“Santa said, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’”
A shot of literary adrenalin coursed through Edward Looney as the young boy before him enthusiastically relayed a meeting with Santa Claus and told him his Christmas wish was to receive a picture of the baby Jesus.
A seminarian with the Green Bay Diocese and budding author of religious books, Looney was at Milwaukee’s Marian Center book store signing copies of his first children’s book, “The Story of Sr. Adele,” a simply written chronicle of the life of Sr. Adele Brise and her encounter with an apparition of the Blessed Mother, when the boy stepped up with his mother.
“He was dressed in a suit and tie. I thought he had been to a concert or something, but he went to see Santa Claus in a store,” Looney said of the 2012 meeting.
Boy’s comments provide inspiration
Months before, a friend suggested Looney write a book with the title “Breakfast in Bethlehem.” Now, thanks to the boy’s comments, Looney felt the inspiration to pen the text behind the title.
“With the boy’s comments in mind, I was driving home listening to Christmas music on the radio when I started to piece together a story,” said Looney, a third-year theology student at University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. “I finally pulled over at a McDonalds restaurant in Lake Church, Ill., went inside and wrote the first draft of ‘Breakfast in Bethlehem.’”
Looney returns to Milwaukee on Saturday, Dec. 21 at the Marian Community Center for a 10 a.m. book signing and reading of “Breakfast in Bethlehem,” which tells the story of the birth of Christ through the eyes of a child who dreams of visiting Bethlehem with his grandfather.
“The boy begins to understand the significance of the events he witnesses and the connection to the Eucharist. Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread,’” Looney said.
Looney, 24, walked with his grandmother down a path of discovery of his own Catholic faith as a boy growing up in Oconto.
“I remember going to Mass with my grandmother and staying afterward to pray the rosary,” Looney said.
Shrine awakens Catholic faith
A 2005 school trip to join 3,000 other people at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help near Champion in the Green Bay Diocese to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption further awakened his Catholic faith, ultimately directing him to the seminary.
“I credit my own discernment of my priestly vocation with the intervention of Our Lady,” Looney said.
His first attempt at writing a book for children came during that 2005 visit following a rosary walk in the footsteps Sr. Adele Brise to the site where, in October of 1859, she encountered a series of apparitions of the Blessed Mary, six years later.
Working in 2011 as a summer guide for large numbers of pilgrims attending the shrine, Looney was asked by shrine staff to write a book explaining the shrine in words a child could easily understand.
“‘The Story of Sister Adele’ was born that day,” Looney said.
Author of five books focusing on the shrine in Champion and Sr. Adele, and two more books in the works, Looney said being a writer of children’s books came quite by surprise.
“It’s a passion I didn’t know I had,” Looney said. “I enjoy writing, but never thought about writing children’s books. It’s something that just happened. The feedback I’ve gotten from ‘The Story of Sister Adele’ and ‘Breakfast in Bethlehem’ has been very positive.”
Looney said he urges parents to read “Breakfast in Bethlehem” to their children, not only to teach, but to learn.
“I think it’s true that you can write a good children’s story that will be just as informational for the parent that reads it with their child. So it’s a way to reach both age groups,” Looney said.
The Dec. 21 reading at the Marian Community Center will be a family event, said center general manager Michael Groark.
“Our market is the Catholic family and Edward’s reading will be a wonderful family event. We encourage parents to bring their children and have a light breakfast at the center during the reading,” Groark said.
Groark said Looney is a “great friend of the Marian Center” who has done signings of his other books.
“Edward is a very talented young writer, a good friend of the center and will make a fine priest,” Groark said.
After a brief foray into self-publishing, Looney’s books are now published by Tau Publishing of Phoenix, Ariz.
“People suggested I check them out because Tau was doing work with other people in the Green Bay area, including Fr. John Girotti and his book, ‘A Shepherd Tends His Flock.’ When I shared with them my projects on the shrine, they were more than happy to take them on and they encourage me to keep writing, so there seems to be some interest in the work I do as a writer,” Looney said.
Writing appeals to children, says publisher
Jeffrey Campbell, CEO of Tau, said Looney “is a wonderful writer and certainly understands a lot about the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Hope.”
“He has a really good sense about what he can write. His writing appeals to children and he understands what children need to hear at their young age and teach from an aspect they are not getting anywhere else,” Campbell said.
Looney said children’s books stressing knowledge of the Catholic faith fit in well with reaching adults through Sr. Adele and stories of the Marian apparitions at the Shine of Our Lady of Good Hope.
“At the time Our Lady appeared to Sr. Adele, the Belgian immigrants of the area were losing their faith because there were not many priests who could speak in their native language,” Looney said. “So what did Our Lady do? She appeared and told Sr. Adele to instruct the children. In teaching the children, one is able to reach their parents, too. Many people have read ‘The Story of Sister Adele’ to their children and learned just as much about the apparitions as the child learned.”
Looney views his writing, including books as well as frequent online articles for Catholic websites, as being close to his vocation as a priest.
“I view my writing in two ways, first as a hobby, a recreation that I enjoy and is really life-giving for me,” Looney said. “In terms of my vocation, I think it’s a medium through which to reach people, be it a children’s story, a book or an online article. God willing, as a priest one day I’ll be writing bulletin articles, something Mundelein seminary stresses.”
Looney sees his writing “as a means to build up the faith, so you could say to evangelize.”
“Our world can be a very dark place. There needs to be rays of light and hope. I hope the stories I write can be one of those rays we glimpse,” Looney said.