Children's Book Addresses Priestly Vocations

Interview With Author Elizabeth Ficocelli

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By Traci Osuna

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio, SEPT. 21, 2010 ( Catholic author and public speaker Elizabeth Ficocelli woke up one morning with a burning question: “Where do priests come from?” That question is now the title of her latest children’s book, to be soon followed by a similar book on women religious, and then deacons.

Ficocelli has written books and articles for both children and adults on topics that are at the very foundation of the Catholic faith. In her line of children’s books, she explores such topics as following the life and example of Jesus Christ, the seven sacraments and the rosary, among others. 

In “Where Do Priests Come From,” she helps the youngest members of the Church learn about the call to the priesthood; and that, while this way of life is a different choice than most make, priests have a lot in common with you and me. 

ZENIT: Your latest book is called, "Where Do Priests Come From?” What prompted you to write about this subject?

Ficocelli: One morning back in 2001, I woke up to the question, “Where do priests come from?” As a Catholic convert who had never attended parochial school, I truthfully didn’t know the answer to that question. Thinking it was perhaps an inspiration, I set about creating two manuscripts: “Where Do Priests Come From?” and “Where Do Sisters Come From?” 

In early 2002, I had the interest of a New York publisher — that is, until the media started breaking headline news about priestly sexual abuse. After that, no publisher would even look at the manuscripts. 

Nine years later, Bezalel Books in Michigan not only looked at the manuscripts, but they agreed with me strongly that the time had come to restore dignity to the priesthood and promote vocations awareness among young boys and their families.

ZENIT: How did you research the book? 

Ficocelli: I began as I do with any book I write on Catholicism, whether for children or adults: with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This gave me a good theological understanding of the sacrament of holy orders. 

Next, I surveyed several priests and sisters for their own personal input to questions such as these: When did you first consider a religious vocation? Why? What does a person do when he or she wants to pursue this idea further? What is religious education and formation like? What kind of responsibilities does a priest or sister have? What do you wear? Do you have hobbies? What do you like best about your vocation? 

The input I received from the men and women I surveyed was filled with precious articulations that often worked their way into the text, creating a lovely story that will engage children and their parents. 

ZENIT: The lives of priests can almost be mysterious to young people today. You describe the priest’s work as well as the fact that they have hobbies, such as golf, baseball or music, and that they enjoy spending time with family and friends. Why was it important to show that priests have hobbies and outside interests just like everybody else? 

Ficocelli: The lives of priests are certainly mysterious to young people today — and the lives of sisters are even more mysterious because children encounter sisters less often. Some Catholic children have never even met a sister! It was important to me in creating these manuscripts that I portrayed priests and sisters as real people — human beings with hobbies and pets and families and struggles, just like anyone else. In this way, my hope is that priests and sisters will become more relatable and approachable to the reader.

ZENIT: Who is this book targeted at?

Ficocelli: “Where Do Priests Come From?” is targeted at young boys, in first through third grades, and their families. It can certainly be enjoyed by younger children and even older children as well, but many of the priests I spoke with said they felt the first stirrings of a religious vocation as they prepared for the sacraments of first Holy Communion and first reconciliation. 

To make this an important learning tool, I introduce Catholic vocabulary such as vow, vestments, and rectory, with easy to understand definitions as well as a glossary in the back. “Where Do Priests Come From?” (and its sequels) are also a great vocations tool for schools and religious education classes. I have a feeling the adults sharing this book with their children or students will pick up a new word or two themselves!

ZENIT: You were not raised Catholic. Did researching this book answer some of your own questions about priests? Were you surprised by anything you discovered?

Ficocelli: I certainly didn’t understand the specific steps of becoming a priest or sister before I wrote these manuscripts. And quite frankly, I had never stopped to consider what priests and sisters do in their “off” time — or if they even had “off” time! Parents are telling me as they read “Where Do Priests Come From?” with their youngsters that the two most surprising things in the book to the children are the facts that priests have hobbies and that they go to confession, just like us. 

ZENIT: With such a shortage of priests in the Church today, was increasing future vocations one of your goals?

Ficocelli: Absolutely. I did not know at the time I wrote “Where Do Priests Come From?” how the shortage of priests would be further threatened by the crisis in the Church and in particular by the media’s intense and often unbalanced reporting of it, but I think as a Church we need to learn from our mistakes, heal and reconcile, be ever vigilant, and move forward in holiness. It brings me great pleasure to think that in some small way, a book like “Where Do Priests Come From?” can be a part of the overall healing process.

ZENIT: What projects are you currently working on? What is your next children’s book?  

The positive feedback from “Where Do Priests Come From?” has accelerated the production of “Where Do Sisters Come From?” We hope to see this book released by the end of the year. I am currently beginning research on a third book in the series, “Where Do Deacons Come From?”

Bezalel Books and I welcome input on other topics people would like to see developed for this series in the future.

For adults, I recently finished a manuscript on ways to help make the seven sacraments come alive in the family. It’s based on a presentation I give to parishes and schools, and I am currently in the submission process with that project.

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