Celeste Behe is a logophile, Toastmaster, humorist, speaker, nostalgist, and Bronx-born Calabrese who talks with her hands and writes from her heart. She is a Register correspondent and longtime contributor to Catholic Digest. Her articles have also appeared in Lay Witness and Canticle magazines, and online at Catholic Mom and Catholic Exchange. A female Walter Mitty with a penchant for storytelling, Celeste especially enjoys sharing personal tales of a life well flubbed. She is a veteran homeschooler with 24 years down and six to go, and she’s got the jitters to prove it. Celeste and her husband Mike live in Bethlehem, PA with eight of their nine children.
St. Anthony of Padua’s eloquent preaching earned him the appellation “Hammer of the Heretics.” St. Vincent Ferrer, the “Preacher of the Judgment” who had the gift of tongues, converted thousands of Muslims from his pulpit. St. Ambrose is known as the “Honey-Tongued Doctor” because of his powerful, yet sweet and pleasing, oratory.
Each of these saints was a master of rhetoric, or the art of persuasive speaking. It was St. Ambrose’s own student St. Augustine who promoted rhetoric as a means of service to God and the Church. He believed that the obligation to spread Christ’s message belonged to every Christian in every age.
Enter the Holy Mackerels Catholic Communicators (HMCC).
A group of Texas Catholics within the Diocese of Austin, the HMCC chartered the “Holy Mackerels Catholic Toastmasters of Central Texas,” whose stated mission is to “provide Catholic faithful with training and support in communications skill development and to enable articulate proclamation and defense of the faith.” Its club meetings follow the incremental program of Toastmasters International, an organization that teaches public-speaking skills.
Larry Odom, immediate past president of the Holy Mackerels Catholic Toastmasters club, said that “many Catholics with a strong faith would love to be able to discuss their faith and share it more, but they don’t have the confidence in their speaking abilities to do so.”
The first step towards acquiring that confidence, said Odom, is to realize that, for a Catholic, facility as a speaker is of secondary importance.
“Faith, or the desire for faith, is what drives the other factors,” explained Joe Condit, founder and CEO of the premier Catholic speakers’ bureau CMG Booking. “One must have the desire and passion to learn and love his faith first, and then everything else will fall into place as God intends.”
Catholic writer and speaker Mary Lou Rosien agrees that a lively faith can give confidence to the least experienced speaker. The regimen she follows prior to giving a talk includes “Mass, the Eucharist and, whenever possible, adoration. And, of course, I pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’”
Dominican Fr. John Baptist Ku, assistant professor at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, agrees that prayer is indispensable to the Catholic speaker: “A man becomes an orator in the world by learning how to orate; a man becomes an orator of Christ by learning how to orare (pray).”
In fact, how to pray is one of the first things that a new member will learn at a Holy Mackerels Catholic Toastmasters meeting. Explained Odom, “Most Catholics are really good at standard prayers: the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, etc. But ask them to just ‘lead us in prayer,’ and they’ll probably fumble and stumble and get tongue-tied. So club members take turns as ‘invocator,’ the person who starts each meeting with a prayer. This allows members to break that invisible barrier.”
The renowned Catholic communicator Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen was a master at breaking barriers. Despite his very hectic schedule, he would manage to spend one hour every day before the Blessed Sacrament, no matter how difficult the circumstances. It’s said that the first thing he did when he once arrived late at night at a remote African mission was to ask to be brought to the chapel so that he could make his Holy Hour. He also overcame barriers to people’s acceptance of the faith by helping to dispel widespread misconceptions about the Catholic Church. One of the ways he did this was by telling stories.
“The masses want to hear a good story about faith that they can relate to,” said Condit, and that’s good news, not only for Catholics who are professional speakers, but for every one of us. “A person who is passionate and has a story he believes in can be far more effective than an experienced speaker who just goes through the motions.”
Added Odom, “We all have a story to tell. One person’s story may be exactly what someone else needs to hear. We’ll never know whom we might have touched with our stories if we allow fear or lack of experience to hold us back.”
Those stories don’t have to be faith-based. Odom said that, even among the Holy Mackerel Catholic Communicators, “it’s not required that all speeches pertain to faith and morals.”
“In fact, the first speech given by a new club member is his own story. You don’t need to know Scripture or the Catechism to tell your own story, to introduce yourself. But we can become much more effective in our evangelization when we gain confidence in speaking on general subjects.”
Condit said, “The Baltimore Catechism teaches us that God made us ‘to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world so we can be happy with him forever in the next.’ Catholics who are good communicators and try to live out their faith are great examples of what it means to carry out this mission.”