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Willing to be ‘blessed by less’?

August 17, 2015

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BlessedByLessAre you ready to clear your life of clutter by living lightly?

Those willing to try the suggestions Susan V. Vogt offers in “Blessed by Less” — an easy-to-read, 122-page paperback — will find they are right in sync with the recent encyclical of Pope Francis that encourages better stewardship of the earth’s resources and valuing all creation.

Vogt hits a nerve right from the start: “Your life is an overflowing closet. You know it is.”

Living lightly, she writes, “is not just about the stuff we accumulate, and it’s not just for people in the second half of life. It’s about an attitude of living with fewer burdens and encumbrances, whether you’re 21 or 65.”

There is a spirituality to that attitude, one held by those who remember that their existence is more than accumulating possessions and gaining status, and those spiritual principles drive this Loyola Press book. As Vogt puts it, “It’s a delicate dance to balance my own genuine needs with those of others. The spiritual paradox is that the less tightly I cling to my stuff, my way, and my concerns, the happier and more blessed I feel. Once I have enough, less is more.”

How many of us are aware of what Vogt labels “creature comfort creep”?

It’s feeling perfectly comfortable with a possession like a cell phone until we see people around us who have a newer phone with even greater capabilities. We
“have to” buy it, thus creating a “new normal,” one that will itself one day be outpaced by a yet newer model. The creature comfort creep goes for seeing others with a lifestyle we might covet, too.

As good as are the suggestions for how to go about decluttering and living lightly, there is great advice here too about the intangibles in our lives, such as privacy, social media, feelings, over-scheduling and over-committing, being consumed with being right, winning arguments and getting one’s way.

The chapter on letting go of emotional baggage is as valuable as Vogt’s criteria for making purchases. She does an excellent job of condensing good things to remember into lists and bullet points, and each chapter has suggestions both basic and more complex, plus an appropriate Scripture passage to mediate on and questions to reflect upon or discuss.

And, in a approach I hadn’t seen before, “Blessed by Less” includes ideas to try “For those in the first half of life” who may be more in the accumulating mode and “For those in the second half of life,” more likely to be looking to disburse some of those accumulations, both the material and the emotional. That’s good thinking.

Deep in a chapter on recycling the author drops what may be the one take-away from the book that could be a mantra for everyone in the 21st century:

“The best way to recycle is to reduce the need for it (recycling) by buying and accumulating less in the first place.”

 

 

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Best books in the Catholic Press, 2014

July 14, 2015

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Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 2.04.06 PMIf you’re looking for worthwhile reading in several religious genre — faith formation, spirituality, theology, liturgy, teens and young readers, Catholic novels and many more — those who judge the annual book awards of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada have chosen these as the best of their class in the books published in 2014.

The judges’ comments make the list particularly valuable for those of us who have to be selective in our reading choices. Here goes:

B01: POPULAR PRESENTATION OF THE CATHOLIC FAITH

First Place

The Jesuit Post by Patrick Gilger, SJ, Orbis Books

Lively, witty, entertaining–modern, “with it” and of-the-moment writing likely to appeal to a contemporary audience geared to new ways of communicating. James Martin’s introduction is a plus to these compelling personal essays on faith and religious practices.

Second Place

Walking God’s Earth by David Cloutier, Liturgical Press

Important and impressive in its treatment of the Christian obligation to care for God’s creation yet written in a lyrical and literary style likely to appeal to a wide audience, including academics and professionals. The opening invitation to “take a walk” is irresistible.

Third Place

Sexuality and Morality: Answers for Modern Catholics by Charles E. Bouchard, OP, Liguori Publications

A useful, handy and modern consideration of sexual morality and sacramental marriage written with candor and understanding of contemporary concerns and realities.

Honorable Mention

Being on Fire by Richard G. Malloy, SJ, Orbis Books

Subtitled “The Top Ten Essentials of Catholic Faith,” this book commends itself for its light, personal style, leaning on stories about people and events to make its points.

Honorable Mention

This is Our Faith by Thomas P. Rausch, SJ, Paulist Press

A thorough, well-organized and reliable presentation written in a scholarly style without being pedantic.

B02a: SPIRITUALITY: Soft Cover

First Place

Good Saint John XXIII by Bro. Mickey McGrath, OSFS, Clear Faith Publishing

The book is artistically creative. A wide audience of readers – people of all ages and of various stages of interest in books about spirituality will find it appealing on many levels. Its content features quotes from Pope John XX111 and Pope Francis that radiate a contagious joy. It isn’t often that one can pick up a book on spirituality and find that each quote on each page engenders enthusiasm and encouragement for pursuing the spiritual life. Persons who pick up the book for the first time will find themselves picking it up again and again.

Second Place

The Beggar’s Banquet: A Personal Retreat on Christ, His Mother, the Spiritual Life, and the Saints by Regis Martin, Emmaus Road Publishing

How rare to find a book that’s — all at once — poetic, theologically rich, entertaining, and accessible. Martin draws from voices as diverse as Eliot, Pascal, Dickens, Balthasar, Barth (and countless canonized saints) to make his points. But he’s always telling stories, and always relating his reading to his own struggles, and so the book never feels academic. His humor is a singularity in the Catholic world and should probably be protected by UNESCO. He uses it to good effect and for the best purposes. For that especially this judge is deeply grateful.

Third Place

Signs: Seven Words of Hope by Jean Vanier, Paulist Press

Jean Vanier is an author every Christian should come to know. He founded the L’Arche communities and recently received the prestigious Templeton Prize. This book can serve as an excellent introduction to his particular spirit. He offers a profound and practical vision for reforming society — reforming community — through love expressed in simple deeds. He worries that Catholics are losing their steam, their zeal and enthusiasm, and he offers these brief meditations as a way to help us regain our vitality and effectiveness. The book will certainly succeed with those who read it. The world will be better for that.

Honorable Mention

The Song That I Am by Élisabeth-Paule Labat, Liturgical Press

Unusual, beautiful, intelligent.

Honorable Mention

A Book of Uncommon Prayer by Brian Doyle, Ave Maria Press

Brian Doyle writes prayers with a directness and in a manner unadorned with traditional piety. He speaks out of the circumstances of his life and his prayers reflect the raw emotions that arise from these circumstances. Doyle is a gifted writer who has the ability to engage the reader in the story of his life that is revealed in his prayers. The honesty with which he prays has the effect of enticing the reader to consider praying out of one’s own experiences – realizing that the most authentic prayers are drawn from the cloth of ordinary life.

B02b: SPIRITUALITY: Hard Cover

First Place

Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, Image, Penguin Random House

In his newest book, Ronald Rolheiser continues from where his contemporary classic The Holy Longing left off – how to go beyond the essential basics and seek a more mature Christian discipleship. In this second phase of discipleship – “the struggle to give our lives away” – Rolheiser uses invitations from the Gospels to guide us in our search, discusses the role of blessings in mature discipleship, and presents ten commandments for mature living. This book is a must for anyone who desires a deeper understanding of discipleship and spiritual awareness.

