Krakoffs singing prayers MiSheberach and Oseh Shalom for hope, healing and peace.


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Filmmaker Martin Doblmeier Shows Us How Dorothy Day Faced Crises: 1 Person at a Time


One of the greatest evils of the day … is a sense of futility. Young people say, “What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?” They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.
One of the most often-quoted passages from Dorothy Day’s writings.


Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

So many readers of our magazine are telling us, in March 2020, that they truly feel a Spirit flowing through our Reading each week at ReadTheSpirit magazine. That’s certainly true about our decision to feature an interview with filmmaker Martin Doblmeier about his new documentary: Revolution of the Heart—The Dorothy Day Story.

AND NOTE: You can stream this inspiring film, right now, from a link (below) after this brief Cover Story.

As a journalist, I have known Martin—and recommended his many films—over many decades. What remarkable timing this month! Martin released his film for free PBS broadcasting—and free streaming—in this same month when millions of Americans are isolated and anxious over the deadly COVID-19.

Dorothy Day’s life has been described variously as: A modern saint, a social activist on behalf of the poor, a pacifist who was often arrested for her protests, an author of inspirational books. Wikipedia calls her “the best known radical in American Catholic Church history.”

Most importantly today, Dorothy Day responded to the vast, life-threatening crisis of the Great Depression in 1933 by founding a tiny newspaper called The Catholic Worker on New York City’s Lower East Side. Inspired by a partnership in ministry with Peter Maurin, who was steeped in Catholic teachings from the likes of St. Francis of Assisi, they opened small soup kitchens.

The need was vast! Millions of families were hungry and homeless. Their little operations could only help a relative handful of people. Why even try?

“It’s that kind of question that drew me to make this film,” Martin Doblmeier said in our interview about the film. “The thing that really captured me more than anything else is this whole notion of personalism. I’ve spent a lot of time on college campuses and in seminaries with people trying to figure out their vocations—and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the world’s great problems and great issues.

“You can wonder if there’s anything you can possibly do. Dorothy Day said you can’t change everything—but you can change the life of the person in front of you. You don’t have to fix the whole world, but you are called as a person of faith to try to fix the situation that’s right in front of you.

“There’s a path here for me to actually pick up and do something. She did not overthink things, she simply saw the issues and challenges in front of her and she responded in the best way she knew how. She didn’t spend time developing a long-term strategy. She and Peter and those around them saw the needs around them and they put their hearts and souls into responding to that.

“Ultimately she took an approach to healing the wounds of this country that was unique in her time and we need to hear about that today.”

Watch ‘Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story’—right now

Starting on March 6, 2020, PBS began streaming the entire documentary online.

We are not able to “embed” the viewing screen on this ReadTheSpirit page. However, we can provide direct links to the streaming page.

First, here is a link to the Dorothy Day page at PBS, where you will find a streaming screen you can view.

Second, here is a direct link to the stream itself.

Both links will take you to the same source. As we prepared this Cover Story for publication, we found that the streaming options varied on different phones, tablets and computers—so we are providing both links.

Care to Read More?

Our faith-and-film columnist Ed McNulty—editor and film critic of the Visual Parables Journal—has a full review of this new documentary. As always, Ed couples his review with other useful resources if you would like to spark a small-group discussion about Dorothy Day. Remember: Many small groups are meeting “virtually” these days and a stream-online-then-discuss-online program is ideal for this time of self isolation.


Over the decades, Martin Doblmeier has created many inspiring documentaries. You can learn about all of his work at his home website.


What Would Abraham Lincoln Do … about facing the fears of epidemic?

First, The Rest of This Story …

Click this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Author of 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln: Quiet Fire

Every week, I continue to broadcast wisdom from Abraham Lincoln from my home base at WERU in Maine. Through hundreds of these short weekly reflections on Lincoln’s legacy, all of us involved in the broadcasts are amazed at how relevant he remains in our world today.

Two horrific health crises ravaged Abraham Lincoln’s early life. A disorder known in his day as Milk Sick quickly took Lincoln’s mother and two other adults in his seven-person cabin, then the typhoid epidemic took the life of Ann Rutledge, who many scholars now credit as being Lincoln’s first true love.

Wide-spread suffering and intense personal suffering are the polarities of Lincoln’s life as president. His frontier early life taught him so.

Having given five public talks about Lincoln’s spiritual life in the past four weeks, I have seen and heard again and again how relevant his person and his politics are to people even now, and how deeply many folks hold him still in their hearts.

I have always thought that suffering and sorrow were the reasons he had such an iridescent spiritual life. The lessons of human suffering and personal tragedy were experiences on the frontier that he brought east with him. Soon the whole nation would be enveloped in the kind of losses Lincoln had grown up with.

It was especially poignant to read in a December, 1840, Evansville (Indiana) Journal how even two decades after his mother succumbed to the Milk Sick—frontier families were still willing to flee their lives in an instant when the fear of disease came upon them. The newspaper journalist hit upon words that still characterize Lincoln’s spiritual capability: his ability to deal with Uncertainty and Mystery. The spiritual education of Lincoln is as much about how he grasped the world around him as how he contemplated and felt inside.

Now irony is, we know, a hallmark of American history according to Reinhold Niebuhr, so it is perhaps ironic that for health reasons my radio station, WERU, canceled any new recording sessions for the foreseeable future. So what you can read here has yet to hit the air waves. But it will, and by then something else about the relevance of Lincoln will be front and center. Better Angels? Civil War?


Lincoln Quiet Fire Radio Text 1:

Uncertainty and Mystery

This is Quiet Fire, a program about the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln, and its relevance to us today. Welcome. This is Duncan Newcomer.

