#Valentine #Giveaway: GOD FIRE, the “Purgatory Lady,” and Her Amazing New Book

daybydaywiththeholysouls“I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls.”
St. Faustina (Diary, 20)

It is rare that an author is blessed by a pope, but Susan Tassone was twice blessed by Saint John Paul II for her work bringing to the world a new interest and understanding of the Church’s powerful devotions to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Often referred to as the “Purgatory Lady,” Susan is a popular speaker and a frequent guest on Catholic TV and radio.

I interviewed Susan about her latest, best-selling devotional, Day by Day for the Holy Souls: 365 Reflections, which has hit the top of not one but three major charts! It is the #1 Best Seller at Our Sunday Visitor, EWTN’s #1 Best Selling book for 2014, and was #1 in “spirituality” and “meditations” on Amazon.com. Over 13,000 of these books have already been sold since it’s October release.

READ this fascinating interview with Susan Tassone about the powerful intercession of the Holy Souls, at my blog!

I’ll be GIVING AWAY three copies on Valentine’s Day to three of our weekly newsletter subscribers, here at AmazingCatechists.com!

(Details at my blog!)


Amazing Catechists Among Women

Making a connection. Telling a story. Being a witness. That’s what amazing catechists do. As translators of the truth they seek to give away what they possess because it was so freely passed onto them. Doing that through a podcast is a very low-cost, effective way of evangelizing and catechizing in the digital age.

Over the last two years, several members of the Amazing Catechists’ team have been guests on my weekly podcast, Among Women. Created in Lent 2009, Among Women grew out of my years of ministry in local churches, and my special regard for women’s ministries.

The Among Women podcast and blog celebrates the beauty and grace of a Catholic woman’s faith and life. It’s faith sharing, teaching, and some good old-fashioned girl talk rolled into one. Each podcast has two segments: “Blessed are They” looks back on inspirational women who are either saints, mystics, blesseds, or women from the Bible. The “Among Women” segment focuses on conversations with contemporary women on themes that are important to women.

Get to know the women behind the bylines here at Amazing Catechists by listening to these Among Women podcasts, including the most recent episode, featuring Mary Lou Rosien discussing her new book, Catholic Family Boot Camp:

AW 125: “Spiritual Boot Camp” with Mary Lou Rosien

AW 122: “Star of the New Evangelization” with Robyn Lee

AW 121 : “Each Life is a Masterpiece” with Leticia Velazquez

AW 116: “The Advent of Advent” with Sarah Reinhard

AW 89:  “The Sacred Heart” with Ellen Gable Hrkach

AW 81: “Choosing Faith Amid Suffering, Part 2” with Peggy Clores

AW 80: “Choosing Faith Amid Suffering, Part 1” with Peggy Clores

AW 78: “Be An Amazing Catechist” with Lisa Mladinich

AW 43: “Lisa’s Reversion Story” with Lisa Mladinich

AW 30: “Cause of Our Joy” with Leticia Velasquez

AW 11: “The Snoring Scholar and Great Books” with Sarah Reinhard

Among Women has over 125 episodes on a variety of topics.  Its growth and success comes from social media contacts, and, of course, word of mouth. Why not share Among Women as a resource for the women in your life and parish?


Interview: Author, Father Juan R. Vélez

Blessed John Henry Newman for Catechists

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was a teacher at the University of Oxford who became a Roman Catholic in 1845, and dedicated his life to teaching the truth about God, the S. Scriptures and the Catholic Church. Newman first taught Christian doctrine as an Anglican clergyman at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford and at Oriel College, one of the colleges at Oxford University. When he became Catholic he founded the Catholic University of Ireland where he gave memorable lectures on the role of theology in university studies. Later he founded a school for boys in Birmingham, England, which gave boys intellectual and doctrinal formation. Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Newman on September 20, 2010.

How is Blessed John Henry Newman a good example for catechists?

A good catechist is an articulate and convincing witness of the faith. He or she relies on the Church’s teaching and tradition to explain the truths contained in the Scriptures. Newman had these qualities. Furthermore a good catechist is someone who believes and practices what he teaches. This unity of life was the hallmark of Newman’s life. Those who met Newman were moved by his integrity and persuaded by his teaching.

