Of Eugenics, Down Syndrome, and Defects of the Heart

The greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart.
~ Dorothy Day

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The Childlike Appeal of Murder Mysteries

There is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.
~ G.K. Chesterton

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Please Listen

Becky Savage is a wife, mother, and nurse. Two of her sons died as a result of prescription opioid misuse in 2015. Since then, Becky has traveled extensively to educate teens, families, and communities about opioid and prescription drug safety. Recently, Mrs. Savage came to speak at Marian High School, and I had the honor of introducing her.

Consider this scenario: You’re dashing into a 7-Eleven or convenience store to grab a donut on the way to school, a pack of gum, or a Coke. As you check out, you notice a plastic container next to the register with a slot on the top and some change in the bottom, maybe a couple bucks or even a fiver.

“Please give,” the sign says, “to help find a cure for…,” say, muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis. Perhaps an exotic cancer like leukemia or lymphoma – the kinds of diseases you hear about happening to other people.

Sometimes there’s a photo of somebody, usually in the prime of life, and a name – the name of a loved one struck down by this exotic disease, this unforeseen illness, this bolt out of the blue.

Most the time I’ll drop my change in the container – to be honest, not always – but it didn’t always occur to me that the folks who put those containers there were just like me. Those “other people” affected by debilitating and deadly diseases were just like me. I, or someone I love, could easily become those “other people” in a heartbeat, in a flash.

Your speaker today, Mrs. Savage, is a nurse like me. In fact, for a couple years, Becky and I were colleagues at Bethel College where we taught nursing together. Nurses, along with other healthcare workers, know very well that we’re all those other people. Nobody ever anticipates the medical problems that happen to them. Sure, we can do things to lower our risks, but when those diseases and illnesses appear, they’re always a shock. There’s no way to prepare for when we become those other people.

What Mrs. Savage is going to share with you today is like that. Her unspeakable tragedy is one she never imagined would’ve come near her family or her life. But it did. It didn’t happen to other people. It happened to her.

Please listen. Mrs. Savage and her family are not other people. They are you. They are you. And, unlike some of those diseases I mentioned earlier, you can prevent this happening to you or your friends. You can make a difference.

For more information about Becky’s work and how you can help, visit her 525 Foundation website here

Of Mr. Milewski, Pizza, and a Laden Cross

So Paul…put his foot down, and said, in effect, ‘Whatever others may do, we preach Christ crucified; we dare not, we cannot, and we will not alter the great subject matter of our preaching, Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’
~ Charles Spurgeon

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Unintentional Irony: NPR, Abortion, and Maternal Devotion

You’re just the greatest person that I ever know.
And I just want to be like you.
~ Gregory Bess

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No Need for a Virgil: On Adults Reading Children’s Lit

Favorite book
Flannel lap
Cat curled cozy in a nap
~Rhonda Gowler Greene,
At Grandma’s

When I was finishing up my nursing degree, I took a children’s literature course to fill an elective requirement. My colleagues chose more practical electives – medical Spanish, for instance, or healthcare informatics – but I signed up for kids’ lit precisely because it was decidedly impractical. As a nursing student, so much of my energy was taken up with acquiring important new skills and knowledge – in classroom, in clinical – that I relished the excuse to make time for escapist distraction.

Wonder of wonders, the class turned out even better than I’d hoped, for it was truly devoted to reading children’s books – not reading about them. Professor Brenner’s syllabus was blissfully free of juvenile literary theory, and there were no signs that we’d be subjected to ponderous academic speculation about hidden themes and archetypes. Instead, we got a reading list that included Lois Lenski and the Brothers Grimm, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling – and we dove in. Class meetings were glorious oases when we’d come together, share our thoughts and insights about what we’d read the week before, and deepen our mutual appreciation for the genre’s uncanny magic. It was my favorite class during nursing school, and especially since it was so easy to study at home. All I had to do was open an assigned text, welcome one of my young ones into my lap, and read aloud.