Here’s a Lincoln quote for you: “There is no announcement which strikes the members of a western community with so much dread as the report of a case of milk sickness. The uncertainty and mystery which envelopes its origin … makes it in the eyes of the inhabitants of a district the worst looking foe which can best a neighborhood.”

That report of dreadful disease is from the city newspaper closest to where the Lincoln’s lived in southern Indiana.

“Uncertainty and mystery” were the words used by the Evansville Journal in the fall of 1840. And this news still in the papers some 25 years after the Milk Sick had hit the little Lincoln tribe hard, way south of the city.

Today, uncertainty and mystery are not typical journalistic terms. But they are signal words in the language of spiritual life, and never more than in the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln. Life-and-death uncertainty and mystery become the merciless angels that hover over Lincoln all his life, angels he turns into charity and meaningful judgments. And those words “charity and judgment”—his words—are as unusual in a presidential address as were uncertainty and mystery in a newspaper report on a dreaded epidemic. Lincoln becomes capable, even poised, in the midst of uncertainty. He becomes compassionate, even wise, in the midst of mystery. That is the pilgrim’s progress he completes.

Now, as Carl Sandburg will tell us in his storied biographies of Lincoln, “Hardly a year had passed, however, when both Tom and Betsy Sparrow were taken down with the ‘Milk Sick’….Soon after, there came to Nancy Hanks Lincoln that white coating of the tongue….”

Betsy Sparrow was Nancy Hanks’ aunt and her husband was a brother of Nancy’s step-father. And Dennis Hanks, who survived for all of Lincoln’s life, was his cousin. And like the Lincolns Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow and young Hanks had had to leave Kentucky because of land deed problems. And, yes, the actor Tom Hanks is a cousin, what he calls “a poor relation,” to Lincoln’s mother.

So it is that Carl Sandburg tells us of the death of Abraham Lincoln’s mother when she was 36 or so and he was 9. He was already on his way to being grown however, having had an axe in his hands since he was 7. That was when boys began to be initiated away from their mothers. But for Lincoln what he called his “sweet angel” mother, she was someone he never really left behind.

The Milk Sick took more people that year, 1818, as well as cows and calves themselves. There was no doctor nearer than 35 miles—not that doctors could have helped, man nor beast. This particular frontier disease was later found to be caused by cows eating a poisonous snakeroot plant that made their milk itself poison and leading to a grotesque death within a few days.

There was a lot of disease in the southern Indiana land that Lincoln’s father has staked out, malaria and other intermittent annual fevers. But it was this so called milk sickness—or popularly “Milk Sick”—that struck the most panic in the communities. The local Evansville Indiana newspaper that reported the widespread dread of milk sickness goes on to report a shocking frontier fact that numerous farms and homes were suddenly found abandoned when the feared disorder hit. Fields full of corn, barns filled with hay, homes completely furnished, all left in an instant as people fled, not knowing how this milk-carried disease came. Was it some mineral in the water, some morning moisture in the air that made the cows begin to have “the trembles” and then, with their owners, untreatable death?

It would be more than 100 years later that chemists and agricultural researchers in the late 1920’s began to publish their discoveries of the poison found in certain plants that poisoned the cows and their milk when they ate them. But in the spiritual life, science and medicine, for Lincoln, never cured the world of uncertainty and mystery.

Lincoln was a great advocate for science even giving a lecture on science and agriculture at a western state fair. But in Lincoln’s life massive natural disasters attended his pilgrimage. Unusual earth quakes, extreme winter snows and overwhelming summer rains, even a volcano eruption in the south Pacific that took out the sun for most of the northern hemisphere for a summer.

Lincoln coped with uncertainty and mystery in a number of ways: by superstition, ingenuity, science, reason, and courage. But it was in his spiritual life that history itself challenged him the most. Why war? Why slavery? Why childhood death?

Angels without mercy became for him “better angels” when they were made human by virtue of his tolerance for uncertainty and his humility before mystery. For most of his life Lincoln was guided by practical reason and an overwhelming sense of fate or necessity, which he cited with Shakespeare’s line, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them ‘tho we will.” Toward the end of his life he began to talk about what he called “a living God” whose judgments he said were true and righteous altogether, and whose ways were the ways of charity and peace.

As with Lincoln, uncertainty and mystery may never leave our lives, but neither did his humor, his reason, his desire for knowing God, and his belief in the idea of America.

In such light we can be lighted down in honor to the latest generation.

This Duncan Newcomer, and this has been Quiet Fire, the Spiritual Life of Abraham Lincoln.



Lincoln Quiet Fire Radio Text 2:

‘We Must Rise with the Occasion’

Abraham Lincoln in a reflective pose in 1861. Public domain photo held by Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

This is Quiet Fire, a program about the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln, and its relevance for us today. Welcome, this is Duncan Newcomer.

Here’s a Lincoln quote for you: “The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise—with the occasion.”

This sounds like wisdom from the I Ching, that ancient practice of throwing coins or sticks to find ancient hexagrams of sayings that suddenly seem wise and to the point of some present difficulty. Words seemingly random but with the force of truth a soothsayer or an astrologer might have.

So imagine opening up a fortune cookie and reading “The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise—with the occasion.”

Lincoln wants us to have a breath-holding pause as we take in the fact that we are facing a high challenge, and he wants to set us up for the significant preposition “with” as opposed to “to”. Because this is a matter of all boats being lifted by the same flood. We are to rise with the occasion. Or sink. It is not a matter of rising to the occasion as if we are going to challenge the occasion and be its conquering hero.

We have here Lincoln’s trademark moral challenge, his call to courage and fortitude as well as a passive awareness of the floodtides of the world.

