Friday, February 2, 2024

The Creative Act: A Way of Being

 

I recently read The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin. This is a spiritual but not religious book with the author, who is a music producer, believing in a generic high power. That being said, it did offer much to reflect on regarding living a creative life and producing art of any type. "Creativity is something you are, not only something you do. It's a way of moving through the world, every minute, every day."

He emphasizes that art is not meant to be competitive or even a profitable venture (most people will need to do something else to have income). Rather, it is meant to be representative of who we are. It is also a collaboration. "You are in a constant dialogue with what is and what was."

He also talks about dealing with the response to our art. "In the end, you are the only one who has to love it. The work is for you." He defines success as moving forward. We should complete our projects, share them, and begin another. We have very little control over how people respond to our work. "Most variables are completely out of our control. The only ones we can control are doing our best work, sharing it, starting the next, and not looking back."

 The Creative Act: A Way of Being is an encouraging book to read if you are committed to living a creative life.



Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Why Bother Writing? Here's Some Encouragement

 Why bother writing? I admit that this is a thought that has crossed my mind more than a few times lately (and by lately, I mean many of the last twenty years that I have been writing). It is hard to keep going when book sales and page views are minimal and the income produced is far below minimum wage. It is hard to see so many books out in the world with tons of reviews and sales and know that by comparison my work has failed (and by extension, I have failed), that very few people care about anything I write. To be fair, there are many writers in the same boat as me.

Of course, I'm not actually able to stop writing, at least not without feeling even worse. God gave me this gift. I have all these ideas that need to get out or else they just sort of bubble inside of me if I don't work on them, taking up mental space that is better used for other tasks.  

On my better days, I do realize that writing for one person matters, that perhaps a few someone's lives are a bit better because of something I wrote, that maybe they learned something or perhaps I gave them a few moments of entertainment. Maybe in some small way, I helped their relationship with God. That matters.

I thank God for the gift of being able to write, I thank Him for every book sale, and I am thankful that Amazon KDP publishing makes it possible for me to share my books with the world at a low cost outlay. I am thankful for the few readers I do have, especially those who have taken the time to tell me that they enjoyed one of my books. It means the world to me. My writing habit doesn't hurt anyone. It costs me my time and energy, that is all, and I've always made it a point to do it when that time or energy isn't better served doing something else. So, I am thankful for all of that, but it still hurts. I still wonder if any of it is worth it.

One of the e-newsletters I subscribe to is The Habit Weekly. Today it was offering writing encouragement from writers to other writers. I found this passage by Katie Williams beautiful:

Dear heart, what if the answer to “Why bother” had less to do with your human capacity for results and success, and more to do with God’s divine character and infinite beauty? After all, our Father is an artisan, the eternally unmade Creator who spoke the world into existence, named every star, and knit you together in the quiet mystery of the secret place. Our Savior is a storyteller, the author and perfecter of our faith and the Word-made-flesh who has overcome the dark. The Holy Spirit, our advocate and counselor, is the very breath of Truth, equipping the tabernacle craftsmen in the desert and poured out over the early church in tongues of flame.

And you, my friend—you are a child and heir of this legacy, a beloved image-bearer of the Story-shaping King. You are wired for His beauty and joy, and when you write—even when the words are halting and imperfect—you see beyond the surface of this world to the deeper and truer things to come. When you write, you testify to His goodness, and in so doing, you come awake…and come alive.

And that is a gift your favorite distractions cannot offer.

Maybe someday, when my life on this earth is done, I'll learn why my words mattered. I can only hope.

 

 

Friday, December 29, 2023

"The Charter Class" Prologue

 


Prologue

August 14, 1921, Springfield, Massachusetts

 

Mother John Berchmans Somers shifted the papers in her hands as she waited in the chancellery office. Going to see the bishop was a bit like being called to the principal’s office. Bishop Beaven had always been so kind to her and to the whole Sisters of Saint Joseph community, but the Good Lord saw fit to call him to his eternal reward. She offered a quick prayer for his soul as she thought of him. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. Yes, he had been a good man and a good superior. She could only hope to have as cordial a relationship with the recently installed Bishop Thomas O’Leary.

She understood that it couldn’t be easy to lead an entire diocese. The Diocese of Springfield covered much territory and included many people of varying ethnicities who lived in both urban centers and the most rural of hilltowns. Yes, she knew what it was like to bear the weight of responsibility. Hundreds of sisters, working in dozens of schools, answered to her. To some extent, the education of all those pupils weighed on her shoulders. She wanted the best for all of them: the sisters in her community and all those entrusted to their care.