That class experience came to mind recently when I read Meghan Cox Gurdon’s WSJ review of Bruce Handy’s Wild Things: The Joys of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult. Gurdon writes that Wild Things is a parental “discursive encounter” with kids’ classics, a journey of sorts with the author as our Virgil, “both guide and wanderer.” Gurdon ends her review by recommending Handy’s book as “engaging and full of genuine feeling,” and I was almost tempted to track it down at the library – but I decided to give it a pass. I’m sure Mr. Handy has valuable things to say about the exceptional books he treats – including some of my own favorites, like Charlotte’s Web and Good Night Moon – but I couldn’t help thinking that my time would be better spent actually reading the books themselves. When it comes to children’s literature, I side with Prof. Brenner’s instincts: Go to the source!

But where to begin – which source? I have my own memories of books my mom read to me (for example, The Story of the Other Wise Man every Christmas), not to mention the ones I eagerly discovered and devoured on my own, but I already regularly revisit many of them, sometimes every year. “What to do, what to do,” I pondered – then a brainstorm. “Wait a minute – I have seven kids of my own, all voracious readers. I wonder what their childhood favorites are?” I decided to ask.

Of our seven children, only our two middle-schoolers still qualify (barely) as current purveyors of “children’s” literature. Their older siblings, now in college and high school, have moved on to more serious fare, but they’ve maintained strong connections with their reading histories. I frequently hear them talking about childhood favs, swapping title and author suggestions with each other, and sharing their bygone literary enthusiasms, especially older to younger.

I approached them all somewhat scientifically for my in-house survey. “Quick – without thinking about it,” I wrote them in emails (and in person to my youngest), “what’s your favorite childhood book?” They all responded readily, and the results surprised me. To begin with, only a couple selections from the amorphous “classics” category: C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle and Elizabeth Orton Jones’s Twig. Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander might just achieve that distinction in time, but it’s a bit too early to tell, and D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myth has an unfair advantage in the classics department.

The other three on the list are nowhere near the classic stratosphere: Now We Can Have a Wedding by Judy Cox, At Grandma’s by Rhonda Gowler Greene, and The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman. All three would be considered picture books for the youngest readers (or for their parents to read to them), and here’s the interesting thing: One of them was chosen by one of my oldest kids. (Which book and which kid will remain a closely guarded secret.)

Given that range and variety, I can only conclude that more went into their choices than simply the books’ contents – that is, there was something beyond text and pictures that appealed to them in a singularly memorable way. No doubt the circumstances in which the favorites were encountered – or repeatedly encountered, especially in the case of the read-to-me selections – played a role. Also, there must be a rhythm in their language or a captivating cadence (not to mention the illustrations) that hooked their young hearts beyond the mere thoughts expressed through the words themselves.

But I’m only guessing at all that because my survey didn’t extend to rationales. I’d toyed with following up my inquiries with a “why” question, but I’m glad I didn’t, for now I truly have a quest ahead of me, a seven-book road of discovery. I know that my children’s reported favorites are somehow landmarks for them, but I have no context or explanation. Consequently, I now have the privileged opportunity to trace some of their earliest literary steps and attempt to glimpse a stage of their inner development that I’d otherwise not have.

Here’s another thing: It’s only a single glimpse, and thus the quest is endless. I know this because of my eleven-year-old’s earnest attempt to address my survey question.

“My favorite?” Katharine asked. “It’s the one about a grandma and her grandson – but they’re dogs.” It sounded confusing, so she tried to go find it on the shelves.

After some time had lapsed and she hadn’t returned, I went to find her. She was perched on the back of an easy chair, absorbed in the open book on her lap – Just Like a Baby by Rebecca Bond. “I was looking for the dog one and found this,” she said. “It’s another one of my favorites.”

Favorite book, it turns out, is a malleable term, and so my list will not be static – a blessed gift! As the list expands, I’ll have endless excuses for taking refuge among its members.

Let the quest begin.

No Apology Necessary: Of Harbors, Harbingers, and Kids at Mass

Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me (Mt 19.14).

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When You Have Less Than a Day at an Abbey

And I will never, never, never
Grow so old again.
~ Van Morrison

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A JPW Wake-Up Call

Junior Parents Weekend is a time where each of our individual families can be merged with the greater Notre Dame family.
~ Tommy Yemc, JPW 2017 Chair

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Of Mrs. Rice, Daily Mass, and the Camaraderie of Faith


The Blessed Eucharist is precisely food, which explains why it is the one sacrament meant to be received daily.
~ Frank Sheed

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