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New children’s books enliven evergreen lessons for life

Children are both a gift from God and our future, so writing for them is no small undertaking. It takes a special talent to translate the world into a simpler, more innocent place full of possibilities. For two Legates, Chuck Ormsby and Anthony DeStefano, writing children’s books is a labor of love in which they impart character-building, evergreen lessons.

Godly insights for everyone

Anthony DeStefano and his wife Jordon are members of the Jersey Shore Legatus Chapter. He has worked successfully in politics and business, and is a member of the board of directors of Priests for Life and Rachel’s Vineyard. He has also been an EWTN television host and appeared on many national television and radio programs.

And through it all, he writes.

Stefano is an award-winning, best-selling author of 20 books for adults and children. His first book, A Travel Guide to Heaven, (2003) has been published in 15 languages and in 20 countries. Another book for adults, Hell: A Guide, will be out in June.

DeStefano’s latest children’s book released in October, The Seed Who Was Afraid to be Planted, is the retelling of Jesus’ parable of the seed in verse, beautifully illustrated by Erwin Madrid, an animator on the Shrek franchise. The story is about a seed wanting to stay in a cozy drawer rather than get buried in the ground. Faced with his biggest fear, the seed undergoes a transformation into a beautiful tree that nurtures the creation around it. It imparts the lesson that no matter how small or scared we may be, God has plans for us more wonderful than we can imagine.

Speaking specially to Catholics

This new book is his first with a Catholic publisher. “Now is the time to start writing Catholic books with the Church,” he explained. “I’ve had the sense over the last three years—and I think all Catholics have had this sense—that the Church is going through troubled waters. I’ve had a conviction that instead of focusing on the general market where I’ve had a lot of success, I should write for a Catholic-specific audience.” It also helped that DeStefano had met the publisher of Sophia Institute Press, Charlie McKinney, and was very impressed. Sophia will also publish his next two children’s books: Our Lady’s Wardrobe in April and The Grumpy Old Ox next Christmas.

DeStefano’s stories, which reflect Godly values and insights, have attracted readers across denominational lines and even no denominations. The Seed Who Was Afraid to be Planted, he explained, is also a message that applies to everyone.

Facing the universal phobia – fear

“I believe the biggest problem that people face—not just children—is fear,” DeStefano said. “People are afraid about their money, and job, and families, and health, and most of all they are afraid they don’t have what it takes to overcome their problems.” Unless we help children deal with their fears, he said, it can manifest into much bigger problems that could last a lifetime.

The idea for the book came to DeStefano during adoration while reading the parable of the grain of wheat that fell to the ground and had to die in order to grow. “It hit me like a bolt of lightning; Why not retell the parable of the seed from the perspective of the seed?” he explained. “The message is about trusting God and allowing him to transform your fear into something wonderful.”

Taking the worst, pulling out the best

It is a message that relates to Christ himself, according to DeStefano. “Jesus is the best example of the seed who was planted,” he said. “He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He died and was buried in the earth. It was the worst evil that ever took place in the world: the murder of God by His own creatures. But three days later, the Resurrection represents the greatest good that could ever happen. The gates of heaven were thrown open and all of us can receive everlasting life. If God can take the worst thing and pull out the best thing, He can pull good out of our life.”

Imparting such a vision can transform a child’s whole life, DeStefano said. “It can help prepare children to understand other deeper truths— including the love God has for us, the beauty of creation, the temporary nature of bodily death, the meaning of resurrection, and the joy of heaven.”

Far-reaching love for kids

Attorney Chuck Ormsby, member of Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Chapter, also has deeper messages in his whimsical children’s books. They reflect his own commitment to God and children alongside his full-time work at his law firm, Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. He has specialized in corporate law for over 30 years alongside raising three children with his wife, Linda, and building schools in Uganda.

“I went on my thirteenth trip there this past Halloween,” he said. “Previously we built a school in the jungle where a genocide took place,” Ormsby said. It all began in 2007 when Ormsby accepted an offer from visiting priest, Father Joseph Sserugo, to visit Uganda. He came to build a primary school on a one-square-mile piece of land that had been a place of genocide, thereby turning it into a blessing. Pope John Paul II high school was later built and is currently educating 600 students.

There is also a vocational school begun by Ormsby with another 150 students. Students can be sponsored at the Pope John Paul II High School, to defray yearly tuition. And there are also opportunities for covering their room and board at the local university (go to bridgetouganda.org to learn more).

Out of the mouths of babes

Ormsby’s foray into writing children’s books as a hobby has a humbler beginning. “We were driving in the car and one of the kids asked, ‘Why is Dad’s head ‘shaped like that’ —round and bald,” he explained. “My wife said, ‘So water runs off. If it had a dent in it, water would well up and he’d have a problem; puddles would form, birds would come drink and trees would grow.’” Thus was born Mr. Puddlehead, published in 2016 by Archway Publishing.

The brightly animated story in verse is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. The moral behind the silly story is: accept the way God made you, and see the puddles in your life as a blessing.

