Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., leads a book discussion.

Young Adult Catholic Book Study

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 13)

By Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., leads a book discussion.

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., leads a book discussion.

In his talk at the 2010 Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles, Fr. Robert Barron (now Bishop Barron) shared a story about a visit he made to his brother’s house. One day, after his niece came home from school—one of the elite Catholic high schools in Chicago—Fr. Barron couldn’t help but notice her pile of textbooks on the kitchen table: Shakespeare’s Hamlet for her English class, Virgil’s Aeneid for her Latin class, and a tome of complex equations for her advanced physics class. He rummaged through the books in amazement, proud of his niece’s sophistication and intelligence. After moving a few books aside, however, his heart quickly sank. Underneath some of the greatest works of Western civilization was a paperback book full of large, simple print and colorful cartoon pictures—she was using a comic book for her religion class.

Bishop Barron’s story about his niece’s textbooks is familiar to many young adults, including me. Many of us grew up with these religious “comic books” in our Christian formation courses, leaving us unaware of the richness, depth, and beauty of the Christian tradition. Until recently, I had never heard of great Christian novelists or storytellers like Flannery O’Connor or Leo Tolstoy. I had not read the Christology of St. Athanasius of Alexandria or the mystical theology of St. Bonaventure. I did not know that theology had been brought to critically acclaimed films, like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. In other words, I was unaware that Catholicism had a vibrant, intelligent, and colorful culture that not only passed on the faith in nuanced and sophisticated ways, but also was compelling and enjoyable!

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.

After our exciting discovery of the vibrancy of Catholic culture, and recognizing the importance of sharing it with other young adults, Adam Horn (director of religious education at St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay) and I decided to start a book club for young adults ages 21-39 at St. Norbert Abbey. During the summer of 2016, we kicked off the group with a Facebook page simply called: “Young Adult Catholic Book Study: Green Bay, WI.” In September of 2016, we read our first work, Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien, with about eight members. After our first event, the book club started to grow. As of August 2017, our Facebook group has 70 members with as many as 18 participants at each discussion.

The fruits of our little book study are many: we have built community; we have read, watched, and discussed several great books and films; we’ve learned much and become “more cultured” along the way. Most importantly, however, we’ve become better at articulating and appreciating our faith. This was the impetus behind Fr. Barron’s story of his niece’s textbooks: to encourage young people to read the great books of the Christian tradition so that they might better understand, preach, teach, defend, celebrate, and thus communicate our faith. We believe that this book club is helping young adults in Green Bay accomplish these goals.

Join Us

If you are a young adult interested in learning to better communicate your faith, simply search “Young Adult Catholic Book Study: Green Bay, WI” on Facebook and join our group. We would love to read, discuss, and journey with you!

Selections from Ongoing Reading List:

Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkein
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
The Death of Ivan Illych by Leo Tolstoy
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick
The Soul’s Journey into God by St. Bonaventure
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Book of Job in the Holy Bible
On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius of Alexandria
The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher
Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment: Preparatory Document for the 2018 Synod on Young People by the Synod of Bishops
Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor



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