I'm delighted to have had the chance to "e-chat" with Marge Fenelon, author of Strengthening Your Family, one of the books I reviewed in my January column. Marge, my thanks for being willing and thorough in answering my questions here.
Q: Tell Catholic Post Book Group blog readers a little about yourself, your family and your writing.
I’m a cradle Catholic and have been married to my husband, Mark, for 29 years. We have four mostly-grown children, ages 26-16, and live in the Midwest. My interest in writing began in grade school, although for a time I was convinced that I’d become a criminal lawyer so I could go after the Mafia (Go ahead, laugh. I do.). I majored in Journalism in college and spent several years as a public relations consultant. One day, I woke up and said to myself, “I want to write for the Church.” So, from that moment on, I wrote almost exclusively for Catholic publications and organizations. I couldn’t be happier.
Q. As I wrote in my review of your book, I felt like we are “kindred spirits… I felt like I was having lunch with a friend and getting encouraging counsel and spiritual uplift about family life and its inevitable ups and downs.” Was your conversational, fellow-traveler style intentional, and how did this help you?
I think my writing style involved from my copious journaling throughout grade school, high school, and college. The “copious” part tapered off once I had kids; the desire was there, but the time wasn’t. I always addressed my journal entries to someone – the Blessed Mother, Our Lord, or a favorite saint. It helped to picture someone on the other end of the line, so to speak. Once I started getting published, folks seemed to like my style, so I kept up with it. Once, my spiritual director called me a natural storyteller, and so I took that as a sign from God that I should try to further develop that gift. Mostly, though, I think it comes from the fact that I love and enjoy people – all kinds of them!
Q. Before I read your book, I was not at all familiar with the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement. Is it primarily regional to WI, where you live? Can you tell us a little more about it and its influence on your family’s life?
Schoenstatt is an international lay movement founded in 1914 in Schoenstatt, Germany, by Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968), a German priest whose cause for beatification has been opened in Rome. Father Kentenich spent 14 years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the movement sprouted roots there. That’s how I encountered it – through a chance meeting of my mother with Fr. Kentenich and my attendance at a Catholic grade school taught by the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary.
The Movement is one of moral and religious renewal, based on a Covenant of Love with Mary under the title Mother Thrice Admirable and with the Schoenstatt Marian Shrine as a focus and place of grace. There are more than 250 Schoenstatt Shrines throughout the world and on every continent. People also erect home shrines, or prayer corners, in their homes in the same spirit.
Cornerstones of the Schoenstatt method of education include ideals, freedom, and self-education, which have become cornerstones for my educational methods for myself and my children. Schoenstatt has given us a framework in which to grow spiritually and has drawn us closer to Mary and her Son.
Q. Your kids are mostly grown now. How does this phase of life change your parenting and your spirituality?
Whew. Great question! I often think that parenting now is far more time consuming (in a good way) than when the kids were little. There are days I throw up my hands and jokingly exclaim, “Argh! What I wouldn’t give for a poopy diaper!” Basically, as the kids get bigger, so do the problems. And yet, it’s a privilege and delight to see them become the persons God has intended them to be, and to hear their impressions of the world unfolding around them. Frequently, they’ll spontaneously seek me out for a heart-to-heart chat, and I love that! I do more listening and taking in now, as opposed to active teaching. Once in a while I’ll give advice, but I try to allow them the freedom and encouragement to work things out on their own. That can be excruciating when I see one of my children going through a tough time! Spiritually, I have (a little) more time to myself, but my focus still usually is on my children. I pray for them, but also I offer for them – sacrifices and acts of self-mortification. Don’t worry; no leather whips with little iron balls at the end! I may fast for a day, give up something I really like, make a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine, or do some extra work around the house – things like that. On a personal level, I’ve discovered that now I have the ability to dig deeper in order to root out those evasive chunks of nastiness in the crevices of my soul that had eluded me when I was occupied with those aforementioned diapers.
Q. What do most hope readers will take away from Strengthening Your Family?
Uh, the whole book? Kidding aside, I hope that they can grasp what I see to be the five most important elements of parenting toward sanctity: holiness, stewardship, apostleship, freedom, and joy. I’d also like to see some of the sting taken out of that word, holiness. It’s not just for canonized saints, or for the family that sits in the front pew at Sunday Mass. It’s for US – for you, me, your family, my family – with all our blemishes and shortcomings. We’re all called to holiness regardless of our state of life or step in the spiritual journey. Additionally, holiness is obtainable in small, concerted increments. It’ll cost us much sweat, prayer, and sacrifice, but it’s definitely do-able.
Q. What writing projects or books are in your future?
I’m always working on something…sometimes too many somethings at once. I plan to continue writing my columns and to broaden the base of sites and publications that host my work. I’m doing some re-structuring of my website and forging a new blog, called “Are we there yet?” which will be about the ups and downs of traveling toward the Kingdom together as family – nuclear, extended, community, parish, Church and society. Book-wise, I’m working on an exciting new one (with a likely sister-book) for which I can’t yet give detail because the contract hasn’t been finalized. However, I can tell you that both our Blessed Mother and moms of all kinds will be VERY excited about it!