Second Place

The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis, Loyola Press

Excerpts from homilies, addresses and papers are beautifully organized and presented in this first Vatican-authorized book detailing Pope Francis’ vision for the Catholic Church. A must read for not only Catholics but anyone who wants to understand Pope Francis’ message of mercy and hope.

Third Place

Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, HarperOne

Another winner from the gifted spiritual writer James Martin. This time join him in a journey through the Gospels on Martin’s pilgrimage through the Holy Land. Insightful, touching, funny. When you are done, you will know Jesus in a deeper, more personal way.

Honorable Mention

The Way of Serenity: Finding Peace and Happiness in the Serenity Prayer by Jonathan Morris, HarperOne

A welcome new look at a popular and powerful prayer. Father Jonathan Morris explores each line of the Serenity Prayer in depth, helping his readers gain a new spiritual understanding and deeper discernment through personal stories, biblical passages and historical anecdotes.

B03: THEOLOGY

First Place

Mary’s Bodily Assumption by Matthew Levering, University of Notre Dame Press

In taking up Catholic teaching on the Assumption, Levering engages in a theological development that touches on Scripture, magisterial teaching, critical scholarship and objections in a manner that speaks to theological process and faith development. The mind is enlightened and the heart inspired in this work that provides a solid basis for understanding the Church’s dogmatic teaching that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

Second Place

Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Cardinal Walter Kasper, Paulist Press

With his typical clarity and impressive ability to synthesize a broad range of material (biblical, historical, theological, and ethical), Cardinal Kasper provides a compelling vision of God’s mercy in Christian life. Given the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, the book is also timely.

Third Place

Catholic Moral Theology and Social Ethics by Maria Christina A. Astorga, Orbis Books

Combining a remarkable array of methods and trends since the Second Vatican Council, along with an emphasis on Ignatian discernment, this volume lays out a rich account of moral theology and social ethics that is especially attuned to the complex issues of globalization.

Honorable Mention

Discovering the Human Person: In Conversation with John Paul II by Stanis?aw Grygiel, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

No one in this present age of the Church has not been touched at some level by the life, teaching and witness of St. Pope John Paul II. Grygiel opens the window into the person of Karol Wojtyla – a man “who lived day in and day out a profound Christian personalism” which formed the foundation for his vision of the human person and the life of faith. We are given a glimpse into this extraordinary conversation and friendship that reveals John Paul II’s conviction that it is the communion of persons that embraces human freedom and where the truth is revealed.

B04a: SCRIPTURE: Popular Studies

First Place

Sunday Homilies, Saint Vincent Archabbey, Cycle B by Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B., and Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B., Saint Vincent Archabbey Publications

In this book, two fine scholars write simple, practical homily reflections for every Sunday of the Liturgical year. Each homily reflection provides a concise, insightful summary of the Gospel, obviously the fruit of years of study and contemplation of the passage! Each reflection also includes a wise life application that truly enables the Sunday Gospel to be lived in the ordinary moments of life that occur every day of the week. The insights in to the human heart provided in the “Life Implication” section of each chapter are profound. There are no excess words, which provides an excellent example for homilists.

Second Place

Sick, And You Cared For Me by Rob Bell, James Martin, SJ, Jan Richardson, Richard Rohr, OFM, et al, Clear Faith Publishing

The quality of writing, particularly of story telling is superb. Several of the most talented homilies of our time are featured in this compilation. It inspires those who may be looking for new material for effective preaching as well as the casual reader. Although the chapters are designed to be read for each Sunday of the Liturgical calendar, I could not put it down and read the entire year in an afternoon. Additionally the proceeds of this book, in the spirit of our Pope Francis, will go to benefit the homeless.

Third Place

Welcome to the Feast by Clifford Yeary, Liturgical Press

Synthesizing biblical and eucharistic theology in readable language is a gift the the Church. The charts are brilliant. At times the language is a bit too technical for the popular reader.

Honorable Mention

Faith in the Face of Empire by Mitri Raheb, Orbis Books

Honorable Mention

Living the Word in Lent 2014 by Alan J. Hommerding, World Library Publications

B04b: SCRIPTURE: Academic Studies

First Place

True and Holy by Leo Lefebure, Orbis Books

This book makes an invaluable contribution to the field of interreligious relationships by proposing a generous and hospitable way of interpreting the Bible rather than a way of hostility and contention. Lefebure ably constructs a bridge to mutual respect and understanding that will encourage open, positive interreligious dialogue.

Marked by in-depth scholarship, this timely book will reward the reader with a deepened understanding of the history of Christian relations with other major religions. It underscores the connection between biblical interpretation and the interplay with differing faiths and their holy books.

In the ongoing drama involving contentious interreligious relations, this book will play an important role in mitigating long-held hostile biblical interpretations and fostering hospitable ones. This is truly a book whose time has come!

Second Place

The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion: Meaning and Mission by Sean Freyne, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

This book offers readers the opportunity to take a trip into the time of Jesus that will vastly expand their knowledge and understanding of the living, dynamic environment of the world in which Jesus lived. Freyne shows how a knowledge of this ancient world brings a deepened understanding of the Gospel stories. His narrative is enriched by the skillful interweaving of the most recent archeological and literary research with the matrix in which Jesus lived. The reader is greatly helped to follow the narrative by referring to the Tables of significant dates and events that are strategically placed in the text.  

This book combines the awesome scholarship of the author with his remarkable ability to express his work in an interesting and fascinating manner. Anyone who is fortunate enough to read this book will be rewarded with a newly-found appreciation of the life and times of Jesus.

Third Place

Biblical Essays in Honor of Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, and Richard J. Clifford, SJ: Opportunity for No Little Instruction by Edited by Christopher G. Frechette, Christopher R. Matthews, and Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, Paulist Press

This book is a fitting tribute to Richard J. Clifford, SJ and Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, two eminent biblical scholars, renowned for their skillful pedagogical ability. Distinguished contemporary scholars have collaborated to produce this volume of essays that reflect the broad interests of both honorees. It is seldom that one has the opportunity to read scholarly discussions on a wide range of relevant biblical topics written by eighteen of the foremost biblical scholars of today.

For those who are interested in biblical scholarship related to a variety of topics, this book contains “something for everyone.” Without doubt it can be recommended as a biblical literary feast!

Honorable Mention

Letter & Spirit, Vol. 9: Christ and the Unity of Scripture by St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, Emmaus Road Publishing

This compilation of essays makes the case that salvation history is unified by the fact that Christ is present from the stories of the Old Testament through the stories of the New Testament. A scholarly work of great importance!

Honorable Mention

Saint Paul: Master of the Spiritual Life “in Christ” by Elliott C. Maloney, Liturgical Press

This book reveals Paul, his life and his teaching in a way that is bound to deeply affect the reader. Through the scholarly work of Maloney, readers will come to understand Paul and his writings in a way that will profoundly enrich their spiritual lives “in Christ.”