Did Newman have a catechetical method?
His method of teaching varied according to the academic level of his students, but a common element of his teaching method was the importance he gave to the role of mentoring. He believed in the necessity of helping students individually. In part this was the method used at the Oxford colleges, but one which was going out of style. Newman, not only reinvigorated the practice, he added concern for the spiritual and moral life of his students. He realized the truth is connatural to one’s way of living. Those who practice virtue learn about truth with greater ease. Newman was concerned with teaching the whole truth to his students, not just theory.

What texts did Newman leave behind that could help in the catechesis of youth?
Once a Roman Catholic Newman wrote brief notes on Christian Doctrine that are contained in a book compiled after his death under the title of Meditations and Devotions. Although these are not extensive they are masterful in their clarity and in the their capacity to elicit noble sentiments from the reader. For college students, Newman’s sermons, which he wrote as an Anglican, contain sound Catholic teaching with elegant arguments and many examples. Having said, the greater part of Newman’s writings are a catechesis for colleges students and adults.

Please talk about the study of Scripture and catechesis.
John Henry Newman read and studied the Scriptures. He understood that together with Tradition they form what is called the “rule of faith.” The Scriptures teach us the truths that we are to believe and guide our behavior as Christians. His sermons are rich in quotations from S. Scripture and an explanation of the texts. If he were to be asked he would undoubtedly recommend a good study of the Old and New Testament as a part of catechesis.

What other catechetical resources did Blessed John Henry Newman employ?
Newman, who played the violin well and appreciated culture, understood the power of art in worship and in the transmission of the faith. Already as a young Anglican clergyman he prepared children to sing hymns for the religious ceremonies. As a Catholic priest he encouraged children to pray to the Mother of God with the Holy Rosary. For older students he prepared a commentary of the litany of Loreto, which provides a biblical explanation of the invocations to the Blessed Virgin Mary. For instance, he explained why Mary is called “House of Gold.” Gold is the most precious mineral and she is the house or ark in which the Son of God dwelt.

What did Newman say about the saints?

John Henry Newman had a patron saint, St. Philip Neri, whom he tried to imitate and to whom he prayed. Newman wrote a novena to St. Philip with beautiful considerations and prayers. The themes include humility, prayer, purity, tenderness of heart, cheerfulness, etc. To St. Philip he prayed, “Gain me the grace to love all God’s works for God’s sake, and all men for the sake of my Lord and Saviour who has redeemed them by the Cross. And especially let me tender and compassionate and loving towards all Christians, as my brethren in grace.” This novena in itself could serve as a catechesis on virtues. Newman had devotion to other saints such as SS. Peter and Paul, SS. Athanasius and Gregory Nazianzen. His writings suggest that he taught children likewise to have a heavenly mentor. The saints teach us the faith and give us example of how to live it. In addition to the saints, Newman taught boys to befriend their guardian angel, and he wrote some beautiful verses about his.

What role did culture play in catechesis for Newman?
Newman realized the power of good literature in forming the imagination and vocabulary of students. He arranged some Greek and Roman plays for the students at the school to perform. He knew from personal experience of the power that ancient heroes have to inspire a child’s imagination. As a student of the classics he also lent from ancient authors the art of writing and conveying ideas. Older students can learn from the classics of literary figures that point to Christ.

Please tell us a little about yourself!

I was born in 1961 in Venezuela to a family who came from Medellín, Colombia, where we returned when I was still a boy. My parents had five children. My father was a physician and when we were still young we lived for two years in London, very near where Newman once went to grade school. My parents taught me many things, especially piety, love for the family and the practice of virtues.

How did you discern your call to the priesthood?
Like my father I also studied medicine. I graduated from the medical school at the University of Navarre, where I got to know Opus Dei, the Work of God. After some time at Navarre I discovered my calling to dedicate myself in the service of God through this institution of the Catholic Church. Opus Dei, founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá in 1928, promotes the universal call to holiness in work and everyday life. The majority of its faithful are laymen and women who carry out a wide variety of secular occupations.

When did you first read about Newman and how did this influence you?

