Category Archives: The Catholic Post

Meet a Reader: Sister Marie of the Apostolic Sisters of St. John

Soeur Marie

How You Know Me: I’m originally from Lorraine, France, but I’ve lived in Princeville, IL, for 6 months as part of the Apostolic Sisters of St. John.  The Apostolic Sister are based in Burgundy, France, but we have just opened a house here in Princeville, IL. I’ve been a sister for more than 22 years.

Why I love reading: I have always loved reading. When I was a child, I would leave a book in each room around the house. That way, whatever room I would go into, I would be sure to find a book I had started. Reading is great because it is like traveling. Reading adds flavor to life, like adding salt in a dish.

When I was a kid, I loved real stories about people in different cultures and times. I enjoyed reading the “Little House on the Prairie” books. I loved to also see how people look at life, and I’ve always enjoyed discovering how other people look at life.

What I’m Reading Now: As a community, we read at table. We take turns reading aloud from the book at meals, and it’s a very good way of nourishing ourselves all together. When we have times of recreation among the sisters, we share what speaks to us about we heard being read.


These days, we are reading The Price to Pay: A Muslim Risks All the Follow Christ by Joseph Fadelle. It’s an amazing book because it’s like a thriller. It’s the true story of a Muslim who converts to Christianity. Our sisters have a personal connection to him, because he lives in France, and his children have attended programs with the Community of St. John. Reading a story like this book rekindles one’s own faith.

My Favorite Books: I have many favorites, but two books that I always come back to for a sense of renewal and freshness.


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has been a favorite since I read this book in French, of course, but I’ve always loved it. I first listened to it as a girl on car trips with my family. And we put on a play of it when I lived with the Sisters in the Phillippines, and also in Taiwan.

I love The Little Prince because it is so incisive about the truth of relationships and friendship and how to be truly human. Also, the ideas in it are accessible even to those who do not share our Catholic faith.


My other favorite book is The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. She is simply writing the story of her soul, but everything she writes is so true. She has such a keen way of looking at her own heart and the way God is working in her life.

In every little event of her life she takes a deep meaning, and describes how any small gesture can be vitally important. Our lives can seem small, for instance here in our convent, but St. Therese has a way to look at these small things with such depth. St. Therese shows us that everything can be looked at as an encounter with God; nothing is neutral in our lives.

Here is a quote from The Story of A Soul that particularly spoke to me: “Considering the mystical body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather, I desired to see myself in them all. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understand that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that Love comprised all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places … in a word, that it was eternal. Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my Love…my vocation, at last I have found it… My Vocation is Love!”

Time for a Lent “Re-Set”

Following is my March books column that appears in the March 2 print edition of  The Catholic Post. I invite your feedback here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Lent is just about halfway over. How’s it going for you?

Usually by this time, my bold ideas of Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving have been breached on several occasions, and some are abandoned entirely.

Even if I am mostly sticking to my plans for this Lent, spiritually things can begin feeling pretty dull and lifeless. Why exactly was it a good idea to give up chocolate?

I find myself pining for St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day, two feasts when many (and I’m raising my hand here) relax their Lenten fasts. Instead of just enduring Lent until we can celebrate Easter, care to join me in a mid-Lent re-do and consider ways to actually celebrate this season?

There are plenty of classic works to turn to, whether St. Therese Story of a Soul, or my Lenten favorite, St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life.

But here are some recently-published titles that just might fit the bill for a Lent “re-set”– lively and readable works to boost your spiritual life.


*A Rhythm of Life: The Monastic Way by Brother Victor-Anoine D’Avila-Latourette.

Brother Victor is best known (to me) for his cookbooks with simple monastery fare, but this handsome book is both an introduction and a sourcebook of all things monastic. Reading one or two of these short chapters at a time about how life is lived in the monastery invites reflection about how to make our lives more prayerful and joyful.


*Lent and Easter Wisdom from St. Vincent de Paul by John E. Rybolt, CM. This is a simple Lenten daybook with quotes from St. Vincent, Scripture and reflection. I haven’t read much from St. Vincent de Paul, but the quotes are remarkable, spiritual wisdom well worth pondering. St Vincent has been such an inspiration for the Church’s lived expression of charity over the course of centuries.  This collection makes his words more accessible.”


*Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva by Eric Sammons is a simple introduction that lays out St. Josemaria’s simple spirituality of living well in everyday life. I like that the book is simply written, but still has much food for thought and challenges to everyday Catholics.

