By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 4, 2010
In the book titled “Who’s Calling?” Father William Maestri’s poetry holds a mirror to the reader to answer the question: Where is my place in the world?
He wrote this, his first book of poetry, based on Scripture of Jesus’ life by putting it in a contemporary “concreteness of life.”
“Faith is a response to something previous. What is previous is God’s call to each and every person in their concreteness of life,” said Father Maestri, speaking from his native New Orleans.
The book opens with “the call,” when in a dream a phone call rouses the individual from sleep with the words: “Follow Me.”
“The day long past, I did my best, now to rest. / Sleep won’t come, those morning words abide, / I find no place to hide. / A pill, a drink, yet still I think, “Follow Me.” / What is the link? My eyes to blink. / Just let me be. I refuse to see.”
The story behind the book is unique. It involves a Louisiana priest, a Bulgarian artist, an Atlanta photographer, and a French publisher. It is a tribute to Msgr. Thomas Kenny, who died in 2008. His last assignment was as rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Father Maestri, 61, is not a first-time author. He has written more than 20 books on theology, ethics and the church, along with a weekly column for The Clarion Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He served as communications director and Catholic schools superintendent. His next book examines the response of the archdiocese after Katrina.
Father Maestri arrived in Atlanta in 2008 to teach for a year at the John Marshall School of Law. Looking for a place to stay, he was taken in by Msgr. Kenny at the cathedral rectory where he was treated as a long-time friend. During his time, Msgr. Kenny died.
The project Father Maestri finished in March 2009 became a memorial to Msgr. Kenny, a native of Ireland.
“I think (poetry) is part of the DNA of Ireland. He read it, and he loved it,” said Father Maestri, adding he admired Msgr. Kenny’s “ability to see poetry as a way to see the human spirit but also the Holy Spirit.”
Illustrating the poems are 27 pen and pencil drawings.
Rossin, who only uses one name, is a Bulgarian artist. He has painted more than 400 portraits of leaders around the world, from Nelson Mandela of South Africa to President George W. Bush for his presidential library.
Rossin was selected to paint a portrait of Msgr. Kenny. He offered to illustrate the book for free after hearing about its purpose.
Contributing to the book was Guy D’Alema, photographer and Christ the King parishioner. He photographed the author and artist for free.
Editions du Signe, a French publishing company that specializes in religious books, is printing the book.
The hardcover’s front features an eye-catching painting of Jesus, along with spare pencil and ink drawings inside.
The book is divided; the first section is poetry and drawing and the second includes the biblical verses that inspired the poetry.
Father Maestri patterned his writing after e.e. cummings, with his convention-breaking poems. The priest liked how the American poet wrote about everyday experiences with an emphasis on “lowercase” experiences, that some dismiss as the mundane, said Father Maestri. But the longest church season is called “ordinary time” for a reason, not the high drama of Easter or the season of Advent, he said.
Writing in lowercase means talking about going to work, repairing the house, raising children, he said. “If you don’t find God there, why do you find God in the uppercase moments?”
The book isn’t intended to be read front to back in a single sitting, Father Maestri said. “It’s not microwavable.”
In the book’s introduction, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said parishioners and priests alike miss Msgr. Kenny, a priest of more than 40 years. “May this volume, conceived in friendship and dedicated to Msgr. Kenny’s memory, serve now as a reminder to pray for the repose of his soul.”
The proceeds from the book sale help the Msgr. Thomas Kenny Fund, which supports the Buckhead Christian Ministry, seminarian education and retirement for priests, and the Cathedral Fund. To purchase “Who’s Calling?” visit the Cathedral’s Web site, www.cathedralofchristtheking.org.