Rather than a proverb, this actually is a Call. It is meant to be heard from one human voice to the hearing of the people in government and more.
We must rise with the occasion.

The spiritual life of Lincoln, of anyone, is guided by more than wise sayings. There are moral imperatives, calls to right living, summons to duty. These are words of urgency, but not only authority. This is not an order: “You must rise.” It is a leader making common cause with the people who have selected him to lead.

We must.


Here the spiritual life has a long tradition of indicatives and imperatives such as those uttered by Moses, Jesus and others. It is not the kind of thing you can imagine a psychotherapist saying. In the spiritual life there is a time and a vocabulary for telling people the right thing to do. It is a sacred trust.

The crises in spiritual life are of morality and community as well as of healing and wholeness.
This where, in the idea of America, not church and state but secular and sacred come so close together.
One reason so many still gravitate to the voice and life of Lincoln is we know about the high pile of difficulties he went through to get to the point of leadership. His courageous spirit is part nature and part nurture.

Here’s how Mother Nature nurtured him, with her piles of difficulty. We saw in my earlier broadcast how Mother Nature and the Milk Sick took his aunt and uncle and mother. How the uncertainty and mystery of that epidemic terrified homesteaders on the frontier right out of their home and farms to flee to God knows where.

Mother Nature had also piled high some difficulties for the Lincoln family as they moved to Indiana in 1816. Lincoln was 7 and moved with his father mother and sister less than 100 miles but across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Indiana. This was in December. Cold and snow. Thomas had only marked out with piles of brush, some trees and a small three-sided hut. That was home for the four Lincolns that December. With help from the sparse seven families around them, they built a log cabin but the cold kept them from making the mud pitch to seal out the wind from between the logs.

The winter of 1816 was coming after the traumatic summer of 1816 called the summer of no sun. The entire temperature of North America, as well as Europe, had gone down, the sun being strangely blocked out. Nobody knew then that a volcano in the South Pacific had spewed the planet with dark dust. Why the sun had grown so dim? It snowed in Boston in June. Crops around the world failed. Napoleon’s soldiers in France rioted. Thousands died of starvation.

Surely a summer of no sun was not a great year to set out for a new home where the forest was so thick the last 15 miles that they literally had to hack a pathway through, not around, the trees. Remember Lincoln, with his axe, was 7 at the time.

Between the weather and disease Lincoln’s life was piled high with difficulty—and then there was his presidency which still can, even now, help us rise with the occasion in honor down to the latest generation.

This is Duncan Newcomer and this has been Quiet Fire, the Spiritual Life of Abraham Lincoln..


Care to Read More?

BUY THE BOOK—Abraham Lincoln is the soul of America, calling us to our best as Americans. Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer has hosted more than 200 episodes of the radio series Quiet Fire: The Spiritual Life of Abraham Lincoln. Now, 30 of his best stories provide a month of inspirational reading in a unique volume that invites us to read the stories—or to follow a simple code to hear the original broadcast each day.

“Since its beginning, radio has offered a warm medium for connecting the heart, the head, and the imagination. This delightful collection of Lincoln’s wisdom was seeded in a creative radio show, Quiet Fire,” writes Sally Kane, CEO of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, where this series was born on WERU, a station in mid-coastal Maine. “Now, Quiet Fire has morphed into a daily companion for readers who connect the dots between time and space to map a new understanding of the chaotic times in which we live. Lincoln’s words resonate more urgently than ever, and Duncan has played alchemist in Quiet Fire to one of our country’s greatest souls and distilled an essence that can guide and comfort us.”



Faith in a Pandemic: ‘Now thank we all our God …’

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms,
hath blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.


Author of A Guide for Caregivers

Those words of this well-known hymn are particularly meaningful in our world right now, when the coronavirus has become a pandemic. Ironically, they were penned in 1636-1637, during an outbreak of yet another terrible plague.

Knowing more about the history of this hymn can point us to spiritual resources for coping with the uncertainties of the coronavirus. The text of the iconic hymn of thanksgiving and praise was written during a relentless war and severe plague by Martin Rinkart, a German Lutheran clergyman and author of hymns.

Rinkart became head of the archdiocese of Eilenburg, where he was born in 1586 and died in 1649. He served there during the Thirty Years’ War and a severe plague. Eilenberg was a walled town and refuge for fugitives from far and near. It suffered from famine and disease in the midst of unsanitary and over-crowded conditions. As if the war was not enough, the extraordinary severity of the plague took the lives of all but three of the town council, numerous children and the clergymen of a neighboring parish.

During the great pestilence, officials and clergy either died or ran away, leaving Rinkart alone to care for the living and the dead. He read the burial service for 40-50 persons a day—in all about 4,480. Eventually the burials were moved to trenches, without service.

The total of 8,000 persons who died included Rinkart’s wife. This was followed by one sacking by the Austrians and two by the Swedes who levied crippling fines on the town. It was Rinkart’s prayers and negotiations that reduced the levys. His body and finances were worn out—and he died at the age of 63.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in God’s grace, and guide us when perplexed
and free us from all ills in this world and the next.

Click on this copy of the hymn to see it in a larger size. This image comes courtesy of the website.

The original text was entitled, “Tisch-Gebetlein,” or a “short Grace before meals.” This is amazing, considering the famine that accompanied the War and the insufferable plague. It is our human yearning and remembrance of God’s bounty, love, guidance, and appeal for peace, for freedom from suffering, for assurance of salvation, that people most needed.

In a time in which it appears that God has gone silent and abandoned us, this hymn heralds the deepest sense of faith—an everlasting presence of God in whom we trust.

The final verse is Rinkart’s paraphrase of the Gloria Patri.