Life lesson from grandma

On another day, Linda came home from pushing a grandchild in the stroller with a sticky mess on the wheel that had picked up a napkin and a cigarette. From that came the story of Mrs. Sticky Wheel. She is in too much of a hurry to clean off the mess so ends up coming home with a dog, a cat, a duck and a pig stuck to the stroller.

On the first page of the second book, Mrs. Sticky Wheel marries Mr. Puddlehead. On the last page is the moral:

“She learned a lot from this haul
Address your issues when they’re small
Or better yet so not to stall
Avoid your problem after all.”

A third book is in the works. When his oldest of five grandchildren, Tiernan, recently explained that his superhero power is never getting tired, Ormsby envisioned his next book – a story where the villains are such a pest, while the superhero needs no rest.

Stay tuned.

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

Making Room At The Inn

It was the vacation of a lifetime for Paul Wilkes and his wife, Tracy, when they booked a four-week trip to India in 2006. They were simply looking for “something a little different.” Their two boys were grown. Tracy ran a home for underprivileged kids in Wilmington, North Carolina. Paul was a successful author and freelance writer for such notable publications as The Atlantic and the New York Times and had taught journalism at Columbia and Notre Dame.

A side trip on their way to visit a Trappist monastery, however, became the detour of their very lives. That fateful trip resulted in Paul founding the Home of Hope in India with the mission to build homes for orphaned and abandoned girls.

FATEFUL DETOUR

After breakfast at their hotel in the city of Kochi, a personal driver picked up Paul and Tracy for some sightseeing. The driver talked proudly of Kochi’s past and present. Paul was very distracted by the many crippled and maimed children—mostly girls— begging on the streets.

The Wilkes planned to visit a Trappist monastery later that afternoon but at two o’clock, the driver said they had more time so was there anything else they would like to see? “I’m Catholic,” Paul said. “There are so many sick and bedraggled kids begging on the street. What is my Church doing about this?”

“I could tell you,” the driver said, “but, if you don’t mind, sir, I’ll show you.”

Soon, they entered the gates of Prathyasha Bhavan—which translates as Home of Hope— an orphanage that housed 75 girls run by the Salesian Sisters. The gates swung open and a group of girls came running out, smiling and waving at the visitors.

Sisters Sophie and Thresia showed Paul and Tracy around, then offered them some tea. The sisters had asked for nothing, but Paul was ready to offer a donation when he noticed a little girl wearing sunglasses standing near Sister Sophie. It seemed out of place. They can’t even afford rice, Paul thought recalling the meager pantry he had just seen. “Why is she wearing sunglasses?” he asked.

Sister took off the glasses. One of Reena’s eyes was dark and clear, but the other was scarred and dull. “Sister told me that six-year-old Reena was begging on the street with her mother who was mentally ill, when they were separated in the crowd,” Paul said. “Reena was kidnapped by the ‘beggar Mafia,’ who routinely do this sort of thing. They held her down and gouged her eye to make her a “better beggar”. It made her more pitiful, so people would give more money, which the beggar Mafia would immediately take.

“I grimaced in horror,” Paul said. “And she returned my look of horror with the most beautiful and trusting smile I had ever seen.”

Paul and Tracy continued on to the Trappist monastery, but their minds and hearts remained at the Home of Hope. It is mostly girls that beg since boys in India are more valued and expected to work to help support their families. Although the Salesian Sisters gave loving care to the girls, they lived in deplorable conditions and slept on a concrete floor at night.

Before leaving Kochi, Paul felt compelled to see the Home of Hope again and made a silent commitment: Reena, somehow, some way, I want to — I AM – going to make your future better than your horrible past.

TAKING INVENTORY

Back at home, Reena’s smile stayed with Paul just as the words of his third-grade teacher, Sr. Mary at St. Benedict’s in Cleveland, Ohio, had done. “Does it matter that you were alive? Will this world be a better place because of you?” she had asked them.

Paul’s grandparents immigrated from Slovakia. His parents had only sixth-grade educations and his dad worked in a coal mine, but there was always room for more at the dinner table. The lessons of his childhood never left Paul; charity was a constant alongside his successful journalism career.

Paul’s first thought was to raise money for foam mattresses. He succeeded but the mattresses failed. There was no room to store them and they quickly became dirty on the floor. At that point at 68 years old, working on another book [he has 20 in all now] and teaching part-time at the University of North Carolina, Paul had just begun receiving Social Security. The check amount was about the same as his teaching job.

Paul considered that those girls in India did not need mattresses; they needed a respectable home with beds. He decided to live simply on just Social Security and his mission began. Rather than try to repair a dilapidated structure, Paul started raising money for a new home. “I started speaking in parishes and Rotary Clubs and anywhere I could,” Paul said. “I had no administrative experience, but there’s a thing called faith.”

Paul raised enough money and let the Salesian Sisters supervise building the home. Once that was complete, knowing there were 500,000 other girls on the streets of India, Paul kept going. Thirteen years later, 12 homes have been funded and 4,000 girls have been helped. “Some only stayed a few days or weeks until we could figure out their situation and return them to responsible relatives,” Paul said. “Other girls stayed and have gone on to school and/ or married. There are 1,000 girls currently in residence.”

