Images of the baby in Angel in the Waters are more than cute and cuddly. They are lifelike — and maybe life changing.
The publisher, Sophia Institute Press, claims that the book will make your children pro-life in the two minutes it takes to read the pages. The in utero illustrations by Ben Hatke make the claim credible.
“It was a very rewarding experience working on the book,” says Hatke, who collaborated with the author, Regina Doman. “It was my first children's book and it is a topic I really believe in.”
Hatke, 27, has been drawing since the time when, in his boyhood, he saw a picture of a cheetah in full stride and felt he had to trace it. His pastime became a passion while he attended Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., from which he graduated in 2000.
In the solidly Catholic atmosphere, he dedicated his talents to tracing the glory of God in creation, and his career as an illustrator is now hitting full stride. The bulk of his work appears in the textbooks of Seton Home Study School, also based in Front Royal, but he has worked on comic books and other secular projects.
“Christendom did not offer me the opportunity to develop the technical skills I've come to use, but my education there gave me a grounding, a context in which to put my artwork,” he says. “I was given a lens with which to look at life.”
Hatke lives in Front Royal with his wife, Anna, a 2003 Christendom graduate. They were married in 2001, while she was a sophomore at the school, and have two girls, ages 21/2 years and 4 months. She is a stay-at-home mom and writes regularly for Celebrate Life, the magazine of the American Life League in Stafford, Va.
Hatke had previously worked at Human Life International in Front Royal while doing art projects in the evening. When he decided to become a full-time artist, “It was scary at first,” he admits. “But the flow of work has been increasing steadily.”
“The Church and the art world are thirsting for new art,” he adds. “I think we're poised at the edge of a lot of good things, and I'm eager to be a part of them.”
Mary Claire Almeter had doubts about the Church and the Bible as a teen-ager, but now she is passing on the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith as a parish director of religious education. The change came while she attended Christendom College, and it was solidified by earning a master's degree in theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
“The faith is so much of who I am, I can't imagine not being Catholic,” she says.
Almeter, the eldest of six children, was born in upstate New York, but her parents later moved to Dearing, Ga., to join the Alleluia community, an interdenominational but mainly Catholic group that runs its own K-12 school. While in the high school section, she began rebelling against the faith of her family. She enrolled in Christendom because it was a small liberal-arts college, not because of its strong Catholic identity.
“I was totally surprised by the pervasive Catholic character of the school and the students, but after one semester I was won over,” she recalls. “In a course with [school president] Dr. Timothy O'donnell, I fired question after question about the validity of the Bible and he answered every one.”
After earning a B.A. in 1997, Almeter went on to graduate studies at Franciscan University, but decided after a year that she needed some practical experience. She joined Focus, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, in which young people live in teams near college campuses and share their faith with young adults. After four years, she returned to Steubenville to complete an M.A. in theology with a concentration in catechetics.
Now 29 years old, she is director of religious education at St. Louis parish in Alexandria, Va. The fact that she once had her own adolescent doubts helps when dealing with the questions of teens in her program.
“I have to bring my Catholic faith into my daily work,” she says. “But my daily work is merely an outgrowth of my belief in and love for Christ and his Church.”
Charles Mollenhauer works just outside of Cologne, Germany, where Pope Benedict XVI will preside at his first World Youth Day in August. Yet, Mollenhauer laments, you would never know from the media that such a huge event was coming to the Pope's home country.
“There's nothing in the media and we have a month to go,” he says. “If any other event was coming to Cologne with 800,000 young people, it would be all over the news.”
Mollenhauer grew up in Verona, N.Y., and graduated in 1989 from Magdalen College in Warner, N.H. How he got to work in Germany for the Legion of Christ with little knowledge of German is the story of the progression of his faith.
“Growing up in upstate New York we had a really good parish priest who taught us the essentials of the Catholic faith,” he says. “The next step was when I went to Magdalen and really grew in my faith. I received a really good and comprehensive education there, and it opened my eyes to the depths of the faith through studying the documents of the Church. After graduating, I began working for the Legion of Christ, which has taught me how to apply my faith in a deeper, more profound way, and given me a view of the universal Church.”
A lay member of the Legion's apostolic movement, Regnum Christi, he worked as a fund-raiser and information-technology expert for 10 years at the Legion's development headquarters in Hamden, Conn. Six years ago he became director of development in Germany, where the Legion has a novitiate for seminarians.
As a fund-raiser, Mollenhauer says he meets people from all backgrounds and beliefs. Drawing from his traditional liberal arts education at Magdalen, he is able to speak to them about universal truths that draw the attention even of intellectual skeptics.
“I love the fact that the Catholic faith is the center of everything I do,” he says. “If you're not trying to be a missionary to the world, even as a layman, you're not truly living your faith.”
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.