Contents Links for Learners Eye On Entertainment Editorial Ask a Franciscan Bible's Supporting Cast Faith-filled Family Book Reviews Subscribe
Blaming Women for All Sexual Sins


LEADING INTERCESSIONS: Creative Ideas for Public and Private Prayer
NEXT TO GODLINESS: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping
Different Looks at Holy Week


Reviewed by NORM LANGENBRUNNER, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church. He has contributed articles to The Bible Today, Catholic Digest, The Catechist and other magazines, and for The Catholic Telegraph newspaper.

ANOTHER SCANDAL. ANOTHER STORY of abuse. Another example of good intentions paving a road to hell. Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries is a historical, political and cultural account of how asylums run for wayward girls turned into prisons in which human rights were violated and bodies and souls abused.

Originally, the Magdalen Laundries were institutions run by religious sisters to care for and rehabilitate prostitutes, fallen women, victims of rape and the unwed pregnant. They were called “Magdalen” to recall the supposed conversion of Mary Magdalene. They were called “laundries” because the residents supported the institution by doing laundry for hospitals, prisons, boarding schools, etc.

When Ireland became a free state in 1922, politicians and prelates began to work collaboratively to make Catholic morality the criterion for Ireland’s public image. Among their primary concerns was sexual immorality. To rid the streets of prostitutes, to punish unwed pregnancies, to hide victims of rape, to conceal infanticide, to remove women whose behavior or beauty might be a temptation to men, the courts, pastors and even families began the practice of confining these women in the Magdalen Laundries.

In these settings, although under the control of religious sisters, the Magdalens were often verbally and physically abused, forced to work without compensation, deprived of outside contact and indoctrinated into a strict religious regimen. Some of these women spent most of their lives locked up in these institutions, and many were buried there in unmarked graves.

Author James Smith recounts a brief history of the Magdalen houses and strongly links the abuse these women suffered to what he calls Ireland’s “architecture of containment,” the concerted effort to remove from Irish society any inkling of sexual misconduct or its possibility by warehousing women who were or seemed a threat to Ireland’s public image. Church and State conspired in that practice. In an incredible display of hypocrisy, the women were blamed for all sexual sins, while the men involved went free.

Over the past 20 years, the story of the Magdalen Laundries has been told in books, plays, TV documentaries and films.

Smith is convinced the whole story (the real history) of these institutions will not be told until religious congregations of sisters agree to open their archives to researchers. In the meantime, historians, novelists and screenwriters piece together fragments from public records and interviews of survivors in order to keep alive the memory of the victims and prevent anything similar from ever happening again. The last Magdalen Laundry closed in 1996.

Not all of the Magdalens were guilty of sexual sin. Some were judged too dim-witted to live in society. Others were brought by their own family “for the child’s own good.”

There is irony in dubbing all these women “Magdalens.” Although the judgment is still heard that Mary Magdalene was a great sinner, mainline Scripture scholars today hold that Mary Magdalene is not to be identified with the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). She was not the repentant sinner whose example the fallen women were to emulate. Rather, like Mary Magdalene, these women have been more sinned against than guilty of sinning.

Smith’s book is academic. It sometimes reads like a dissertation. But it is also passionate, insightful, factual and unnerving. Students of Irish history, sociologists, critics of Church/State relations and perhaps the simply curious may find Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries a compelling analysis of a public scandal. To others, the book may be simply a depressing chapter in the Catholic Church’s failure to live up to the gospel it was sent to preach. The book is not light reading.



CAEDMON’S SONG, written by Ruth Ashby, illustrated by Bill Slavin. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 32 pp. $16.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this magazine and mother of three.

WHEN I FIRST sat down to read this book to two of my three kids, the first question they asked was, “Who’s Caedmon?” Unfortunately, I had to admit that I didn’t know. So I was eager to start reading to find out.

The book tells the tale of Caedmon, a quiet man who lived in the north of England on the grounds of a big abbey and tended his cows. He did not, however, like poetry.

This was a problem since on feast days people would sit in front of the hearth, pass around a harp and sing poems. Whenever they would pass the harp to Caedmon, his thoughts would always dry up.

But one frosty St. Stephen’s Eve, after Caedmon once again had failed to come up with a poem, he had a dream that changed his whole life. Just how, I’ll let you read the book to find out. But I will say it’s a charming story with a good message for kids.

The book’s illustrations are elegantly done, some in the style of the Book of Kells, and very detailed. In fact, on some pages the illustrations threaten to upstage the story.

Caedmon’s Song is a perfect package of story and presentation. The result is a very entertaining read for both parents and kids.

You can order CAEDMON’S SONG from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE SEDONA GARDENS OF SAINT JOHN VIANNEY, by the Rev. J. C. Ortiz. Zitro Press (c/o Saint John Vianney Catholic Church, 180 Soldiers Pass Rd., Sedona, AZ 86336). 192 pp. $34.95.

Reviewed by JOHN F. FINK, a Catholic journalist and author.

