In today’s episode, I speak with author Theoni Bell. You’ll hear about:
- Illustration update for Seven Gifts of Baptism
- Now available for pre-order: Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server
- Editing update for my first book for Catholic adults!
- The story of a Marian apparition in Wisconsin
- Doubt as a struggle for those who have seen Our Lady
- Meaning of Our Lady of Good Help
- A giveaway of The Woman in the Trees
- And more!
**Affiliate disclaimer: Some links may be affiliate links where I earn a little money from your purchase at no cost to you. Thanks for helping an author out! 🙂
Congratulations to our Giveaway Winner!
Congratulations to Betsy, winner of last episode’s giveaway, who has won a copy of a board book about St. John Paul II. Listen to our last episode, or be sure to enter into this episode’s giveaway for a chance to win!
Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server is available for Pre-Order!
Pre-ordering books is a fantastic way to support an author or a book, as all pre-order sales help boost the book well into the future with search engine algorithms. If you’re thinking of buying this book, don’t wait, and order some as Christmas gifts while you’re at it!
Your purchase will go farther by helping others find the book now and in the future. Post-publication sells help as well, but pre-orders are SUPER POWERFUL! Thanks so much for your support, and I wish you laughs and hugs and happy reading!
Want to be interviewed?
If you would like to be interviewed on the Catholic Kidlit podcast, if you have some insight into Catholic children’s books, if you are an author/editor, you can apply at Catholic Kidlit dot com or send me a message through the contact form.
Editing a Book for Catholic Adults!
And on the writing side, I am working on edits for a book which will be coming out next about the Seven Sorrows of Mary, which is a devotion that has come to mean a lot to me. This will be my first book for adults and I am looking forward to sharing further details about that book with you all soon.
Today’s Podcast Episode
As for the podcast, we are kind of expanding today’s interview into a pretty interesting area–I have to say–an older kind of middle grade, like middle school, older elementary, young adult work.
My guest today is Theoni Bell and she has written a book called the woman in the trees about a Marian apparition in the United States in Wisconsin.
So as we will discuss in the interview, Marian apparitions are always approached first with doubt by the church. So it’s not a requirement of Catholicism that any Catholic believe in this apparition that we’re about to hear about. But I was fascinated to hear about it. And I learned a lot from listening to Theoni Bell. So I hope that you enjoy listening as well and enjoy hearing about this resource, which is available to our children.
Thanks for the Review!
Also stay tuned for information about a giveaway at the end of this episode. And huge, thanks to a reviewer, justadance who said of the podcast:
So thank you so much for that really kind review. If you’re enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe and if you leave a review, I always appreciate it. Same for my books. Reviews are hugely appreciated.
Now on Patreon
And if you want to further support the podcast, you can now do so on Patreon. This is a passion project of mine. So your contribution can help keep the podcast going. And if you join the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club through Patreon, you can find extra interviews, information, and support about the book-creation side of things, the writing and publishing.
I’m piloting moving the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club onto Patreon as a more robust way to share that kidlit creation side with members and to make it more accessible to people by offering it as a monthly amount instead of an annual sum. So we’ll see how all that goes.
But thank you so much in joining me here on this free podcast. And now for the interview!
Interview with Theoni Bell
Hello, Theoni Bell. Welcome to the Catholic Kidlit Podcast. Today, we are here talking about her book, The Woman in the Trees, which is a chapter book based on the historical event, which happened in Wisconsin, where Mary appeared. So could you tell us about the apparition itself and then a little bit about the story that you’ve set around it?
Theoni Bell: Yeah. Thank you for having me on, first.
I really appreciate it. I found the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in 2013. And we were looking for a place to do a pilgrimage. We had some prayers that we wanted to leave with Mary.
So we drove out to the shrine and that’s how I got introduced to it. When both of my prayers were answered within three months– my husband had gotten into grad school and I had conceived when I wasn’t able to previously–I became very interested in making Our Lady of Good Help our patron.
So Our Lady appeared to an immigrant from Belgium in 1859.
The Belgian’s name was Adele Bryce, and she was 27–maybe 28. Sorry. And she came over from Wallonia, and there were a lot of Catholics leaving at the time and they were all coming to Wisconsin, and they became a very tight-knit community because they were totally secluded in the forest where they started their settlements.
They had no roads for five years. They were totally cut off from churches and priests and Adele was just going about her life, trying to help her family survive. She saw Our Lady three times.
The first time she was carrying a stack of wheat to the grist mill and Our Lady said nothing. And the second time she was on her way to Mass and Our Lady again said nothing.
So Adele asked her confessor what she should do. And the confessor said, you, you need to ask, “who are you? And what do you want from me?” So on the way back on that same day as the second apparition, she had the third apparition and her sister Isabella was with her, with another person from the settlement.
