MILWAUKEE – With its thorns, cross, fire and wound, the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is difficult to translate into children’s literature. Until now.
When the Apostleship of Prayer ran out of copies of its children’s booklet, printed in the 1940s, the apostleship’s executive director, Jesuit Fr. James Kubicki, wanted something new and colorful.
For two years, he worked with people who had ideas for the booklet’s text and illustrations, “but they never seemed to click,” he said.
“When it came to text, people were writing stories,” Fr. Kubicki said. “We wanted something more didactic that would teach kids about the symbolism of the Sacred Heart.”
Copies of “Do You Know the Sacred Heart of Jesus?” are available through
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While seeking the right combination of text and art, the priest was invited in early 2008 to speak to a group of second grade religious education students preparing to receive first Communion at St. James Parish, Mukwonago. Showing them an image of the Sacred Heart, he talked to them about the heart of Jesus.
“I asked them, ‘Where is your heart?’ and they put a hand on their chests; they could all feel their hearts. ‘Now where is Jesus’ heart in this picture?’” he asked.
After noting that Jesus’ heart was on the outside and their hearts were on the inside, he asked, “Why is Jesus’ heart on the outside?”
“This girl replied, ’Maybe he loves us so much he can’t keep it inside.’ That shows up in this booklet,” Fr. Kubicki said.
While the text was coming together – “children themselves help me write this booklet,” he said – artists were struggling with the illustrations.
“One artist hit a creative block,” he said. “Part of the problem for him was taking a sacred image and trying to put it into a format for children – basically a cartoon format. He couldn’t go forward with that.”
Stephanie Schmude, administrative assistant for the apostleship, offered to give the text to her sister, Stacey, a first-year, graphic arts student at Fox Valley Technical College, Appleton, and a member of St. Jude Parish, Oshkosh.
With the deadline two months away, she began drawing images by hand – images that she’d later scan and clean up on her computer.
“I’m a kid at heart,” Stacey said. “I look at pictures of Jesus and the Sacred Heart today and they scare me. I thought that if you put it on a lighter tone, while still being respectful to him, that kids could relate to it more.”
The Apostleship of Prayer provided her with the text, she said, and told her, “Roll with it.” She, Stephanie and Doug Leonard, the apostleship’s director of operations and development, “spent many hours every day bouncing ideas back and forth,” Stacey recalled.
Fr. Kubicki and Stacey agreed that Jesus should have a welcoming look.
“They wanted (Jesus) to be more serious at first,” the artist said. “Then Fr. Jim went out and started looking at more children’s religious reading material and my art was closer than what they (Stephanie and Leonard) had in mind. It grew on them.”
Based on his experience of presenting the Sacred Heart to children, Fr. Kubicki said it was important “for Jesus to look warm and inviting.”
“He didn’t have to have a big smile on his face, but he had to have a smile that wouldn’t frighten children,” the priest said. “Because in a lot of pictures Jesus looks so serious and frightening, we wanted a picture of Jesus that was smiling and inviting.”
Stacey accommodated that request.
“(Jesus) is a teacher and he doesn’t really need to look scary,” she said.
The first 40,000 copies of “Do You Know the Sacred Heart of Jesus?” were printed in May. Fr. Kubicki wants to build upon the booklet’s positive response by publishing booklets for children preparing for the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist.
“In all of these, the goal, as you come to the end of the booklet, is ‘How do you show Jesus your love?’ He has loved you; he has given you his heart; how do you show your love?” the priest said.
Stacey, who has wanted to be a children’s author since elementary school, looks forward to doing more work for the Apostleship of Prayer.
“I feel I am getting closer to God as I help to convey his message in my art,” she said. “I am learning about God by helping others learn about him.”