She shuffled the papers once more, reviewing the topics she wanted to discuss, presuming, of course, that the new bishop was open to a conversation. She knew the pecking order. She owed obedience to him. She also knew that, sometimes, if you could convince a bishop that your idea was really theirs, your chances of having it come to fruition were much greater. And Mother John Berchmans had a big idea. Even if she couldn’t make it come to fruition yet, she wanted to plant the seed.

She checked her watch. It was eight minutes past the ten o’clock hour when they were supposed to meet. She sighed. She knew the bishop was a busy man. She fingered the beads of her rosary. She might as well pray as she waited. Perhaps it would calm the butterflies in her stomach.

Finally, at a quarter past, the bishop’s personal secretary came to get her.

“The bishop will see you now,” he said.

She nodded in a respectful manner to the young priest and followed him into the ornate office. Bishop O’Leary rose and offered a kind smile as she walked into the room. She noticed he wasn’t much taller than she was. She had spent her life looking up at people. While she had gotten used to it and never let it intimidate her, she was always thankful when she could look someone in the eye. He held out his hand. She approached and bent to kiss his ring. He offered her a blessing before she rose.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Bishop O’Leary began. “I’ve heard good things about you and your community. From what I have been told, the Sisters of St. Joseph do a great deal of good work in our diocese.”

Mother John Berchmans released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Thank you, Your Excellency.”

She motioned for her to sit and then sat behind his large desk. He pointed to the papers she was holding. “I see you have come prepared.”

“Yes, Your Excellency.”

“Well, then, what can I do for you?”

This was the opportunity she had been waiting for.

“As you no doubt are aware, the Sisters of St. Joseph are deeply involved in the educational activities of this diocese. We teach children from the youngest years through high school and even beyond.”

She paused to collect her thoughts. How much did he know about their work? He had only been their bishop for a few short months. She must tread carefully.

He nodded, indicating that she should continue.

“We operate a normal school at Our Lady of the Elms Academy in Chicopee to prepare young women to be teachers. It is an outgrowth of the boarding school for younger pupils that we operate there.”

“Education is a fine field for young women. I have no doubt that your sisters prepare your students well to cultivate young minds.”

She smiled. “Indeed, Your Excellency, you can rest assured that we do. Our graduates teach in many of the local public schools and are held in high esteem.”

“That is good to hear. Even if they work in public schools, these women bring their Catholic faith and education with them. It is an important ministry, albeit one of a less obvious sort.”

“I agree. Educating future teachers is part of our mission, and we plan to continue that, but the world is changing. Educational expectations for teachers are becoming more demanding. Other fields and opportunities are opening up to women as well, not to mention the important role women have to play as mothers in raising future Catholics. I fear the young women of our diocese need more educational opportunities than we are currently providing.”

Bishop O’Leary folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. Mother John Berchmans resisted the urge to rush to fill the silence.

“Our diocese has fine colleges in both Holy Cross and Assumption in Worcester,” the bishop stated.

“Yes, many of the bright young men from our Catholic high schools have matriculated at both of those institutions and done quite well.”

“But women are not able to attend those schools,” he pointed out. “Mt. Holyoke and Smith are both excellent colleges for women in our area, but they are not fertile soil for nurturing the Catholic faith.”

“No, Your Excellency.”

Mother John Berchmans could almost see the wheels turning in the bishop’s brain. She silently offered a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit to enlighten him. Her dream could become a reality if only she had his permission and backing. She knew it would take time and effort and perhaps a few miracles along the way, but it was something she had brought to the Lord and Our Lady in prayer so many times. She felt confident that this was what God wanted. But she had taken a vow of obedience. Her future, and the future of so many others, rested in the bishop’s hands.

“Perhaps,” he began, “your normal school could be expanded. Surely, there must be a way to provide a modern education for Catholic young women who desire it.”

He looked at her with a steady gaze. “Would that be a challenge your community would be willing to take on? I understand it is a huge undertaking and that you are already involved in many worthwhile pursuits. If you are not able to provide this service, I could no doubt find some other community of sisters who might be willing to come here and establish a college.”

“No, Your Excellency. That won’t be necessary.” She forced herself to stay calm, to not betray her emotions. She wanted to rejoice, but there would be time for that later. “We would be happy to accept the challenge.”   