B05: LITURGY

First Place

Local Worship, Global Church by Mark R. Francis, Liturgical Press

One of the ongoing liturgical issues in the Catholic Church today is the influence and relationship of culture and liturgy. Using a historical approach to explore this issue Mark Francis provides a thorough and well researched treatment of the influences of popular piety on Catholic liturgy. Through his knowledge and insights on official Church documents and his first hand experience of a variety of cultural ritual events he draws the reader into this fascinating conversation about what he terms “liturgical inculturation. Only a very few liturgical theologians in the Church today have the the ability to explore this topic and make it relevant; Francis is one of the best.

Second Place

Chrismation by Nicholas E. Denysenko, Liturgical Press

Nicholas Denysenko’s exploration of the practice and theology of Chrismation in the Orthodox Christian communities is a scholarly and unique treatment of a topic that has few if any comparable works. One of the excellent aspects of this work is that it goes beyond an Orthodox frame of reference and puts hie tradition in conversation with rites of anointing, particularly Confirmation in the Roman Catholic tradition. His conclusions on how these two traditions could enrich each other offer a worthy agenda for future pastoral and theological and ecumenical unity.

Third Place

Worship with Gladness: Understanding Worship from the Heart by Joyce Ann Zimmerman, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The phrase “full, active and conscious” participation in the liturgy is probably one of the most familiar from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Zimmerman uses this vision as her reason for writing this book. She is especially concerned with how those who do participate understand what they are doing and if that understanding is translated into a fuller participation that comes from the heart. Zimmerman is a well known liturgical scholar with a passion for the Church’s liturgy; this is a must read for those who share her enthusiasm for it.

Honorable Mention

In These or Similar Words by Paul Turner, World Library Publications

Honorable Mention

Sick, And You Cared For Me: Homilies and Refections for Cycle B by Rob Bell, James Martin, SJ, Jan Richardson, Richard Rohr, OFM, et al, Clear Faith Publishing

B06: PASTORAL MINISTRY

First Place

A Pastor’s Toolbox by Paul A. Holmes, Editor, Liturgical Press

This is great book for any person in pastoral leadership. The book is geared to Pope Francis and his commitment to evangelization. It encourages and outlines simply the various processes of moving a parish into the unfolding missionary church.

Second Place

Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish by Fr. James Mallon, Novalis

This is a very good book for parish leaders. It examines how to move a parish into the new evangelization of Pope Francis. The suggestions are practical and encouraging to those who know that they must move the parish forward but lack the knowledge, energy, or insight on how to do that.

Third Place

A Life of Daring Simplicity by Edited by Michael A. Becker, Liturgical Press

This is a very good book of daily meditations for priests. It is based heavily on Saint John Paul II. It is targeted to those priests of the Saint John Paul II generation. I think it would have been more relevant if it was based more on Pope Francis and his new evangelization. Every priest has a dozen of these kinds of books.

Honorable Mention

An Imprisoned Heart by Petra Alexander and Gerardo Gomez, World Library Publications

This is a little jewel of a book. It is targeted to a population that is usually underserved by the church. It offers a spiritual path for those who suffer with a loved one in Prison. This is a valuable resource for Church leaders to give to those who have loved ones in prison.

B07: PROFESSIONAL BOOKS

First Place

Imagining Abundance by Kerry Alys Robinson, Liturgical Press

This work is excellent in all regards: inspirational, practical and workable for the audience. A recommended primer for fund-raisers and for dealing with issues covered. Author at Thomas More Center at Yale and various Yale faculty were involved in its creation and testing. Top-flight team working with author.

Second Place

Becoming Beholders by Edited by Karen E. Eifler and Thomas M. Landy, Liturgical Press

Excellent for lay teachers in college and advanced high school classes.

Third Place

A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions & Insights from Catholic Teaching by Andrew V. Abela and Joseph E. Capizzi, The Catholic University of America Press

A paucity of intellectual discernment in the context of everyday, living issues. Too doctrinaire for wide circulation. The interpretation of theological and philosophical writing is not applied all that well. Interesting and timely topic but approach is too rigid.

B09a: CHILDREN’S BOOKS AND BOOKS FOR TEENS: Children’s Books

First Place

Discover at Dawn – Gospel Time Trekkers Series by Maria Grace Dateno, FSP, Pauline Books & Media

I think this book would appeal to a vast age group. The idea of time travel is one that most find fascinating. I enjoyed the authors use of children as the explorers who discover the passion of Christ. Questions that children may have were explained in a simple and poignant manner. Especially enjoyable was the last chapter and the references to the Bible readers could use to delve deeper and continue their discovery of the life of Christ.

Second Place

The Story of Saint John Paul II, The Boy Who Became Pope by Fabiola Garza, Pauline Books & Media

I chose this book as a second place recipient because it was such a well written story of the life of John Paul II. It begins with his birth and continues with his life until he was elected Pope. I think it could serve as a source of inspiration to young people who may decide to enter into a religious order. The artwork was beautiful and the story was captivating.

Third Place

Sisters of the Last Straw Book 3: The Case of the Stolen Rosaries by Karen Kelly Boyce, Chesterton Press

I chose this book as my third place recipient. While longer than all the other entries in this catalog this story was a quick read. I think children would enjoy reading it and having discussions about solving the mystery. This could lead to conversations about giving forgiveness when it is difficult, something very relevant in today’s world.

Honorable Mention

The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Anselm Grün, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

B09b: CHILDREN’S BOOKS AND BOOKS FOR TEENS: Books for Teens & Young Adults

First Place

Chastity Is for Lovers by Arleen Spenceley, Ave Maria Press

Aimed at older teens and young adults, Chastity Is For Lovers presents a straightforward argument that single people need not be involved in a sexual relationship in order to be healthy or “normal.” Instead, it promotes Catholic teaching on chastity for all states of life without unduly preaching, talking down to the audience, or condemning anyone as “impure.” The author offers personal experience as well as research to back up her premise that chastity is not only possible but helpful not only for those in celibate vocations but also for those who hope to marry. Competently written, edited and designed, this book is a clear winner.

Second Place

Erin’s Ring by Laura H. Pearl, Bezalel Books

Presented as a story-within-a-story, Erin’s Ring offers an historical novel set within the story of two contemporary teen-age friends from very different kinds of families. Both stories have elements of Catholicism offered as ordinary and important parts of life. The small town setting is appealing and the characters are multi-dimensional. Erin’s Ring would appeal to younger teens and older ones looking for light reading.

Third Place

Real Life Faith: Bible Companions for Catholic Teens by Mary Elizabeth Sperry, Liguori Publications

Real Life Faith offers 19 brief profiles of biblical figures, including a number of lesser-known characters, each paired with a fictional example of how the biblical character’s virtue could surface in or affect the life of a contemporary teen-ager. Each includes discussion questions and a prayer. This book would provide excellent discussion-starters for a teen youth group or religion class.

