10 stories in some way relates to the Church’s teaching on life issues. So, for instance, in “ Aunt Amy Saves My Baby,” writer and blogger Heather Scheider writes about how the unconditional love and support of her aunt helped her choose life rather than abortion for her unborn baby, and how that love and support helped her mature and heal from her upbringing and bad choices. And in “Little Miracles Leading from Death to Life,” Doreen Campbell shares her family’s grief journey after losing their teenage daughter in a tragic accident and the sacredness of life at its end.

The titles of some of the chapters can seem almost sensational, such as “Call Girl to Catholic,” the story of a woman who works as a sex worker until the unconditional love of friends and the Church’s clear teaching on family leads to her conversion; or “From One Holocaust to Another,” the story of a lawyer, the son of a Holocaust survivor, who participates in multiple abortions of girlfriends before his conversion to Catholicism. But in reality, these narratives, and how the Holy Spirit worked and continues to work in the lives of these people, are astonishing and amazing. Readers who might despair over loved ones who have left the faith can be comforted to read the stories and know that God reaches people in strange and wonderful ways.

Not all readers will find each story compelling or “attractive,” but that’s the value of having a range of narratives. Like Dorothy Day’s unexpected conversion to Catholicism after atheism, each of the people profiled in Surprised by Life offer unique ways to see one’s faith journey.


You might also be interested in: 

*Even though I’m still not an enthusiast of the spirituality of Dorothy Day, I am glad I read The World Will Be Saved by Beauty. The phrase comes from Dostoevsky, but it’s been often quoted by recent popes, from St. John Paul II in his “Letter to Artists,” to Pope Francis in his first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei.” After reading it, and the context of the quotes from the popes, I realize that the “beauty” is the varied ways in which love is expressed.

*Are you active on Instagram? I am, and I’ve become slightly obsessed with the “Stories” or “InstaStories” These are Snapchat-like short videos combined that expire after 24 hours.  I’ve enjoyed following some accounts related to cooking, homemaking, health, travel, and of course, our Catholic faith. There is something fun and relaxing about seeing small and often beautiful slices of life from others.

One of my recent favorites is Heather Scheider, whose Instagram account, *honeychildforest is honest, crafty, and encouraging. Her Stories, in particular, are often just laugh-out-loud hilarious.

That is where I first found out about the book Surprised by Life. Scheider had posted a photo of a group of the books when she received her author copies, and so I immediately ordered it so I could read it.

 

Meet a Reader:  Susanna Prushinski {@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 married to Leo and we have four daughters, Genevieve, Suzann, Rebecca and Julia. We belong to St. Louis Parish in Princeton.  I teach first and second year Confirmation classes, I am part of the teaching team for Marriage Preparation Classes, and I am a notary/auditor for marriage cases for Office of the Tribunal. 

Why I Love Reading: 

I love to read in order to deepen my understanding, to ponder, to discover insights, and to be inspired in living more fully in Christ.  In my younger days, I loved to read biographies and mysteries, and I still do, it is just that now they are biographies and stories of saints and the mysteries of Christ and His Church.

What I am Reading Now: 

I just finished a “trilogy’ on St. Mother Teresa. 

First is “Come, Be My Light” by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., which offers great insights into her spiritual life and depth of her fidelity and trust in God.  Second is “Mother Teresa of Calcutta” by Leo Maasburg, beautiful stories of what her life looked like from the external – what people encountered when they came into her presence. Third is Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire by Joseph Langford, shows how she was transformed by God.

I am also finishing Who Am I to Judge? Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love by Edward Sri and beginning The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by Cardinal Robert Sarah.

My Favorite Book: 

I have many favorites, but I will keep it to three. I’ve drawn such great insights and inspiration from them that they gave me a new perspective.  The first is Uniformity with God’s Will, which is actually more like a treatise and is taken from a larger work of St. Alphonsus de Liguori. The second and third are authored by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), God is Near Us; The Eucharist, The Heart of Life and The Spirit of the Liturgy Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is my favorite author!

God’s Work, No Matter the Circumstances {My July Column @TheCatholicPost}

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

I ran into a friend at Aldi the other day, and so I asked about her husband’s struggle with cancer. She outlined his progress, and also shared that their family has agreed, yet again, to be foster parents, this time to a sibling pair. When I expressed my admiration, her reply was, “We believe it is God’s work.” Did I mention her husband has cancer? I told her, “The way you live your whole life is God’s work.”

Seeing fellow Christians living in such a radically open and generous way is very humbling for an average believer like me. And yet when I want to feel discouraged about my lack of heroic actions, I recall that for all of us, our whole life is God’s work, even in the “small things” we do.

