a few good links


So the car is packed and I’m ready to begin another research adventure in upstate New York, so I will be incommunicado for a while. My accommodations for the week—a Franciscan mountain retreat house and a Trappist monastery guest house—will likely be lacking in WiFi and I’ve been wanting to take a break from the computer anyway. I will be posting pretty pictures on Facebook via the cellphone, but that’s about it. Herewith are some interesting links to tide you over until my return seven days from now:

This one directs you to my just-published article about the history of St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, NJ.  It mentions Thomas Merton, William Carlos Williams and probably more than you want to know about the “church by the falls” and the city of Paterson itself. Please note that it starts on page 2 of The Recorder and then jumps to page 7


This one directs you to a terrific NJ.com article by Mark Di Ionno—also an old friend of the family—about a cloistered women’s community in the town of Summit (where I worked last summer and had no idea this convent even existed a few blocks or so from the office)


And this directs you to the Amazon page for Michael McGregor’s book on Robert Lax, Pure Act, which was just released in paperback, and I recommend it very highly, and not just because I’m going to be meeting with him in a few days:


Adios amigos! Will be back next week!


One of the oddest experiences of my childhood—and I had a pretty odd childhood—came in my second or third year at Our Lady of Sorrows Grammar School, when it was announced that a famous relic—indeed, a sliver of the True Cross—would be ‘visiting’ our church. A special celebration and Mass was arranged around this visit, and we little students were instructed to line up and kneel along the communion rail, so that the priest could bring the relic to each of us to kiss. To kiss. My first experience with religious PDA. I do remember agonizing a bit over how to kiss it properly and respectfully: lips closed? Maybe drawn in a little? Certainly no tongue! I needn’t have worried, because when the priest, dressed in the most ornate, golden vestments in the sacristy closet, came to me, he simply pressed the glass covered box abruptly against my mouth, wiped it quickly with a white cloth,  and moved on. I did manage to get a brief glance at it: It was like something between a powder compact and pot of eye shadow, a golden round box containing what seemed the tiniest, most insignificant splinter in the world—something my mom might have fished out of my index finger after a day in the back yard.  But there we have it: My lips have touched (well, not quite but almost) the cross our Savior redeemed us all on.  Or, a splinter some medieval trickster decided to foist off as coming from the True Cross allegedly found by Saint Helena– according to a recent CNN special, probably not the actual cross at all. Who can know?

I don’t mean to make fun of this weird old Catholic rite. As I grow older, I understand what these things really meant, and how powerful and important they must have been in an age before photography or even type-set books. We need something to remember people by, as memory—particularly when stretched over the course of decades, and centuries—fades or grows ragged. How meaningful then, to have an earthly bit of somebody who has gone over to the other side. It must have been a comfort to look on these things, touch them, even kiss them—just as we are comforted by faded photo albums, old home movies or ancient letters stored in a box. Whether the use of relics in church liturgy is relevant in these modern times is a debate for theologians. For me, the word has become a metaphor for anything personal we leave behind after death: Not just bits of bone or slivers of wood, but art, music, writing, film or photographs, or even the impressions we leave in the minds of others.

Merton collected relics, little bits of old-time saints mostly sent to him by a nun he corresponded with. He even admits a little sheepishness about liking them so much, but he needn’t have: They delighted him and gave him comfort. When he died, his own relics would be the books, the documents, the writing he left behind, to be studied and revered and prayed over—if not kissed. He had several relic-masters, even a relic-mistress, devotees who set about preserving what they could of this man, this writer, Merton,  to share with others. And it’s one of those individuals I’ll be writing about in my new non-fiction venture. More to come on that.



Time to take off the green, and turn to elsewhere on the globe: I love when I can put an international spin on this old blog of mine. As many of you know, I teach business English and American corporate culture, and though I’ve had students from all over the world, most of the ones I teach now are Japanese. Some seemed puzzled by my lessons on conducting a typical American business meeting. They’re puzzled mainly because the textbooks don’t seem to represent the reality they experience in US conference rooms, but of course the books present a perfect, formalized sort of meeting where no one shouts or swears or spills coffee or runs out in tears, and every point on the agenda is expertly discussed. But I sensed there was something else besides this dissonance between reality and ideal. Finally one of my students filled me in on nemawashi, or the Japanese way of conducting business, and once I understood it, I was quite intrigued.