All praise and thanks to God, who reigns in highest heaven,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
the one eternal God, whom heaven and earth adore,
the God who was, and is, and shall be evermore.

May we, in this time of a pandemic, yearn for the faith, trust, gratitude, courage and love which undergirded the life and work of Martin Rinkart.

May we remember those afflicted with the virus who cannot be held and embraced by their loved ones as they die.

May we remember those who must risk their own health to care for the afflicted—those who must choose between preserving their own health and going to work to put food on the family table.

May we remember those who will lose work and have no monetary cushion.

When we cannot embrace our loved ones, let us seek new ways to be the a loving embrace of God to our neighbors.


Written March 13, 2020, by my hand, while living in the petri dish of a Continuing Care Community for Seniors.

Judith and I are feeling grateful and well.

Of course, we all welcome your payers. 


Care to listen to the hymn?  

Patricia Montemurri’s ‘Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters’ is a vivid window on women who are changing the world

This how many IHMs are remembered: in front of a crowded Catholic school classroom. In this photo, IHM Sister Kathleen Mary O’Brien teaches 49 first- and second-graders at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Emmett, Michigan, in 1958-1959. Courtesy of SSIHM Archives. (CLICK on this photo to visit the Amazon page for Montemurri’s IHM book. OR, to maximize your support for the IHM sisters, use the direct-purchase link below.)


From ‘Blue Nuns’ to an International Model of Green living


ReadTheSpirit contributing writer

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. (If you’d like to maximize your support for the IHM Sisters, use the direct-purchase link at the end of this story.)

MARCH 8, 2020—This is National Catholic Sisters Week, an annual festival to encourage folks to share a story about a Catholic nun or sister who taught or inspired them.

My story is a 128-page book with 211 photos about the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan, commonly referred to as the IHMs. My book, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Michigan, comes out today and celebrates the IHMs’ 175 years of ministry as the longest-established congregation founded in the state.

Famous Graduates: From White Stripes to Red Birettas

The IHMS taught an estimated 700,000 people in more than 100 Catholic schools in the Detroit-area, across Michigan and several other states as well as overseas. Among their students were Miss America 1988, Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, the first registered nurse to win the title. Don Gonyea, a national political correspondent for NPR, also was taught by IHMs, as was rocker Jack White of White Stripes fames, and a Prince of the Catholic Church—Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Newark, N.J. archdiocese.

And they taught me. IHM Sister Archange Groh told my parents when I was in 3rd grade that I had creative writing talent. In her memory, I say thank you with this book.

Expanding the Power of Education to Include Women

The IHMs are remarkable and accomplished women.

Those taught by the IHMs have experienced the power of strong, well-educated, compassionate and committed women.

In Michigan, they championed the education of women by establishing Detroit’s Marygrove College and several all-girls schools in Michigan and Illinois.

There are but a few IHMs involved in classroom education today. Because of enrollment declines, the IHMs closed Marygrove College in December. The IHMs now minister in multiple ways—as parish administrators, spiritual advisers, advocates and guardians for the disabled, social workers and chaplains.

They once were known as the Blue Nuns for their royal blue habits. But now they are known as green pioneers in promoting—and living out—concepts of environmental sustainability. Nearly two decades ago, they undertook a multiple award-winning $56 million renovation of their massive Depression-era Motherhouse. The Motherhouse is now heated by an underground geo-thermal system. Wetlands on the property recycle about 40% of the Motherhouse’s water. Nearly every physical system in the community has been adapted in some way to improve its sustainability. They’ve given thousands of tours ever since to college classes, architects, contractors, urban planners, garden clubs and more.

Global Inspiration: ‘I can’t believe nuns are doing this’

STRONG, VISIONARY WOMEN—For many decades, the sisters also farmed more than 1,000 acres around their motherhouse. In this photo, many of them are piling onto a farm truck. They raised crops, poultry, sheep, both dairy and beef cattle and tended fruit orchards. The food fed sisters at the Monroe Motherhouse and at parish convents across Michigan and into Ohio and Illinois. (Photo courtesy of SSIHM Archives.)

Sister Suzanne Sattler, who conducts many such IHM Motherhouse tours, says visitors leave in awe. “They tell me you are helping us in ways that we never thought nuns would be connected to,” she recounts. Then she tells her IHM friends: ‘You don’t have the privileged position that I do where I get to hear: ‘I can’t believe nuns are doing this.’’’

It seems each IHM past and present has an impressive story to tell. Sister Ambrosia Fitzgerald was one of the first women to obtain a physics Ph.d from the University of Michigan in the 1930s. Even as she taught math and science in Detroit-area Catholic high schools, she was secretly recruited by the U.S. government to work on weekends on the Manhattan Project in Chicago, which led to the development of the atomic bomb to end World War II. Among the IHMs are groundbreaking theologians and lawyers. An IHM nun from Monroe, Sister Sharon Holland, was one of the highest-ranking women to have worked at the Vatican as a canon lawyer. She helped negotiate settlements in long-running disputes between the Vatican and Catholic women religious in the U.S. in 2014 and 2015.

The Monroe IHMs were in the forefront of a national movement to push for all religious sisters to obtain college degrees before being deployed to teach in crowded Catholic school classrooms. The Catholic bishops and priests who oversaw Catholic schools initially resisted the concept, since it meant hiring more-expensive lay teachers to take the place of nuns.

Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin: A mixed-race co-founder

The Monroe IHMs were founded by Redemptorist priest Fr. Louis Gillet and Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin in 1845. Theresa was of mixed-race heritage, the out-of-wedlock daughter of a Haitian woman and a British father. She had been a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first permanent congregation of woman of color in the U.S. in Baltimore.