Younger readers can also benefit from spiritual reading and reflection:


*A 40-Day Spiritual Workout for Catholics by Bob Rice.  Local teens will recall he spoke at last fall’s Diocesan Youth Rally. In this book, Rice uses St. Paul’s admonition to “run the race” by inviting readers to grow in their spiritual life, using the jargon of workouts. Each selection of Workout, like all good workouts, begins with “hydration” in Scripture verses and short reflection. Eventually, other workout-themed ideas are added in, such as “stretch” (prayers of blessing and adoration), “fat-burning” (confession), and even the Catholic “cool-down. (an Our Father and Hail Mary). For the tech-savvy, the book even comes with an app.


*Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim. I am a huge fan of Colleen Swaim, a high school teacher and author who’s written this “sequel” to the wonderful Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints. Swaim provides a freshness to the stories of well-known saints like St. Bernadette, while introducing young readers to little-known saints such as the Korean martyr Saint Peter Yu Tae-Chol, and their daring lives. The book is well-designed, and full of extra features, like prayers, explanations of parts of our faith, “saintly challenges” with ways to extend the life and culture of each saint into modern life.


*Because it’s a “picture book,” Be Saints! An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI by Amy Welborn, seems like it should only be for “little kids.” But really, anyone could benefit from perusing or even meditating on this book. Each two-page spread of this book has a lovely watercolor painting by Ann Kissane Engelhart, a quote from Pope Benedict XVI on what Vatican II called “the universal call to holiness,” and a complementary quote from a saint or Scripture.

What are you reading this Lent?  

“Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media”

As I shared the other day, I’ve written a couple of articles for The Catholic Post’s last print issue.

One that didn’t make it to The Post website was a story about the terrific First Saturday gathering  covered for The Post the First Saturday gathering, “Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media” last month.

What a fun, lovely evening–I for one am so grateful to people like Marie from “Help Them to Heaven” and the First Saturday team, a group of great women, for organizing the event.  I very much enjoyed the real life time with friends, getting to meet some people I didn’t (including one that I taught when I was briefly a high school teacher!), and just having an all-around enjoyable time.

I’m going to share some photos, as well as a version of the print story.  As I mentioned yesterday, most of the photos I took with my husband’s very nice camera all came out looking like cell phone snaps, and I do promise to learn how to use it better before I use it again.  So be forewarned, but I think the smiles and the fun make up for it.

First, some photos:

Here’s Bonnie Engstrom of A Knotted Life and Lisa Schmidt of The Practicing Catholic (one of the evening’s speakers).  As you can see from the sidebar, I truly consider Lisa an honorary member of the Peoria diocese (along with Sister Helena Burns, the other speaker.  Lisa is just lovely in person.

Here is Lisa with Dianna Kennedy of The Kennedy Adventures.  She is one of a group of bloggers from other states who were hoping to make it to the Authentic Friendship talk.  It was kind of like Behold Conference “lite,” since there won’t be a Behold until 2014.  (Never fear–plans are already underway for the 2104 Behold Conference, and I’m delighted to be part of it).  Unfortunately, the weather was icy Friday night into Saturday morning, so the rest were unable to travel.
Again, Dianna is beautiful and so incredibly much fun to be with.  I’m not sure if it’s her southern accent, her spunky one-liners, or her high energy, but she was like a jolt of java to be around.
Dianna had asked before her trip if any of us local ladies were runners and wanted to run with her.  She’s training for a half-marathon, and so I and another local woman (who is also training for a half), made a plan to run Saturday morning on Grandview Drive.  The icy weather forced us to cancel, but I am definitely taking a rain/ice check on that one, since she would be a great running buddy.  The miles would fly by running with this gal.


Here are Bonnie and Marie.
I brought my teen daughter to the evening, and both of us were very excited to see Sister Helena Burns again.  I said, “Let me get a photo!” and my teen, in typical teen fashion, said, “Mom!”  So Sister Helena recommended they pose like this:
Because Moms who take photos are so embarrassing.


That’s better!  As you can see, teen is still exasperated by her mom.
Here is the dinner before the First Saturday gathering.


Dianna Kennedy and Lisa Schmidt
And Lisa Schmidt again with Marie.  Lisa is very photogenic!
There were also various other photos, including several funny ones of Lisa Schmidt and Sister Helena that inspired laughs on Facebook, but I will let Lisa Schmidt incriminate herself with those.