B10: FIRST TIME AUTHOR OF A BOOK

First Place

Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job by Kerry Weber, Loyola Press

A young New Yorker’s account of her efforts to do each of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy during Lent is a graceful blend of personal experience and theological insight. Helping others turns out to be frustrating and ambiguous–and a surprising way to know oneself.

Second Place

The Prodigal You Love by Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, Pauline Books & Media

A wise and thought-provoking book aimed at Catholics who badly want their friends and loved ones to return to the Church.

Third Place

The Oblate’s Confession by William Peak, Secant Publishing

An ambitious novel–serious religious themes explored in a remote historical setting (7th century England). The pace is slow and the writing is ponderous at times, but Peak’s work is impressive.

Honorable Mention

Connected toward Communion by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Liturgical Press

B11: FAMILY LIFE

First Place

Mortal Blessings by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Ave Maria Press

Recognizing and celebrating “signs of the sacred” in the midst of caring for a dying relative a special gift and grace. Mortal Blessings is beautifully written and O’Donnell is refreshingly honest in relating her experiences. It is wonderful to see such a moving book, since so many of us will experience being caretakers of loved ones in their final journey in life.

Second Place

Everyday Sacrament by Laura Kelly Fanucci, Liturgical Press

Finding God in the midst of taking care of young children can be a real challenge. Fanucci has done a fine job of discovering grace in the messy moments of parenting and showing her readers how to find signs of each of the 7 Catholic sacraments in everyday life. Well-written, honest, easy to relate to. Lots of great stories and slices of life.

Third Place

Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive: A preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families by The Pontifical Council for the Family and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Our Sunday Visitor

While this compact book was produced for preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families in September 2015, it also serves as a learning tool for all Catholic families who are interested in learning more about how the Church views its families and how Catholic families can serve the Church. Fresh and insightful, it outlines Catholic teaching regarding sex, marriage and family in an accessible way. The questions at the end of each chapter are great discussion starters.

B12: MARRIAGE

First Place

Catholic and Married: Leaning Into Love by Art and Laraine Bennett, Editors, Our Sunday Visitor

Only two entries in this very important category and this one leads the pair. A group of talented writers herein focus on marriage as a lifelong journey, maybe with problems and failures along the way, but also with joy and success resulting from life-long love and sharing by the married partners. It tackles present-day marriage challenges: marrying young, cohabitation, contraception, divorce, but also affirms the gift of children, commitment to the other and especially that love factor as the key for successful marriage today.

Second Place

Vocation to Virtue: Christian Marriage as a Consecrated Life by Kent J. Lasnoski, The Catholic University of America Press

Clearly intended for a more limited academic audience, this entry concerns itself with the theological aspects of marriage. Its focus is on the Second Vatican Council’s declaration that all in the church are called to Christian perfection, and how married couples can achieve that vocation. It is thus beyond the everyday concerns of an average Catholic married couple. That narrower focus, and its more sophisticated writing, put it in second place.

B13: HISTORY

First Place

Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs by J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

This is the most outstanding work submitted in this important category. Well deserving of a #1 Catholic Book Award. Magnificent design and quality manufacturing with 4-color graphics, clearly drawn maps and other resources. Fine reference for any Catholic or public library, of great interest to classics scholars. Very well written and edited.

Second Place

When Saint Francis Saved the Church by Jon M. Sweeney, Ave Maria Press

Anengagingly popular story of, arguably, our most popular saint. In the manner of Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, Jon Sweeney brings Francis to life as we continue our fascination with his namesake, Pope Francis, in 2015. The Holy father reaches out to the poor and marginated as the converted troubadour did from 1205-1219 when he, in fact, changed the church. A quick read but based on the best that history has recorded and deserving of the attention it will command in the general and religious markets.

Third Place

What They Wished For: American Catholics and American Presidents, 1960–2004 by Lawrence J. McAndrews, University of Georgia Press

Catholicism and the modern presidency is quite a timely topic, more so since the days of JFK. Though the time period covered is only 1960-2004, religion and politics have found their way into the news regularly since and this work does a fine job of presenting the ramifications to the public. Readable, accurate without bias. With an update through the Obama years and second GW Bush presidencies it would have a strong general appeal in the election year 2016.

Honorable Mention

Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae: A Biography by Bernard McGinn, Princeton University Press

A remarkable editing job by a master, Fr. Bernard McGinn of the Univ. of Chicago. Aquinas needs to be known by students in the 21st C as he has been for centuries in the Church. An abridged version of the massive five volume Summa in a handy paperbound format for student and lay study. Important introduction by McGinn sets the context for this “biography”of a classic by a modern classical scholar.

B14: BIOGRAPHY

First Place

Pope Francis: Life and Revolution by Elisabetta Piqué, Loyola Press

This year several entries focused on Pope Francis, our new media star in the Catholic world — indeed the world at-large. This excellent work by a native Italian who is an experienced Vatican reporter for Argentina’s major newspaper, stands out. Elizabetta Pique’s longtime friendship with Francis gives her book superior authority and her warm writing style makes it an engrossing report on her friend the Pope, now our hugely popular spiritual leader.

Second Place

Katharine Drexel: The Riches-to-Rags Story of an American Catholic Saint by Cheryl C. D. Hughes, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

This is a solid traditional biography, deeply researched and documented and strongly-written — a major resource covering the full span of the subject’s life and career and her importance in Catholic life in America and the Catholic Church at large. It’s a strong, absorbing story, with good illustrations. which tells us Katherine Drexel’s role as teacher, builder, religious order founder, fighter against racism and American saint. A close second in this group.

Third Place

The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., Ave Maria Press

This book is a delightful surprise, as it connects two of Catholicism’s most popular figures, Saint Francis of Assisi and Thomas Merton of Gethsemani. The author successfully and delightfully show how these two giants of the Church were connected in thought, spirituality and influence in a readable attractive volume.

Honorable Mention

Oscar Romero by Kevin Clarke, Liturgical Press

B15: GENDER ISSUES

First Place

Gay and Catholic by Eve Tushnet, Ave Maria Press

For those who may still consider gay Catholic to be an oxymoron, Eve’s honest, expansive coverage of this “touchy” subject is healing balm for those who are in or out of the closet and could be a mind- and heart-opener and a stepping off point for open discussion of an otherwise taboo subject. Whether or not minds are changed to be more accepting, understanding, loving to those who are same-sex attracted will not be the benchmark of success for Eve’s story. Telling her story as a faithful lesbian woman of the Church and being published by a Catholic press are award-winning in and of themselves. Kudos to Eve and Ave Maria Press.

Second Place

Feminist Catholic Theological Ethics by Linda Hogan and A.E. Orobator, Orbis Books

This is a fascinating compendium of theological discourse from across the globe that addresses both traditional and progressive women’s issues. For those who desire to expand their minds and hearts in order to better identify and remedy the needs of 21st century women, this book is critical. Despite the profound and diverse voices gathered in this text, it is highly readable and engaging.