The word nemawashi is actually quite old, and refers to the act of transplanting a tree, by “digging around the roots.” If you’ve ever brought home a bush from Home Depot, you know you can’t just slog it into the ground: It takes a lot of tedious preparation, digging deep, preparing the soil around it…And so, in Japan, you don’t just show up at a business meeting, see the agenda for the first time and immediately start discussing, or arguing about it. The tree has already been set firmly into the ground, so basically all the meeting participants are just contentedly patting the soil down, and acting in harmony. All the work, or drama, of the meeting has been done before hand: Through days or perhaps weeks of phones calls, emails or conversations where sticky points are hashed out individually or with small groups of people, and ideas can be judged beforehand more or less by consensus, so you don’t have the embarrassment of presenting a bad idea to your boss in front of everyone. The idea is to achieve harmony—how Zen is that?—among all participants, boss included. Everyone is, if not overwhelmingly on board, more or less satisfied with the outcome.

Since I heard about this, I’ve been thinking about what other areas of life you could apply this to. Family, especially if you have an extended family as large as mine, comes to mind. Sometimes there is a big decision that has to be made, maybe regarding aging family members or money matters, that invariably gets addressed at a holiday or wedding or funeral, the only time when everyone is together, but not the best time to make crucial decisions. You can see efforts toward a kind of nemawashi in politics, in Congressional lobbying and back-room deals, but somehow it doesn’t seem to work very harmoniously there. And lots of American companies have a toxic kind of corporate culture, which likely affects their bottom line, so it wouldn’t hurt them, either.

I’m thinking this idea of institutional harmony could work with this huge divide  growing starker by the day in the Catholic church, with traditionalists versus the progressives. I’m in the progressive camp, in case you hadn’t noticed; we call nemawashi “dialogue,”(though I truly hate seeing that word used as a verb, and “starting the dialogue” is turning into a meaningless cliché). I am not taking up arms for the Church Militant, but would like to see some fairly radical change, and soon. And this seems a good time to announce the next phase of this blog, which ties in with my new writing project. If you’re not interested, then just move along; there’s plenty of other fun, profane and godless blogs to read on WordPress, many that are much  better than mine.  But if you’re curious, stay tuned…

Irish tales: from The Raven Girl

From the land of Patrick, circa 1488: Just four years before a Genoan named Christopher Columbus would sail west and discover a new world…A boy on an Irish beach makes an astonishing discovery:

He had not gone far when, in the midst of the fog, a distant shape and color caught his eye, something mingled, ensnared in the beached seaweeds. Something large, as big as a porpoise perhaps. But he knew exactly what it was.

Corpses often washed ashore, almost always male, usually unlucky fishermen lost in a gale. He did not avoid them, because he was not afraid of the dead. And he knew the dead, though unpleasant to look upon, often had things of value to offer. He would not hesitate to pull leather boots off a dead sailor or go through his pockets. His family was so desperately poor that anything the sea threw up on shore could only be a special prize, a gift from God to be eagerly accepted.

So he ventured closer to this new corpse, with some hope and anticipation. He was startled to see a tangle of inky black hair, and the pale linen of a city woman’s shift.

A lass? He blinked in surprise. Women and girls generally did not go off to sea. It was considered bad luck by island fishermen to have a female in the boat. Colm tiptoed closer to her, gazing with no small amount of curiosity at this unexpectedly female creature.

The girl lay in the sand just above the surf, looking as if she had been dropped from the sky. Her dark mane twisted about her body, her hair coal-black and shiny as a raven’s. Her face appeared rather serene, as if she were deep in a long, peaceful slumber. There was no wound, no sign of violence or struggle. She was a very young woman, and Colm could not guess her age. Perhaps she was fifteen, sixteen years, younger than his mother.