Finally, here is my article about the evening:

Online relationships offer the opportunity for “deep friendships” and evangelization, two new media experts told a group of Catholic women.

“Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media” was the topic of the February 2 program at St. Philomena Church in Peoria.  The talk was sponsored by the “First Saturday” program, a monthly gathering open to women of all parishes, ages and vocations.  According to Marie Meints, a member of the seven-women team from various Peoria-area parishes, First Saturday focus on fellowship and discussion for women seeking to grow in holiness in everyday life.

More than 60 women gathered for the February 2 talk, from around the central Illinois area and beyond.  About half that number gathered for a pre-talk dinner.

Sister Helena Burns, a Daughter of St. Paul, who is based in Chicago, IL, but travels the country speaking about media literacy, “Theology of the Body,” and online topics, spoke on how the Internet is a vital place for Catholics to be and to find friends.

“I was surprised by the deep friendships you can have in 140 characters,” said Sister Helena, referring to the length of Twitter status updates.

Sister Helena explained how Father James Alberione, founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, told his followers to “use the fastest and latest means” to spread the Gospel message.  In the 21st century, blogs, social media such as Facebook, and other online platforms, is the “fastest” means to reach people and foster friendships.

That doesn’t mean doing things perfectly all the time.

“You’ve got to make some mistakes online,” Sister Helena said, and shared times that she had been too hasty, or too trusting, in her online interactions with others.  Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Sister Helena argued that while in-person communication is preferred because we are “incarnational,” those we interact with online have “real souls and real bodies.”  She quoted from Benedict XVI’s message for the World Communications Day: “The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”

Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” provides a template not just for married love, but every relationship, including and perhaps especially those online, according to Sister Helena.

“We want to be known at our deepest level, and know others at deeper level,” she said. And intimacy with God promotes deeper relationships with others: “The “realer” God becomes to us, the “realer” other people become to us.”

Lisa Schmidt, from Des Moines, Iowa, who blogs at “The Practicing Catholic,” (, also spoke at the “Authentic Friendship” program.

Schmidt, who lives with her husband and two small children in Des Moines, Iowa, shared how “spiritual friendships” helped her conquer the loneliness that she felt when she left her career in city management in Iowa to stay home with her then infant daughter.

“And I don’t think I’m alone here, pun intended, in experiencing (this loneliness),” Schmidt said.  She revealed how the online world of Catholic “mommy blogs” helped her find like-minded friends and forge friendships based on “who God is calling you to be.”

Schmidt shared that “ambient intimacy,” the term used to describe the connectedness of the digital age, allows people “to keep in touch with a level of intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.”

“Little by little, our spiritual friendships have the power to become apostolic,” said Schmidt. “A spiritual friend will lead you toward Christ, you then help your friends to be reconciled or converted and to grow in the life of the Church, those friends then go forth and do more of the same. Collectively, we evangelize and sanctify the culture in which we live. Could spiritual friendships be the key to the transformation of our culture?”

At the same time online life can be good for the soul, knowing when to “unplug” and connect in real life is critical.  Sister Helena argued that there are three “sacred places and sacred times” we don’t need “screens,” whether televisions, computers or mobile devices: at church, in the bedroom, and the dinner table.

Sister Helena explained a new tradition to promote real-life intimacy called a “phone stack” used by some young people while eating out.  At the beginning of a meal, all leave their phones stacked in the middle of the table.  The first person to reach for his or her phone pays for the meal.

Scripture offers the secret of what’s so great about friendship, both online and in real life experience, Lisa Schmidt argued, quoting from Sirach 6:16.  “A faithful friend is an elixir of life.”

“What’s an elixir?  It’s a life-saving medicine,” said Schmidt.  “Wow, a spiritual friend is like a life-saving medicine?  What a beautiful gift!”

Recent News: Lent and Abby Johnson

Well, I’ve been pretty light in posting on the blog this month.  Real life has been especially busy, and I find that the beginning of Lent is a low-energy time for me.  Maybe it’s because I’m without the staff of life–chocolate?  That’s my excuse, anyway.

In any case, I have been busy writing, though, as well as doing some behind-the-scenes work on the blog.  In the last edition of The Catholic Post, I had two news articles.

I told a few friends that I was amazed at how long it took me to write these articles, when I used to write multiple articles in a day, no problem.  Of course, back then, I didn’t have a husband, children or a household to keep running.   Part of it too was that I was in the habit of doing so, and could easily crank out a lot of words easily.  Writing news stories takes a lot longer these days for me.  But I did enjoy the challenge.

