ALLOUEZ, Wis. — Every year, Catholics look for ways to observe
the 40 days of Lent.
Finding inspiration for prayer — one of the three Lenten faith
traditions, along with fasting and almsgiving — is a top priority and one
favorite source for many is the Little Black Book.
Now in its 17th year of publication, the Little Black Book has
its origins in the Diocese of Saginaw and was the idea of Saginaw's bishop, the
late Bishop Kenneth E. Untener. A gifted homilist and writer, Bishop Untener
died in 2004.
Cathy Haven has been editor of the Little Black Book since 2004.
In an interview with The Compass, the newspaper of the Green Bay Diocese, she
explained how this Lenten resource Bishop Untener created for members of his
diocese turned into an internationally popular devotional book.
It is now published in English, Spanish and Vietnamese and also
comes in different colors and themes: the Little Blue Book for
Advent/Christmas; the Little White Book for the Easter season; and the Little
Burgundy Book, an undated four-week reflection on stewardship in light of the
Gospels. For copies, visit www.littlebooks.us.
"In the mid-1990s, Bishop Untener had decided that he wanted
to do something that would kind of bring the traditions of Lent to the
forefront of peoples' minds," said Haven. "He started a Lenten task
force and chose the theme of reconciliation."
A copy of the Little Black Book features the Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish in Raleigh, N.C. Readers are encouraged to spend some quiet time with the Lord on the facing page. Stacy Rausch | Catholic Herald
The task force included diocesan staff members with backgrounds
in religious education and liturgy. The result was a Lenten reflection that was
well received. The popularity of this reflection led to the first Little Black
In 1999, Bishop Untener asked Haven, who was diocesan director of
communications, and Sister Nancy Kyotte, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister, to
help him create a reflection that would use the tradition of "lectio
divina," a prayerful way of reading Scripture, to help people prayerfully
experience Jesus' passion.
However, "he wanted something that could be put into a coat
pocket," said Haven, a booklet with no artwork identifying it as a
religious publication so anyone could carry it in public. The goal was to
"spend six minutes with the Lord" every day.
"Even though it was intended for our diocese, we received a
lot of calls from around Michigan," said Haven. "Then it kept
According to Haven, more than 3 million books have been sold
worldwide. "Last year, we did an Advent and Lenten book in large print. It
was so well received that we also added an Easter book in large print."
Haven said she is pleased that the Lenten booklet remains popular
today, nearly 13 years after Bishop Untener's death. She also feels blessed to
be part of continuing the bishop's legacy. While new material is featured each
year, the staff of Little Books — a nonprofit corporation not affiliated with
the Saginaw Diocese — continues to draw from Bishop Untener's writings.
"I am honored by the fact that I am doing this," said
Haven. "I know God's hand is in it because of how well it's done. We have
a small group that works on this and I think we all feel like we're part of
something much bigger than us. There is a very strong sense of purpose in what
we are doing."
One person who is grateful to see the Little Black Book continue
is retired Green Bay Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau, a longtime friend of
Bishop Untener and author of numerous books on spirituality and stewardship.
"I had the privilege of knowing Bishop Untener for over 15
years," said Bishop Morneau. "He was an excellent teacher, a powerful
homilist, a dedicated shepherd and a disciplined evangelist."
Bishop Untener had a gift and a strong desire to "draw
people closer to the mystery of God revealed in Jesus," said Bishop
"One of the ways that he did this was through the
publication of the 'Little Black Book.' I used to watch him make entries in his
Franklin Planner, carefully noting passages from Scripture, lines of a poem,
his encounter with children and adults, his daily experiences of grace,"
the bishop said "He was a 'noticer.' He had the gift of language. Season
after season he would write down his experiences of faith and share them with
the people of his diocese and far beyond."
This Lent, thousands of Catholics in the Diocese of Green Bay and
elsewhere will turn to the Little Black Book for their Lenten inspiration.
Reflections, based on Christ's Passion according to John, begin Feb. 26 and end
Easter Sunday, April 16.
Lucero is news and information manager at The Compass,
newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.