 

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Thursday, December 28, 2023

The First Review of "The Charter Class"

 

I was so pleased to see this review on Amazon from Laura Pearl, author of Finding Grace and Erin's Ring:

 

 I have read three other novels by Anne Faye and enjoyed them all, but this might be my favorite one of the bunch. A lovely work of historical fiction, The Charter Class tells the story of the very first class of students at The College of Our Lady of the Elms in Springfield, MA ("Elms College" for short), an all-girls school that opened in the 1920's. In an era when few young women of modest means had opportunities for higher education, Mother John Berchmans (Mother Superior of the Sisters of Saint Joseph) envisioned an educational institution that would prepare its bright students--body, mind, and soul--for any future vocation, whether it be in the work force, in the home, or in the religious life. With the eager support of Bishop Thomas O'Leary, Elms College became a reality and welcomed its first charter class of 36 freshmen in the fall of 1928.

The story follows three girls from very different backgrounds: Katie O'Leary, the only child of a widowed farmer, whose mother's dying wish was that she attend Elms College; Nora Walsh, the vivacious and outgoing oldest daughter in a large, happy Irish-American family; and Beth Daviau, the older of two sisters in a dysfunctional household, with an alcoholic father who abuses his wife and daughters both verbally and physically. Katie and Beth become roommates and good friends at Elms. Nora's roommate is Rose Laroche, whose handsome brother Bob becomes a love interest for Nora. The book takes the reader through the school year calendar, with its stresses (both academic and social) and its joys (such as holiday breaks to visit with family and extracurricular activities at school). As the year progresses, the girls experiences change them in unexpected ways. There are a couple of love stories included, but they are sweet and chaste and appropriate for young adult readers.

All of the main characters are likable and real; they have their strengths, but their weaknesses as well. The same goes for the nuns who teach at the school: some start out seeming like they might be stereotypes for all the nuns you've ever found in fiction stories (you know, like the mean, grumpy one who raps knuckles with a ruler and appears to have no kindness or indeed any redeeming qualities whatsoever, and then the saintly one who appears to have no faults); however, it soon becomes apparent that these sisters are anything but that. Like the girls, they are fully fleshed-out and real, exhibiting the usual mixture of good and bad traits that all people have, dealing with the kinds of struggles all people face. I found them to be incredibly endearing--especially Mother Berchmans, whose tireless work for this school and its students is an inspiration.

This is definitely a work of Catholic fiction, where all the characters attend Mass and pray regularly. The story stresses the importance of God, of family values, of the commandments and the sacraments. However, even though it is steeped in Catholic tradition and teaching, it is not preachy at all and I believe it can be enjoyed by readers of all faiths. The Charter Class makes me nostalgic for my own youth, when we had nuns teaching at our high school. The messages you'll find in this novel are so positive, and reading it is a balm for a weary soul in a world that doesn't always make sense anymore. Go back to a simpler time with Katie, Nora, and Beth. I think you'll enjoy getting to know them!

 

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Friday, December 22, 2023

"The Charter Class" is now available!


 The Charter Class is now available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. It is free on Kindle Unlimited. 

Mother John Berchmans had a dream . . .

Mother John Berchmans Somers of the Sisters of St. Joseph dreamed of establishing a college to serve the Catholic young women of western Massachusetts. With the support of Bishop Thomas O’Leary, that dream became the College of Our Lady of the Elms. In September 1928, thirty-six brave students embarked on the grand adventure of being the charter class for the new institution.

In their quest to obtain a college education at a time when that was an unexpected route for young women, these students will face challenges at home, at school, and in their personal lives.

Katie O’Sullivan’s recently deceased mother wanted her daughter to have more opportunities in life than to become a farmer’s wife, but Katie leaves for college with a heavy heart. She misses her father and the farm she left behind. Will she fulfill her mother’s dying wish or will the land and animals she loves (not to mention an attractive farmhand) lead her back home?

Beth Daviau wants nothing more than to escape her abusive father and college is her ticket to a better life, but to take advantage of that opportunity, she has to abandon her mother and sister. What does it mean to honor one’s father and mother and can she do that while pursuing her own dreams?

Vivacious Nora Walsh is eager to take on the world, but an unexpected encounter with her roommate’s brother and an unfortunate illness wreak havoc with her plans, making her question everything she thought she knew about herself.