Let me share first The Catholic Post link to my article on Abby Johnson’s appearance at St. Jude in Dunlap.  I saw many familiar faces there, and it was great to catch up, as well as get the chance to interview Abby before her talk and get the scoop on her new book (of course I asked) called The Walls are Talking.

Here are a few of my photos from the event:

Here is Abby giving her talk.

Here is a photo I submitted to The Post, but that didn’t make it in, of Abby signing a book for Anne Whitmore, a member of St. Jude parish and a friend of mine.  Anne and Abby were both good sports about “acting natural” for the paper.

Here is a sadly too dark–even after editing–photo of Bonnie Engstrom with Abby.


And here’s another too dark one, and blurry, photo of Bonnie and Abby.
And here’s yet another (dark) photo of the beautiful Marcia, and her beautiful daughter.
Clearly, I need to get a major tutorial from my husband on how to use his camera.  He let me borrow it that evening.  Whenever he takes photos with it, they look like from a professional photographer.    When I use it, all that I get is ….bad cell phone snaps.
Did you go to the Abby Johnson talk?  What did you think about it?

Soon, I will post about my other story for The Catholic Post this month.

Author Abby Johnson in Peoria this Week

Abby Johnson, author and speaker, will be in the Peoria area this week, and I for one am very excited to hear her speak.  She will be speaking at St. Jude Church in Peoria this Tuesday, February 5, at 7 p.m.  If you’re interested in attending, you can contact the parish for more information.

“Prayer, friendship and conversion are at the heart of a new must-read,” as I wrote in my 2011 review of Johnson’s memoir, UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line (you can read the entire review here).

This book is a great read for teens on up, perhaps especially for teens and young adults.  As I wrote in my review, Unplanned raises a lot of questions about how young people can be formed as people of life:

Young people are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set.  How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?

Johnson’s conversion happened in a moment, but UnPlanned makes clear it was the sustained effort of many people praying, fasting and acts of friendship for and to her that made that moment possible.

I did a Q&A with Abby that you can read in case you’re getting ready for her talk.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing Abby tell in person how she was “loved from one side to the other.”   I’m also intrigued to hear about the new initiative she has begun, “And Then There Were None,” to help  abortion industry workers leave the industry.  Abby recently became a LIFE Runner (like me!) so I hope to connect with her there about that.

Will you be there?  Is there an author you would like to hear speak in person?

Discipleship as Conversion and Journey

What does it mean to be “an intentional disciple”?

What does it mean to be a disciple at all?

Are you one?  How many do you know?

An excellent new book, Forming Intentional Disciples:  The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry A. Weddell, explains the term “intentional disciple,” as well as the steps to journey there, for both individuals and parishes.


With such a wide appeal and important content, Forming Intentional Disciples is one of those rare “for just about everyone” books, in my opinion.  Whether you are a pastor, a DRE, a leader in a ministry in your parish or just an average parish member like me, you will find much food for thought and prayer here.

What’s so great about Forming Intentional Disciples?

Weddell is founder (with Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P.) of The Catherine of Siena Institute “to form lay Catholics for their mission in the world.”  This book distills their work to help Catholics become more committed in their faith and communities.

As Weddell writes, “What we are called to do is to truly see and then make disciples of the anointed ones who are wandering in and out of our parishes right now.”

Forming Intentional Disciples outlines now as a time of challenge—-with only 30 percent of those raised Catholic who still practice their faith.  But as this book makes abundantly clear, there is also great opportunity for growth in faith life and discipleship among everyday Catholics.

In every chapter, there are great insights, stories and statistics that help readers to understand the problem–and to be part of the solution.  On more than one occasion while reading this book, I got chills, thinking of ways to become more of a disciple myself and encourage those around me to do the same.

As Weddell points out, what’s at stake in fostering discipleship is nothing less than
“*the eternal happiness in God (salvation) of every human being.
*the complete fruition of the Mass and the sacraments,
*the next generation of Catholic leaders, saints and apostles: priestly, religious and secular, (and)
*the fulfillment of the Church’s mission on earth.”

How does Weddell propose we do that?  Here are just a few of the many ideas in Forming Intentional Disciples:

*By a careful understanding of and respect for the five thresholds at which a person’s faith can grow or shrink, and how we can help ourselves and others cross those thresholds.