After finishing residency training in internal medicine and doing one year of Endocrinology in Pittsburgh I was asked by the director of Opus Dei to consider studying theology full time. I went to Rome where I completed studies in theology at the University of the Holy Cross. Then I went again to Spain where I did doctoral studies of theology at the University of Navarre. There I met my mentor, a great Newman scholar, Fr. José Morales, author of an excellent biography of Newman in Spanish, many articles on Newman and a number of translations of his work (the latter together with Victor García Ruiz). Reading the biography by Fr. Morales immediately interested me in Blessed John Henry Newman’s passion for truth, intellectual honesty and spiritual fortitude.

You have co-authored Take Five, Meditations with John Henry Newman with Mike Aquilina. What was the genesis of this book?
Mike Aquilina and I met when I lived in Pittsburgh. There his family and I became friends.  I once asked Mike to work with me on biography of Newman, which I have since then finished, but he was too occupied with many books that he was writing. Providentially, later on when I looked for a publisher for the biography Mike suggested that we write a book of short reflections on Newman, and we set to work on it to publish it before Newman’s beatification. This book is a pocket-anthology for ages high school and up, which offers the reader a daily page for prayer divided into a few points including a text from Newman, some questions to meditate on and a few biblical quotes.

What are your hopes for the book?
Our hope is the many people are introduced to Blessed John Henry Newman through this selection of excerpts from his writings, and that people take a few minutes to pray with these texts and scriptural quotations. So far the book has sold well and people have shown a lot of interest. The concept of taking at least Five Minutes a day to reflect and pray with the saints is tried and true, but editions like this one make it practical for people.

You have written a biography on Blessed John Henry Newman. When will it be published?

Presently I am working on corrections for this biography titled John Henry Newman, Passion for Truth. I have worked on this book for seven years and am happy that St. Benedict’s Publishers/TAN have agreed to publish it in September 2011. At www.newmanbiography.com those interested can read about this forthcoming book. This biography explains Newman’s search for the true Church, his growth in virtues, and his long life, rich in relationships and educational projects.

Thank you, Father!

Fr. Juan R. Vélez G. is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei who resides in San Francisco. He holds a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the University of Navarre. His doctoral thesis was on John Henry Newman’s Eschatology. His interest in the life and works of Cardinal Newman began with his doctoral studies under Prof. José Morales, author of John Henry Newman (1801-1890). Fr. Vélez has a medical degree, also from the University of Navarre, and was previously board certified in internal medicine. Please visit his website: www.newmanbiography.com, and his Face Book page: Cardinal Newman for Beginners.

Interview: Columnist Christian Leblanc

Christian LeBlanc is a catechist at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., and an AmazingCatechists.com columnist.

AC: Please tell us, briefly, a little about yourself, your faith and your family.

Christian: I’m a revert whose pre-Vatican II childhood was spent in South Louisiana, where I marinated in a Catholic universe. Thought/studied my way back to the Church after a Prodigal phase. Married the perfect wife, Janet; we have 5 kids, one grandchild, and one more on the way.
AC: What motivated you to teach the Faith?

Christian: I was a member of my parish’s adult class, taught by the deacon. When the deacon’s energies became absorbed by his wife’s serious illness, I was asked to take over the class cold-turkey. Fortunately, my fellow-students were supportive that first year. The next 3 years were great, and my wife & I also taught RCIA. After 4 years of adult classes, I was asked to teach 6th grade, which I felt was a demotion. How wrong I was – this is my 6th year!
AC: Who or what have your inspirations been?

Christian: Sisters Celine, Alphonsus, Mary James, Johanne, and Helena, grades 1-8; Father Robert Berggreen, grades 9-10. They knew their faith, believed it, and provided firm, benevolent leadership in the classroom. They loved me like I was their own child, which in many ways I am.
AC: Where have you found encouragement?

Christian: In the faces of the kids when they figure something out on their own.

AC: Can you describe your teaching style?

Christian: 6th grade Socratic method: prepared notes, blackboard, lots of questions and answers, virtually no reading in class. No pencils, no paper, no books, no crafts, no games. I promise you: the kids thrive.

AC: What are the most important lessons you have learned about sharing the Faith, which you would like to share with our readers?

Christian: To share it you must know it. To know it at an adult level will likely require self-directed continuing education. And at least in South Carolina, you have to know it Biblically.