What truly intrigued him was the girl’s coloring and features. He had never seen another human being like her: So dark, her skin tawny and golden, like an oatcake left to brown on the griddle. Her face was broad, flat, with full lips and a small, wide nose, cheekbones so high Colm thought she must be deformed. He felt a wave of sorrow for her, dying so young and in such an unpleasant way. Drowning, he thought, must be the worst kind of death, choking on brine then sinking to the depths of the ice-cold sea, only to be eaten by the fish.

But the fish had not touched this dark maiden. Colm, naturally curious, moved closer to her. Was she like the island maidens in all ways? He wondered, tempted to lift her shift. He saw there was something about her neck, a fiber cord with an ornament: a small orb, a dull gleam in the fog-shrouded light of dawn. He reached out to touch  this shining pebble, round as a bird’s egg or berry; but darted back suddenly in shock. Beneath his fingers, the girl’s skin was warm to the touch, not clammy cold as it should have been.

She was alive!


Want more: Go here: https://www.amazon.com/Raven-Girl-Kathy-Cecala-ebook/dp/B004Y1KSTY/ref=sr_1_7_twi_kin_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1489597943&sr=8-7&keywords=The+Raven+Girl

Irish tales: The Foreigner’s Stone

In this novel for young teens, set in the year 999 AD, a small seaside clan in distant Connemara must contend with a dark presence on the isle that faces them: remnants of a Viking army that had raided their lands  years earlier. Omra, the chieftain’s daughter, is unafraid and often goes down to the surf-line to study the small isle and its inhabitants, which becomes part of the mainland at low tide.

A distant flash of white movement catches her eye.

There, over on the island, amidst the frost-covered green-brown gorse and dunes, was a horse, white as snow. It ambled down to the tide-line in a slow, rather thoughtful sort of way. Omra took in a deep, excited breath.

White horses were the luckiest creatures of all—to spot one meant a great bit of fortune was coming her way. She couldn’t wait to tell her closest friend, Niam!

Omra had seen horses before, though they were rather uncommon in her lands. Neither her father nor their neighbors had one. The inland chieftain Cronan certainly did and she had seen them at market fairs. They were glorious animals, as holy as hounds, ridden into battle by noblemen, and thought in their own way to be magical, favored by the ancient gods. She watched as the distant horse paused by the edge of the sea, lingering by the tidal path, as if confused, or lost, in search of an owner.

And then it began to canter onto the tidal path in a slow and thoughtful way. Ambling along, and Omra saw it had no male parts. White mares were considered particularly lucky. She felt her ring finger practically burning.

The mare was coming right toward her. Omra moved down to the water, to the point where the tidal path merged into the sand of the strand. She waited, holding her breath.

The horse slowed as it approached her, but then came right up, stopping just a foot from Omra and waiting, as if for instructions.

Omra reached out to touch the horse’s mane and neck. It was an astonishingly gentle animal, its eyes a vibrant shade of deep brown. The horse’s eyes met hers, and there was no doubt in Omra’s mind that this animal was somehow meant to be hers. It seemed almost too splendid to be real.

She swiftly picked up the raggedy hem of her linen skirt and ripped off a strip from around the bottom. She took this makeshift leash and tied it around the mare’s neck, then led it back up the beach, up over the dunes. It followed obediently, as if Omra had always been its mistress. Omra felt almost dizzy with joy, as she made her way back through her father’s lands.

Want to see more: Go here:


Irish tales: from The Hounds of Nemhain

As promised, here are some snippets from my Irish historical novels published a few years ago, in celebration of Saint Patrick. This first post comes from the least known of all my books. For some reason it never caught on, probably because of the clunky title. That might change… Also, it is directed at a rather young audience—I was teaching language to middle-schoolers then, so I may have had my students in mind. I had always been fascinated by the story of the historical Saint Patrick being kidnapped by Irish raiders, turned into a slave, then going on to become the converter of pagan Ireland. My protagonist here, a young boy, is no Saint Patrick, but I was trying to recreate the whole primitive-pirate experience. And since hounds are so tightly woven into Irish lore, I decided to create a canine character as well, my first (and only, except for the manic little Shelties in Wives of the Saints). So to set up the action here: Bran, the main character, at the beginning of the book, has been gravely burned in a fire that has killed the rest of his family. He is being cared for by the pagan priest Matha, who hopes to restore him to health:

Within days, the boy began to squirm and move, coming in and out of consciousness, flailing about in agony when he came to completely. Matha gave him herbs and soporifics, which helped bring on calming sleep and instructive dreams. A few days after that, he began to feed the boy life-giving foods such as cooked chickens’ eggs and cow or mare’s milk, mashing the food carefully in his mortar, and feeding it to him bit by bit. Everything was washed down with water, more and more water.