LEGATE BUILDS 12TH HOME

Legates John Clegg and his wife Clare met Paul years ago when he came to speak at their parish, Our Lady of the Star, in Ponte Vedra Beach. The Cleggs are among the founding members of the Jacksonville, Florida Chapter, and John served as president from 2014-2015. “I found Paul’s story in dropping everything to do this remarkable,” John said. “I would call Paul four or five times a year to keep in touch.”

Six months ago, after construction on the 11th home began, John surprised Paul with an offer to completely pay for home number 12. That home, called The Little Flower in Imphal, India, is now under construction.

John explained that supporting the Homes of Hope mission is a natural extension of his years in pro-life work. He appreciates that around 95 percent of all donations go directly to building homes. Paul takes no salary.

“What he does is so simple,” John said. “He finds nuns from the orders of Salesians, Carmelites, and Franciscan Clarists who are already caring for abandoned children, and he builds them a home. It costs around $300,000 and once it’s built, the sisters are self-sufficient. I am hoping this [funding an entire home] will set a trend which will make Paul’s life easier. If money were no object, he could build more homes.”

John writes back and forth with the sisters of The Little Flower home who call him “Uncle” and send their heartfelt thanks. “When the new home is ready, I will go out for the dedication,” he said.

Today, at age 80, Paul sometimes visits during construction and makes a final visit at the time of dedication, frequently accompanied with his wife. “When I go to India, my feet never touch the ground,” he said. “The feeling of those little hands grabbing your hand and the back of your shirt—it doesn’t get any better than that.”

For more information, visit HomeofHopeIndia.org  

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

What is a Legate? Iraq’s lessons for America

What does it mean to be a Legate? To be an ambassador for Christ and his Church to an often hostile, always uncomprehending world? Each of you will have your own answer, but I’d like to share mine with you.

This past January it came to me in an epiphany as I sat in front of a shattered Catholic church in an Iraqi village razed by ISIS, just after I heard the story of a Yazidi father whose two daughters were kidnapped as sex slaves. I sat on the ground, almost choking on the cordite still lingering in the air, the town protected by only a platoon of brave Kurdish soldiers with rifles. I thought of how we as Americans are protected — by the most powerful military in world history. And I listened.

He gave me all the details, trying to keep together his human dignity, but I could see it was a struggle. There is nothing that undermines a man’s sense of honor like being helpless to protect his loved ones from violence. What he didn’t know is that I understood him better than he could imagine. I lost a daughter to abortion when I was 17 — I found out about it afterward, when it was too late and my daughter was dead. So I know that feeling of humiliation and rage. It’s something no parent should have to experience. That awareness is what drove me to the prolife movement, to protect the vulnerable from violence.

That same mission is what sent me to Iraq, to film a documentary on the threats to religious minorities, especially local Christians. I met with victimized families, courageous Kurdish, Arab and Christian soldiers who were manning the front lines against the ultimate evil — a radical cult that justifies sex trafficking in the name of God, that beheads helpless Christians and Muslims who won’t support them. While the sights, sounds and smells were very different, the spirit I encountered was exactly the same as I see whenever I visit crisis pregnancy centers across America: ordinary, sometimes partly broken people, rallying their strength to confront the face of evil, to serve their fellow human beings as images of Christ.

That’s what I think it means to be a Legate — to lean out of your comfort zone, to look for opportunities to serve the persecuted, to ask uncomfortable questions and be willing to take the heat. We as Americans have the immense privilege of living in a mostly orderly country, in mostly safe neighborhoods with enormous opportunities for social mobility and achievement.

I was born to working-class teen parents. I doubt most of my fellow Legates coasted to success on inherited capital. Instead, most were the beneficiaries of a largely free and transparent economy, with access to education and the chance to develop our talents. Our ancestors fought and died to make sure we had that opportunity.

Most of the world is not so privileged. Billions of people live without secure property rights, protection against tyranny, or the power to change their government. Tens of millions lack food and clean water. More than a billion are denied religious freedom, which we take for granted.

As Catholics, we are even more highly privileged. We have the fullness of truth, the untainted Gospel, along with the richest tools for understanding it — bequeathed to us by popes, councils, saints and scholars. We have no good excuse for falling for modern ideologies of evil, from socialism to radical individualism, from eugenics to euthanasia. We know better and, because of that, we have a duty to step up and tell the truth. We owe it to those who weren’t granted the full gift of faith, which sets us free.

Instead of feeling ashamed or guilty about our privilege, we should pause and be thankful for it. We should roll it around in our heads and appreciate its full extent. Then we should resolve to share it with as many of God’s creatures as possible, in whatever sphere of life we have some influence. You know your business. You know how you could use your expertise or connections to promote the Gospel of Life. Let me encourage you to use the rest of Lent to reflect on how you could best be of service. What great gift did God give you to help lift up your fellow children of God? See if by the time Easter rolls around you can be ready with a plan of action, because the world is battered and bleeding. It needs us to bring it Jesus.

JASON SCOTT JONES is a film producer, author, activist and human rights worker. He is an At-Large member of Legatus.