Theresa was highly educated, spoke French and could pass for white, so Gillet recruited her to open a school for the French-Canadian immigrants who settled on the banks of the River Raisin in the southeastern Michigan town of Monroe. The IHMs say their foundress encountered many obstacles, because of her race and her gender, in establishing the IHMs and two separate congregations in Pennsylvania. Her story of perseverance fuels their progressive pursuits today.

National Catholic Sisters Week

Click here to learn more about this special week, including regional events.

National Catholic Sisters Week was launched in 2014, the brainchild of Sister Andrea Lee, a member of the Monroe IHM congregation and the president of Alverno College, in Milwaukee, WI. Now in its 7th year, with funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Catholic Sisters Week coincides with Women’s History Month in its efforts to bring attention to the ongoing accomplishments of Catholic women religious through their ministries and outreach.

The number of IHMs have dwindled to about 260 sisters now—a steep drop from the congregation’s peak of 1,600 last mid-century. Their average age is about 80.

But there may be an uptick underway in the number of women and men pursuing a Catholic religious vocation in the U.S., according to The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, which conducts research on the Catholic Church. The number of women taking final vows as Catholic sisters and nuns numbered 92 in 2018, compared to 81 in 2016, according to a CARA survey released in February 2019.

Of course, those numbers are a fraction of the legions of American women who joined the Catholic sisterhood in the early to mid-20th century. There were 180,000 Catholic sisters in the US in 1965. There are less than 50,000 now, and their average age is well into the 70s. Congregations are growing in Asia and Africa, where the religious vocation helps gain access to education, much as it did a century ago for the daughters of immigrants to the U.S.

Aug. 4, 2019, Mass at the Motherhouse chapel celebrating  first vows for Sister Jane Aseltyne, in sleeveless green dress in the center aisle. (Photo by Diane Weiss)

Women Still Are Joining the IHM Sisters

In 2019, Jane (right) professed first vows with the IHM. She was warmly greeted by Sister Audra Turnbull who took her first vows to become an IHM in 2018. (Photo by Diane Weiss)

Three women became Monroe IHM Sisters in 2019. One of them was Jane Aseltyne, raised an evangelical Christian and who had worked with at-risk youth and senior citizens. Aseltyne had two great-aunts who were IHMs. In her encounters with them and other IHMs, she explored the Catholic faith and its scholars and saints. She sought, she said, a life of simplicity rooted in the Gospel. She said she’s found it as an IHM. She took her first vows at age 34 in August 2019.

“I have been called by God. Religious life provides me with a community, and it’s not something I pick and choose when to live it,” said Aseltyne. “I choose it every day. It’s coming from within me, and it’s the gift I have to serve the world.”

Care to help IHM ministries?

We know that most book buyers, today, prefer to shop via Amazon or other popular online retailers—so we included our first links today to Amazon. However, if you would like to maximize the revenue from your purchase of the book going to the IHM ministries, please use this direct-purchase link.

Care to learn more about Arcadia Publishing?

Patricia Montemurri also wrote a fascinating column for our Front Edge Publishing blog about her ongoing work with Arcadia Publishing. Especially if you are interested in Catholic history and culture, you’ll learn about her two earlier books on Catholic themes—plus an upcoming fourth book. Got a Catholic on your gift list this year? These make terrific gifts that spark lots of memories—and can inspire future spiritual reflection.


Tom Voss’s new ‘Where War Ends’ captures the drama of his walk across America to highlight veterans’ needs in healing

Veterans Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson walking across plains in Colorado.


Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

This book could save a life.

Click the cover to visit its Amazon page.

That’s the opening line we published, not long ago, in our ReadTheSpirit cover story recommending Capt. Dan Willis’s book Bulletproof Spirit, which was written by a police veteran to help protect and heal both mind and spirit for first responders—many of whom die by suicide each year. Now, we can’t think of a better way to explain the importance of Tom Voss’s Where War Ends: Recovering from PTSD and Moral Injury through MeditationBoth books are published by our friends at New World Library.

In fact: Both books could save a life. Compared with Willis’s book for first-responders, there are two distinct differences in Tom Voss’s book, which focuses on the struggle toward recovery and healing for traumatized veterans of military service.

The first distinction is that Tom’s story is a suspenseful page-turner, the real-life story of Tom’s desperate decision to walk across 2,700 miles of American back roads with a fellow veteran in the hope of finding solace. In fact, you might have seen Tom’s story in the feature-length documentary, Almost Sunrise, which currently is streaming for free on Amazon Prime. Now, Tom’s new book tells the dramatic story behind that documentary in which Tom is shown on his often painful journey, but says relatively little on camera about his intense internal struggle. Now, in this book, the whole soul-searching story opens up for us. He was helped in writing this account by his sister, the veteran travel writer, journalist and storyteller Rebecca Anne Nguyen.

The second distinction is that Tom focuses on an issue that can also affect first-responders such as police officers, but is more common among returning veterans of military conflict: “moral injury.” That crisis faced by countless veterans is named on the book’s cover in Tom’s sub-title—then, throughout the book, he hammers away at the importance of honestly confronting this painful issue. One of the final passages in his book addresses at-risk veterans directly:

“If you take one thing away from my story, I hope it’s this: Even when you feel consumed by moral injury and alone in the world, you are not separate from the beauty and good that exist here. You are still a part of that. You are connected to that, whether you feel it right now or not. You can experience that beauty and goodness again, if you want to. If you cry out for help and relief, help and relief will come.”

These are heart-felt words from Tom, who set out on the long road across America because he was feeling a pull toward suicide himself. Now, Tom’s vocation—the passion that drives him each day to travel and talk and teach—is to reduce the rate of suicide among U.S. veterans.

