Teen turns Fatima devotion into three children’s books

| April 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

MaryGrace Franz, a parishioner of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, reads “Jacinta Sacrifices for Sinners: A True Story,” one of the three books about Our Lady of Fatima that she wrote, illustrated and self-published at her home in New Hope. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

As a young girl, MaryGrace Franz would call on her older sister and a younger brother to join her in the backyard to act out the story of Our Lady of Fatima. The siblings would play the parts of Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her cousins, Francisco, 8, and Jacinta Marto, 7, the shepherd children to whom Mary appeared in Fatima, Portugal, on the 13th day of May through October in 1917.

“And then we’d go and tell dad that we saw Mary in the backyard, and he’d say, ‘Oh, sure, sure,’” Franz, 17, recalled with a laugh.

Franz, a parishioner of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, recently took her love of the Fatima story from her backyard to the pages of three children’s books she wrote, illustrated and self-published: “Lucia and Our Lady’s Rosary: A True Story,” “Francisco and the Hidden Jesus: A True Story” and “Jacinta Sacrifices for Sinners: A True Story.” She received the printed copies in the mail last November. Having started the books in 2015, Franz is happy she completed them in time for the Our Lady of Fatima centennial May 13, at which Pope Francis will canonize Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who died from influenza in 1919 and 1920, respectively.

“I think it’s one of the reasons [the Fatima story] is so important for children — [the shepherd children] were really young, but they were able to attain such a great height of holiness. And they weren’t necessarily super holy before our lady’s apparitions, which is something that I can identify with,” Franz said, adding that she relates well to Jacinta, whom she chose as her confirmation saint. “And then after Our Lady’s apparitions, they just tried super hard to be holy, and they were determined, and that’s why they’re becoming saints. It’s not because Our Lady appeared to them, but because they took her message and they applied it to their lives. And the fact that they could do that as little children is something that I think is really neat and is really worth sharing, especially to children to help inspire them to strive for holiness, even at a young age.”

The books are geared toward children ages 2 to 10. Franz said when she attends daily Mass at Holy Family, she sees children reading her books, and the book about Lucia is her 3-year-old cousin’s bedtime story of choice.

The two-and-a half-year process began when a family friend who was coordinating a vacation Bible school about “Our Lady of the world” wanted a children’s book about Our Lady of Fatima that included the story and message, and that children could understand. She asked Franz to work on a book, knowing she enjoys drawing and the story of Fatima. Writing isn’t her forte, but painting is, so she agreed to the project.

“The illustrations were really what I put the most work into,” said Franz, who used acrylic paint for the original artwork.

After Franz began, she took a friend’s suggestion to turn one book into three, each telling a specific message of Mary.

“The children had a different aspect of Our Lady’s message that they identified with the most,” she explained. “Whereas Jacinta prayed for the conversion of sinners, Francisco prayed in reparation for the wrongs done to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And so, although they all focused on the whole thing, they each had a different part of it that they were most passionate about.”

Franz added that she wanted each book to be brief enough to captivate young readers; the longest book, Lucia’s story, is 34 pages.

Although she didn’t finish the books in time for the VBS program, she was able to obtain from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis the imprimatur — the Church’s official permission to publish a book that touches on matters of Catholic faith or moral teaching — and the nihil obstat — a Church official’s judgment deeming a book free from errors in faith or moral teaching.

The books are available at two metro bookstores — St. George Christian Books and Gifts in Blaine, and St. Patrick’s Guild in St. Paul — and one in Peoria, Illinois, where her grandma lives. They’re also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Franz would like to continue writing and publishing children’s books, but she doesn’t have plans for more just yet. Next time, she said, she’ll work from a more feasible timeline and be sure her research is completed before beginning, rather than “diving in too excitedly.”

When she graduates from Minnesota Virtual Academy this spring, she hopes to enter the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, a teaching order in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

She lives her devotion to Our Lady of Fatima in her total consecration to Mary according to St. Louis de Montfort. At the end of her prayers, she adds, “Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.” She believes Mary’s message at Fatima is especially important for people today.

“I ultimately think that the message of Our Lady of Fatima is an offshoot of the message of divine mercy,” Franz said. “That’s what it’s going to lead back to is the message of God’s mercy for the world and specifically going to Jesus through his mother Mary.”

For more information about the books, visit http://www.shepherdchildrenof.wixsite.com/fatima.

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