Lives that lead to God: Biographies and memoirs

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VISION asked vocation ministers in the U.S. and Canada to recommend some of the best biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs they have come across. While we received more suggestions than we can print, what follows is a list of some good reading they passed along.

part of I Call You Friends (Continuum) by Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., the former Master of the Dominican Order writes of his own journey from a privileged childhood and education to his calling of poverty and service. The second half of the book contains a collection of addresses and talks to audiences around the world.

about Saint Francis of Assisi bring to life the great saint for today’s readers. Murray Bodo, O.F.M.’s classic Francis: The Journey and the Dream (St. Anthony Messenger Press) tells the life story of Saint Francis in a simple and lyrical way. God’s Fool: The Life and Times of Francis of Assisi (Harper & Row) by Julien Green, translated by Peter Heinegg, is a warm and detailed biography. Markus Hofer said of his book, Francis for Men: “Otherwise We Need Weapons" (St. Anthony Messenger Press), translated by Sharon Therese Nemeth: “I have written for men who want to understand themselves better, who sense that there is more to being a man, and that this has fascinating dimensions."

ONE of the most influential religious memoirs of the 20th century, The Seven Storey Mountain (Harcourt Brace) is Thomas Merton’s story of how his search for peace and faith leads him, at the age of 26, to become a Trappist monk at Kentucky’s Abbey of Gethsemani, which he called “the four walls of my new freedom."

RECENTLY published by vocation minister Sister Cathy Wright, L.S.J., Charles de Foucauld: Journey of the Spirit (Pauline Books & Media) includes a biography of the French monk who lived and died among the Muslim people of Algeria, whose spirituality guides several religious orders, and who was beatified in November 2005. The second part of the book contains four guided meditations.

ONE OF THE MANY good biographies of Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, is Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spink (HarperSanFrancisco).

The Prisoner: An Invitation to Hope (Paulist Press) by Paul F. Everett tells the remarkable story of Jim Townsend, a convicted murderer who while in prison underwent an experience of healing and redemption that led to his becoming a Capuchin Franciscan brother.

the several biographies of the late Pope John Paul II, one of the more prominent is George Weigel’s Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Cliff Street Books, 1999). For a perspective on the later years of John Paul’s papacy, see The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II by John Cornwell (Doubleday).

books on Edith Stein, the Jewish woman who became a Carmelite sister and died in a Nazi concentration camp, are: Meet Edith Stein by Cynthia Cavnar (Servant Publications) and Self-Portrait in Letters, 1916-1942 by Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, translated by Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D. (ICS Publications).

oral histories of Italian Jews and Catholics, Yours Is a Precious Witness: Memoirs of Jews and Catholics in Wartime Italy by Margherita Marchione (Paulist Press) describes how Catholics in Italy saved Jews during World War II. Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork (Henry Holt), contain the diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum, who celebrated life and inwardly resisted the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II before her death at Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of 29.

IN Salvador Witness: The Life and Calling of Jean Donovan (revised edition, Orbis Books), author Ana Carrigan recounts the journey of Jean Donovan, one of the four American churchwomen murdered by Salvadoran troops in 1980, from the affluent suburbs of Connecticut to the jungles and refugee camps of El Salvador. The author also coproduced and directed a film about Jean Donovan, Roses in December, which received an Emmy nomination, a Christopher Award, and was the basis for this book.

AS A YOUNG doctor, Sheila Cassidy went to work in Chile and became caught up in the terrible injustice of that country—injustice that finally led to her own arrest, imprisonment, torture, and expulsion. Audacity to Believe (Collins World) is her account of her experience.

THROUGH fresh and informal portraits of seven women mystics from Clare of Assisi to Thérèse of Lisieux, Enduring Grace by Carol Lee Flinders (HarperSanFrancisco) shows people today how they can make peace with sorrow and disappointment and bring joy and transcendence into their lives.

IN Conventional Wisdom (Wasteland Press), Deborah L. Humphreys, S.C. introduces the reader through poetry to compelling stories of women, specifically religious sisters.

MANY discussions of American teenage life overlook religion, yet most American teens say that religious faith is important in their lives. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton (Oxford University Press) describes what is going on in the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers, what they believe, their religious practices, and their relationship to traditional religion.

101 Inspirational Stories of the Priesthood by Patricia Proctor, O.S.C. (St. Anthony Messenger Press) provides a glimpse of the joy and fulfillment of a deep relationship with God experienced through the ordained priesthood.

Community stories
Many vocation directors recommended biographies of their community’s founders or the histories of their community:

Havoc in Hunan: The Sisters of Charity in Western Hunan, 1924-1951 by Mary Carita Pendergast (College of Saint Elizabeth Press).

Bernard Ward’s A Heart for Africa: A Life of Bishop Daniel Comboni tells the story of the founder of the Comboni Missionaries.

The Story of Victory Noll II relates the history of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters from 1980 through 2004 (the first volume, Story of Victory Noll, covers the years between the beginning of the congregation in 1922 through 1980). Copies are available for a nominal shipping free from Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, P.O. Box 109, Huntington, IN 46750-0109.

The Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus offer the autobiography of their foundress, Venerable Mother Teresa Casini, available from the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Villa Maria Teresa, 50 Warner Rd., Hubbard, OH 44425.

Forever Yes: The Story of Lucy Filippini by Giacinta Basile and Geraldine Calabrese (Dorrance) narrates the story of the founder of the Religious Teachers Filippini.

In Witness to Integrity by Anita M. Caspary (Liturgical Press), the former Mother General of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters and president of the Immaculate Heart Community gives her first-person account of the historic dispute between the I.H.M. Sisters and Cardinal James McIntyre, archbishop of Los Angeles, in the late 1960s.

Jeanne Jugan: Humble So as to Love More by Paul Milcent recounts the life of the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Blessed Jeanne Jugan. Father Ernest Lelièvre: A Short Life is the story of a priest who was a great help to the Little Sisters at its beginnings. Both books are available from: Publications Office, Little Sisters of the Poor, 601 Maiden Choice Ln., Baltimore, MD 21228

The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ have published Penniless Millionaire, a life of their foundress, Blessed Mary Katherine Kasper, by P. Robert Quardt, S.C.J. It is available from Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ Ministry Center, P.O. Box 1, Donaldson, IN 46513, 574-936-9936,

For more information on the founders of religious communities, see the community ads and descriptive listings in this guide.

Joel Schorn is associate editor of VISION.




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