Two Birmingham Catholic Diocese youth leaders have co-authored the new book “Stories with a Purpose: Lessons for the Spirit, Lessons for the Heart”, a 14-chapter volume of personal, inspirational stories published by St. Mary’s Press.
The co-authors are Ronnie Muro, a member of St. Patrick in Adamsville and a former director of the SPIRIT youth group, and Rosanna Tsivourakis, a former staff member in the Youth Ministry Office for the Diocese of Birmingham.
Each chapter is a personal story written by Ronnie or Rosanna and can be used as a lesson for a high school youth ministry class. The chapters also include Bible verses, activities, reflection questions and prayers that relate to the story. The stories can also be used by adults for personal reflection.
The idea for the story came from Laurie Delgatto, the Senior Development Editor at St. Mary’s Press and the former Director for Youth Ministry for the Birmingham Catholic Diocese.
“At that time Ronnie Muro was the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Patrick and we became colleagues and friends,” Laurie said. “He shared some of his writings with me and mentioned his dream of one day getting those writings published. Fast forward a good decade or so and, as an editor with Saint Mary's Press, I was searching for new and creative authors and project ideas. I remembered Ronnie's stories and thought they would be great in a book format.”
Laurie had a similar relationship with Rosanna Tsivourakis. “Rosanna was also a friend and a colleague and always told a great story and she had done some writing on the side as well,” Laurie said. “So I thought the two of them could pair up and write a really great book on how to use storytelling as a means for teaching the faith. I contacted both and they both said yes and the rest, well, ‘is in the book’.”
Laurie said, “Stories with a Purpose: Lessons for the Spirit, Lessons for the Heart offers thought-provoking stories that help make challenging ideas and abstract concepts more memorable -- even unforgettable. The stories included in this book are poignant, humorous, and, best of all, real. Accompanying each story are suggestions to enrich the telling, discussion questions, follow-up activities, and prayer experiences to maximize the story's impact and learning potential.”
Ronnie Muro, who is the author of eight stories in the book, said he did not hesitate to become part of the project. "Since I had been writing stories like that for the past 10 years, I jumped at the chance,” he said. “It was difficult because we had to find Bible verses that related to the story, dig into the story to uncover the deeper messages, and create discussion questions and activities that would reinforce the message for the kids."
Ronnie is also a believer in the power of storytelling. "For the most part when you hear a good story you can be moved by it,” he said. “But our lessons are designed to go beyond that. The kids hear the story and are entertained, but then they are brought deeper into the story to discuss the message within. Through activities and discussion they learn the meaning. Then they are challenged to take an action based on the message of the story."
Rosanna Tsivourakis, a member of Prince of Peace parish, has never forgotten the impact stories had on her as a child. “My mother was the 13th child of immigrant parents,” she said. “By the time we (her children) came along, our grandparents and several of my mother’s siblings had passed away. But we always felt strongly attached to these people we had never met because we had heard their stories over and over until we believed we'd actually, physically known them...and loved them.”
Rosanna has seen the power of storytelling up close and personal. “I teach a Confirmation class at Prince of Peace,” she said. “It's a large class and sometimes difficult to maintain order. But when we tell them our stories, you can hear a pin drop. We want to know each other. This is how we build and fortify our revealing our stories to each other.”
Laurie said storytelling has a direct relation to our faith. “Jesus knew the power of stories and often used parables as a way to connect with people and teach them,” she said. “Carefully choosing images familiar to his audience, Jesus presented clear and simple examples to illustrate his lessons. The sower, the vineyard, and the mustard seed were familiar images to those who worked the land.”
“Jesus knew, as do all good storytellers, that stories stimulate listeners and open them up to a fuller experience of learning. Rather than merely hearing a lesson dictated to them, when people listen to a story, they experience emotion, create visual images, and process the story's message on multiple levels. This leads to a fuller, deeper understanding of what the story is trying to convey. More than any other form of communication, storytelling is an integral and essential part of the human experience.”
St. Mary's Press (www.smp.org), located in Winona, Minnesota, is a nonprofit, Catholic publisher administered by the Christian Brothers of the Midwest Province. You can order the book directly from the St. Mary’s Web site or from amazon.com. For non-Internet users, you can contact Alpha Church Supply in Birmingham.