Artists and Actors Promote Faith in 'Glory Stories'
HAMDEN, Conn. — Five-year-old Katie Rose Luetkemeyer of Marshall, Va., had just listened to her mother read a story about Blessed Imelda Lambertini, the patroness of first communicants, and how the young Dominican nun had a miraculous encounter with Jesus the day she first received Communion.
Katie Rose exclaimed, “I want to receive my first Communion now, too!”
Her mom had been reading from a coloring book that uses the lives of the saints to evangelize young people — and their parents. It's part of a Catholic World Mission project started a year ago with Fresh Flowers in Winter, a book about Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego. Now the books are being expanded to include dramatizations for radio.
“It really took off,” said Ken Davison, Catholic World Mission's executive director. “A lot of Catholic schools in the United States loved [the first book], and we had a Christmas card coloring contest associated with it. It became such a big seller … that we were approached by some other artists who said, ‘We'd love to do this.’”
One of those was Caroline Clifford, a Centerville, Va., artist who had been an animator for Disney for nine years but left because she wanted to use her talent to serve the Church. Clifford learned about the project through Artists for a Renewed Society, a Catholic artists group, and agreed to do the drawings on a volunteer basis for Let the Children Come to Me: Blessed Imelda's First Communion Miracle. She recently completed sketches for the latest coloring book, God's Little Flower, about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, which is being coordinated with the Luke Films production, Thérèse.
Clifford in turn got her former colleague John Webber, an animator for Walt Disney Feature Animation, involved, and he has been working into the early morning hours to finish the drawings for St. Joseph: The Man Closest to Christ, another book in the series.
“I just wanted to use my talent for God,” said Webber, who has a special devotion to St. Joseph and sees his volunteer work as an opportunity to do something for the saint and for God.
Other stories soon to become part of the series include The Courageous Saints of the Knights of Columbus, the tale of six martyred Mexican priests; books on Mother Teresa, who will be beatified Oct. 19; and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
The first describes the persecution of the Church in Mexico during the 1920s, when priests were killed for celebrating the sacraments.
Clifford said the 32-page stories are an effective evangelizing tool that can be used to reach not only young readers but also adults who can be catechized through their children by something as simple as a coloring book.
Each book in the series aims to emphasize a truth of the faith or a Catholic virtue, Davison said, adding, “We want the child to learn the life of a saint, but we want to change lives.”
For example, the Blessed Imelda story, which was released three months ago, is intended to teach children about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
“It's almost scriptural apologetics for the first half of the story,” Davison said. “We need to strengthen the faith and teach kids the faith in a way that captures their imagination.”
A number of dioceses have ordered the books, which are bilingual, for first Communion, while others have used them in work with Spanish-speaking immigrants. Catholic World Mission, based in Hamden, Conn., has incorporated them into the group's schools in Latin America both as catechetical and language-instruction tools.
Stella Jeffrey, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Fargo, N.D., said her diocese's Young Disciples Teams used the Blessed Imelda book this summer as part of Mass preparation workshops at their weeklong day camps for elementary students.
“The kids just like the story,” Jeffrey said. “They're very amazed at little Imelda.”
Jeffrey, who plans to add Fresh Flowers in Winter to next year's program, said she decided to order the books when Bishop Samuel Aquila sent one to her office with a note: “Take a look at these.”
“That translates, ‘It's good,’” Jeffrey said.
The coloring-book stories were converted into taped dramatizations after Davison attended the New Evangelization of America Conference in Dallas earlier this year and became convinced of the need for solid Catholic family programming that could be aired on the radio.
Within two months, a cassette and CD containing the Blessed Imelda and St. Juan Diego stories had been produced as the first volume in the Glory Stories series.
Glory Stories on St. ThÉrése of Lisieux and the Mexican martyred priests are being produced by Brian Shields of Jacksonville, Fla., who also is the producer for the Luke Films movie ThÉrése.
Shields got involved with the project after meeting Davison at the New Evangelization of America Conference.
“He was talking to a co-worker of mine,” Shields recalled. “I just kind of butted into their conversation and we all started talking. He was saying he got this idea of doing these coloring books and wanted to do audiotapes with them, and I was thinking that's a great idea. It's a great way to make families and kids aware of the saints because they're tremendous examples of how we should live our lives.”
A former actor who appeared in the Emmy-winning HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon, Shields said he is enthused about helping make the Glory Stories exciting and entertaining for kids.
“It seems to me that kids just like to have fun,” he said. “That's how I've learned best — when I'm having fun. I hope that comes out. Of course, the message is to nurture them on their faith journey.”
Davison said his plan is to have each coloring book spawn a 12- to 13-minute drama that can be mixed and matched with others to fill a 30-minute radio slot. Several networks have expressed interest in using the stories once more become available, he added.
After discovering the Glory Stories at a meeting where Davison was distributing copies, Mike Jones, vice president and general manager of Ave Maria Communications in Ann Arbor, Mich., said, “This is what I'm looking for.”
“What I liked about them was it was Catholic and it was about the saints,” he said. “These are people who can be held up to our children.”
Jones, whose organization produces and distributes Catholic radio programming for airing on its two Michigan stations and a satellite network, said the stories will appeal to the increasingly younger audience Catholic stations are serving.
“We have a lot of home-schooling and Catholic school families,” he said, “and there is a need for children's programming.”
To begin airing them, however, he will need at least 13 stories.
“This is great stuff and I can't wait till there are enough to put it on the radio,” he said.
Meanwhile, Davison said, the coloring books and the Glory Story tapes and CDs are available through Catholic World Mission and its Web site, www.catholic-worldmission.org. The coloring books also can be purchased through Circle Press USA (33 Rossotto Drive, Hamden, CT 06514). The St. Thérése Glory Story will be available through Luke Films (P.O. Box 761, Beaverton, OR 97075) as well.
All proceeds from sale of the items go to support Catholic World Mission's evangelization efforts in Latin America.
Davison said artists who have given their time to work on the project like the fact they get to do something Catholic and express their own style. Like St. ThÉrése, he said, “They can join the missions without leaving home by using their skills to further the faith.”
Judy Roberts is based in Millbury, Ohio.
- October 5-11, 2003