Children’s devotional teaches, encourages virtues

| August 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

Susanna Spencer of St. Agnes in St. Paul reads with daughters Gemma, left, and Lucy about the virtues Aug. 28 from a book Susanna compiled with multiple authors titled “Rise Up: Shining with Virtue.” DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Susanna Spencer, writer and theological editor of Blessed is She, an Arizona-based, international Catholic women’s ministry, recently published through that ministry, “Rise Up: Shining with Virtue,” a children’s devotional book with multiple authors. The book is available at A member of St. Agnes in St. Paul with her husband, Mark, and their four children ages 10, 8, 6, and 4, Spencer shared with The Catholic Spirit the reasons she compiled the book and details about what it contains:

Q. What is “Rise Up: Shining with Virtue”?

A. “Rise Up” is a children’s devotional book centered around 15 different virtues written by 17 Catholic women who are mothers, aunts and teachers of children. Among the other local writers are Anna Coyne of St. Mark’s parish in St. Paul, Joan Geiger of St. Timothy’s parish in Blaine, and Nell O’Leary Alt, Jacqui Skemp and Rose Coleman of St. Agnes parish. The book teaches children how to take a prayer time, be with God, and gives a clear understanding of what virtue is and how to grow in it.

Q. Where did the idea for “Rise Up” come from?

A. The idea came from my eldest daughter when she was 8 years old. She saw all the beautiful products that the women’s ministry I work for, Blessed is She, was publishing for women, and she wanted to know if we would make one for kids — for her. She asked for a book that would help her pray, something with daily prayer prompts. In brainstorming the idea with the project’s managing editor Nell, we came up with the idea of basing the devotion around virtues.

Q. What was your role in creating “Rise Up”?

A. Together with Nell, I helped plan and layout the basic format of the book. The next part was more difficult — explaining virtue in simple terms to children and giving them guidelines on prayer. I turned to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, using it to write an introduction to the book and accessible explanations of each of the 15 virtues at the beginning of their respective chapters. From there I selected a Gospel passage for each chapter and wrote a meditation on the passage centered on the virtue. It was also my job to edit the book to make sure all of the virtues were described properly and that the book was theologically sound.

Q. What does the devotional include?

A. After the explanatory introduction, there are 15 chapters, one for each of the virtues we chose, beginning with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The book then goes through the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, courage and temperance, with some of their daughter virtues interspersed of gratitude, generosity, obedience, perseverance, patience/mercy, humility, studiousness, and honesty. There are seven days for each chapter, day one consisting of the introduction to the reflection, days two-to-six with a short saint quotation or Scripture passage paired with a reflection by one of the other writers. Nell compiled the quotations and wrote the closing prayer for each day. I came back in to wrap up the week with a simple Ignatian-style examen for day seven.

Q. The promotional materials talk about this book offering “for the first time” an overview of the virtues for ages 8-12. What makes it unique? What made you realize that there was nothing else out there like it?

A. There are so many books on virtue, but we wanted to make one specific to children who are ready to dive deeper into their faith. This is a book that meets children at their level, using the ideas in the Catholic Tradition, and invites them to stretch their minds, understand how to live their faith and allow their hearts to be changed to be more like God.

Q. The main audience is children ages 8-12. Is it for boys and girls? If so, what makes it appeal to both sexes?

A. This book was designed for boys and girls, with content that can be applied to any child’s life. Both girls and boys need courage, humility, generosity, temperance and so on. We included examples in the reflections to appeal to both genders, and the designer, Erica Tighe Campbell, created illustrations that girls and boys both find interesting.

Q. What do you hope its audience takes away from the book?

A. My hope for all of the children and parents that read this book is that they will come out of it with a consistent, dedicated habit of prayer, where they talk to and listen to God each day. And that they have begun to be aware of seeking and forming virtue in their lives.

Q. A lot of people have a good sense of the concept of “virtue,” but what are we talking about specifically when we say “the virtues”? What is their role in our Catholic tradition?

A. At first virtues may seem like a form of morality imposed on our lives by the Church, but if we evaluate our experience of making good and bad choices, we see that virtue language is a fitting description of human life. The Catholic tradition, based on even the older thought of Aristotle and Plato, has given us the concepts of virtues and vice to describe our experience and guide us in becoming more like God. It is easier to understand how to turn away from our sins when we can use words to talk about them and know how to overcome. That is why virtue is so helpful. If I have a habit of lying — I can name that habit, and then I know that in order to stop lying I have to practice the virtue of honesty — I have to tell the truth.

Q. Why are the virtues important “seeds to plant” in Catholic children?

A. The earlier in life one forms a habit, the harder it is to break it. So, if a person attains a virtue at a young age, for example, generosity, he or she will grow up to be a generous adult. However, if a person grows up selfish, it will be very difficult for him or her to break this habit of selfishness. Further, this selfishness will spill over into other parts of his or her life, leaving them ungrateful and unkind.

Q. Blessed Is She typically publishes material for Catholic women. How does “Rise Up” fit with its mission?

A. We publish things by women and for women, but all of us have children in our lives. We see and experience the struggle to be close to God as adults, and we want to form the children we love in holiness. It has been such a blessing to use our gifts of writing materials for women for the sake of the little men and women in our lives.

Q. You’re a mom. Have you introduced the book to your children? If so, what has that experience been like?

A. I let my daughter open the package the day I received my copies in the mail. It was incredible to see her open and look at the book that she inspired. Both of my daughters of the target age spend time in prayer with “Rise Up” several days a week in our family quiet prayer time. They seem to draw a lot from it.

Q. What feedback have you received on the book from other parents who have shared it with their children?

A. Parents and children love the book! We have found that children younger than 8 have benefited from reading it with a parent, and that parents find the book really helpful for their own understanding of virtue. When I thought it up, I was thinking of it as a book for personal prayer, but I love that it has become a point of discussion for families.

Q. What else would you like to share about the book?

A. One of the most exciting things for us at Blessed is She is that “Rise Up” was given an Imprimatur. As a parent I always look for this on books I give to my children about the faith, because teaching the truth matters.

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