*By imitating Jesus in that we ask more questions than giving answers, to foster a deeper understanding and integration of faith into each person’s life.

*By recognizing and harnessing the importance and power of intercessory prayer to help others in their journey toward faith, especially at time of spiritual warfare.

*by creating space and community for committed parish members to grow spiritually once discipleship is awakened.

This may seem bold, but if you are reading this review, I urge you to read Forming Intentional Disciples.  If you are committed enough Catholic to read The Catholic Post and be inspired by the Holy Spirit  to read this blog post, I believe this book is meant for you to read and ponder.

"Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media" This Saturday, Feb. 3 UPDATED

Shamelessly taking from the blog post about this weekend’s gathering here:

Have you ever questioned the role of friendship in your life?

Why do women have a need for authentic friendship – to be accepted, supported, and loved?

How has social media changed our idea of friendship, perhaps making it more easy to find like-minded friends, or more difficult to deepen new friendships?

How does authentic friendship relate to our femininity?

Please join us for an exciting and pertinent talk on
Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media
given by Sister Helena Burns and Lisa Schmidt

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013
Doors open at 7:10pm
Event begins at 7:30
Saint Philomena Catholic Church
3300 N Twelve Oaks Dr
Peoria, IL
There is no cost to attend this event,
though a small donation for this special event is very appreciated
I plan to attend this Saturday, and I’ll be doing a book giveaway. I’m especially excited to get to see Sister Helena Burns and Lisa Schmidt again, as well in see in person so many women that I don’t get to see very often.   I hope to see you there, too.
I thought it would be fun to have a Twitter hashtag for the event, and I thought #authenticfriendship  while a little long, could work.  I also thought #firstSaturday could be a good one, too, though also longish. Do you have any Twitter hashtag ideas for the gathering?

UPDATED: Dianna Kennedy, of The Kennedy Adventures, suggested on Facebook the hashtag #1stSat.   Works for me!  Any others?

Q&A With Jeff Grabosky, Author of “Running With God Across America”

As I wrote in my January column for The Catholic Post, I truly enjoyed Jeff Grabosky’s memoir Running With God Across America. And since I became a LIFE Runner myself last year when I ran my second marathon in St. Louis (read about that experience here and here), we are sort of “teammates.”  So grateful to Jeff for being willing to do this Q&A.

Q. Jeff, tell me a little more about yourself, your writing and your running–what you are currently doing.

I have always been a runner and have always loved my faith. I ran my first marathon in college and also received a supplementary degree in Theology while studying at Notre Dame. After graduating and dealing with personal tragedy, I continued running marathons and 100-mile races. My run across America was a way in which God called me to use my passions to bring the message about the power of prayer to others. It was difficult to leave my family, friends, and job to undertake the journey, but I felt an unmistakable call to run for the prayers of others.

After the run was over, I worked with 3rd graders at a Catholic school in Phoenix for a year. While there, I also worked part time at a running specialty store and spent my free time writing the book. I then moved back to Northern Virginia to be near family, where I now working at my previous job as store manager of a specialty running store and also coach runners. Periodically, I give talks about the power of prayer and appear at book signings. I have been so blessed and recently got engaged to a beautiful and holy woman named Mary.

I’m also the race director for the Cross Country Relay for Life, which will correspond with the 40 Days for Life (February 13 to March 24).  We are currently filling 5K segments for the relay, and encourage pro-life groups to sign up.  Visit the LIFE Runners Relay for Life page for more information about that.

Q. I was really impressed with the quality of your writing and narrative in Running with God Across America .  Since you self-published, I am curious what kind of editing help you had.  Have you always considered yourself a good writer, or was this a unique experience to share?

Whenever I would give a talk about my run across America, the first question people always asked me was when the book was coming out. I have never been a big writer, but settled into the project and approached it with the same persistence I do with anything I go after. I must have read through it a dozen times to get it as accurate and readable as possible. I had it read over for spelling and grammar, but that was it. My goal was to tell a simple story and bring people with me on the journey. I wanted the reader to feel what I was feeling at the time and to realize the power of prayer and to hopefully develop a deeper relationship and belief in God in the process.

Q. As I wrote in my review, I found myself envious of two aspects of your run; one pretty serious and one kind of funny.

First, you had so much personal time and space for prayer, and for running, of course.  This time and space helped you have a lot of spiritual and emotional breakthroughs.  Do you miss that aspect of the run, and how have you tried to bring that spirit into your daily life now?

