Book nooks connect people to their faith

by Joyce A. Mitchell

OVERLAND PARK —  If one of your new year’s resolutions is to deepen your faith through a little spiritual reading, then maybe St. Jerome can point you in the right direction: He is  the patron saint of libraries, after all.

While most parishes have reading material of some sort to loan, it’s often a simple system: Self-service nooks in the backs of many churches and parish centers rely on the honor system, with no library cards or fines for late returns. Visitors log their selections in a ledger and return them in a bin or box when finished.

But several parishes in the Johnson County Region have their own small libraries, from which they lend out reading material on all things Catholic.
Prince of Peace Church in Olathe, for example, opened its shelves on All Saints Day last year after collecting books all summer long. Parishioner Paula Hollis, who was instrumental to the collection of the books in the first place, then sorted them and developed a system to keep track of the publications.

“The archbishop’s [program] about our faith — Love It, Learn It, Live It  — really sparked my interest,” said Hollis. “I was jumping on the back of the archbishop’s lead, besides my being a book lover. It’s been a call since being widowed.”

But Prince of Peace’s is only the newest faith library in Johnson County, all of which are open to non-parishioners.

Lisa White created the collection at Curé of Ars in Leawood when, as a convert 13 years ago, she wanted to share her newfound faith.

“Basically, once I had my conversion, I started studying a lot,” she said. “I bought a lot of books from Trinity House. . . . It was inspiration from the Holy Spirit.”

Her pastor, Msgr. Charles McGlinn, fully supported the idea, and the library was planted in the corner of a busy multipurpose room, where White tidies the stacks regularly.

And while a sign suggests a two-week loan, one book’s reappearance after a year did not stress White.

“We play it really loose,” she said.

“For as long as we’ve been doing it, we haven’t had any trouble with things disappearing,” White said. “And people bring more things in, so even if materials don’t come back, we’ve gotten more in return.”

Which author is her favorite among spiritual writers? White recommends any book by Jacques Philippe, especially “Searching for and Maintaining Peace.”

Another lover of Catholic faith books, Ann Phillips especially likes “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.” Phillips has tended the books at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park for 11 years,

That collection existed about a year before Phillips joined the parish and was an outgrowth of the parish’s Adult Faith Committee. Classes for adults were starting, said Liz Willman, Ascension’s director of adult faith and RCIA, and the committee wanted to reach others.

“How can people study on their own if they don’t want to join a class?” she asked, or if the class times don’t work with their schedule? A faith library was the solution. Originally, the books were in a low-traffic area, but they were later relocated near the gathering area. With the church’s addition seven years ago, new bookshelves were constructed to fit the spacious hallway outside the faith classrooms.

“It’s nice and full and very well organized and I credit Ann for that,” said Willman. The selections have more than doubled since Phillips has been involved. She recently turned the reins over to Kim Sutton in anticipation of retiring to Iowa.

“Ninety percent of the books come from people who have enjoyed a book and want to pass it on,” Phillips said.

Besides those who browse before or after class, parishioners pass through from the lower-level parking lot on their way to Mass upstairs, and the eucharistic adoration chapel is nearby, too.

“Space is probably the primary issue and just having the contribution of materials,” said Raphael Nguyen, also of Prince of Peace. “The second thing is that some writers have good authentic Catholic material, and some do not — it doesn’t square with Catholic doctrine.”

Nguyen and Phillips emphasized the importance of having a priest verify that donations contain appropriate Catholic teaching.

At St. Joseph Church in Shawnee, the library has its own room in the basement where 2,000 books line three walls. The keeper of the collection, Bret Cortright, tracks the circulating books in a file box. Their checkout system has patrons exchange a card in the book with another card to indicate when the book is due back.

“A lot of books are checked out on Marian theology and apologetics and prayer books,” said Cortright. “We’ve had a few requests for Bible study guides.”

The library is open once a month on Hospitality Sunday, when the coffee and doughnuts entice parishioners to linger after Masses. The library has been part of the parish at least a decade.

“Still, people pop in and say, ‘Gee, I didn’t even know this was here,’” said Cortright.

So if the cold weather has you thinking, “This would be a great day to cozy up with a book,” consider selections that will expand your knowledge of Catholicism.

St. Jerome will be delighted.

Parish libraries

Parish: St. Joseph, Shawnee
Where: Church basement
Hours: After 7:30, 9, 10:30 a.m., and noon Masses on Hospitality Sundays (generally the second Sunday of the month)
Collection totals: 2,000

Parish: Church of the Ascension, Overland Park
Where: In the lower level next to faith classrooms
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Collection totals:  1,700

Parish: Church of the Nativity, Leawood
Where:  Lower-level conference room next to parish offices
Hours:  8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. weekdays
Collection totals:  700

Parish: St. Michael the Archangel, Leawood
Where: In the Christian Education Office adjacent to the parish school
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays
Collection totals:  350-400

Parish: Curé of Ars, Leawood
Where: Father Burak Room near the church entrance
Hours: When the church building is open for Mass and other activities
Collection totals:  300-400

Parish: Prince of Peace, Olathe
Where: Down the hall from the parish offices
Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Collection totals: 300

Collections are available to non-parishioners. Most suggest a loan time of two to four weeks. In addition to books for adults, some also have DVDs, audio books and children’s books for loan.

Tips on starting or expanding a faith library

Perhaps you’ve got a shelf full of inspirational books you’ve already circulated among your friends. Combined with others, they might make a fine start to a parish library.

Lisa White offers this advice before pressing forward:

• Pray about the idea and ask for God’s blessing and guidance on the whole project.

• Ask your pastor for permission and advice as to location.

• If he indicates no preference, find a good location near a high-traffic area.

• Make it simple and easy to use and maintain.
How can you get more books? Ann Phillips recommends using the bulletin to ask for donations.

• Create a wish list of books by asking the pastor and RCIA directors and teachers for their favorite books about the faith. Ask parishioners to donate books or make purchases in honor or in memory of someone.

• If there’s a more expensive book series on your list, maybe an organization at your parish would donate the funds.

• Find an eager Boy Scout to conduct a book drive and/or build sturdy shelves for his Eagle Scout project.
Remember the importance of being selective.

• Cull out books that are unsuitable or irrelevant.

• Books without imprimaturs should be checked by the pastor.

About the author

Anita McSorley

Anita, managing editor of The Leaven, has over 30 years’ experience in book, magazine and newspaper editing, including stints as the assistant editor of the “Diplomatic Papers of Daniel Webster” at Dartmouth College and then in the public relations departments of Texaco, Inc., and the Rockefeller Group in New York. Anita made the move to newspaper editing when she came to The Leaven in 1988, where she has been ever since. Anita is a member of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and in her spare time, she enjoys giving her long-suffering husband, her children and her staff good advice that they never take.

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