January 11, 2008

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

How does faith play a role in our lives?

Shirley Vogler MeisterShortly after freelance writer Beth Dotson Brown, a native of Lawrenceburg, received an artist-in-residence grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women so she could write a fiction book, she received an e-mail from a Saint Mary’s Press editor.

The message surprisingly suggested that she agree to write a nonfiction book. This good news, however, was followed by an unpleasant surprise when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Ten days after her surgery, with approval from her doctor, she packed her notes and laptop computer and spent a week at Hopscotch House in Kentucky. She dealt with oncologists and further tests upon her return.

At Hopscotch House, she thought about the Saint Mary’s Press (www.smp.org) offer to write a book for teenagers about why people choose to be Catholic.

Not only had she always wanted to write for teens, she thought, “What could be more affirming and uplifting while going through chemotherapy than to hear stories people had to tell about their faith?”

She finished intensive chemotherapy two years ago this month then moved into radiation therapy while finishing the last of 39 interviews she did for Yes! I am Catholic: How Faith Plays a Role in My Life.

By that June, her chemotherapy was easier to handle and the draft of the book was finished.

What a book it is! Both teenagers and adults appreciate it because of the wide variety of reasons that the people she interviewed shared with her. Some are celebrities whom we all recognize, each with a unique story to tell, and some are priests (one a recording star), a bishop, mothers and fathers, a trucking manager, a housekeeper, nurses, retired businessmen, political figures, a sculptor/painter, students, teachers/professors, inspirational speakers, a deacon/principal, social workers, volunteers and more.

The backgrounds and the work of each of the 39 people are so varied that I now wonder about all the Catholics that I know. Many, of course, are born into the faith. Some leave and return, sometimes because of life-changing experiences. Some are converts. Each has a story.

Dotson Brown is not only a freelancer, but an editor. Her work appears in many Catholic publications and she has earned distinguished awards for her writing.

Yes, I Am Catholic: How Faith Plays a Role in my Life is her first nonfiction book. She lives in Lancaster, Ky., but grew up in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and was co-president of the Catholic Youth ­Organization at St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg.

The CYO newspaper even won archdiocesan awards. In fact, after attending a CYO convention in Kansas City, she wrote a short piece about it that a Criterion columnist used.

This was “my first foray into the Catholic press,” Dotson Brown says. For more on her story and her work, log on to her Web site (www.bethdotsonbrown.net).

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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