Meet James and Karen, who are preparing for marriage.
Through colorful illustrations and a page-turning story, Becoming Mr. and Mrs. Thomas presents the path to the sacrament of holy matrimony to young readers.
The book, which is aimed at readers in grades three through six, has a readability around fifth-grade level and completes the trilogy of vocation books begun six years ago by co-authors Father Jeffrey Kirby and Marguerite Wertz and illustrator Alice Judd.
“The writing was a little more difficult and intricate in this one,” explained Father Kirby, who will return to parish work this summer in the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., having just completed his doctorate in Rome. “With Father Bob and Sister Mary Grace, we were just telling the story of one person. But in Mr. and Mrs. Thomas, we are telling the story of two people, Karen and James, from the beginning of their lives.”
“We tried to make this story realistic for the age group we were writing for,” he said. “It was not ‘They saw each other, fell madly in love and lived happily ever after’ — or the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s a middle, where these two are in the midst of real life. They have to try to find God’s will and eventually realize they’re called to be married.”
Wertz, the principal of St. Mary, Help of Christians School in Aiken, S.C., agreed.
The story weaves the couple’s entire lives together.
After Karen is brought home from the hospital after being born, the house pictured is Wertz’s grandparents’ house.
“Those illustrations mean everything to me,” Wertz said. “The house is two blocks from the school. It’s a great old home.” Naturally, because the house is so close to the parish school, many students recognize the home.
Those familiar with the earlier books will be pleasantly surprised where and how Sister Mary Grace shows up here. And the priest in James and Karen’s parish, Father Gregory, happens to be the image of St. Mary, Help of Christians’ pastor.
In addition, the adoration chapel at Karen’s Catholic college is based on a real chapel.
After college, James resides in a home with other single men who want to live in a Christian community. It is Drexel House, where Father Kirby had his office when he served as the diocesan vocations director.
“James and Karen are my parents’ names,” added illustrator Judd, who sees this as “a tribute to my parents and their beautiful marriage of 51 years and their six beautiful kids.” Judd and her husband have been blessed with six children, ages 11 to 24.
Doing this book for Judd was “personally very meaningful because this was the vocation I had chosen. My husband, Derron, and I are married 26 years.”
“I wanted children — and my children — to see this vocation is a beautiful gift from God: a beautiful calling and a beautiful sacrament,” she added.
“The most important thing for the sacrament of marriage is having Christ at the center,” she said. “These kids [James and Karen] show their relationship with Christ was most important, and that’s got to be the core of the marriage.”
Judd explained that the illustration most important to her is of the wedding vows (shown above). “I wanted it to be beautiful because it is so important. That was what this book was all about.”
Father Kirby has great hopes for this book and believes it will “show young Christians the ways of God and nature and what marriage is supposed to be — here’s a man and woman saying ‘Yes’ to that vocation and living that vocation for the rest of their lives.”
Wertz calls this book her favorite “because so many of our young people are called to the vocation of holy matrimony, so I think it reaches most of our students, Catholic and non-Catholic,” she said. “Most want to grow up and become parents. Seeing that as a true vocation and calling from God is important.”
In his foreword to the book, Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston noted that this story “reflects the experiences of many married people and one that should bring fond memories and joy to those in the married vocation.”
“Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has recently drawn incredible attention to the married life and to the Christian family. It is an attention that is much needed and which bears great hope,” Bishop Guglielmone added. “This children’s book is one small contribution to this universal effort to emphasize and appreciate the blessings of married life today.”
a Register staff writer.
Joseph Pronechen photo