Christmas Book Reviews – Catholic Sentinel

One of the Catholic Sentinel’s favorite annual tasks is to review new books by local authors. Here are four for 2021.

‘A Flame for the Lord: The Life of Mother Kolumba Bialecka’

By Dominican Sr. M. Felicity Wolf, self-published, 2021. Order: Dominican Sisters, 708-458-3040 or

For readers looking for a possibly untold story of faith, “A Flame for the Lord” is an inspiring read.

The book begins with a faithful young child named Roza Bialeckis. Daughter of Polish nobility, Roza grew up in present-day Ukraine. Her family were devout Catholics and at just 11 years old, the girl made a vow to join a religious order. Five years later, she was destined for a Dominican order in Nancy, France. This was just the beginning of Roza’s story. She had been sent to France in the hope of returning to Poland to found a new religious order; she returned to the country as a Kolumba sister and did just that.

“Those who knew Kolukba Bialecka compared her to such a [sanctuary] lamp, burning with love for the Blessed Sacrament, inextinguishable in her desire to exhaust herself for Christ,” writes the author, Sister Felicity Wolf, originally from Portland.

Although she had battled tuberculosis all her life, Mother Kolumba, as she was known, founded the new Dominican order, built a convent and a chapel and instilled in her sisters humility, brotherly love, pure intentions, positive relationships with priests and laity and obedience. . She encouraged devotions to the Eucharist, to Mary and to Saint Joseph.

His command has since expanded from Poland to a presence in nine countries around the world, including the United States.

—Sarah Wolf

“Miriam’s Joy”

By Betty Arrigotti, self-published, 2019, 179 pages. At Amazon

Portland Catholic author Betty Arrigotti has offered a new novel in which the Blessed Virgin Mary quietly appears in our beautiful city to help a grieving woman. It is a lively and enriching read.

Arrigotti’s portrayal of Mary as a cheerful Middle Easterner in a headscarf satisfies both those with a long-standing devotion and those who may have been put off by a sanitized, Caucasian version. Those who love Mary know that she is more than a pretty statue, but a strong woman determined to do God’s will and justice, as the Magnificat prayer indicates.

“Miriam’s Joy” has a literally explosive opening. The first sections also contain a mystery. While this reader wishes the ambiguity had been carried at least a few more chapters, Arrigotti shows admirable restraint. Mary does not shine in the sky or make the evening news, but rather works with kindness and firmness in the daily lives of Portlanders. This is how God and his partners seem to act.

It’s all told in Arrigotti’s own, expert prose and reflects what we can assume to be the author’s knowledge of the trials of life, such as the loss of loved ones and the shaping of relationships. Arrigotti, a member of St. Pius X parish, writes with authenticity about the human experience.

Although we sometimes get a little too much realism in the form of too much detail, the book’s blend of spiritual and human feels just right.

Arrigotti is a skilful craftsman of vignettes. In this book, she uses them to show how Mary helps connect people, which seems to be exactly what Mary would do.

—Ed Langlois

‘Soarin’ in the Saddle: Cowboy Poetry and More’

By Allen Reel, self-published, 2021, 101 pages. Order:

The author, a retired Catholic municipal judge from Beaverton, born and raised in Montana, pays homage to the world of his ranching grandparents with his latest book, “Soarin’ in the Saddle,” an award-winning collection of poetry, works of art, photos and prose.

Reel presented at the famed Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and his poetry has the grizzled, artisanal wisdom of the real rough deal. This contrasts with his well-researched and polished essays on cowboy art, music, movies, ethics, ranches, stories, rodeos, and the tragic fate of Native Americans. Reel cites early sources briefly and vividly, for example describing CM “Charlie” Russell painting a picture of a buffalo in his studio in Great Falls, Montana, in 1914: “It was pretty cool in there because the back door was open and there was no fire.

I particularly enjoyed a list of iconic rodeos (I’ve visited three!) and Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code, which begins: “The Cowboy should never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take advantage unfair.” The artworks – posters, paintings and photos – are well organized and the images crisp and clear.

This is a book to revisit again and again. It arouses curiosity and gives indications to find out more.

And poetry is good. The poems are not to be swallowed up. A poem, cowboy or not, is an entire novel or short story – to consume one at a time. So sit back and consider, “Now what’s in cowboy heaven / Have you ever considered….”

—Kristen Hannum

‘Pilgrimage to Soul Place: Modern Tales of Canterbury’

By Holy Names Sister Cecilia Ranger, self-published, 2020, 192 pages. At Amazon

Holy Names Sister Cecilia Ranger creates a book filled with facts and ideas about world religions while simultaneously addressing the reader as a gentle and intimate spiritual guide.

His writing is based on the premise that almost all religions have deep value and that people will thrive when they embrace the religion that best suits their psychology and personality. If it’s inconvenient, this job can sometimes be frustrating. For spiritual seekers or those who want to better understand other religions, this is a book to treasure.

Sister Ranger, a seasoned scholar and retreat director, loosely modeled her writing on “The Canterbury Tales,” with pages devoted to the personal stories of pilgrims. These men and women are not on the road from London to Canterbury but have traveled to “a place where they feel at peace with their personal discernments”.

Covering Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Sikhism, among other religions, Sister Cecilia also offers chapters on new spiritual communities and agnosticism. She treats each pilgrim’s journey with respect and scholarly skill. The origin of each religion or spirituality is summarized, and there is an overview of beliefs, practices, sacred writings, and the impact of religion on people and the world.

“Pilgrimage to Soul Place” would have benefited from some careful editing, but it’s rich in information, has a down-to-earth tone, and speaks to the universal hunger for heart and soul satisfaction.

—Katie Scott

Alycia R. Lindley