An average of 20 veterans die of suicide each day. In his new book, Tom is inviting all of us to work on reducing that tragic toll.


Snow and ice clung to Tom’s beard during one especially harsh portion of his long walk across America.

In our interview about his book, Tom Voss explained why confronting “moral injury” among veterans has become an essential part of his life’s work.

“It’s been troubling veterans and people who have witnessed and participated in war for a long long time—but we didn’t have language for it,” Tom said in our interview. “When I finally found out about the concept of moral injury, it clicked immediately. It means that there’s more going on than a symptom cluster, which is how Post Traumatic Stress usually is described. A lot of men and women are being treated for and medicated for PTSD when they really are struggling with the trauma of moral injury. That’s a huge part of the healing process—being able to name what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it so intensely.”

Research into this concept among veterans emerged in the 1990s, which means this is still a relatively new branch of psychological, social, cultural and spiritual studies. Until the debut of Tom’s new book, one book that was frequently recommended  by scholars for general readers is Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, published in 2013 by Beacon Press. One research center that Tom recommends on his personal website, The Meditating Vet, is the Syracuse University Moral Injury Project.

The Syracuse team defines the issue this way (a definition that Tom uses in his own talks, trainings and other educational work):

Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs, values or ethical codes of conduct. Within the context of military service, particularly regarding the experience of war, “moral injury” refers to the lasting emotional, psychological, social, behavioral and spiritual impacts of actions that violate a service member’s core moral values and behavioral expectations of self or others (Litz et al., 2009). … While the concept itself is not new—throughout history philosophers, poets and warriors themselves have long wrestled with the ethical dilemmas inherent in war—the term “moral injury” is more recent, and is thought to have originated in the writings of Vietnam War veteran and peace activist Camillo “Mac” Bica (Brock & Lettini, 2012; Bica, 1999, 2014), and Jonathan Shay (Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, 1994) as the aftermath of war-zone trauma.

Cutting through the citations in the opening pages of his new book, Tom describes moral injury this way:

A soldier may experience moral injury when reflecting on his or her actions during combat. But they can also experience moral injury by bearing witness to the actions of others. The cool indifference of a commanding officer as he stands over a dying civilian; the capture and torture of men who are known to be innocent; the bomb that was planted purposefully to destroy human life: all can call into question our deeply held cultural belief that all people, deep down, are innately good. Bearing witness to the moral indifference of others, or the premeditation of violence, is enough to warp your understanding of morality and make you question the moral character of everyone you meet. This makes it hard for veterans to trust other people and to assume the best in others and in themselves. In addition to participating in and witnessing violence, there’s a third, lesser-known cause of moral injury that impacts soldiers returning from war. It’s the sense of confusion, powerlessness and betrayal that soldiers feel when they come home and try to transition back to civilian life. Some people call them heroes, but most veterans don’t feel like heroes, so there’s a disconnect between the actual experience of war and the perceived experience of it.

An Opportunity to Reach Out

Many readers of our ReadTheSpirit online magazine are clergy, community leaders and teachers looking for resources to share with their communities. Clearly, Tom Voss is addressing an important emerging issue with a  wide array of compelling media—from the original documentary to this new in-depth book to his own availability as a teacher and speaker.

Currently, there are more than 18 million American veterans, which means there are families of veterans in most congregations, schools and community groups. This is a terrific opportunity to reach out on behalf of veterans’ needs in your community.


Tom Voss today.

“Right now, what I’m doing is traveling wherever I can to help people with educational talks and workshops,” Tom said in our interview. “I’m sharing my own experience of what finally worked to help with the healing from moral injury. You can see a little of that story in the film, then more time passed and there’s much more of that story in this book. One example of something that’s not in the film is the story of how I ended up becoming a yoga and meditation teacher myself.

“Among the other experiences I’ve had, now—I have completed the 200-hour teacher training with VETOGA, which specializes in bringing yoga, meditation and healing training to veterans and their families. I’ve found VETOGA so helpful that, now, I  travel and teach and recommend the VETOGA training to others.”

In fact, Tom wears a VETOGA-logo T-shirt in the photo he chose for the biographical section of his own website,

“Now, I realize that this whole 155-day walk we made was an effort to get outside of my comfort zone, to step outside my everyday world, which is also what we do in meditation. That’s a pretty crucial part of the healing process,” Tom said. “When we set out on this long walk, what I noticed was how thin I had spread myself within my daily world of family, friends, work and social life. I had no space left, no time left, to make room to focus on my own healing. So the trekking came about because I needed to find the time and space away.”

In the documentary film, Tom ends with a couple of initial experiences of meditation and spirituality. “But I went so much farther in my spiritual journey after the filming ended. I went to India. I had been pretty focused on my critical thinking, so I had a lot to learn about my own spirituality.

“I was raised Catholic and I have a background in a Catholic understanding of spirituality, which helped. Without that, I don’t think I would have become a seeker, trying to figure out what is real and what resonates with me and how can I connect with nature. That does connect with my Catholic background. It’s really important to understand that there’s a cycle that can happens with our spirituality and our connection with God. That’s an important part of my story and the story of other veterans. When I was in combat, I literally kept asking myself moral questions—spiritual questions—like when I saw terrible things happening: How can a just God let this happen? How can God let human beings treat each other this way? Those questions were the start of a long journey for me.”

Now, in Tom’s book, he takes us along the road he walked with his friend for more than five months—the fascinating story we see in the film—then he takes us on a much longer journey that includes his trip to India and other destinations for training and teaching.


Click the cover to visit Amazon.

