In second grade Religion class, our school principal, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame, sat in to observe one morning. Our teacher, Sr. Rosemary, asked us, “What is a homily?” My heart leaped—this was too good to be true. With the principal waiting expectantly for a reply from someone, I shot my hand up. Immediately called upon, I could barely contain myself:
“The homily is the priest explaining how to put the words of the Gospel into practice.”
Fireworks didn’t erupt, the class did not give a standing ovation, but the principal did nod in approval, and class continued. Satisfied and rather proud of myself, I sank back into my chair. Of course, this was not quite an original answer. I merely plucked the line from the seminal book My Picture Missal, the dog-eared paperback on the order of the Mass I had come to memorize.
My Picture Missal’s author, the Reverend Lawrence G. Lovasik, was the prolific writer of dozens of children’s books related to the faith. Long before discovering the works of Fulton J. Sheen, indeed before Joseph Ratzinger, there was Fr. Lovasik. For a youngster like me, it was an event to receive a new Fr. Lovasik book: The Works of Mercy, The Angels, and perhaps most influential, The Picture Book of Saints, palpably resonated the faith at a young age.
Some years ago, I was delighted to still see Fr. Lovasik books in print when visiting a Paulist Press bookstore in Orange County. Flipping the rack around, the titles and covers washing me with affectionate memory of gazing at those same books visiting The Covenant gift shop with my mother in Cleveland, it occurred to me: who was this man? If his influence could be credited along the lines of Archbishop Sheen and Benedict XVI as an integral shaper of the scope and depth of Catholicism, shouldn’t there be more about him?
I left the bookstore doubting whether even Fr. Lovasik himself could possibly write all of those works. Like the pen name Franklin W. Dixon, employed by an army of ghostwriters of the Hardy Boys mysteries, perhaps Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik was just a propped name by a publishing house. It was time to bring the story of Fr. Lovasik into the digital age.
An Internet search provided the basics and the predictable. In addition to sites where his books could be purchased, there was some biographical information. Sophia Institute Press’s biography ran: “Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik (1913–1986) said that his life’s ideal was to ‘make God more known and loved through my writings.’ Fr. Lovasik did missionary work in America’s coal and steel regions, founded the Sisters of the Divine Spirit, a missionary congregation, and wrote numerous books and pamphlets emphasizing prayer and the Holy Eucharist.”
What was I really looking to uncover? It seemed to me there had to be more—Fr. Lovasik was too prolific, and too much of a missionary—wherein there had to be something out there I can find that would impact me today.
So I searched for him in the university library catalog. And indeed a few titles appeared. And they were not the children’s books I had known and loved. As quickly as possible I raced over to see for myself. I held in my hands the original 1960 hardbound copy of his near 300-page The Eucharist in Catholic Life. While accustomed to the gravitas of a Sheen or a Ratzinger text, this was altogether: a Fr. Lovasik epic for adults!
The Eucharist in Catholic Life conceivably could be the kind of work read in Catholic higher education, perhaps RCIA courses or Theology classes, but is rather the type overlooked by curriculum. It is instructional as it walks readers through what exactly the Real Presence means and what exactly happens at the Mass—vital reminders for those who may have forgotten its significance. Fr. Lovasik often intercuts anecdotes from throughout history—early Christian martyrs to stories of secret Masses in concentration camps in World War II—that vividly display the magnitude of what the Eucharist means.
Celine, the sister of St. Therese, once asked her, “How can God be in such a tiny Host?”
Therese answered, “That is not strange, because He is almighty.”
“And what does ‘almighty’ mean?”
“It means,” replied Therese, “that He can do whatever he likes.”
Judging by the stamps on the date due ticket, the book was quite popular in the 1960s through the 1980s. Yet its unassuming tone and reverence for its subject matter works against it in trying to reach an audience today. For anything to be relevant now it must be controversial, skeptical and ambiguous—everything the entire opera omnia of Lawrence G. Lovasik is not. Are we as a people better off this way or would we perhaps serve ourselves well in revisiting such a humble work?
The obituary of Fr. Lovasik, which appeared in the June 10, 1986 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is void of the outpouring of work he contributed to the faith. It is a profile in humility. His biography on the Fr. Lovasik Publications tallied that “he authored over 30 books and 75 pamphlets,” yet the obituary merely summarized his work as priest and surviving family. For him—it suddenly became obvious to me—it didn’t seem to matter if you knew the name of the writer of all those pamphlets and books and devotionals, but rather what you did with the knowledge he tried to impart.
A true priest.
As a layperson committed to the nurturing of the faith in family life, I and others who know what Fr. Lovasik meant for our formation as children we would do well in continuing to keep his works in print for the next generation. Having recently been married myself, I’m curious to read Fr. Lovasik’s own insights in his book Catholic Marriage and Child Care, which I eagerly await. Like his book on the Eucharist, it’s as if Fr. Lovasik’s reflections on marriage and family life seem to have been written as gifts for adults who remember his books as children. I am one of those readers.
In his book Our Lady in Catholic Life, Fr. Lovasik writes:
To Mary Immaculate, The Mother of God and Our Mother,
Through whose intercession I have been privileged to become a missionary priest (August 14, 1938) and to found the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Spirit (August 22, 1955), in memory of the hundredth anniversary of her apparitions at Lourdes (1858-1958), when she declared, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” as a tribute of sincerest gratitude and love, I dedicate this work.
FATHER LAWRENCE G. LOVASIK, S.V.D.