What makes a person worthy of sainthood? John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany lends food for thought.
How does one negotiate the interplay between faith and doubt? That theme is explored in Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light.
Is it possible to muster forgiveness in the face of genocide? Wisdom is offered in Elie Wiesel’s Night and Immaculee Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.
These invigorating books are all recent monthly selections by the St. Catherine’s Book Club, which in October 2010 will observe its five-year anniversary. Meetings are held on the first Tuesday of each month, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the parish lounge of Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena Church. The next gathering will be Sept. 7 and will feature Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.
Book-club attendance typically totals five to 12 people per meeting with participants ranging in age from 20s through 70s, according to Beverly Way, a club founder. Groups are predominately but not exclusively female, and anyone is welcome to participate either regularly or occasionally.
"We don’t check IDs," Way remarked, adding that "those who arrive for the first time are as welcome and fit in as easily as those who have been at every single meeting. The books immediately connect newcomers to old-timers and give us common ideas and themes to wrestle with."
In addition to the titles already mentioned, selections for this year thus far have been Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; Dreams from My Father by President Barack Obama; The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West; and The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. Rounding out the 2010 calendar year will be Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott; The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien; and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
Book suggestions are fielded from parishioners — "we even get ideas from people who never attend the meetings," Way noted — and put to a parish vote. Variety is ensured by choosing four books from each of three categories — current, classic and Catholic — to make up a year’s reading list.
Most book-club participants belong to St. Catherine of Siena or know somebody at the parish. Way observed that several people track monthly selections in the parish bulletin and read those books without actually coming to the meetings. For folks who do attend, Way said conversations generally stick close to a book’s content although participants often relate personal stories as well.
"We have great discussions," Way stated, adding that "getting a glimpse inside the heart and mind of so many wonderful people continues to be the best part for me."
She attributed these lively chats to the group’s foundation as a Catholic parish-based book club, saying that "our discussions more easily address religious and spiritual themes that can be awkward to bring up in a secular group."
St. Catherine’s Book Club has endured successfully from its inception in 2005 based on the idea "of providing a welcoming ministry especially to newcomers. We envisioned a group where old and new parishioners could gather but were not held to any obligations or commitments," said Way, who along with Kerry Curran originated the club. They, along with Jane Judge Bonasser and Jeanne Moseley, make up the group’s leaders.
Way said any parish can convene a book club and for those interested, she suggested putting "how to start a Catholic book club" into an Internet search engine to locate an informative article by Jesuit Father James Martin that was originally published in America magazine.