Feb. 16-22, 2006
VOL 125 NO. 6
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Illustration by Hilarie Chamberlain
Local Catholics write themselves into the tradition of religious inspiration
Around the year 70 A.D., Saint Mark allegedly sat down, unfurled his scroll and began penning his Gospel. He desperately wanted to tell the story of a man he thought highly of. He wanted to tell the tale of Jesus Christ.
Historically speaking, Roman Catholic monasteries were responsible for keeping ancient literature alive during the Dark Ages. More recently, the faith of the Universal Church has influenced such esteemed authors and poets in the English language as James Joyce and Father Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Catholic author G.K. Chesterton is among the more celebrated authors associated with the church.
That same inspiration drives many Catholic writers today in Central New York, writers who draw their desire to communicate from their faith in Jesus Christ.
For Syracuse native Bob Betterton, the relationship with his faith is powerful but not without its complexities. A graduate of Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse and also Le Moyne College, Betterton was a part-time sports editor at The Catholic SUN and also wrote a basketball column in The Dolphin in the mid-1940s and early 50s. He had always planned on becoming a writer; the problem was that he could never figure out what to write about. Finally, at age 75, Betterton’s book was accepted by Xlibris for publication.
Betterton is a dedicated and active Catholic. He cites the fact that his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are also practicing Catholics as evidence of his commitment to the faith. He asserted that the book is a testament to his faith’s virility. The Compliant, Curious and Critical Catholic is an effort on the part of the author to deal with his own problems with the institution of the church while retaining his own faith. Betterton describes himself as a progressive and critical Catholic who distinguishes faith from both the church and religion.
“[A progressive Catholic is] one who believes that the church should exist to support one’s faith,” he explained. “I think that religion should exist and expand one’s faith and the church should exist to administer religion.” As the title suggests, the book breaks Catholics down into three categories: the Compliant Catholic, the Curious Catholic and the Critical Catholic. The “compliant Catholic” is one who accepts without hesitation everything presented by the church. The “curious Catholic,” though obedient, finds many of the church’s doctrines quizzical but isn’t equipped to probe and question them. Finally, the “critical Catholic” approaches his questions about the church energetically.
The working title was in fact It’s a Wonder I’m Still a Catholic. In the forward to The Compliant, Curious and Critical Catholic, Father William J. O’Malley, S.J., who is himself an author, determines that the “critical Catholic” offers the most healthy approach to the church. Betterton matured at the time of Vatican II. Then a husband and a father of three children, he and other Catholics hoped Vatican II would open up relations between lay people and the church hierarchy, but did not expect wholesale transformation. Betterton will be in attendance at a book signing Feb. 26 at St. John Fisher Church of Rochester in Fairport, NY, and then also March 12 at St. Joseph’s Church in Penfield. Both book-signing sessions will follow Mass. Eyes of a child
Sister Joan Sauro, CSJ, a native of the west side in Syracuse, has written six books and has been published in numerous magazines, including the Jesuit weekly America. Her most recent work, Does God Ever Sleep?, is her first effort in the children’s book genre. After teaching creative writing to children in the Syracuse Diocese, Sister Joan was inspired to have the children’s work published. She submitted the work to three different publishers only to have it rejected on all three occasions. One publisher, SkyLight Paths, finally suggested that the sister write her own book. The publisher also suggested the title. In the final incarnation of Does God Ever Sleep? Sister Joan was forced to let go of the actual work of the children but did not abandon their inspiration.
The book is filled with photos and verse evoking the image of God as a parent putting the world to bed at night. “People have described it as very tender which is a marvelous way to describe God,” Sister Joan said. Sister Joan developed both the text and the artwork for the book, using crayons and illustrations suggesting the work of children. Crayon slashes frame many of the photographs, which Sister Joan was also responsible for. Some of the photographs were taken on the streets of Syracuse or in the landscape surrounding the small, Central New York city. “I never wanted to stray too far from what’s ordinary,” she said.
The language of the book features scattered rhyme, including this stanza which opens the book:
Every night when it
Came Time for bed,
She asked a hundred questions instead
Sister Joan wanted the book to be a celebration of children. “I wanted to exalt children,” she said. “I wanted to show how precious and vulnerable they are.” Immigrant song Antonio Casale came to the U.S. in 1962 but his accent still belies his roots in the Italian peninsula where he spent his youth in a community near Naples.
Casale graduated from Syracuse University and speaks and reads French, Italian and Spanish. He taught for 16 years at Henninger High School and has been heavily involved in the Italian community in Syracuse. His first book, the product of many years of labor and revision, tells the tale of an immigrant from the world of rural Europe. A Fistful of Happiness is a wandering tale that mixes weighty matters with a measure of wit. In the novel, the Italian comes to the U.S. to promulgate his political ideas, namely communism. The story is a heavily textured, multi-layered narrative which follows the protagonist throughout his journey to New York, on to California, then back to Italy. The story is one of redemption as the once-hardened communist experiences a transformation of heart upon returning to Italy.
Belief in Catholic Christianity also prompted Casale’s pen. “Faith inspired me to send this universal message,” he said. “When I write, I’m going to send a strong moral message.” Casale is currently writing a second book with the working title The Last Chapter. This novel deals with a fictional cardinal’s struggle with celibacy. A book signing for A Fistful of Happiness will be held at Betts Branch Library April 19 at 7 p.m. Another book signing will be held at 1:30 p.m. May 20 at the Hazard Library in Syracuse.
Mattydale native David Nora, Jr. was an ambitious youth. Last year, during his senior year at Bishop Ludden Junior/Senior High School, that ambition yielded Nora’s first book: Happy Balloon to You, a remembrance of an elder he never knew. The story deals with a young boy’s loss of his grandmother. Nora’s grandmother on his mother’s side passed away before he was born and he hoped the book could serve to carry on her legacy.
“I always heard stories about my grandmother from my mother but I never met my grandmother,” said Nora, who is currently a freshman at the State University of New York at Purchase. “I thought this would be a good way to keep her memory alive.” The book is a family labor as the illustrations are designed to evoke the sketches of very young children. Nora’s sister designed the artwork. The author said that much of his inspiration was derived from his faith.
“I felt that it [faith] influenced the book a lot,” he said. “Christian teachings interlock throughout the book.” Nora researched the publication process online and presented the book to a number of publishers but it was met with little interest. Determined to have it published, Nora elected to self-publish it. After spending his spare hours at Ace Hardware, Nora finally raised the $3,000 necessary to print the book through RoseDog Books, a subsidiary of Dorrance Publishing.