Often sickly as a child, Catholic columnist and author, Marge Fenelon, spent many days lying on the living room sofa looking up at the picture of Mary and baby Jesus on the wall.
The print, a copy of Mother Thrice Admirable, was a gift to her mother from Fr. Joseph Kentenich, the founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt, when Fenelon was just a year old.
Attachment to Mary
That was the beginning of my attachment to her,” she explained. “From there, I developed an inexplicable and insatiable drive to get to know more about Mary, which I did through voracious reading and later, getting my certificate in Marian Studies.”
That yearning to write her own book about Mary spurred her recently published, Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom. In the book, Fenelon, a Milwaukee native, candidly shares her experiences as a mother to encourage others to understand that the motherly vocation can be an extraordinary witness for the Kingdom of God.
“At first I couldn’t put my finger on what kind of book to write, or how I would put it together,” she explained. “Within the last two years, and while mulling it over with my Spiritual Director, (the late) Fr. Jonathon Niehaus, I.S.P., I finally was able to nail down the concept and scope of it.
“Through our conversations, I realized that the book that was in my heart was a book that didn’t just tell about Mary, but showed her as a real, living person and that could lead others into a genuine, constantly deepening relationship with her.”
Focus on Marian virtues
In her book, Fenelon chose 10 virtues: patience, trust, obedience, endurance, courage, strength, hope, faith, and joy. She combines each virtue with personal anecdotes along with Mary’s historical background to bring an understanding of her as well as a new appreciation for motherhood.
“While it was my idea — with Father Jonathon’s help — to make this a book that would bring Mary to life, it was the publisher’s idea that this book is best addressed to mothers of all ages, and I agree,” she said.
“Still, I know that men will gain a great deal from reading the book because I’ve been told so by men who have already reviewed it. In that light, I hope that moms will find a new wisdom and enthusiasm for their mothering and that all who read the book will come to know our Blessed Mother so well that they could actually sit down and have a cup of coffee or tea at the kitchen table with her ‘sitting’ right across from them. She doesn’t say much, but she is a great listener.”
About the author
The Milwaukee native and member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish has been married to her husband, Mark, for 30 years. They have four children, ages 27, 25, 22, and 17.
In preparing and researching this book, Fenelon was unable to draw upon her own relationship with her mother, as she was unable to offer her as positive mothering experience.
“I had to build my relationship with Mary from scratch,” she said, adding, “Rather, I should say that She built it from scratch for me. I owe everything to her.”
Fenelon has held a membership in the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt (a Catholic lay movement of renewal in Christ through Mary) for many years. Despite her lack of maternal support, Fenelon recognizes that the Blessed Mother has been with her throughout all stages of her life and transformed her with each advancing year.
“When I was a child and through my teens, I had more of a ‘gimme, gimme’ attitude toward her, always asking her for this or that thing I thought I needed or deserved,” she explained.
“As I moved into marriage and early motherhood, I found my attitude to be more like, ‘How in the world did you ever do this or that? How can I ever be like you?’
“As I matured, I crawled out of my selfishness and started worrying about Mary instead of insisting that she worry about me. Was I loving her enough? Was I demonstrating my love for her as best I could? Was I being a ‘little Mary’ for the world around me? Was I doing everything possible to lead others to her? I think that’s pretty much where I’m at now, but believe me, I certainly have my moments of regression.”
Looking back, Fenelon admits that writing a book about Mary was a daunting task for her at times. There were days she would become fretful, but realized that the only way she could accomplish this monumental task was to proceed prayerfully and by placing her trust in Mary.
“I asked her to write the book for me,” she said. “I began each work session by invoking the Holy Spirit and then asking the Blessed Mother to tell me exactly what she wanted people to know about her. I teasingly tell people that Mary is the author. I merely put my hands to the keyboard.”