AC: Can you share an anecdote that shows one or more of the following: how rewarding it is to teach the Faith, or how funny it can be, or how inspiring, or how teaching has taught you an important lesson?

Christian: Pretty much every class is rewarding & funny & inspiring….I suppose I’ve learned that it’s a very big privilege to be entrusted with teaching these kids their Catholic faith.
AC: What’s the toughest lesson you teach?

Christian: Uh-oh….none are tough. But then I’m dealing with 12 year olds, and I’m 52 with a bunch of my own kids…heh.
AC: What are your favorite lessons to teach?

Christian: Anything to do with marriage and kids. The Mass. Baptism. Confirmation. Miracles.
AC: Where do you still struggle as a teacher?

Christian: Covering the right amount of the right material at the right pace. Keeping the least-churched kids engaged without boring the better-churched ones.

AC: What have you learned from your students?

Christian: 6th graders are very nimble-minded, are curious about God, and like it when they can meet high standards. I respect them as thinkers, and they respond to that with real effort.
AC: What contribution would you like to bring to Catholic catechesis?

Christian: To show how to use an adult understanding of Catholicism to teach 6th graders, such that they’ll have a firm framework that future learning can attach to.

AC: What resources do you find yourself using and recommending?

Christian: The New American Bible for its notes; the RSV Catholic Bible for its text; the Catholic Internet, especially the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent; the Catechism (although not so much with kids); the newspaper (current events).

AC: Any closing comments?

Christian: What could be more exciting than this opportunity to shape the future?


The Handbook for Catholic Moms by Lisa Hendey

Reviewed by Ellen Gable Hrkach

Traditionally, and innately, mothers are nurturers, often forgetting about themselves. Lisa Hendey, the author of “Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing the Heart, Mind, Body and Soul,” has done a great service by writing a book which can help Catholic moms in taking better care of their own needs.

In the preface, Lisa (well-known creator of CatholicMom.com) writes:

“I am vitally interested in looking daily at my own private journey toward being a better person. The journey is multifaceted, so it’s necessary to work, a bit at a time, on each of those facets. Focusing on any one of them uniquely and ignoring the others throws off the balance necessary to keep life’s wheels rolling along smoothly.”

A mother who is emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually well is a better mother and a better person. With that in mind and in order to assist other moms, Lisa has divided “Handbook for Catholic Moms” into four relevant and important sections: “Heart” “Mind” “Body” and “Soul.”  Each chapter begins with “My Story,” as we journey with Lisa through the milestones in her life, from her childhood to the meeting of her husband to their wedding.  These stories also recount her time as a career woman, to becoming a mother and deciding to be a stay-at-home mom, to her challenging battle with non-invasive breast cancer.  I was touched by and related very much to these poignant and inspiring stories shared by Lisa and by the numerous other contributors to her book.

I found the writing engaging and easy to read and I was delighted with and inspired by the beautiful and relevant quotes from Scripture, Popes, Saints and others.

Not only is this a wonderfully inspiring book, it is also an informative, helpful reference manual for all mothers.  At the end of each chapter are two useful lists:  “Mom’s Homework” and “Web Resources” regarding that particular topic.

The author did an excellent job gathering together into one book all the helpful information a Catholic Mom would need.  This is an ideal gift for new Catholic moms (and a most appropriate bridal shower gift) as well as a great resource for experienced moms.

I myself intend to buy a few copies to have on hand to give to all the new Catholic moms in my life!

Copyright 2010 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Interview: Deaf Catechist, Kathy Murphy