Third Place

Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times by Annmarie Sanders, Orbis Books

These addresses were given over 30 tempestuous years by women religious who have gained respect and placement at the top of the prestigious Leadership Conference of Women Religious. They encompass hundreds of years of history and contributions of countless faithful women. Readers should not only applaud their extraordinary efforts in so many areas of society but use the wisdom and knowledge they impart that has come through their hard work and difficult circumstances to better respond to the people and Church they so successfully serve.

Honorable Mention

Man Up! Becoming the New Catholic Renaissance Man by Jared Zimmerer, Bezalel Books

Honorable Mention

Joan Chittister: Essential Writings by Mary Lou Kownacki and Mary Hembrow-Snyder, Orbis Books

This book tries to do too many things and in the end doesn’t hit the mark on Gender Issues. The lengthy Introduction detailing the life of Joan Chittister is worthy of a small volume on this wise and productive religious woman. The section on Passion for Justice fits the bill. The majority of the essays however are a better fit for a spiritual life category.

B16: REFERENCE BOOKS

First Place

Being in the World: A Quotable Maritain Reader by Edited by Mario O. D’Souza, C.S.B., with Jonathan R. Seiling, University of Notre Dame Press

The editors of this collection of the writings of Jacques Maritain, one of th eoutstanding philosopher / theologians of the mid-twentieth centruy, provide a readable and “Quotable” resource for contemporary students, scholars, and theologians. D’Souza reread fifty-five of Jacques Maritain’s works, took over 1700 pages of notes, and organized them into a quotable corpus of forty topics from “Airstotle” to “Wisdom.” The result is what well may be a classic study.

Second Place

The Catholic Teacher’s Companion by Les Miller, Novalis

To help teachers of religious education, Les Miller offers an alphabetical listing of the key terms and the fundamentals of Catholic teaching. Intended primarily for teachers of religious education, Les Miller presents 94 entries from Advent to Way of Prayer. The terms used follow the Institute for Catholic Education for Ontario Catholic schools. Miller assures all religious education teachers that they will find these terms very helpful.

 

B19: BEST BOOK BY A SMALL PUBLISHER

First Place

Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying by Susan Windley-Daoust, Lectio Publishing

This book is well-written and insightful. It applies the Theology of the Body to themes that are rarely discussed and illustrates how God’s grace lifts up the suffering, dying, and those with disabilities. The author combines compelling research with beautiful reflections on what it means to be a person in communion with God and with others.

Second Place

Love Awakened by Love: The Liberating Ascent of Saint John of the Cross by Mark O’Keefe, OSB, ICS Publications

While the scope of the book is narrow (it is a companion book to “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” by St. John of the Cross), it is compelling and well-written. Since many readers find St. John of the Cross’s works to be difficult, this is a helpful volume that will assist many Catholics in their spiritual journey.

Third Place

Edith Stein: Letters to Roman Ingarden (the Collected Works vol. 12; Edith Stein: Self-Portrait in Letters) by Edith Stein/ translated by Hugh Candler Hunt, ICS Publications

This publication of Edith Stein’s letters in English reveals a lesser-known period of her life and her intimate thoughts as she converted to Catholicism and entered the Carmelite cloister. The book is professionally crafted and is interesting and spiritually engaging.

Honorable Mention

The End of the Fiery Sword: Adam & Eve and Jesus & Mary by Maura Roan McKeegan, Emmaus Road Publishing

B20: CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING

First Place

The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights by Meghan J. Clark, Fortress Press

Clark creatively and critically advances our understanding of solidarity in Catholic Social Teaching as an essential counter-point to the global human rights movement.

Second Place

Jesus Christ, Peacemaker by Terrence J. Rynne, Orbis Books

Rynne crafts a compelling presentation of the trajectory of peacemaking in Catholic social thought and action.

Third Place

Seek Justice That You May Live by John R. Donahue, Paulist Press

Donahue has given readers a valuable handbook for study and reflection, teasing out the pervasive focus on social justice in the diverse books of the Bible.

B21: FAITH AND SCIENCE

First Place

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno, SJ and Paul Mueller, SJ, Image, Penguin Random House

In an engaging and accessible dialogue, Consolmagno and Mueller tackle some of the thorniest issues confronting Christians about science and faith, including the origins of the universe, the compatibility of belief in God and science, and the Church’s treatment of Galileo. One particular strength of this work is the authors’ ability to treat profound topics seriously, with playful and clever humor! Great read.

Second Place

Teilhard’s Mysticism by Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, Orbis Books

With insight reflective of a keen understanding, Duffy provides an enthusiastic and wide-ranging reflection on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his life work. Duffy skillfully brings the readers to a deeper understanding of the “inner face of the world,” which framed Teilhard’s mystical journey.

Third Place

Do Monkeys Go to Heaven? by Fr. John McCarthy, S.J., Novalis

With deceptive simplicity, this series of essays easily invites the lay reader into an intimate dialogue between faith and science. Rather than arguing their compatibility, McCarthy’s personal anecdotes provide food for personal reflection and meditation on God’s presence in all creation. Don’t let the title turn you away!

Honorable Mention

The Wisdom of the Liminal: Evolution and Other Animals in Human Becoming by Celia Deane-Drummond, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

With depth and insight, Deane-Drummond shows how evolutionary cosmology and Thomistic philosophy can be harmonized to enhance our understanding of our incarnational nature and what it means to be made in the image of God.

B22: 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF VATICAN II

First Place

From Vatican II to Pope Francis by Fr. Paul Crowley, Orbis Books

A collection of essays, the fruit of a university course, this book by scholars well known and less well known provides a broad overview of Vatican II, its effects and the seeds it has sown which may grow in the Church in the future. It can be read straight through or the chapters may be taken separately to be digested and discussed. It would be suitable for a competently led course for motivated lay parishioners. The book is well though not intrusively footnoted and includes an index.

Second Place

The Church in the Modern World by Michael G. Lawler, Todd A. Salzman, and Eileen Burke-Sullivan, Liturgical Press

The Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes Then and Now offers an in-depth look at the history, development and effects of one of the most important documents of Vatican II. Each chapter offers questions for reflection and an extensive index is provided. The chapter on marriage is especially interesting, but the whole book is accessible to readers who are not professional theologians. This book is a suitable celebration of the jubilee of the Council.

Third Place

Sacramental Theology: 50 Years After Vatican II by Kenan B. Osborne, OFM, Lectio Publishing, Inc.

Probably of greatest interest to Church professionals (clergy, liturgists, etc.), Sacramental Theology: 50 Years After Vatican II is nevertheless an accessible treatment of its subject. It offers an historical outline of the development of the sacraments and, in a broader sense, of the notion of sacrament (e.g. the Church as sacrament); a treatment of Vatican II’s teaching on sacramental theology; and summaries of the modern history of sacraments and contemporary thought on the liturgy. It is wide-ranging without being excessively long.

