When Diane Bialis moved to St. Louis in 2008, she craved community.
“I’m an introvert, and there are a few things that will get me talking with people: art, music and books,” she said.
So, Bialis set about forming connections at Christ, Prince of Peace Parish through those means: playing piano at Mass, volunteering to help decorate the church, and, naturally, starting a book club.
The Christ, Prince of Peace book club is among many throughout the archdiocese that help people grow in faith. Some clubs are formed through parishes, others through specific common interests, and others are just groups of friends who decide to take on some reading together.
These groups provide opportunities to build community, learn more about the faith, hear new perspectives and grow both intellectually and spiritually.
Laura Jablonski, a parishioner at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood, is part of an informal young women’s weekly book club. The group recently read “I Believe in Love” by Father Jean C.J. D’Elbée and is set to begin Hannah Hurnard’s allegorical novel “Hinds’ Feet on High Places.”
“Being able to meet in community each week sort of doubles the impact of whatever is being said in the book, and it’s also enriched by the community discussion,” Jablonski said. “I might feel edified by one thing in the text, and then I find that several women in the group were also moved by that line, and then hearing their own personal anecdotes and life experience tied with that really enriches it.”
The regular meetings help foster both the spiritual growth and the joy of sharing it with others, Jablonski said.
“Gathering week after week, you can feel yourself progressing on a journey, if you will, that the text might be guiding you on,” she said. “We also have time that we’re just sharing a bit about what went on (in our lives) in the past week, and that social community time is really nice as well.”
have formed us’
Diane Bialis’ book club at Christ, Prince of Peace has been going strong for about 12 years, meeting monthly to discuss a spiritual reading. Past choices have included everything from St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” to contemporary reads like “My Sisters, the Saints” by Colleen Carroll Campbell and “Humility Rules” by St. Louis Benedictine Father Augustine Wetta.
“The point of the book club is to build community and grow in our faith. So we want to see how these books apply to each of our own personal experiences,” Bialis said.
On April 25, the club gathered around a long table in the parish rectory basement to discuss local author Virginia Herbers’ book “Gifts From Friends We’ve Yet to Meet,” a collection of reflections on nameless characters of the Gospels and what their anonymous stories can teach us. Herbers, who attended the book club’s meeting, explores figures like the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life, the hemorrhaging woman who is healed by touching Jesus’ cloak and the boy who offers five loaves and two fishes to the apostles to feed the 5,000.
“I have a feeling these stories each touched us differently,” Bialis began. “And some of them are going to jump out at some of us more than others.”
As the women wove their way through the books’ chapters, they discussed their own stories, too: encounters with family members and friends, times of sickness and hardship, life-giving relationships and broken ones.
Members of the club agreed that finding personal connections and life lessons within the books and discussions have positively impacted their own faith lives.
“I went through and determined my top 10 list (of books we’ve read),” Carleen Mathieson said. “And my list is not the list of the most monumental books. It’s not the list of the easiest reads. It’s the list of the books that affected me the most.”
“All of these books have formed us. They have shaped everyone in this group. We are different people now than we were 12 years ago, because of the books we’re reading,” Bialis said.
‘Like going on a
Christian books have played a pivotal role in Ken Colston’s life.
“I’m a convert, and I read my way into the Church,” Colston said. “And there are a lot of converts like that, who have read the great Christian classics and have converted — G.K. Chesterton is an example.”
Colston, a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales Oratory, now runs a book club called Grunky: Christian Elements of Great Literature, a group that usually meets on the last Monday of every month in the basement of Pauline Books & Media in Crestwood. As the name suggests, the club discusses a broad range of literature, going back as far as Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and as recently as Flannery O’Connor’s 20th-century writings.
The name “Grunky” — besides being unusual enough to catch people’s eyes, Colston explained — is a reference to English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton.
“When (Chesterton) was 5 or 6 years old, it was just a word that he made up — anything to do with religion was ‘grunky,’” Colston said.
The club was founded by Kevin O’Brien about six years ago, and Colston started attending about three years ago after seeing the club advertised at Pauline Books & Media.
“You always learn something more about the faith — how the faith is lived or how it is not lived,” Colston said.
On Feb. 28, the club met to discuss Renaissance writer Desiderius Erasmus’ 16th-century work, “In Praise of Folly.” Colston passed around homemade bread before beginning the meeting with a prayer specifically chosen to accompany the discussion. “Let us be in our lives fools only for Christ,” he read from 1 Corinthians.
Erasmus’ satirical work left plenty of room for interpretation and discussion, the club found.
“Is he kind of getting at our human nature? That on one hand, you have the praise of the fly, that the lowly will be raised up and the proud will be cast down?” Bill Sullivan asked.
Throughout Colston’s time in the club, he’s seen different texts reach people in different ways.
Last summer, a woman came to the book club for the first time to discuss “Vipers’ Tangle” by Francois Mauriac, Colston recalled. “She said, ‘I read it this weekend, and it was like going on a weekend retreat,’” Colston said. “I thought, that’s really powerful, what a Catholic book can do.”
A ‘little platoon
of civil society’
Scott Wilson, a parishioner at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in south St. Louis, founded the St. Louis chapter of the G.K. Chesterton Society 20 years ago and has only missed a couple monthly meetings since.
The society gathers on the third Monday of the month in a private room at C.J. Mugg’s Bar & Grill in Webster Groves to discuss the works of G.K. Chesterton over dinner and drinks. Before the book discussion begins, all are invited to join the “Frances Chesterton Rosary Society” (named for G.K.’s wife) to pray a Rosary together. On March 21, the club discussed “The Ballad of the White Horse,” an epic poem by Chesterton published in 1911.
Maria Romine, a parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in New Melle, has been coming to the society’s meetings since 2019.
“I loved (Chesterton’s) wit, but his spirituality is what really drew me in,” Romine said.
Although the Chesterton Society focuses on just one author, that common interest brings people together and opens up discussions about all sorts of topics, Wilson said.
“It’s a chance to share with other people. It’s a relatively specialized thing, even though he talks about everything under the sun,” Wilson said. “But there’s the joy of being part of what I like to call a ‘little platoon of civil society.’ That term comes from Edmund Burke — little platoons of people getting together, talking about common things and achieving common goals.”
>> Christ, Prince of Peace book club
7 p.m., fourth Monday of the month
Christ Prince of Peace rectory basement, 415 Weidman Road in Manchester
Contact: Diane Bialis, [email protected]
Learn more: christprinceofpeace.com/book-club
>> St. Louis Chesterton Society
7 p.m., third Monday of the month
C.J. Mugg’s Bar and Grill, 101 W. Lockwood Ave. in Webster Groves
RSVP to Scott Wilson, [email protected]
Learn more: chestertonstl.wordpress.com
>> Grunky: Christian Elements of Great Literature
Pauline Books & Media basement, 9804 Watson Road in Crestwood
For next meeting times, contact Ken Colston, [email protected]