In God’s Hands

By Kathy Murphy

As told to Nancy Baum

I was born in Pittsburg Pennsylvania.  I have four brothers, one is deaf like me.  When I was little I went to CCD classes for the deaf on Monday which was taught by a nun who did not know sign language.  She only spoke to us and expected us to read her lips.  It was difficult to understand her. She wrote “Jesus” on the chalkboard.  She handed me the chalk and indicated that I was to trace over the letters J-e-s-u-s.   With the chalk I traced over the letters.  She pointed to the crucifix and said, “Again.”  I traced over the letters, and she pointed to the crucifix.  This continued a few more times.  I did not understand what “Jesus” meant, nor did I understand what she was trying to teach. My grandma Marian was my first real Catechist. She did not know sign language, but she taught me a lot about being Catholic by her example, and her reverence.  I watched her faithfulness during Mass every Sunday. There wasn’t an interpreter for the deaf, but I truly enjoyed being at Mass.  I remember when I was six years old. She showed me a crucifix, and treated it with such deep respect, that I knew in my heart this was something very special.  She gave me a little statue of Mary which I carefully placed in my bedroom. I placed buttercups and violets around her which I had picked from my backyard.  My grandma knelt in front of the statue. I copied her behavior as I put my hands together, and closed my eyes. I moved my mouth as if I was praying.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I knew nothing about my Catholic faith.  But I loved my grandma and I copied her reverence.  I felt strongly in my heart that the Catholic faith was important in my life.

When I was a child, Father Walsh would tell me many Bible stories and parables.  He was a hearing Priest, but he was a skilled signer.  Although I became familiar with some of the stories from the Bible, I wasn’t taught catechism. So I still did not know my Catholic faith.

In 1992 I went to College at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.   My teacher, Father Jerry, was hearing, but he too was skilled at signing. I didn’t have enough Catholic catechesis to make a connection with what he was trying to teach.  I truly felt at this time I was being called by God to be a Catechist for the Deaf.  But I did not even understand the Catholic faith myself.

Since 1982 I have been on five Cursillo’s.  The first four, I went because I felt it was my duty to go.  I went with the wrong attitude, and got nothing out of it.  The last Cursillo I went to I enjoyed very much.  I felt inspired being around other enthusiastic Catholics.

I’m currently enrolled in a program called “Ministry Formation Program for Catholic Deaf Adults” in Chicago, Illinois.  MFP has helped me out tremendously in teaching me my Catholic faith and training me to be a Catholic leader in ministry.   In addition, MFP has taught me certain key personality types, and how to incorporate this in teaching children.

In 2008 I had my own CCD class of Deaf students. I used some of what I had learned from the Ministry Formation Program to help my students to grow in their Catholic faith. I was preparing them for First Holy Communion.  I would act out Bible passages with them.  With the Deaf students you need to use big gestures and be an actor. I used many pictures to help them to understand their catechism.  I would have them draw pictures so I could see if they were grasping a concept.  I would ask them many questions to make sure they understood the lesson. I used modeling to demonstrate to them how to behave in line and receive Communion.  I analyzed my student’s personality types and assigned them different tasks in the classroom.  For example, I would have one student pass out papers for me, while another student would help me act out a Bible story.

This year I’m co-facilitating a “Why Catholic” class which is an adult program that our Bishop wants our Diocese to take part in.  We use PowerPoint in this class as a tool to show our adults pictures that would aid them in understanding their lessons.

Father Ken, a hearing priest who knows sign language, is my Spiritual Director.  I’m learning a lot from him, and he is learning from me also.  He guides me in my goals on how best to serve the Deaf community.

Steve, a deaf friend of mine, has completed the Ministry Formation Program and he is ministering to the Deaf in Dallas, Texas.  He comes to my “Why Catholic” class because he is so interested in learning more about the Catholic faith.  He and I work together in assisting the Deaf Catholics in our Dallas/Fort Worth area.  One problem we are working on is getting more harmony between Hispanic and Deaf culture.  Many of the Hispanic Deaf children have hearing parents who can only speak Spanish.  They are entrenched in their culture.  Steve and I are working on teaching these children their faith and respecting their parents’ culture.

I encourage our Deaf adults to get involved with the Ministry Formation Program in Chicago.  I also encourage them to go on a Cursillo.

Melissa, a Deaf middle school teacher, and I will be teaching a Mass reading class next year.  The purpose is to make sure our Deaf understand the readings.  Many times our Deaf will sign the readings for our Deaf Community Mass, and misunderstand some of the vocabulary.   It is our goal that our class will help our Deaf have a much better understanding of the readings from Mass.


Kathy Murphy is a catechist at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in North Richland Hills, Texas. Contact Cursillo organizers at: http://www.natl-cursillo.org/

Interview: Novelist Christopher Blunt

Interview by Ellen Gable Hrkach

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.

