AIKEN—In late 2008, a parishioner made a donation to St. Mary Help of Christians School in Aiken, specifying only that the money be used to purchase a book on vocations for the school library.
Principal Peggy Wertz looked everywhere and couldn’t find one.
“There would be things for high school students, college age people or adults, but nothing for an elementary school,” Wertz said in an interview with The Miscellany.
She spoke with Father Jeffrey Kirby, who at the time was parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians Church and helping to lead vocation clubs for boys and girls at the school. They decided if they couldn’t find an appropriate book, maybe they should write their own. That idea is now a reality.
“Becoming Father Bob,” co-authored by Father Kirby and Wertz, will be available to readers on Feb. 1.
The book, published by Signo Press, follows a boy named Bobby from childhood to priesthood. The story is based on Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone’s journey to the priesthood, and the bishop allowed his dog, Mickey, to appear as a character in the book as well. Alice Judd, a Catholic artist based in Aiken, did the illustrations.
“The book follows the story of a real, very normal boy who is exposed to great priests who make him really think about the opportunity to serve God and to serve a parish as a real, feasible career option,” Wertz said.
Bishop Guglielmone met with Wertz and Father Kirby in Aiken in August and gave his support to the project and provided some details about his vocation story. He also wrote the book’s forward.
“The priest is presented as a normal human being who grows up in rather usual circumstances with the same interests, likes and dislikes of young people in general, and listens to the voice of the Holy Spirit in terms of choosing how he will live his life,” the bishop wrote.
Father Kirby, who currently is studying in Rome, said the book helps children realize that vocation discernment is part of a normal life. Bobby joins the Boy Scouts, dates, plays baseball, goes to college and works as a teacher before becoming a priest.
“Studies have shown that most men in the priesthood first thought of it in the fourth grade or in the eleventh grade,” Father Kirby said. “I know I first thought of becoming a priest in the fourth grade, and it’s important to have something out there that’s age-appropriate to foster the idea of vocations.”
He said he provided a lot of the theological background for the book, while Wertz helped write a story with appropriate vocabulary and plot for elementary school readers. Certain words in the book are underlined and defined in a glossary at the back of the book.
“Becoming Father Bob” is the first in what Kirby and Wertz hope will be a series of children’s books focused on Catholic topics. They completed it first because they wanted it to be released during the Year for Priests.
Father Kirby said the next in the series will be “Becoming Sister Claire,” focusing on a girl’s decision to become a woman religious. “It’s a wonderful achievement to know that I’ve done something like this,” Wertz said. “I had never dreamed I would actually write a children’s book, but it’s really filling a space that is needed.”
The book will be available for sale on Feb. 1 at www.signopress.com. It also will be available at book signings from 6-8:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Aiken Center for the Arts; 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Brickyard Plantation Clubhouse in Mount Pleasant; 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Thornblade Club in Greenville; and 6:30-8:30 p.m. March 5 at The Inn at USC, Palmetto Room, in Columbia.