B24: FAITHFUL CITIZENSHIP/RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

First Place

Crucified People by John P. Neafsey, Orbis Books

This is a very powerful book. It is small but mighty. It was a special gift to read this book during the last days of Lent, as it is truly about Christ crucified and Christ rising from the dead over and over in the many faces and stories that John Neafsey places before his audience. The use of beautiful, diverse and poignant poetry enhances his examples of the tortured ones. Dealing with such a painful subject as torture, he finds a piece of the resurrection story in each person that he introduces to the reader. It is a book that is nicely written, easy to read from a stylistic view, but heart wrenching at the same time as he points out the inhumanity that continues until this very day. His victims are crucified just as Our Lord was crucified, but they surely do Rise. I recommend this as a great book for political science and history classes for the consciousness raising that it provides as well as for religion classes because of its underlying basis in faith. Even though there is Good Friday, it is surely followed by an Easter Sunday.

B27: COFFEE TABLE BOOK

First Place

Meditations on Vatican Art: Angels by Mark Haydu, LC, STL, Liguori Publications

Mark Haydu’s book is reader friendly: appealing to the eye, to the mind and to the spirit. Although structured in approach to the Ignatian 30-day retreat form, it is open-ended in terms of reader participation via reflections and meditations. Art and text are beautifully blended. This is a book to pick up and savor daily.

Second Place

Splendors of Christmas by Pierre-Marie Dumont – Fr. Frederic Curnier-Laroche, Magnificat

This exploration of various aspects of the Nativity story as interpreted by various artists is artistically instructive and visually appealing, unveiling the mysteries of faith and the creative genius of the artists. Unfortunately, the book’s severe vertical format compromises some of the art and too frequently separates the art from the explanatory text.

B28: CATHOLIC NOVELS

First Place

Master of Ceremonies by Donald Cozzens, ACTA Publications/In Extenso Press

Cozzens scores high marks on all the important aspects of fiction writing: plot, character development, suspense and intrigue. He takes an overly treated topic–clergy sexual abuse–and with the help of some very sleazy, secret “brothers,” one very smart and courageous woman, and a few faithful men of the cloth–dishes up a very believable,very scary–story. Separating fact from fiction is the real work of the reader who may want to sprinkle some holy water on themselves or say a decade before each chapter and pray for those abused, their abusers, and our Holy Mother Church.

Second Place

The Oblate’s Confession by William Peak, Secant Publishing

Not quite an epic tale, but very well researched and detailed, Peak has produced a solid first-time novel. Tending to be needlessly wordy at times, the pace picks up with excellent weaving of imagination and history throughout. First rate character development that exposes the mind, body and spirit of the main characters paired with mystical people and places provides a winning combination for the reader of facts and faith for the reader.

Third Place

Erin’s Ring by Laura H. Pearl, Bezalel Books

This is a charming story, beginning with a charming cover and with a good measure of history,contemporary drama, and spirituality between the covers. It is highly readable and can be used effectively as an evangelization tool for young people who would otherwise never open a book that espoused Catholic morals and teachings.

 

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10 ways Good Pope John still is guiding

May 4, 2015

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Just for Today cover“Just for Today” meshes the words of the late Pope John XXIII with the imaginative artistry of illustrator Bimba Landmann in a children’s book that will stir the soul and energize people of faith of any age.

Graphically displayed in type meant for young readers on 34 pages across Landmann’s creative scenes, Good Pope John’s 10 ideas for living a better, holier life can become a meaningful morning prayer for young people, especially, for example, first communicants.

As a seven-year-old making his first communion, Angelo Roncalli declared, “I want always to be good to everyone.” When he went on to become pope, the 10 thoughts for daily living that he wrote became well known, valued as much for the humility inherent in them as for the down-to-earth advice they offered.

The daily decalogue of now St. Pope John XXIII is worth finding on the Internet and taping to your bathroom mirror to start your day in a saintly way.

Here is just one example:

“Just for today, I will do at least one thing I do not enjoy, and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices.”

It’s another fine edition from the Eerdmans Book for Young Readers collection.

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‘My Battle Against Hitler’

April 21, 2015

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My-Battle-Against-Hitler-Denied a professorship in Munich because of his stand against National Socialism, Dietrich von Hildebrand fled Germany when Adolf Hitler came to power. He was tipped that his arrest was imminent.

The Catholic philosopher subsequently narrowly escaped Vienna with a death threat over his head as the Nazis took over Austria. The SS missed him by four hours.

He went first to Switzerland and later to France, only to once again have to run for his life when German tanks rolled into France.

Considered by Hitler one of National Socialism’s greatest obstacles, von Hildebrand found his way to the United States in 1940 and taught for 20 years at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York City.

What he stood for and why he had to flee come to life some three-quarters of a century later in a translation of von Hildebrand’s memoir from those turbulent times, “My Battle Against Hitler.”

John Henry Crosby — with the assistance of his father, John F. Crosby — translated and edited the Image book, which is subtitled “Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich.”

By late 1921 von Hildebrand was already finding the political philosophy of National Socialism at odds with Catholicism — and earning the ire of some Germans, including German Catholic clergy, who saw it as a bulwark against communism.

By 1933, while Hitler was being appointed chancellor, the Reichstag being burned, the rule of law being disregarded by the government and Jews being arrested and hauled away, von Hildebrand was writing that one could not be both Catholic and a supporter of the Nazis.

“It was clear to me,” he wrote about that timeframe, “that I could no longer teach in a National Socialist country because I was convinced that I would be forced to make compromises, and that I would either have to keep silent about the injustices that would come or else risk the concentration camp.”

Compromise was something von Hildebrand couldn’t do when it came to what his Catholic faith taught. Nor could he be silent.

“His struggle against Hitler,” the authors note, “was above all carried out on the battlefield of conscience.”

Early on von Hildebrand warned those who thought Catholics could influence National Socialism for the better that that would not happen.

He warned Catholics, too, not to believe Hitler’s promises to respect Christian churches and to work with them, a warning that proved prescient when priests began being arrested and sent to concentration camps.

He railed against Catholics who put up with Nazi atrocities as long as the Catholic Church was not victimized.

Once safely in Vienna he launched a periodical that took on the Nazis from a Catholic intellectual perspective. It was a safety that was short-lived.

The last third of the book includes essays the von Hildebrand wrote for that Austrian journal he founded and led between 1934 and 1937, “Der christliche Standestaat” (“The Christian Corporate Standard”).

These are the persuasive writings of a philosopher who fought “at the level of first principles,” the authors explain. He argues for ethical choices and decisions, and goes point by point comparing the core principles of the Nazis against the teachings of Christ and the Church. In his writing:

• He calls nationalism the greatest heresy of the 18th and 19th centuries, justaposing it with patriotism, which he terms a love of one’s nation that acknowledges that every other nation is valuable and has rights, too.

• He lists Nazi sins, including racism, anti-semitism, the persecution and death of Jews, sterilization, regulating marriage, trumped up charges, “pharisaical trials,” defamation of individuals and murders, and warns against becoming “used to” or morally blind to them.