Join Katie, Beth, Nora, and their classmates in their exciting first year as members of the charter class.
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The Story Behind "The Charter Class"

 

The Charter Class is now available on Amazon

Our Lady of the Elms first opened as an academy to educate girls in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 1899. The diocese purchased a large home and property on Springfield Street to accommodate the new institution. The school was named in honor of the Blessed Mother and for the number of stately elm trees growing on the property. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, who had been serving the Diocese of Springfield since 1883, staffed the institution. It operated as a boarding school designed for girls from economically modest families, especially one-parent households, in addition to welcoming local students who could commute to school on a daily basis. While it doesn’t factor in this novel, the academy for younger students would coexist with the college until 1944.

By 1910, the sisters established a Normal School, known as St. Joseph’s College, as an outgrowth of the academy, a two-year course of study that would prepare students to be teachers. A chapel was built in 1913. It served the Elms community for many years until it was demolished in 2016 due to structural concerns.  

Margaret Frances Aloysia Somers was born in Ireland on September 23, 1873. Her family moved to Troy, New York, and then to North Adams, Massachusetts. She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on July 24, 1890, at the age of sixteen, and was given the religious name of John Berchmans. On September 1, 1911, she was named Mother Superior of the community.

Mother John Berchmans Somers
Mother John Berchmans Somers
 

Bishop Thomas O’Leary was born in 1875 in Dover, New Hampshire. He became Bishop of Springfield on May 10, 1921, at the age of forty-six. 

BIshop Thomas O'Leary
Bishop Thomas O'Leary

The relationship between Bishop O’Leary and Mother John Berchmans was cordial. In Mother John Berchman’s first meeting with her new bishop, she brought up her dream of beginning the College of Our Lady of the Elms, a four-year liberal arts institution. According to Sister Consuelo Maria Aherne, S.S.J. in Joyous Service: The History of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Springfield, Mother John Berchmans would “let the Bishop ‘perfect it and take all the credit.’”

While Mother John Berchmans needed Bishop O’Leary’s approval and support, she was the true force behind the effort. She gathered information, visited other colleges, and made sure that the members of her religious community were prepared to teach at the college level, sending them for advanced study at Fordham, Boston College, Manhattan College, and Providence College.

In 1923, construction began on O’Leary Hall, which would house classrooms, a library, and dormitory for the new students. On January 26, 1928, a state charter was granted for the College of Our Lady of the Elms. O’Leary Hall still exists as does the Administration Building which was under construction in this story. It was later renamed Berchmans Hall in honor of the college’s foundress. 

O'Leary Hall and the chapel
O'Leary Hall and The College of Our Lady of the Elms Chapel

 

While Bishop O’Leary and Mother John Berchmans are historical figures, the other sisters in this book are purely fictional. A 1929 list of faculty working at the school includes Sr. Mary Baptista as the Superior, Sr. Helen Joseph, Sr. Mary Cornelius, Sr. Teresa Marie, Sr. Mary Cecilia, and Sr. St. Macharia.

The students are also products of my imagination, but the events in this story are loosely based on “The Diary of Peggy Pip” included in the 1932 Elmata, the yearbook of the graduating charter class.

While this is a fictional story based on the development of a particular Catholic women’s college located in Chicopee, Massachusetts, it also represents the larger tale of women religious who began colleges throughout the country, opening the doors of higher education to young women at a time when that was still a rare opportunity. It is also a tale of those young women who were diving into unchartered waters in an era when society and many of their families did not expect them to pursue a college education. (By way of comparison, my own grandmothers, who lived at the same time, left school at the age of fourteen to go to work.) The world, however, was changing for young women, and these students were determined to find their place in it.

The future students who would walk the halls of the College of Our Lady of the Elms owe the Sisters of St. Joseph and the original class a debt of gratitude for the wonderful foundation that they laid.

 

Sources

Sister Consuelo Maria Ahearne, S.S.J., Joyous Service: The History of The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Springfield (Sisters of St. Joseph, 1983).

Thomas Moriarty, Ph.D., “History of Our Lady of the Elms: Founding and Early Years,” Tribute to History: Our Lady of the Elms Annual Report 1998-1999 (Chicopee: Our Lady of the Elms, 1999).

1932 Elmata, https://archive.org/details/elmata1932ourl/

The Digital Commonwealth site has some wonderful material on the history of The College of Our Lady of the Elms. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/institutions/commonwealth:rj430g71j