THIS GORGEOUS BOOK is filled with about 130 dazzling photos of flowers and scenery around Sedona, Arizona, considered by many people as the most beautiful place in America.

This reviewer was in Sedona only a few months ago. I wish I’d known about the gardens at St. John Vianney Parish. I surely would have visited them.

Father J. C. Ortiz was assigned as pastor of St. John Vianney a dozen years ago. When he was ordained four years previously, his bishop suggested that he channel some of his energy in positive directions. He always had been interested in plants, so it was natural for him to supervise the building of gardens at St. John Vianney. The Keep Sedona Beautiful organization has nominated the gardens for a “beautiful public space” award.

Six people are responsible for the stunning photos in the book, all with due credit, of course. Father Ortiz also acknowledges a long list of others, undoubtedly parishioners responsible for some of the heavy lifting.

But this isn’t just an attractive picture book. It’s also a book of reflections and meditations. Each chapter includes two reflections, each one beginning with a quotation from Scripture that has some connection to flowers or gardens. In both photos and text, Father Ortiz presents a year in the gardens. From January through December, he shows how the gardens change from month to month.

Not all the photos are of flowers. One of the most striking, for example, is a full-page photo of a statue of St. Joseph and the Holy Child, partially adorned with snow, in the chapter for January.

A shrine to St. Joseph and the Holy Child is only one of several on the property. Others pictured with flowers are Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine and the shrine of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. There are flowers around the outdoor Stations of the Cross and a goldfish pond in an area dedicated to St. Francis.

Father Ortiz tells us that he studied for the priesthood at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, where he was surrounded by cornfields and dearly missed the scenery in Arizona. As a Hoosier, I can only sympathize with him and admit that Indiana can’t match the Red Rocks of Sedona. Nevertheless, we can have beautiful gardens in Indiana, too, including those my wife has planted, and I enjoy, around our home.

To help himself feel a little more at home while he was at St. Meinrad, though, the future Father Ortiz took some cacti and “proudly displayed in one corner of my cell a piece of my very own desert.”

I, too, love cacti, and the photos of the cacti in this book, in the chapter for August, are certainly among the most beautiful, especially a full-page photo of an Engelmann’s prickly pear and another of a Beavertail prickly pear. That chapter also has a photo of cacti in the foreground with the red rocks of Sail Rock and Steamboat Rock in the background.

The photos show the amazing variety of plants and flowers at St. John Vianney. One two-page spread shows various tomatoes. It’s followed by a photo of a loaded-down peach tree spread across two pages. Photos of roses are also spectacular.

Father Ortiz says that the reflections in the book sprang from remembrances as he walked the grounds and the gardens. The variety of growing things, he says, always brings people to mind. This is his closing paragraph:

“In the garden we encounter and face authentically the drama of existence, the drama that includes the emotional and electrifying narrative of birth, the many and varied milestones of life, the poignant deaths, but, most importantly, the strength and power of our love for one another. In the garden we encounter beauty and mystery. Most especially, we find there the ever-present unconditional love of God. This is the gift of the gardens of St. John Vianney.”

You can order THE SEDONA GARDENS OF SAINT JOHN VIANNEY from St. Francis Bookshop.


LEADING INTERCESSIONS: Creative Ideas for Public and Private Prayer, by John Pritchard. Liturgical Press. 158 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by JEANNE HUNT, editorial adviser for catechesis and evangelization at St. Anthony Messenger Press. She is the author of Choir Prayers and More Choir Prayers (both from Oregon Catholic Press), Holy Bells and Wonderful Smells and Handing on the Faith: When You Are a Single Parent (both from St. Anthony Messenger Press).

TAPPING HIS OWN creative well, John Pritchard offers a wealth of material for anyone who leads intercessory prayer. Pritchard advises that prayer should always be “rich and memorable in language.” He models his advice. When your pump needs to be primed, Leading Intercessions will easily serve.

Pritchard offers a resource for many forms of ritual prayer. Public worship services, festivals and feasts, informal worship and small-group prayer are just a few of the formats offered in this storehouse of inspiration.

While the prayers are grounded in Pritchard’s Anglican tradition, the style is easily adapted to Catholic worship. The sense of deeply felt need penetrates the intimate manner of these rituals and provides a wealth of inspiration, regardless of the denomination or prayer setting.

There is a need for being clear and direct in prayer that speaks to the heart. This clarity and directness can be created by using simple language and ordinary subject matter, such as “Praying the Week’s News.”

The author’s insights into praying with children and young people are worth keeping Leading Intercessions on any youth minister’s resource shelf. Good prayer with young people starts by offering fresh, inspiring ideas that connect them with the abstract ideas of faith.

Pritchard offers many simple objects (pebbles, playing cards, bubbles, maps and globes) as springboards into prayer. He adapts sophisticated ideas about God into the simplest of examples.

Therein lies the secret of his technique: He finds the sacred in the ordinary. Even the most uninitiated can enter into the prayer.

John Pritchard teaches the use of ordinary signs and symbols in personal worship, as well. The simple guidelines he offers at the beginning of the chapter on personal prayer give even the most seasoned soul a lesson in how to speak to God about our needs.