And Our Lady came, they could not see Our Lady, but Adele told them that they needed to kneel, and they could see that Adele that was obviously struck. She had fallen to the ground and was having a conversation with Our Lady. And so she did ask, “who are you and what do you want?” And then our lady delivered her message.
Our Lady called herself the Queen of Heaven. Just some highlights from the message. She called herself, the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners. She said that sinners needed to convert and do penance. She told Adele to gather all the children in the wild country where they lived and teach them what they should know for salvation to teach them their catechism.
So Adele spent the rest of her life until she died in 1906. And she trekked through the wilderness in all four seasons. And she pulled those children together in homes and she, you know, traded household chores and farm work for time with the children. And then eventually she was able to raise enough money to build St. Mary’s Academy. And she took on orphans and other boarders.
And then in 1871, there was a huge fire. And Adele stayed at the chapel with the other third order Franciscan sisters who were living and teaching with her. And they prayed throughout the night with settlers who fled there for safety. And then in the morning, a downpour came and put that fire out.
And it was the most devastating fire in American history and the only property that was still green in the area with nothing harmed was the chapel and all of the grounds that had been consecrated to Mary. So the other interesting fact about that fire is that it happened on the 12th anniversary of the apparition.
So people at the shrine and people, you know, throughout history have talked about that as being the chastisement, I guess that Our Lady had warned about in her message.
Theresa Kiser: Wow. That’s that’s a lot there. And that’s in the United States.
That’s in Wisconsin. And this is, you know, not as familiar a story as some of Mary’s other apparitions.
Theoni Bell: Yes. It’s not. And that’s why I wanted to write about it.
Theresa Kiser: When you wrote this book, you’re writing this book to share this message. And I like that it aligns with Mary’s message at the apparition.
She said to catechize the children and your book is directed towards children. So tell us a little bit about that story because it’s historical fiction, right? So you have a spin on the story itself.
Theoni Bell: Yeah. So I wanted to tell this story. I prayed a lot when I decided I was gonna dedicate some time to being a writer and I really felt like Mary was telling me to write this story. And she had recently, you know, answered our petition.
So I really started writing this book in a very disorganized way. It all came out well, but I would do things differently now. My main goal in the beginning was to just tell this story.
As I told this story, I realized I was also catechizing, like you mentioned at the same time, because when there’s a community that has received a message from Our Lady, there’s a lot of questioning of the faith. There’s a lot of doubt. There’s a lot of suffering on behalf of the people who are part of this situation.
And then you just have the history of America at the time. As I looked into the history, there were lots of other conflicts going on. The Civil War took place during the period that the story takes place. And the Belgians were historically very patriotic. They were very grateful to be in America.
And a lot of the settlers from Belgium took place in that war. It is historical fiction. We have very few words from Adele Bryce, so I did have to come up with what I thought she might speak like and sound like based on just a handful of sentences we have of hers. But there is a lot of information about the community itself.
It’s a community that’s been the subject of many research papers because of how tight-knit the community was and how they managed to survive in the wilderness, and then how they managed to rebuild and come back stronger after the fire. So there was a lot there in the historical record about America at the time and about the Belgians.
So I was able to use real Belgian surnames. And I was able to look up what their voyages across the ocean would be like. So I tried to make things as truthful as possible and let history kind of set the boundaries for me. And my background is in journalism. So coming up with plot lines and characters all by myself is actually the harder part for me.
Theresa Kiser: I can see how that could just pull one’s mind into a ton of different, interesting directions from the historical standpoint, the faith, and then just the story of these individuals and this community.
So this book designed for? Which age readers?
Theoni Bell: So it’s designed for middle grade and young adults. You know, kids are are always at different reading levels than what they’re assigned, but most of my readers are between the ages of 10 and 20, but I get a lot of feedback from moms who absolutely loved it. And it’s being read in adult book groups right now.
And I think anyone who wants to know about this apparition, they’re gonna really find themselves immersed into this world and really understanding Adele Bryce and that community at the time. So anyone who loves historical fiction, anyone who wants to know more about Our Lady’s apparition, but also her role in our faith because like I said, the book deals a lot with building that relationship with Mary, understanding that relationship with Mary cuz there are a lot of people in the story who doubt the apparition and throw a lot of questions at my main character about it.
Theresa Kiser: Right. And that must have been interesting to find those questions. Were those questions that you found were asked to them specifically, or that you imagined would be asked in that context?
How did you figure out which criticisms would have been launched at this apparition at the time?
Theoni Bell: Well, it actually like a lot of apparition visionaries, Adele was persecuted, I guess you could say, by some of the locals. And she was also interrogated by the local clergy at the time.
The first two archbishops of Green Bay did not believe her. And they were worried because they saw, like you saw at Lourdes and other places, they saw the crowds coming. And they saw someone retelling a story of this miraculous event. And so I think it’s the Church’s stance in the first place to be doubtful.