My wife and I live on a fifteen acre farm in rural mid-Michigan with our kids. Our  children are aged 13, 10,  7 and a newborn. My wife is a “recovering attorney,” and has been home full-time with the children since our first one arrived. We have homeschooled them all since Kindergarten, and have found a wonderful community of other homeschooling families here. I am self-employed with my own public opinion research consulting practice; I analyze survey data and conduct focus groups, especially related to politics and public policy. I am a Seattle native and cradle Catholic, but didn’t really learn the faith until I got to college in Chicago and met some friends who were much more committed to it.

What prompted you to write a novel?
A few years ago, I found my mind drifting back to when I was single, and had faced a difficult choice about dating a particular young woman. I’d liked her, but her background presented some real obstacles to ever having the traditional Catholic family I’d always wanted. Things had come to an emotional head one evening, and I’d come close to making a terrible decision. After some struggle, I chose to walk away from her — but only in looking back could I appreciate all the fruit that had flowed from that one choice, and the “parade of horribles” that could have proceeded had I made one decision differently. As I reflected on the details of what could have happened, and the seemingly-impossible hole that I would have found myself in, I realized that this could be a very compelling situation for a novel.

Give us a short synopsis of your novel.
Passport is a coming-of-age novel, and a love story, but not a romance. My central character, Stan Eigenbauer, is living a generally upright — but soft and self-satisfied — bachelor life in Chicago. He meets an attractive young Vietnamese-American woman (Trinh Le) who he likes and is interested in dating, but soon discovers that there’s a problem: she can’t, and won’t, get married in the Catholic Church. Stan’s head tells him to walk away immediately, but the two of them get carried away by their emotions; he stays too late at her apartment, and the two of them go too far. Stan does try to move on, but the emotional baggage and other consequences of his bad decision threaten to turn several peoples’ lives upside down. He’s now faced with a decision that is much bigger and much more difficult, and every option seems bad in a different way.

After agonizing over these options, Stan makes an unconventional choice that appears both heroic and suicidal. As the story progresses, and Stan struggles (not always successfully) to live with the consequences of his unconventional choice, he grows more faithful to his commitments and more committed to his faith. And he discovers a depth of joy and happiness far beyond what he or we could have expected.

Why the title?
We usually think of a passport as something needed to cross an international border. In his homily at our wedding, the priest analogized marriage as being a “passport” to heaven. My passport is named Micki. My wife’s passport is named Chris. His point was that marriage is a school of self-giving, and of learning to sacrifice oneself for the members of one’s family. That process transforms a person into one who is capable of crossing the border into heaven at the end of his or her life. It took me many years to appreciate the truth of this analogy, and it is the biggest thing that Stan must learn as he grapples to reset the course of his life.

Who is the target audience and what is the message you hope readers will take from your book?
Passport’s target audience is Catholics in their twenties and thirties, but I have heard from people of all ages and religious stripes who have enjoyed the story. Women tend to find the romantic elements and family relationships particularly compelling, but this is decidedly not a “romance novel” in the traditional sense. Men especially appreciate seeing the story told from the perspective of one of their own, and say they often find themselves empathizing with Stan’s experiences and taking inspiration from them. Although the novel’s important conflicts stem from distinctly “Catholic” sources, these teachings are incorporated organically into the plot; non-Catholics find themselves enjoying the story on its own terms, without feeling preached to.

The key message I hope readers take from the book is that marriage and family life are difficult, but it is precisely in and through those sacrifices that we grow and learn to love others the way God wants us to. And the happiness that stems from that kind of love is far deeper and much more satisfying than what we find in pursuing our own desires.

Tell us about the main character, Stan, and in what ways is he similar to you and in what ways is he different?

Stan begins the story in his late 20s. His parents are recently deceased, and left him the six-flat building that he grew up in on the north side of Chicago. He lives in one unit; the rental income from the other five units has allowed him to quit his job as an engineer and pursue his hobby of restoring vintage cars. He’s an introvert, and enjoys his time alone working on cars and watching baseball, but is lonely and wonders when he’ll find the good Catholic woman he can live happily ever after with. Stan is a faithful Catholic who attends Mass weekly, and he knows the teachings of the Church backwards and forwards, but he has no interior life of prayer. He prides himself on being a full fledged, following-all-the-rules member of the Catholic “club.” He dreams of having a large number of children — not because he enjoys or even likes kids, but because he believes it would mark him as having the ultimate Catholic marriage. The externals of Stan’s situation differ greatly from mine when I was single, and my life of prayer was much better developed, but Stan’s temperament is a lot like mine — and I shared many of his underlying attitudes, particularly about marriage and children.