His eight directives set the scene for innovative examples of private prayer. He creates a rhythm in St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer like a gentle waltz by stating, “It should be said unhurriedly... heart to heart.”

In another example, Pritchard encourages the intercessor to use “mind mapping” (a visual representation of people and places that fill the mind and burden the soul). All these techniques shake up the usual manner of prayer, changing the way we speak to God about our needs and wants.

Leading Intercessions should be kept on the shelf for inspiration. It will become a dog-eared addition to the resources necessary to make public and private prayer innovative. This book is meant to be the catalyst for the reader’s own creative energies. John Pritchard leads by example how to animate all those silent petitions that rest in our hearts.

You can order LEADING INTERCESSIONS: Creative Ideas for Public and Private Prayer from St. Francis Bookshop.


NEXT TO GODLINESS: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping, edited by Alice Peck. Skylight Paths Publishing. 224 pp. $19.99.

Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, a retired assistant editor of this publication, who admits she loves a clean house, but loves reading about it even more.

HINTS FROM A SPIRITUAL Heloise or bon mots from the Queen of Clean were what I feared to find in this book. But cast out all dread! It truly is, as its title promises, about the search for the sacred in the day’s plebian and pedestrian activities. The editor’s keen eye has found a wide range of voices to weigh in on this subject, voices I would never have expected to hear.

What a crew! Martin Luther King, Jr., and Allen Ginsberg; Virginia Woolf and Mother Teresa; Buddhists, novelists, poets, feminists and Scripture. Anyone who can discipline that diverse litany of commentators has a rare gift for organization. And Alice Peck brings beautiful order and a sense of peace to the tasks of keeping house.

The nine categories of tasks she names include the predictable dishes, laundry, sweeping and housework. She addresses a wider range of concerns in “The Natural Order of Things,” “Making Home,” “Workspace,” “Guests and Holidays” and “Big Messes.”

Each part is introduced with a quiet—and quieting— pencil sketch by Melanie Robinson.

I was unpredictably moved by the illustration for “Big Messes” and by the chapter itself. It reminded me of my futile attempts to bring order to situations beyond my control or my capacity. That’s the cosmic view of housekeeping Peck brings to bear on this collection.

To name favorites could lead to a long list, but I’ll risk naming Gary Thorp’s “Integrative Practice,” linking Zen to laundry. I also delighted in “The Joy of Housework: Late Have I Loved It,” by Jeannette Batz. Lastly, I must mention “First Job,” by Dorothy Day, a brief but beautiful passage. I have other dog-eared pages, but you’ll have to borrow my copy to consult them all!

For me, order is close kin to peacefulness (godliness?). A book which encourages spiritual insight into the inevitable tasks of the day or, surely, the week is a treasure. If I am to pray always, as St. Paul urges, a book such as this one makes it seem more possible.

You can order NEXT TO GODLINESS: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping from St. Francis Bookshop.


Different Looks at Holy Week

Easter comes early this year (March 23). Several new books offer fresh insights into this holiest of Church seasons.

TENEBRAE: HOLY WEEK AFTER THE HOLOCAUST, by Theresa Sanders (Orbis Books, 222 pp., $19), is a Georgetown theologian’s look at what the cross of Jesus means after Auschwitz. She examines the liturgies of Ash Wednesday and the Triduum and their effect on Catholic-Jewish relations. Tenebrae (Latin for “darkness”) refers to the end of Holy Thursday when “the darkness of night and the darkness of death” set in, but pre-Vatican II theology also held that it refers to the “supposed moral and spiritual darkness of Jews.” Sanders’s insightful book begins with an excellent chapter on why the Carmelite convent built so close to Auschwitz was an affront to Jewish people, and ends with ways to use Holy Week to atone for anti-Semitism.

A CROSS ESTATE, by William Thomas Kinsella (PublishAmerica, 259 pp., $21.95), is a first novel inspired by what Kinsella experienced on 9/11 in lower Manhattan. He takes his inspiration from the cross left standing at Ground Zero and reimagines the Stations of the Cross in the light of one 9/11 victim’s story.

THE CENTURION AT THE CROSS: The Story of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, by Eric Bohnet, illustrated by Terri Murphy (Arch Books/Concordia Publishing House, 16 pp., $1.99), focuses on a background character from the Crucifixion. Aimed at children five to nine.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ask a Franciscan  |  Book Reviews  |  Eye on Entertainment  |  Editorial
Editor’s Message  |  Faith-filled Family  |  Links for Learners
Bible’s Supporting Cast  |  Modern Models of Holiness  |  Rediscovering Catholic Traditions
Psalms: Heartfelt Prayers  |  Saints for Our Lives  |  Beloved Prayers
 Bible: Light to My Path  |  Web Catholic  |  Back Issues

Return to

Paid Advertisement
Ads contrary to Catholic teachings should be reported to our webmaster. Include ad link.

An Web Site from the Franciscans and
Franciscan Media     ©1996-2016 Copyright