• Rather than politicizing Catholicism, “one must Catholicize politics,” he writes, and calls Catholics not to be silent or apolitical but to act, asking, “Are you for Christ or against him?”

In sum, von Hildebrand terms Nazism so unChristian and so unsound that it cannot be corrected or reformed, but must be destoyed.

His defense of the teachings of the Catholic faith is matched in this memoir only by his defense of Jewish people.

He defends Jews as a people of God, writing in 1937 with a Catholic heart in the very best sense:

“Above all, Catholics must all perceive the present-day attack against the Jews as something that directly threatens them. Did not Christ the Lord say, ‘What you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done to me?’

“Is not the defamation and degradation of the Jews a direct attack against the incarnate God, against human nature sanctified by the Incarnation? Indeed, what is happening today is not the special concern of a particular people. No, true for us all are the words, ‘Tua res agitur!’ — This concerns you!”

Bob Zyskowski writes the bobzbookreviews blog on
http://www.CatholicHotdish.com.

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Madonnas and memory

April 8, 2015

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Raphael's The Conestabile Madonna

Raphael’s The Conestabile Madonna

Lessons in history and humanity plus drama, unconditional love and insight into one of the most difficult to understand of all diseases — Alzheimer’s — make Debra Dean’s “The Madonnas of Leningrad” a superb, satisfying read.

There’s a sampling of an art appreciation class, too, and brief, maybe too brief snatches of modern family dynamics. But those glimpses into contemporary life form the perfect background to better contrast with the values of the Russians who survived — and even those who didn’t survive — the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II.

Da Vinci’s The Litta Madonna

With the war there is starvation and death and ruin, to be sure, but tremendous self sacrifice, too, and life, life so valued, life so amazing, captured so well in one scene, where women who have survived the siege learn that the story’s protagonist, Marina, is expecting and, after a winter of death, line up to touch her stomach and to feel the baby kick in her womb.

A tremendous sense of irony pours from the pages. In the godless Soviet Union the invaluable art collection of the Hermitage Museum, including precious images of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child, is crated and trucked away to be saved from ruin or confiscation by the approaching German army.

At the suggestion of another Hermitage tour guide, young Marina, who later in life cannot remember the names of her own family members, commits to memory of all these wonderful madonnas — the Rubens, the da Vinci, the van Dyck, the Rembrandt and more — storing in her “memory palace” not only the details of the works and the stories they tell but even where they hung on the walls of the czar’s former Winter Palace.

It’s an act of mutual benefit. Not only does Marina save the memory of the art to share with those who may never have the chance to see them, but doing so gives her a reason to live, to survive at a time when bombs, cold, starvation and illness take the lives of thousands during the siege.

van Dyck

van Dyck’s The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

And, while this isn’t an outwardly religious novel, as the situation worsens for those freezing, starving, cowering from the bombs and removing the corpses of those who die each day, even a strict non-believer decides a little prayer couldn’t hurt.

“The Madonnas of Leningrad” is not a new book. Published in 2006, it garnered a number of honors. But as timely as the topic of Alzheimer’s is, you would think someone would make a movie of this terrific story.

If you choose to read the book — and even if you don’t — you’ll find images of some of the famous works of art named within at this website, along with excerpts of how they were described in the book. Start googling the paintings and you could lose several hours of your day!

Dean also mentions the Jordan Staircase in her novel. Here’s why:

The Jordan Staircase in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

The Jordan Staircase in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

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High Plains history, high drama

February 22, 2015

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The Heart of Everything That IsWaiting inside the pages of this superb work of nonfiction are captivating stories and a semester worth of U.S. history classes.

“The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud. An American Legend” fills in a gap in my own education  during the ’50s-’60s-’70s about native peoples, their culture and how they tried to preserve that culture from a society that considered them less than human, a society willing to do just about anything, even the immoral and unethical, to fulfill what was termed America’s “manifest destiny.”

In telling that story, these 400-plus pages convey interesting historical information about the High Plains, a section of North America that too many talk about as fly-over country, and, maybe more importantly, give the facts about what the United States leadership and military were willing to do in Euro-centric America’s quest for land and gold.

Red Cloud’s story and that of the tribes that populated the middle of the continent for centuries before the American push westward is a fascinating insight into another culture — often a brutal one, yet one laden with the same foibles, political intrigue, revenge-seeking, hopefulness, love and despair found in every other human society.

The story of the Indian wars across Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana that authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin share comes through as interesting as any novel. But readers will be amazed when they get to the final pages of “The Heart of Everything That Is” and read about the research they did, see the pages of references to sources and view the photos of the principals who fought on both sides of those Indian wars.

This is no novel. Instead, it is a book every U.S. citizen should read for its moral implications, and one that should cause readers of every ethnic background to reflect upon their own outlook toward native peoples certainly, but toward people of every other culture as well.

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Ride with African aid workers is fiction, but it reads like reality

January 5, 2015

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Children are DiamondsWhat is on-the-face fiction reads so much like a memoir that I couldn’t stop myself from checking — and more than once: This is a novel, right?

The first-person narrative is so visceral, so descriptive of what I imagined the reality of war-torn central Africa to be, that, finishing “Children Are Diamonds,” I feel I’ve just ridden through the African bush and taken a class in geopolitical history, not simply read a compelling tale from someone’s imagination.

Author Edward Hoagland imbeds you in the life of Hickey, his narrator, carrying you along on his aid runs into South Sudan during its civil war. But before you finish with page 230 at the story’s end you’ll feel you’re being carted along in his jeep, feeling every rut in the jungle track, watching out the window as you pass emaciated refugees fleeing the fighting, urging him to take aboard one more sickly child, hurting for those who have fallen by the wayside and will never get up.

Hoagland makes heroes and heroines of the aid workers, the missionary priests and nuns, the volunteer health care professionals, the bush pilots who fly for the nongovernmental organizations.

Why they are there is as much the story as what they are doing and what happens to them.

One answer to the why question lies in the book’s title — the NGO workers and the missioners see hope and value in Africa’s children. And, as characters in the story express viewpoints from the perspective of those who are not American, readers will be challenged to give second thoughts to U.S. foreign policy that — from those other perspectives — hasn’t always acted as if those diamonds are worth saving.

The only negative, and the reason for four stars instead of five, is the gratuitous sexual encounters that the author goes into in far too much detail. This story is so good junk like the sex scenes just wasn’t needed, and certainly not so graphic.

Balancing that, however, are repeated expressions of the inner spirituality that helps some of Hoagland’s characters cope with the hunger, the lack of medical help, the economic conditions that force people into immoral acts and of course the brutality of war and death. Maryknollers in particular get quite the shout out.

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Lessons for young in biography of famous author

November 18, 2014

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coverThe adventurous, creative life of French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ended much too soon during World War II, yet it was a life that gives credence to the saying “short but sweet.”