I found that on my journey, the further I stepped back from daily life, the more I was able to concentrate on prayer and on the Lord. Spending so much time each day lost in prayer was an incredible experience that solidified my relationship with Him, especially in the midst of great discomfort. Now that I am back in a much more normal daily routine, I find myself truly missing that time alone with God. In order to incorporate prayer more into my life, I have since started praying the rosary daily. I love searching out new prayers and devotions. I try to go to confession and adoration more often. Essentially, I came to realize just how much I need the Lord in my life and it is my desire to get as close to Him as possible.

Q. The other aspect I envied was the sheer amount of food you needed to eat to keep up your weight!  I know how good food tastes after a long run or lots of exertion, and so you descriptions of some of your more memorable meals stuck with me.  Did you enjoy that aspect either during the run or in your writing?  Do you miss that now that you are living a more normal day-to-day life?

The amount of food I ate during my journey always makes for good stories. People were always shocked at how much I consumed and how quickly I made the food disappear. For the first part of my run, I really looked forward to dinner because it seemed to be the one comfort of the day. Sitting down and eating a good meal always sounded so incredible when I was out on the road and I could not wait for that moment. What I learned was that it was just that – a moment. The moment of enjoyment from dinner was so fleeting and it only sustained me for a very short time. I learned a lesson through that experience of just how fleeting the pleasures of this world really are. It made me focus more on Christ, because He is the only one who will sustain us forever. He will never abandon us or let us down. The experience only helped to deepen my desire for Christ in my life.

Q. You are a Notre Dame grad, and you ran through campus on the run.  What kind of reaction have you had from the Notre Dame community about your run and its goals?

I’ll never forget how the weather was cold and the skies were overcast as I approached the campus of Notre Dame. Just before the Golden Dome came into view, the skies opened and the sun shone down. When I caught site of campus, the dome was glistening and my aches seemed to melt away. It was essentially a 500 mile detour to run through there, but it was well worth it. I loved seeing some of my old roommates still in the area and praying at the Grotto. It was a wonderful experience and the reaction from the Notre Dame community was fantastic. I’ve been told by the Notre Dame community that my journey embodied the Catholic identity Notre Dame was meant to have. The important messages of focusing on prayer, giving glory to the Lord, and encouraging a devotion to the Blessed Mother is something inherent to Notre Dame. I am honored that the run across America for prayer can be associated with my school and I hope it makes the community of Notre Dame proud.

Q.  You wrote at the end of Running with God that you don’t run long distances any longer.  Any plans for a long-distance run in future years? 

Since finishing my run across the country, I have very little motivation or desire to compete in long distance races. In the past year I have run a marathon for fun, paced a friend through 25 miles of an ultra marathon, put in a 100 mile week, and gone out for a 30 mile run on my own. Despite these runs, the amount I have been running has decreased significantly. However, I find my passion for the sport has not diminished, but has been redirected. Through multiple coaching programs at the store I work at, I have been able to help others train for distance races and become more fit. The satisfaction I have in hearing about others finishing races is much greater than any pride I would have from completing a race of my own. I am honored to have the opportunity to help others reach their goals and I hope it is something that I can continue to do in the future.

Q. You are a LIFE Runner, and I just joined the group in to run my second marathon as a LIFE Runner.  Tell me about how you got involved with the group and what you are doing with them now.

If the wheel on my stroller had not broken in St. Louis, then I may not have become involved with the LIFE Runners. It essentially opened up a window of time where I met Pat Castle for breakfast in Alton, IL. He got me involved with the LIFE Runners as our missions were very much aligned. I am so excited to use my passion for running to help the Pro Life cause. We have a very exciting relay planned that goes over 4,000 miles across the country. I am the race director of the relay and also of the 5K we are holding in conjunction with the March for Life in Washington, DC. The LIFE Runners do so much for the unborn and also to assist the mothers and children who choose life. I am truly honored to work with such great people and for the cause of protecting the right to life for the most innocent of us.

Q. Any plans for future books?

As of now, I do not have any specific plans for another book. However, I know God works in amazing ways and if I find myself called to something that warrants another book I will gladly oblige.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add or wish I would have asked?