That is why it was ennobling to read a book about ordinary Christians doing extraordinary things in The Priest Barracks: Dachau, 1938-1945 by Guillaume Zeller, translated from the French by Michael J. Miller. It makes reader ponder, as one should every day, “How can I make my life more God’s work?”

The Priest Barracks tells the little-known story of the thousands of Catholic priests, seminarians, and non-Catholic clergy who lived and often died in the brutal conditions of the prototype among concentration camps, Dachau, in southeastern Germany. At first it was only German priests who were detained. Eventually, a variety of clergy, from members of the Resistance to priests who made modest statements in their sermons, from countries throughout Europe, were largely centralized into three large barracks at Dachau.

The gripping account of the lives of priests in the KZ (the German initials for concentration camp), living the Catholic faith, ministering to fellow prisoners, and maintaining humanity, is woven throughout this well-researched and fact-filled book.

Obviously, the conditions were horrific. And yet, the men endured, amid successes and failures—it wasn’t all perfect, but the priests, including at least two bishops, formed a kind of community that transcended nationality, religious order, Christian denomination, and spiritual temperament.

The Priest Barracks is divided into three sections of six to seven chapters each. First is “A Camp for Priests,” which outlines how the Dachau concentration camp was founded, and then later how it came to be a repository for clergy from all over Europe. Second is “O Land of Distress,” which details many of the horrific conditions, including hunger, death, typhus, and medical experiments. Third is “A Spiritual Home,” which outlines how sacramental life was lived, how the Eucharist existed even in the camp, and relates the improbable and nearly miraculous ordination of a dying seminarian in one of the barracks.

Each chapter begins with a Scripture verse related to its theme. So, for instance, in the chapter, “Anti-Christian Hatred,” is Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Most moving was the account in the “Sacramental Life” chapter on the secret ordination of Father Karl Leisner, a seminarian who, dying from tuberculosis, was ordained through the sacrifices and tactics of the clergy and their fellow prisoners, from the clergy who fashioned his vestments and the bishop’s mitre with cast-off fabric, to the Jewish musicians who played violins outside the barrack to distract the German soldiers from the ceremony. Bishop Gabriel Piguet, a resident of the camp, performed the ordination; as he wrote later, “Truly, in a place where the priesthood has been utterly humiliated and where it was supposed to be exterminated, divine revenge has been striking: one more priest had been born to the priesthood of Christ.”

Probably the finest chapter is “The Fruits of Dachau,” as Zeller outlines the lasting legacy of the priests’ time in Dachau: the importance of unity among the clergy, despite their various orders, nationalities, and practices; the presence of a healthy ecumenism among religions in the camp; how the apostolate of service was lived out; and how the clergy promoted the fundamental dignity of the human person, despite the conditions.

I was inspired to read The Priest Barracks after re-reading earlier this summer the classic He Leadeth Me, Fr. Walter Ciszek’s spiritual autobiography, including his harrowing years as a political prisoner in World War II-era and post-war Russia.


His successes and failures of faith, of perseverance, make the word “inspiring” an understatement. He Leadeth Me is for anyone who seeks to live a Christian life, but who feels unprepared for the task. Fr. Ciszek’s story shows us that “keeping on” and never giving up, is the important quality of the Christian life, all through the lens of the persecution he experienced.

In a similar way, The Priest Barracks offers inspiration for the average Christian, not because of the heroic feats of the clergy imprisoned there—and there were many— but in how normal they were, and yet how much good they could do, bit by bit, day by day.

It may be essentially zero chance that any of us will have to endure the conditions these brave clergy did, or have the opportunity to be heroic in the way they did. And yet, we, all of us, need to go “God’s work” with our lives, day by day. Learning how these ordinary Christians lived their faith can enkindle in us a desire to do the good we can every day.

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.

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.

A Commonplace Book {Talk to St. Jude Moms Group}

As promised, following are the notes of books & resources I mentioned during my talk today to the St. Jude Moms Group.

Father Solanus Casey, “Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.” and “Thank God ahead of time.”

Father Solanus Casey Guild 

St. John Bosco

Philippians 2:15-16 (read entire passage)

Mini-Weapons of Mass Destruction 

Night Prayer (and the entire Liturgy of the Hours, daily plus Mass Readings)

from Universalis.com

Ephesians 4:26

1 Peter 5

Humana Vitae

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk 

The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Catherine Steiner-Adair 

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr 

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Kids (highly recommended)

John Milton’s Commonplace book

John Locke’s “A New Method of Making Commonplace Books”

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen 

The How of Happiness

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin 

Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery 

(but if you haven’t read the rest of the series, consider starting with a $0.99 Kindle version of the whole series, starting with Anne of Green Gables . 