One of Matha’s hounds was Archu, an enormous creature nearly reaching a man’s shoulders. His name meant ‘the killing hound,’ though the dog was as gentle as a lamb, with soft fur and mottled white-gray-brown coloring. The hound seemed respectfully curious about the boy, and sat by the pallet the boy lay on, watching him for hours with great doleful dark eyes. This puzzled Matha, who was certain the hound must know something about the boy, something he, Matha, could not or would not ever know. For this reason, he did not turn to his usual method of fate-telling, which would involve killing a small animal such as a hare, and trying to read the future in its entrails. Or chewing a dried piece of dog meat and spitting it out. Matha, having grown a bit cynical with age, did not think those actions would really tell him anything.

He continued to give the boy water and apply poultices to the burns; and he let Archu sit and sleep by the boy’s bedside, shooing the other dogs away when they tried to provoke Archu into playful fighting.  Matha hoped the boy would survive the winter that was just beginning; he hoped by spring he would know the boy’s fate. In the meantime, he would do everything he could to keep the boy alive. The gods, he thought, in their wisdom, had reasons for him to live.

Want  more? Go here:


March madness 2017

This year, March truly is mad, national politics not withstanding. The weather is being schizophrenic, periods of early summer mingled with windy cold February weather and the occasional snowflake. I’m in trad-book limbo, waiting for responses from publishers I’ve been querying with my non-fiction;  and I still have to root for my college basketball team, despite its lackluster and gaffe-prone year, because it just might quirkily prevail and take a spot in the Big Dance. Probably not, though.

And in Kathy-book-land, things are equally weird, thanks to a massive Amazon outage earlier this week which affected (my luck, of course) its East Coast servers. Yes, Amazon finally broke. I had just launched last-ditch ad campaigns for the five of my books available for sale: Wives, the Novice Master, and my three Irish historicals: The Raven Girl, Hounds of Nemhain and The Foreigner’s Stone. And then grew perplexed, as the various charts and graphs and rankings froze solid for a day or so. It soon  became quite clear, when I saw all the anguish  pouring onto the writers forums: Amazon had faltered, big time. But it all came back with a bang. The winner? My lowly little Raven Girl, which surged upward from obscurity, bypassing literally millions of ranking spots to capture the #3 slot on the bestseller list for Teen Historical Fiction.  Waiting to see if it hits number 1. Which shows you that even a six-year-old novel can eventually find success—thanks, I’m thinking, to Saint Patrick’s Day around the corner. Making it 99 cents didn’t hurt, either…

In second place was Wives, with a respectable cluster of sales even at full price, nudging it briefly into a five-figure ranking. The Foreigner’s Stone, a fairly recent offering which features my fair daughter’s face on the cover, limped in with a single sale. And the other two didn’t even make it out of the locker room. Not even Novice Master, with its spiffy new cover and price point. Go figure… Guess I need to tweak those keywords.

Even more perplexing, the two rather vague keywords propelling The Raven Girl: “book” and “fiction.” Seriously? Not “Ireland”? Not “history”? For Wives, it’s still “secret,” “wives,” and “husbands.”

Well, March can only get better. At month’s end, I’ll be travelling up to extreme Western New York to commence research on my biographical subject, and also meet some very interesting people. It will be a spiritual kind of trip as well, I’ll be spending part of the week with the Franciscans at their retreat center and the other part with the Cistercians up in Genessee. Ah, peace! The next three posts here will be excerpts from my Irish novels, which gives me a chance to revisit them and remember why I wrote them in the first place.

I’d like to thank my guest blogger Lori, who had quite the party in this space over the last few days. She really livened things up and I hope she can write for us again. Or maybe I’ll write for her blog one day…