I would just like to add that I am no superstar runner or extraordinary human. The only thing I did was say “yes” to the calling the Lord placed on my heart. He met me where I was at and took care of the rest. Things were not always easy, but I have realized just how beautiful a picture the Lord can paint with our lives if we allow him to use us. Ever since I placed myself in God’s will for His glory, my life has taken on a completely different direction. My life has certainly been difficult and even painful at times, but it has developed into something bigger than I could have ever dreamed of on my own. I will continue to put my trust in the Lord and follow wherever he calls me to go. I am just hoping it does not involve another run across America!

A Tale of Two Books About …. Pregnancy

When I review certain books, I have often shared them informally with others–such as medical experts or even kids–to help me discern if they are good for the intended audience, or what their gut reaction is to a certain book.

I’ve decided to formalize this by sharing conversations to provide a perspective that’s unique, and give readers a chance to understand a little more about a genre of books from the intended audience.

First in this series of conversations is with an expectant mom and her unique perspective about two different books intended for new moms: the newly-released from Sarah Reinhard, A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism and Donna-Marie Cooper-O’Boyle’s classic, Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers to Be.

Both books are a worthwhile gift for moms-to-be, but because they are so different, a Q&A about them seemed in order. I had the chance to sit down one afternoon recently with Grete Veliz.  Grete is a mom I’ve known for a long time, and admired for a grounded spiritual life, a healthy sense of community, and some of the cutest children around.

If you’re an expectant mom or looking for a gift for one, my hope is that this conversation may help you choose which one (or both!) of these worthwhile books would be best in your situation.

Q:  Grete, tell me a little more about you and your family.

Grete: Mark and I have been married for eight years.  We have four children living at home:  ages 7, 5, 3, and 19 months.  We have lost two to miscarriage and I’m pregnant and expecting a baby next March.

I’m just past the morning sickness part of pregnancy, but still tired.   I’m growing a person inside and it’s hard work!

Q:  Tell me your impressions of A Catholic Mother’s Guide to Pregnancy.

Grete:  When I first got it, I skimmed through the whole book at once to get a feel for it.  Then I started to read the week that I am in (right now, pregnancy (14 weeks).

The author starts each week with an anecdote or story from herself or a guest author.  This week I really liked, because it is a little about how it’s hard to be pregnant for some people.  You are struggling with not feeling well, with being tired.  She invites readers to ask for grace in carrying that particular cross.

I have a lot of good impressions about the book: each week is a different mystery of the rosary; there’s also a faith focus and “one small step.”  This week for me, the “small step” was to go to adoration, even for 15 minutes.  I like those practical ideas.

My only concern was that for many weeks, the chapters began with what I saw as a negative story to tell about pregnancy, either from the author  or a guest writer.  They covered things like unexpected pregnancy, eating disorders, miscarriage, depression, stillbirth, and so on.  I don’t feel you should leave those things out necessarily, but in my situation it became too negative.

I felt especially vulnerable spiritually because I am pregnant this time pretty soon after a miscarriage.  I was approaching this pregnancy with fear; I had a lot of anxiety at the beginning about losing the baby again.  What I really wanted was a book to help me pray daily and connect with our little baby.

Q.  I think I know what you mean.  After my first look at the book, I felt that if I had read it when newly pregnant with our oldest (after a miscarriage), it might not have been the best “fit” for me.  I’m pretty sure it would have intensified rather than soothed the new-parent fears that my husband and I were experiencing.  At the same time, reading it when I was pregnant with my third child would have been a truly great “companion,” like a friend commiserating with you on the good, the bad and the ugly about pregnancy and labor.

Grete:  Exactly!  I feel like A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy is more like talking to your Catholic “mom friend” who tells it like it is, and doesn’t hold back about the aches and the pains.  You can really relate to that, but it has to be the right time for those kinds of conversations.

Q.  So you took a look at Prayerfully Expecting.  What’s good about that one?

Grete:   Before I read through either book, I was really trying to figure out just what kind of book I wanted.    I wanted to deepen my trust that God would provide for this pregnancy and for the baby.  I really needed something to help me be more positive, because I was finding it hard to be positive at the beginning.

I love Prayerfully Expecting; it’s exactly what I need right now.  If A Catholic Mother’s Companion is your Catholic “mom friend,” Prayerfully Expecting is like your spiritual director.  It gives you specific guidance, by telling you to say these prayers to help you manage pregnancy, and reflect on these quotes, or this saint’s writing, based on where you are in pregnancy.