I mean, they even doubted Padre Pio, so I don’t really hold it against them, but she did go through a lot. She was barred from receiving the Eucharist. There’s a story that she showed up to Mass and was not given a seat in the pew. So she knelt in the aisle. So that’s one way that, that she had to deal with people doubting her message.
And then the second is at the time a lot of people were coming to America to flee religious persecution in other places in Europe. And one of the issues they had was religion being tied into the government, or, you know, the king. You have all the wars in like England, say, where there’s Protestant king persecuting Catholics, and then the Catholic king is persecuting Protestants. So they were worried about it.
They called Catholics names like “Papist” because they were very scared and they didn’t believe in the church. So those people were always, you know, doing their circuits around the country. And there is a man who she did have to come up against. I’m thinking about writing a sequel to include him. And he was a Protestant who was very anti-Catholic and tried to take a lot of the Catholic to his side.
Theresa Kiser: Doubt is a pattern for a lot of apparitions. I think of Fatma and I mean, even Jesus, himself, he was treated the same way as somebody who was creating an assault on the faith, when really he was–he wasn’t just bringing a message, but the fulfillment of the faith itself.
So about Our Lady of Good Help for people who don’t know? What does this name of Mary mean? And what does this emphasize in her message?
Theoni Bell: the last line of her message is “go and fear nothing. I will help you.” That’s the last thing she said, because Adele asked her … Our Lady said, “teach the children, gather them and teach them the sacraments.”
And then Adele said “how am I to teach them who know so little?”
And Mary’s response was “go and fear nothing. I will help you.” Like, just, don’t worry about it. You have to just trust me, trust the Lord.
And so I think that’s part of where the title comes from, but also there are shrines in Belgium that are already Our Lady of Good Help.
Not because Marion apparitions happen there, anything like that, but it is a title that’s been used for a long time for Mary.
Theresa Kiser: Okay. Was Adele familiar with that name for Mary before she saw her?
Theoni Bell: I’m pretty sure she was. I think I have read that she named the first chapel.
It was in French and I have a very bad French accent, so I’m not gonna do it, but it was Our Lady of Good Help over the doorway in French. And so that was something that she was familiar with, with the chapel in her home country by the same name.
Theresa Kiser: So when children read this book, what do you hope that they walk away from it with?
Theoni Bell: I hope that they walk away with a new mother, a second mother, if they still have their earthly moms, because I think that really embracing Mary as our mother just takes your faith to another level. And it’s very helpful in all of the struggles that kids are gonna face as they grow up: struggles just with society, struggles interiorly, emotionally, spiritually… there’s nothing more comforting than to really dive into a relationship with Mary and just know that she’s always there.
I mean, when I pray to Mary, I’ve gotten to the point where I just spiritually lay in her arms, and it’s almost like–it’s like taking a nap, it just resets me.
So I really hope that kids can read this and come to a better understanding of Mary’s role and that she’s always leading us to Christ, she’s always united to Christ.
Theresa Kiser: This book, is it a long read for older elementary school kids? Is it a short read? What’s kind of the time commitment from them?
Theoni Bell: I think it’s a longer read. I would say if you worked on it steadily, it would take about a month forof a middle grader to read because there’s a lot theology in it and it’s written at their age level, but it still slows the reading down a little bit, cuz they have to think, and there’s a lot of history in there.
So their minds have to make connections while they’re reading with what they might already know about American history or the Church. So for a young adult or an adult, it’s gonna go a lot faster, but it it’s definitely not… what’s the word? Charlotte Mason uses the word “twaddle.” It’s definitely not twaddle. It’s kind of dense.
Theresa Kiser: Yeah. It sounds like the perfect Charlotte Mason type supplement to just slow down and really think through the history, the time, this person’s life and the faith.
So I just wanna thank you so much for introducing us to this book for the time in writing it.
Giveawaya Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js
And also Theoni is offering a giveaway for our listeners. So if you out there are intrigued by this book and want to learn more, you can enter to win a digital or a print copy of this book. And she also has some stickers, Our Lady of Good Help stickers. So all of this can spread the word about Our Lady’s message to pray for the conversion of sinners and to catechize young children.
This has been Theresa Kiser with the Catholic Kidlit Podcast.
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Thanks so much for tuning in, and see you next time!
Which Marian apparition means most to you?
Let me know in the comments!
About Theresa Kiser
I’m Theresa Kiser, speaker and award-winning children’s book author of the picture books Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server (Our Sunday Visitor, Coming 2022), Seven Gifts of Baptism (Holy Heroes, Coming 2022), and Liturgical Colors (Holy Heroes, 2019), as well as the fantasy adventure series The Manakor Chronicles. On a rare moment when I’m not writing or changing diapers, I might indulge in fruity teas, dark chocolate, and a good book.