Since Fr. Peregrine Fletcher, O.Praem., entered the Norbertine order in 2013, his life has been beyond busy, with free time precious and fleeting.
ILLUSTRATION BY FR. PEREGRINE FLETCHER, O.PRAEM.
At first, his responsibilities as a novitiate, then his later theology studies in Toronto and Rome and now his current duties as an ordained priest and Master of Novitiates have meant that he is on the clock most all the time.
A visual artist who has supervised art installations for the Norbertine Fathers at their home at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado Canyon, Fr. Fletcher finds it difficult to find a few pockets of free time to nurture his creativity — much less enough to write and illustrate an entire book.
Yet, that’s just what Fr. Fletcher has done: “My Name is Philomena: A Saint’s Story,” an illustrated children’s book, is available by preorder from publisher TAN Books and Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers before its formal release on Aug. 8 – in time for St. Philomena’s Aug. 11 feast day.
“I put my heart and soul into this project,” said Fr. Fletcher, whose first sketches were done quickly in pencil on random pieces of paper. “I wanted attractive images to inspire people to be like the saints, to love God, even to lay down their lives for Him.”
His project is newsworthy, as Pope Francis blessed a statue of St. Philomena on May 17, saying: “Santa Filomena was the protector of St. John Maria Vianney, the Holy Curé of Ars; the Holy Curé of Ars is the protector of all priests. Let us priests also entrust ourselves to her in order to achieve holiness.”
Inspired by the abbey’s confreres, who loved St. Philomena and often asked for her intercession, Fr. Fletcher first began his book in 2014, snatching small amounts of time in between his novitiate assignments. Without consistent access to the internet or other research tools, he said, “I used my imagination to see what she might have looked like. I used the Silverado countryside to base many of my illustrations on.”
“The little saint” as he calls her, has particular meaning in his life. In praying for St. Philomena’s intercession, he said, she often presented solutions for his family members.
“Their lives were made better, their sufferings removed,” he explained.
He finds the saint’s story fascinating in part because her bones weren’t discovered by Roman archaeologists until the early 1800s.
“They found a vial of her blood and her bones, and the name on the tomb said Pax Tecum Philomena, or essentially, rest in peace Philomena,” he noted.
On the tombstone were images of an anchor, lily and arrows, among others – all signs of Christian martyrdom.
After the bones and relics were brought to Rome, “there are a few things we’ve gleaned about her from revelations received by three different people at the same time,” Fr. Fletcher said. “She was a young girl, about 13, and has been called a ‘surprise saint’ as she was buried with the martyrs. Many miracles have happened surrounding her relics.”
Once he determined to write and illustrate the book, he created illustrations with colored pencils on 11-by-14-inch pastel paper. He wrote St. Philomena’s story as a poem, which he believed to be the most captivating way to describe her life.
He found the process of writing and illustrating enjoyable.
“I wanted to use my skills in a desire to serve this new heavenly friend,” he recalled.
The poem is more complex and the images more symbolic than the typical children’s book, so he hopes that adults as well will find it compelling.
He’d approached several Catholic publishers with the book, only to be rejected.
At about the same time he was accepting that the book might never be published, TAN Books contacted the abbey seeking an author for a book on a different subject.
When the email request eventually found its way to Fr. Fletcher, he demurred, but then added, “I have another book you could consider.”
His book was accepted about a week later.
“One thing that may surprise people is that this is a very homespun project,” he warned. “Many of the images might surprise people.”
Readers might identify local landscapes and, in one part of the story, Our Lady is pictured wearing a wreath of butterflies – because when Fr. Fletcher happened to gaze out his window during a migration, he spotted many butterflies fluttering around and the image came to him.
He’s found that trying new things is intimidating but ultimately fulfilling.
“I’m an amateur,” he said. “I was building the plane while I was flying it, so to speak. I’m happy with the book, but I’d be interested in hearing constructive criticism and learning what other people think of it.”