We share Tom Voss’s core value: All of us have a responsibility to shine an honest and compassionate light on the lives of American veterans.

Our own publishing house offers two important books that help readers understand much more about the lives of men and women who serve our country. In fact, at Tom’s request, we have provided him with some sample copies to distribute of 100 Questions and Answers about Veterans, which was produced with the active participation of veterans by the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters team.

We also recently published The Black Knight, the memoir of retired Col. Clifford Worthy—the oldest living African-American graduate of West Point.

Want to help out? March 1-7 is Invest in Veterans Week. Please, read our Front Edge Publishing column this week by Susan Stitt about the Veterans and Black Knight books.

Throughout his new book, Tom often speaks directly to veterans about the need to realize that they must initiate and pursue the hard work of recovering from their trauma. “Even people who love you the most can’t do the work for you. Eventually, you have to do the work—that’s certainly what I’ve found,” Tom said in our interview.

However, he also stresses his hope that all Americans will begin to learn more about veterans’ lives—because we have a moral obligation after having sent these young men and women into harm’s way.

In the book, he puts it this way:

The responsibility to acknowledge, accept and heal from moral injury doesn’t just belong to those suffering from moral injury. When we send our youth into battle on our behalf, we are complicit in their actions. We are responsible for bearing our portion of the pain those actions cause. And in taking responsibility, we are empowered to help these women and men rebuild their moral scaffolding, reclaim their place in the society they volunteered to protect, and remember what it means to be human—and to belong.




‘Another Way’ Out of Atlanta comes ancient wisdom for rethinking leadership in our congregations and communities

From left: Stephen Lewis, Dori Grenenko Baker and Matthew Wesley Williams (Photos used with permission from the Forum for Theological Exploration.)


Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. The book is also available at Barnes & Noble or wherever you shop for books.

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

The most important thing you need to know about Another Way: Living & Leading Change on Purpose, and the book’s three authors, is that you will find their book dramatically different than many of the other leadership books on your shelf.

Unlike most authors on leadership, this trio of ministers, activists and scholars is preaching a revolutionary message. That’s revolutionary as in turning popular assumptions upside down.

Based on years of collaborative work and grassroots programs with groups nationwide, this trio teaches that the most powerful leadership is embodied not in an individual leader—but in the heart of the community itself. They describe these insights as hard-earned wisdom from their years of work together, drawing partly on ancient African and African-American wisdom. Then, they connect their methods with wisdom from various Christian traditions around the world.

If you are still frustrated after years of trying to become a better leader—this trio begins their book with a reassuring message: You’re not alone. That awareness of the people around us is a crucial insight, because what’s missing in many leadership training programs is—your community. That’s why there are four different groups of study questions at the end of each chapter so that everyone, whatever their role in the community might be, is welcome to read and discuss these ideas.

“People are longing for community,” co-author Stephen Lewis said in a recent interview. “People want to live a life of meaning and purpose. They want to know their lives matter and that they can contribute to a more hopeful future together. When I think about these practices, they are very much steeped in my own African-American community.”


The trio explain that this book grew out of their years of work with the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE), founded in 1954 in Atlanta. Their book unfolds their methods across 200 pages, but here is one short summary they offer in the book of their overall manifesto:

“We have discovered several noteworthy insights about the practice of leadership, the formation of leaders, and organizations’ efforts to develop, hire and retain the next generation of leaders. One important insight that is emerging from FTE’s work with leaders and organizations is this: current practices are too individualistic and short-sighted. Organizations want better solutions to their leadership development and change-management challenges, but too many don’t have enough time, the right personnel, or enough bandwidth to create and sustain meaningful change in their context. Individual leaders want to make a positive difference in their communities, institutions, and the broader world. However, they either don’t know how to do so in meaningful ways or they don’t fully understand that lasting, positive change requires collective and coordinated efforts of a team or community of leaders—not the lone efforts and aspirations of an individual.”

Now, if you are reading this thoughtfully, your own next question may be: Wait a minute. These authors say they’re writing out of African-American tradition. Isn’t that associated with powerful, individual leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

They have been asked that question many times and, in our interview, Stephen Lewis answered, “We do believe that communities are rich with so many gifts among the people that are just waiting to be set loose on the world. But, we also recognize for us that there is a danger in focusing on a single leader.

“Even if you look in an African American context: If there was not a community of faithful, devoted, committed women and men who were in the community mobilizing the community, there wouldn’t be the Dr. King that we honor today. We are the product of the community and the way we help people cultivate and promote their own gifts begins with asking people a question: ‘Who is the most talented leader in this room?’

“And the answer is: It’s the room itself, not one individual.”




So, who are these people? The best way to introduce them—in light of the core themes we’ve already begun exploring—is to show you how they each introduce themselves in just the first paragraph of their biographical section of the book. There’s much more about their lives and talents and insights to learn in the 200 pages, but these single paragraphs give you a feel for how their own lives have shaped these ideas.

STEPHEN LEWIS—”Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, I grew up in an African-American missionary Baptist church, where I was well acquainted with the idea that God has a purpose for everyone. As a 6-year-old, I was drawn to myths and stories about healing and transformation. Some of this was directly connected to my prayers that God would heal my mother, who suffered from depression. But a lot of it was simply a natural curiosity I had about human quests and spiritual encounters, which seemed to be at the center of all these stories. Only years later, after a first career in finance, did I find myself returning to these stories, realizing they lie at the center of what matters most to me.”