Writer and illustrator Bimba Landmann captures both sentiments in graceful words and thoughtful artwork in her biography of the author of “The Little Prince.”

Aimed at young people age 7 and up, this Eerdmanns Book for Young Readers is a history lesson — and maybe an art and literature lesson, too — in just 34 pages.

Imaginative drawings on each page force the eye to spend as much time on them as on the text, and the text is superb, filled with picturesque, near-poetic phrases.

They bring little Antoine from his dreamy early life through adult adventures on four continents, and leave one with the feeling they know this amazing man whose vivid spirit brought the world one of its great stories.

Grandparents, if there’s a book lover in the family, this would make a wonderful gift.

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Who was ‘O’Shaughnessy,’ anyway?

October 23, 2014

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That Great Heart-coverBy Bob Zyskowski

In St. Paul, the name “O’Shaughnessy” graces a handful of buildings at the University of St. Thomas, including the library, education center and football stadium, and at St. Catherine University there is the architectural masterpiece of the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium.

Who this O’Shaughnessy was and how he came about the financial means to support Catholic higher education — plus an amazing variety and staggering volume of charities and individuals — is told in an enlightening new book, “That Great Heart: The Story of I.A. O’Shaughnessy.”

It’s a rags-to-riches tale: Ignatius Aloysius O’Shaughnessy, born in 1885, the youngest of 13 children of a Stillwater bootmaker, graduates from the then College of St. Thomas, becomes the largest independent oil refiner in the United States, makes millions and gives millions away.

Where he started, how he grew his businesses, how and to whom he donates — and especially what motivates him — gives readers an insight into the man behind the buildings.

It makes for good-paced reading, thanks to the journalist’s writing style of author Doug Hennes.

Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas and a former reporter and editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, never met O’Shaughnessy.

He was a freshman at St. Thomas in the fall of 1973; O’Shaughnessy died at 88 in November that year. The oilman’s funeral was held at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and a memorial Mass was held on campus.

“I remember looking out a window from one of the buildings at St. Thomas at what seemed to be an endless procession of black limousines,” Hennes said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the guy.”

Decades later Hennes wrote about O’Shaughnessy for the
St. Thomas magazine and helped with a video about him. That sparked an interest in Hennes to learn more about I.A.

Boxloads of letters

At the Minnesota History Center he discovered 14 boxes of O’Shaughnessy’s correspondence and newspaper clippings, all in files organized alphabetically.

The material painted a picture of the man who is likely known to few who enter the buildings that bear his name.

“Some material even surprised family members,” Hennes said.

IA-St. Thomas football portraitThose surprises include facts such as:

— O’Shaughnessy played on the first St. John’s football team that beat rival St. Thomas, was dismissed for drinking beer (at age 16), went to St. Thomas and became a star for the Tommies.

— As part of a marketing effort, his Globe Oil Company sponsored a basketball team, and players on the Globe Refiners made the bulk of the U.S. squad that won the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

— For a short time he was a part-owner of the Cleveland Indians.

— He was offered the post of U.S. ambassador to Australia but turned it down.

How O’Shaughnessy made his millions is interesting: He borrowed money to finance drilling and refining projects and either paid back investors or bought them out when the projects succeeded.

He played a major role in the development of the oil industry in the Oklahoma and Kansas area, risking building a refinery at the height of the Great Depression.

He eventually used a vertical marketing strategy to not only drill for oil but to refine it for multiple uses — gasoline, kerosene, burning oils, turpentine and lubricating oils and greases — and to distribute it under the Globe trademark to 600 independent dealers in 12 states in the middle of the country and into Canada.Globe Oil truck

“He was pretty sharp,” Hennes said. “He had a shrewd business sense — he had an instinct about what would work and what wouldn’t. And he hired really good people to run the operations.”

O’Shaughnessy was an early adopter of new technologies and methods, and also understood the need to keep employees happy. After starting to give Christmas bonuses, he felt compelled to continue the practice even in years when the company lost money.

Generous beyond measure

Still, it is O’Shaughnessy’s charitable contributions that are the real story behind the man.

“He gave to everything,” Hennes told The Catholic Spirit. The files contain letter after letter of requests for loans and donations, he said. If he decided he would give, he’d write yes and an amount right on the bottom of the letter and write the check right away. Many are for $100 here, $200 there.

“If he was saying no,” Hennes said, “there would be a letter, because he’d always say why.”

 

IA-St. Thomas library mortar work

Outside the O'Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

Outside the O’Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

While O’Shaughnessy donated millions for buildings at the University of Notre Dame as well as St. Kate and St. Thomas, he often donated only if organizations  raised a matching sum.

“He really saw himself as trying to leverage other gifts,” Hennes said. “He was willing to give, but he wanted to get other people involved, too.”

His faith and his understanding of stewardship both come into play in giving.

Hennes quoted him, “The Lord has been good to me, so I figure I might as well spread some of my money around where it will do some good.”

There’s much more, including O’Shaughnessy’s part in the war effort during World War II, his commitment to his parish —
St. Mark in St. Paul — and the meeting with Pope Paul VI and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh that led to O’Shaughnessy financing one of the pope’s dreams, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in the Holy Land.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

I.A. O’Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

About the book

“That Great Heart” by Doug Hennes, Beaver’s Pond Press, Edina, Minn., 2014; 259 pages.

Events

Doug Hennes (2014)A book launch will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium on St. Thomas’ campus in St. Paul. The event will include a reading, reception and book signing by author Doug Hennes.

Other “That Great Heart” signings include:

— Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, bookstore, Terrence Murphy Hall, St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus, 1000 LaSalle Ave.

— 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, Anderson Student Center, St. Thomas’
St. Paul campus.

— Sunday, Nov. 9, after 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses, St. Mark’s Church, 1976 Dayton Ave., St. Paul.

— Saturday, Nov. 15, 11 a.m.-12:45 p.m., St. Patrick’s Guild, 1554 Randolph Ave.,
St. Paul.

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Life’s mysteries, from another point of view

October 15, 2014

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images

“God should hang up a mailbox for people to send questions and complaints.”

When your world turns upside down, it may pay to look at it that way.
Young Anna does just that — and takes her grieving father along — in the subtly worded and creatively illustrated “Anna’s Heaven.”
Anna coverTranslated by Don Bartlett from the Norwegian, this picture-heavy and text-terse Eerdman’s Book for Young Readers would make for an interesting parent-child reading time, especially in households dealing with the death of a loved one.
The dialogue between father and daughter mixes the realistic and magical, often terrific role modeling for parents trying to cope with the curveballs life throws.
Stain Hole, both author and illustrator, includes interesting questioning of the role God plays in life’s mysteries.
“Why can’t he who knows everything, who can pull and push and turn over clouds and waves and planets — why can’t he invent something to turn bad into good?” Anna says.
“God should hang up a mailbox for people to send questions and complaints,” Dad answers.
Take this journey to the upside-down world. Oh, and look for Elvis and Pablo Picasso in Anna’s version of the hereafter.

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