The character whom I most closely resemble is Stan’s best friend, Jim Walsh, who lives on a farm outside Chicago with his wife and their homeschooled children. Jim plays a key supporting role as Stan’s confidante, and in helping guide Stan in the decisions he must make.

Your book touches on many Catholic themes. Which theme or themes would you say would be the most prominent?
Catholic teachings about the indissolubility of marriage are critical to the novel’s central conflict, and exert the biggest influences on the characters’ choices.

Your book is both uplifting and realistic and I was touched by Stan’s efforts to selflessly repair his mistake. How do you answer the criticism that your book shows more of the sacrifice and suffering of marriage than the joys?
As you note, the story is chiefly about Stan’s effort to address the effects of a bad decision. But by the nature of what Stan has done, and the situation he now finds himself in, his subsequent family relationships are inherently compromised. That limits the degree of “normal” marital joy that Stan is able to experience. However, one point the story tries to make is that every successful marriage has its sacrifices and privations; some are more extreme than others, but the generosity with which a person shoulders those sacrifices is directly correlated with the ultimate joy and interior happiness the person experiences — even if that joy and happiness are not of the usual variety.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Finally, I would add that I am in the process of writing a sequel. It picks up approximately four years after the conclusion of Passport, and Stan’s situation will include many of the more “usual” joys of family life which eluded him in the original story. Certain important things will remain out of his grasp initially, however, and he will need to make some tough decisions about what he is willing to change and sacrifice in order to reach all that God might have in mind for his family.

Click here to order your copy of “Passport”

Click here to visit the publisher’s “Passport” webpage

Interview: Columnist Ellen Gable Hrkach


Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
My name is Ellen Gable and I have been married to my husband, James Hrkach, for 25 years. We have five sons: Josh (21), Ben (19), Tim (16), Adam (12), Paul (9) and seven children in heaven. We live in the country near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I am, however, originally from New Jersey and my extended family still lives in Southern New Jersey.
My husband is a teacher, musician, writer and artist (he designed the cover of my book). Presently, I am homeschooling our two youngest boys and working part-time from home transcribing court documents. As well, I do freelance writing for several magazines and websites.

Q: Please describe this book for anyone who might not have read the book.
“Emily’s Hope” is the story of a young woman’s journey from high school to adulthood. It also tells the story of Emily’s great-grandmother, a “Margaret Sanger” type and shows her difficult journey from the early part of the 20th century to the 1960’s. “Emily’s Hope” can be purchased via our website at www.fullquiverpublishing.com. and it’s also available via Amazon.com.

Q: Who is your target audience for Emily’s Hope and what message do you hope to share with this book?
The target audience, I believe, for Emily’s Hope is young adults (16 to 30), although men and women of all ages have read it and enjoyed it. It was my “hope” that young women, most especially, will be drawn into the story and at the same time, learn Catholic teaching regarding sexuality and marriage.

Q: How did the idea for this story come to you?
My husband actually gave me the idea to write the story. Much of it is based on the true life experiences of both myself and my great-grandmother. However, for continuity’s sake and to protect some of the characters’ identities, I fictionalized the stories. I changed names, amalgamated incidents and characters.

Q: I know that you’ve done a good deal of writing on your topics of interest. How does writing in the genre of fiction vary from your previous writing and have you found it to be an effective avenue for spreading your ideas?
I have done extensive non-fiction writing for Catholic magazines and websites. Writing fiction, in my opinion, is more difficult. It is, however, a great means of evangelizing.I am the type of person who, when given the chance, evangelizes or as my mom calls it, “gets on my soapbox.” We never know when God will put someone in our path and when what we have to say might positively affect that person. I have spoken to all kinds of people about my favorite topics (like NFP and chastity): mothers in the McDonald’s playroom, the cashier at A & P, the people in the dentist office, the driver registration office etc. I believe that there’s no better way to get on your soapbox than to write a book. People who would not normally read Catholic fiction (like “pro-choice feminists” and other non-Catholics) have read my book and have told me they enjoyed it.
Also, I told my husband that if, in the writing of this novel, just one person in the world felt like their life was changed for the better because they read my book, I would feel that I had reached my goal. However, when I completed the first draft of my book, I knew that I had already reached that goal, and that I had changed, so much for the better. My relationship to God has become much stronger, I have become more intensely passionate and loving towards my husband, and I have grown in appreciation of my role as mother to our five sons.