MATTHEW WESLEY WILLIAMS—”I was born on the South Side of Chicago in the late 1970s to parents active in the church and in justice organizations working on issues related to poverty, equity, racism and human freedom. Early on, my parents helped me to understand that service, protest and organizing for change in the world are all expressions of active faith. They steeped me in the cultural and spiritual gifts of African-descended peoples and taught me how to drink from those rich ancestral wells. … For me, faith-rooted leadership is about social change, and change is rooted in the inner life. While I am the child of Reginald and Marcelle Williams, I am also the child of a long tradition of faithful women and men whose lives bore and bear witness to the fact that there is no task more sacred than the liberation of oppressed peoples.”

DORI GRINENKO BAKER—”I grew up in rural Florida, where my exposure to religion was Sunday morning visits to Southern Baptist churches with my girlfriends, all of us still groggy after mostly sleepless sleepovers. There, I heard about a God who planned his son’s life, death and resurrection to save me. That never made any sense to me, but I was drawn to the story of an ancient wanderer, a man who spent a lot of time outdoors feeding and healing people. I also sensed belonging to something bigger than myself. My father, the son of Ukrainian immigrants, took me to midnight vigils at the Russian Orthodox church, which I remember as a blur of men in robes speaking a language I did not understand. Between the rule-based rigidity of the Southern Baptists and the incense-filled mysticism of Russian Orthodoxy, a deep curiosity about God began to form in me.”



Did you enjoy reading those one-paragraph stories? Or did that section of this Cover Story seem too long? This is a crucial question the trio raises in this book—and in the programs they have coordinated nationwide. Can we slow down and find enough time to enjoy the story of another person?

That’s really the fulcrum on which their method turns.

In his Foreword to the book, best-selling author and peacemaker Parker Palmer endorses their process as similar to methods he has used himself over the years. One of those similar methods is the peacemaking process developed by Brenda Rosenberg after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001—and that Brenda further evolved with Samia Bahsoun in their 2015 book Harnessing the Power of TensionThey describe their four-fold process as:

  1. Breaking bread together in a hospitable place.
  2. Listen with compassion to the other.
  3. Be the other and retell the other’s story to bring clarity.
  4. Create something new together, a tangible project in the community.

In their new book, Another Way, the trio use the acronym CARE to describe their four-fold process:

  • C—Create hospitable space.
  • A—Ask self awakening questions.
  • R—Reflect theologically together.
  • E—Enact the next most faithful step.

Brenda and Samia describe their method as coming from the deep traditions of their Jewish and Muslim communities. That’s one reason their method works well in interfaith and cross-cultural settings. Anyone of any faith—or of no faith—can tell and retell and reflect on personal stories.

The Another Way team specializes mainly in working with Christian groups, so their third step of reflecting theologically together works well in congregations and other Christian communities.

However, as Palmer indicates in his Foreword—the distinctions in these methods don’t really matter. The key is the wisdom of building leadership from the grassroots of the community upwards by connecting the lives of men and women on a meaningful level.

So, a key question that will determine how well you’ll respond to Another Way—or any of these related methods—is simply: Can you make time to slow down, sit down in a hospitable setting and share stories with each other?

“What we know is that in the midst of busy periods in our lives—the rat race of running the 9-to-5 every day—people feel they don’t have any breathing space,” Stephen said. “To create transformation within yourself and within your community, you have to create this different kind of place to be together where you can reflect and explore and excavate deeper meaning in your life—and in the life of the community.”



Are the world’s deepening tensions exhausting you as a leader? Or, as an active part of a community, are you afraid that unity and a sense of collective purpose simply isn’t possible anymore?

“We want people to know that there’s good medicine in this book,” said Dori in our interview. “We might say this book is a balm in Gilead.”

If you’re close to giving up on all the angry arguments firing back and forth from deeply entrenched positions these days—once again, this trio says: You’re not alone and that’s why this kind of method, which begins with slowing down and sharing our stories, can spark fresh transformation.

“I have an aversion to dogma,” Matthew put it bluntly in our interview. “And, I think stories are the antidote to dogma. We operate too much of the time in a field where people are always trying to stake out territory based on theological concepts or ideas, most of which were borrowed from a former time. What we’re arguing here is for the wisdom in the theological tradition of reflection and leadership formation that encourages people to take seriously their own stories.”

“A lot of people say they don’t like the lone ranger style of leadership—but we tend to default to it,” Dori said. “This book is about creating a new default setting for leaders. That takes daily attention to reorienting our individual selves. We hope this book is a starting point in that journey.”


Care to read more about ‘Another Way’?

GET THE BOOKIt’s available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. Or you can get it at Barnes & Noble online, or wherever you prefer to shop for books.

VISIT THE FTE WEBSITEHere’s the Another Way landing page within the Forum for Theological Exploration website.

GET A POSTER-FORMAT VERSION OF THE MANIFESTO—On the FTE website, you will find this page (and, then, you can save the “jpg” image to print out yourself). It’s a one-page, poster-format version of the group’s manifesto, which also appears on a page in the book. This is a great way to spark a discussion about ideas you’ll find in Another Way. If you’re trying to convince friends, or perhaps the members of your small group, to discuss this book—showing them this intriguing one-page display of provocative quotes can spark lots of curiosity.

Learn about the work of Brenda and Samia

Care to learn more about the related methods used by Brenda Rosenberg and Samia Bahsoun, which are especially effective in interfaith settings?

Visit our Front Edge Publishing website for a column about their work. You’ll learn about Brenda’s book Reuniting the Children of Abraham also you’ll also learn about the Brenda-Samia collaboration, Harnessing the Power of Tension, which focuses on building bridges in deeply divided communities.

Yes, it’s all about collaborative community—Just a few weeks ago, we published a ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about the launch of Brenda’s Reuniting the Children of Abraham at a huge gathering of Girl Scouts from across Michigan at the Detroit Institute of Arts.