I’m just back from three days – May 29-31 – at a key annual convention for us at Franciscan Media – the Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit in St. Charles, Ill.
The chance to meet, discuss and gather feedback about our new books for the spring and fall with bookstore owners from throughout the country and top distributors in this country and in the English-speaking world outside the United States is so critical to our success. It’s also important to gain a better handle on publishing trends gathered through sharing with our colleagues from other Catholic publishing houses.
But when we went to the evening book signing of a couple of dozen authors of new books from these publishers, we were frankly stunned by the great popularity of our two authors – Father Dan Horan, author of Franciscan Media Books Dating God: Live and Love in the Spirit of St. Francis (also available in audio), and Brian O’Neel, author of Servant Books Saint Who?: 39 Holy Unknowns. Both were so popular that for almost an hour and-a-half, there were two lines with bookstore owners waiting patiently to secure a signed copy of their books. In fact, they were the last two authors signing books, long after most of the other publishers’ booths had closed!
The next morning, after the signing and a special dinner celebrating these two growing voices in Catholic publishing, I had a chance to ask O’Neel why his book was so popular.
The father of six, the author of another Servant Books title, 39 New Saints You Should Know and a frequent guest on the EWTN and Relevant Radio networks, wasn’t sure, noting that “to see people lined up like that from the very beginning to well past the time to quit was a little surreal.”
“But, please God, if he does what I pray he does, every hand that that book gets into will read something that helps them see where they could improve their walk with Christ or maybe inspire in them a desire to live for Christ in a way more than ever before.”
Brian talked in the interview, like he writes, with a down-to-earth style, easy to understand, faith filled, passionate about his faith.
I asked him why write not one but two books, each on 39 saints – new and unknown – some of whom are somewhat obscure.
Noting that there are more than 10,000 canonized and/or beatified, he said it would be easy to stick to the few most popular saints. But then, he stressed, we’d miss the “beauty” of those who receive little attention, comparing the individual saint to a tile in a mosaic.
“Each one of those saints is beautiful in and of themselves,” he said, who together form “an icon of Christ, an icon that draws you into his sacred heart.”
“The saints edify us,” building up our spiritual life, O’Neel said. “When I read about these saints, when I do the research for these books, I often come across saints through whom God speaks to me.”
He stressed that while we may know of “our final destination” – “union with Jesus Christ. That’s his goal for us and should be our goal for ourselves” – we, with the best of intentions, very often are “missing the mark.”
But the saints, especially at those “darkest of times,” become our “lane markers,” he stressed, through their “incredible devotion to Christ . . . so that maybe we don’t get off the path in the first place.”
His two books are a reaction against sanitized writings about saints. “Sainthood is not something only people in monasteries, rectories, or convents can attain,” he said, noting that the image of the saint whose head is bowed perpetually and never distracted in prayer does not lead the average Catholic to want to aspire to sainthood.
“The long and the short of it is that I can be a saint, too,” O’Neel concluded. “If people take that away from it or if people know others who can use that message, then hopefully these books will be of good use to them.”
Photo top: Brian O’Neel shares a light moment with one of the dozens of bookstore owners seeking a copy of his newly released Saint Who?: 39 Holy Unknowns.
Photo below: A section of the long line of bookstore owners all seeking an personalized and autographed copy of the new Servant Books Saint Who?: 39 Holy Unknowns, by Brian O’Neel. (Photos by Mark Lombard)