The Mistmantle Series by M.I. Mcallister 

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (highly recommended):

Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace 

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Rumer Godden:

The Kitchen Madonna 

The Story of Holly & Ivy 

In This House of Brede

Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell

an incomplete list of “Catholic memoirs” from a talk I gave last summer 

The New York Times Crossword app

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain) by Lloyd Alexander 

Meet a Reader: Sister M. Benedicta Bourke, FSGM {@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 a Sister of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, I teach science at Alleman High School in Rock Island, and I help with Youth Ministry at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.  I am Canadian—raised in the prairies near the Rocky Mountains of Alberta— and I love the outdoors.

Why I love reading:

To be honest, I am a “convert” to reading.  I did not find a good book until I was 25, did not like reading until I was 37, and did not start really reading until recently.  I have struggled with reading, going over the same paragraph several times before I get it. Now, the books I read the past few years have had a great influence on me and my spiritual life.  A book can speak a prayer, or capture what I want to say but cannot find the words, or they can teach me exactly what I need to do to overcome a challenge.

What I’m reading now:

I am finishing The Way of Humility by Pope Francis, which is very convicting. 
I have two books that I continue to read. The first is one of my passions: Praying for Priests by Kathleen Beckman – this has wonderful meditations to pray the rosary for priests and explains spiritual motherhood. 

The second is O Jesus, Prayers from the Diaries of Catherine De Hueck Doherty – she writes with openness and power that is like my heart song, a book that you can read one paragraph and be inspired.  “Bible Roulette” (to pray to the Holy Spirit, open a book randomly and read a quote) is how I share Scripture and spiritual books with my students and co-sisters.  Often the result is quite timely and speaks to the soul.

My favorite book:

I would choose the two above, but I am also particularly drawn to the writings of Father Jacques Philippe and Father Michael Gaitley.  These were introduced to me through a “book share”.  One Lent, a friend and I chose to read a book in 40 days.  We would meet each week, discussing the treasures we found; this inspired me to grow in holiness and kept me accountable.  We read several books by this method, resulting in my desire to read more.  Reading has definitely impacted my relationship with Christ.

Gift Fiction Ideas for Christmas & Beyond

If you’re looking for ideas for a book gift for kids or adults, there are a lot of newer releases, as well as some old standbys, that could fit the bill. Here’s a round-up:

Treachery and Truth: A Story of Sinners, Servants, and Saints by Katy Huth Jones is a fictionalized account of “Good King Wenceslas,” the martyr Vaclav I, as told by his servant Poidevin. It would be great for middle-grade students on up, and is exciting as well as informative about the 10th century in Eastern Europe and Christianity’s spread there.

For even younger readers, The Wolf & the Shield: An Adventure with Saint Patrick by Sherry Weaver Smith and illustrated by Nicholas McNally, follows 11-year-old Kieran as he struggles between wanting the power of a clan leader, and learning about the goodness of St. Patrick and his faith. “What does your heart hunt for?” Patrick asks him, and his adventures in this book helps him discern the right path.

For fans of historical fiction, Ignatius Press has two newer releases that are satisfying for fans of historical fiction:

The Time Before You Die: A Novel of the Reformation by Lucy Becket, tells fictionalized stories about real-life people in 16th century England, a period when choices about living one’s faith were not just difficult, but life-altering.


General Escobar’s War: A Novel of the Spanish Civil War by Jose Luis Olaizola, and newly translated into English by Richard Goodyear, is a fascinating account of the real-life Antonio Escobar, a devout Catholic and faithful general who upheld his oath to support the legal government. His imagined “diary” as he awaits trial and execution from the new government is well-drawn depiction of life in that time and why people choose from among impossible options in wartime.

For Kindle readers, a formerly “local” writer, Angie Sue Dobbs, has published her first novel.
Perfect Timing: A Catholic Romance is the story of two young professionals wanting to find an honorable soul mate, and how they connect is by turns funny, sweet, and fairly realistic. The Catholic perspective of the characters, their friends and family members, is refreshing and natural.

Finally, here’s are a bonus of two family friendly read-aloud during the days leading up to Christmas:

Paraclete Press has a lovely new edition of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Yes, we’ll be watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol” like many families, but nothing compares to reading the original. This handsomely formatted edition includes illustrations from the original 1843 edition. Try not to choke up as you read the last chapter.


Rumer Godden’s The Story of Holly & Ivy, her classic tale that I often recommend to people as a Christmastime read-aloud.

All of Rumer Godden’s books are tinged with a kind of melancholy joy, as well as a sense of wonder and magic of the everyday. That is what makes them so worthwhile to read. “The Story of Holly & Ivy” follows orphan girl Ivy as she tries to find “her grandmother” and develops a special relationship with Holly, a Christmas doll. In the hands of a different writer, it could be syrupy sweet, but Godden is a master of combining sadness with humor and eccentric characters in delightful and gripping stories.

Do you have any ideas of fiction gift books? What are the favorite perennial Christmas books at your house?