Every morning I want to read this one, and so I keep it nearby.  For instance, today I prayed the St. Anne novena prayer for this month of my pregnancy.  The author also focuses on different mysteries of the rosary; this month it is the Luminous Mysteries.  There’s no personal stories from herself or other, just a brief, what’s happening to your baby, development-wise.

This book is structured by month, not week, and each contains quotes from encyclicals, Scripture verses, or saints writings.  The author has a spot for notes and a journal throughout each chapter.  I’m not much of a journal-writer, but it’s a nice mix–a page or a page and a half for each month.

Q.  If you were a first-time mom, which would you choose?

Grete:  Honestly, I wish I could merge both books. Both have strengths and weaknesses.  For instance, Prayerfully Expecting doesn’t have anything about labor or after birth and A Catholic Mother’s Companion’s sections on labor and baptism are terrific.  The labor section offers practical advice on spiritual practices for labor.  Labor can be a lot of suffering, and Reinhard offers advice like praying the stations of the cross, using holy cards.  I found that really helpful.

She also reminds parents in the time after birth to prepare well for baptism; sometimes that can be overlooked, especially for more experienced parents.

For this pregnancy, I’m definitely drawn much more to Prayerfully Expecting, but I gleaned a lot from A Catholic Mother’s Companion. I know it would serve well other moms or even myself during a different pregnancy.

"14 Minutes": Life, Death, and Faith

Here is my column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of  The Catholic Post.  I write in my review how I liked it because I’m a runner, but this isn’t just a book for runners–it’s a book for people who like good books! 
Pop quiz:  Who created the following prayer?
Please, Mother, when I die, don’t let me be afraid.  Bring me straight to heaven to your son Jesus.
When I first read it, I thought, is that St. Therese, the Little Flower?  I’m pretty sure it’s not St. Francis, but it does sound a bit like him.  Maybe one of the obscure early child martyrs?
Wrong on all counts. It was a spontaneous prayer–repeated throughout his life– by a child who had just witnessed something terrible-rescuers unsuccessfully try to revive a drowned boy.
That child grew up to be a regular person.  Okay, maybe not so regular—he’s Alberto Salazar, one of the finest distance runners ever, three-time winner of the New York Marathon and part of America’s glory days of running in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Salazar, with help from gifted sportswriter John Brant, writes about this prayer—and a whole lot more—in 14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life
The “14 minutes” refers to how long Salazar was without a heartbeat after experiencing a massive heart attack in 2007.  14 Minutes chronicles that (and another) near-death experience, as well as his youth growing up as a Cuban-American immigrant, his dramatic running career, and current life as coach of the Nike Oregon Project, a training program for top distance runners.

14 Minutes isn’t by any stretch a “Catholic” book, and it isn’t an “America’s running glory days” book either, thought it has a lot about both.   Salazar is especially wary of being held up as a Catholic role model, but wants to share honestly his life experience and how much faith has been a part of his journey.

Mid-book, he writes, “I am not trying to portray myself as a religious expert here, any more than I tried to make a political point when describing my father’s relationship with Castro; I’m simply relating my own experiences and interpretations.”

Instead, 14 Minutes is the memoir of someone who has lived through much, including: the excesses inherent in becoming a world-class athlete; the heartbreak of injuries and illness that cut his career short; family dysfunction and healing; depression and mental health issues; and a reflective Catholic faith.

Salazar sees the hand of God in every part of his life, but writes, “You have to look hard and long for it and accept that most of the time the touch will remain ineffable.”

14 Minutes reveals a spiritually and emotionally mature Salazar, who looks back on his achievements and his mistakes with equal measure of humility and compassion.

My disclaimer here is that I am a runner, but that isn’t why I liked 14 Minutes so much.    Even though I’ve finished a marathon, all I wanted to do was finish, unlike Salazar, who confides to a close friend in college that he plans to set a world record in the marathon (and then does just that).   It’s clear from the earliest chapters that Salazar is in a different category than the rest of us, when it comes to running.

So while there aren’t training tips to be gleaned from 14 Minutes, readers will learn much about persistence, maturity and faith, all wrapped up in a great sports story.

As I’ve said many times before, I’m decidedly not a fan of the current trend of irreverent semi-fictional memoirs, often written by people far too young to be reflecting on their life “so far.”

But as Sir Walter Scott wrote, “There is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but is a heroic poem of its sort, rhymed or unrhymed.”  A well-told memoir like 14 Minutes is a testimony to the heroic in one man’s life, and offers each reader a chance to reflect on the heroic is every person.