Q: Which character in the book do you most closely resemble?

I modeled the Emily character after myself. In actuality, I learned a lot about myself; why I made certain choices and why I took certain paths. It was, however, especially difficult for me to share certain “humiliating” moments, but it is my hope that others will learn from them.

Q: Does Emily’s story have any basis in truth?
Yes, it is very much a truth-based story, though I fictionalized names, amalgamated events and characters for continuity, and added fictional events as necessary. My great-grandmother’s story is more fictionalized because there was too much missing information and I needed to create a continuous story.

Q: How can parents emphasize the importance of the concept of chastity with their children from a young age?
I believe parents can emphasize the importance of chastity with their children by being open and honest with them. We teach our children about the “Theology of the Body,” early on, about the beauty of their body, about the importance of saving it for that special someone with whom they will make a life-time sacramental commitment. And, although speaking to your children early is important, it’s also important to continue speaking with them throughout pre-teen years, puberty and beyond. My oldest son’s favorite ploy to “trick” me into letting him stay up late was to say, “So, mom, this sex thing, why is it so important to wait until marriage?” He knew that I would launch into an hour dialogue with him and it would mean that he would be up an extra hour. I knew what he was doing and didn’t mind. Our boys know that they can talk to us about anything, especially in the area of sexuality.

Q: How do you respond to families who shy away from NFP due to financial hardships or other difficulties?
First of all, I would try to convince them that modern methods of NFP are an effective way of spacing and limiting your family. We have had the experience of using NFP with a very serious need to avoid pregnancy and we have known other couples in the same circumstances. Many people mistakenly think that modern NFP is the same as the old rhythm method and this is not true.

Some couples say that they can’t afford another child and in many cases, it is true that there would be financial hardship if they conceived. With the high effectiveness of NFP, it is possible to avoid a pregnancy which would be a hardship. However, I also know couples who say that they can’t afford another child, yet they have a high income and many material possessions. So I think it’s important to weigh one’s priorities and try to decide what is a necessity and what is a luxury with regard to “financial hardships.” As a side note, NFP is one of the least expensive methods to use and it respects, rather than destroys, a woman’s fertility.

In 25 years of using NFP, we have never experienced an “unplanned” pregnancy.

Q: Please share a few of your favorite chastity and NFP resources.
First of all, for chastity resources, I would highly recommend Jason Evert’s booklet “Pure Love,” as well as his book, “If You Really Love Me.” My teenage boys love his DVD, “Romance Without Regret” and they want to keep watching it over and over again. Crystalina Evert’s booklet, “Pure Womanhood,” is also wonderful. (www.pureloveclub.com) The Everts’ show “The Pure Life” currently airs Thursday nights on EWTN and is an excellent program. Pam Stenzel’s “Sex Has a Price Tag” is an entertaining and yet informative video as well.
As for NFP resources, I would highly recommend The Couple to Couple League and John and Sheila Kippley’s book, “The Art of NFP.” James and I have been a teaching couple for CCL for 23 years and we have really enjoyed the experience. The book, “Life-Giving Love,” by Kimberly Hahn is an excellent reference as well. I would also recommend the many Christopher West CDs, books and DVDs regarding John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” as well as Dr. Janet Smith’s “Contraception Why Not,” CD.

Q: Do you have any future writing projects in the works?
I am currently working on a Catholic historical novel called “In Name Only,” which is my attempt to illustrate the Theology of the Body and the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality through fictional characters and plot. Hopefully, it will be published sometime in 2008.

My husband and I are also currently working on a book entitled “Speaking of Abstinence,” which is a self-help type book for NFP couples who are currently avoiding pregnancy and abstaining in the fertile time.