TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Two teens believe so strongly in the right of public religious expression that they have started a homegrown effort to promote it.
The seeds were planted two years ago when the Mangan family’s relatives in Chicago told the teens what happened with Christmas in Wauconda, Ill., in 1989.
For decades, the people of the town, northwest of Chicago, had displayed two large crosses on the water tower during the Christmas season.
When an atheist’s challenge forced their removal, the citizens came up with an answer that became a new tradition: crosses displayed all over town.
The Mangans felt that others could derive hope and encouragement from the story, and 18-year-old Mary and 17-year-old Patrick Mangan chose a homemade book as their vehicle. Their 19-year-old cousin Kevin Sullivan Mooney is the illustrator, while other Mangan siblings also helped in the making of The Cross and the Water Tower: A Christmas Story, as did a host of cousins.
As Patrick put it, “One family did the writing, one the illustrating, one the research, and one the praying.”
As a tribute to the town and people, they kept the name “Wauconda” in the story, but they told the events as a work of fiction from the point of view of the town’s children, members of the Water Tower Club who were praying for a Christmas adventure.
The Mangans wrote from their Tallahassee, Fla., home. Patrick, a junior at John Paul II Catholic School in Tallahassee, and Mary, now an English major at the University of Dallas, were the cowriters. Younger sister Julia wrote the book’s back cover, and younger brothers Daniel and Sean, who could be Water Tower Club members themselves, came up with the kids’ names and helped steer the work into a child-friendly story.
“We have always done ministry together as a family,” said their mother, Lynn Mangan, reflecting on the experience. That included pro-life ministry in the Tallahassee area. “We always did things as a team, so we approached this book the same way.”
Their father, Michael, sent the family on a trip to Wauconda to talk to residents. Cousins in the Weiss family in Illinois had already been doing the research into the actual events. At the same time, the young Andrews family cousins in Maryland were the prayer warriors during the entire project.
The family-wide effort turned into a book that has been endorsed by Father Benedict Groeschel and Pensacola-Tallahassee Bishop John Ricard.
‘A Child Shall Lead Them’
Joann Glim lived through the controversy.
“This was a situation where the community came together and decided to show the way Christians will respond to something — and that’s with love,” Glim explained of the town’s solution. “The community put up thousands of crosses in a five-mile radius. Those two crosses became thousands.”
When Glim and her husband, William, moved to Bradenton, Fla., in the mid-1990s, they brought their Christmas cross from their Wauconda home with them. Now they display it every year. “We just put our cross up … and we will put it up every Advent season forever,” she said.
Everyone can learn from Wauconda’s Christmas. Mary hopes the story will help Wauconda keep its crosses and special tradition, but also “remind us to keep the cross in our hearts.” She said she “was really inspired” retelling how the whole town cared about their faith.
While writing, Patrick sometimes found himself identifying with the Water Tower Club kids and learned with his characters. “We wrote the story to give hope,” he said, “and just the writing of it gave me hope.”
Illustrator Kevin, on an art scholarship at the University of Dallas, hopes the story will help readers “realize they’re not alone fighting for this cause.”
Reading the book, Father Michael Foley, the Mangans’ pastor at Good Shepherd in Tallahassee, was struck how children so often remind us what Christmas is all about, recalling Isaiah: “a little child shall lead them” (11:6).
When one antagonist in the story said that Christians don’t speak up because they’re too busy with shopping and seasonal preparations, Father Foley remembered the adage “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
The idea of our faith and salvation being challenged is not a bad thing, he said, because “each must accept the cross of our salvation and each generation must make a profession of Our Lord.”
Lynn Mangan described how working on the book brought a great blessing to the family. “We felt God was there leading and guiding us during the whole story,” she said. “Sometime families go in different directions, but this kept everybody working together on the same project and in prayer together about it.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is
based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
For more information and to purchase The Cross and the Water Tower: A Christmas Story (Rotondo Press, 2008), visit TheCrossAndTheWaterTower.com, Amazon.com, or call toll-free: (866) 701-4221