PROSPECT HEIGHTS — A retired Brooklyn priest who recently published a children’s book says the idea came to him in a dream.
It was almost 14 years ago, as he had been reading Albert Schweitzer’s “Reverence for Life,” when he had a dream one night that he was sitting and talking with Schweitzer, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“He was talking about the reverence for life, all of life,” recalls Father Frank Mann, who currently assists at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Williamsburg. “Then he said, ‘I want to show you something,’ and he pulled back a screen. It was the story that would become my book.”
The priest said he didn’t want to forget the story, so he got out of bed and began writing some notes. The next day he put the ideas into his computer, wrote and rewrote and rewrote, and then just left it there.
That’s where it remained until it was finally published earlier this year as “The Wounded Butterfly,” a beautifully illustrated, 44-page work. It’s the tale of a young boy named Billy who befriends a caterpillar in his backyard. He watches with surprise and wonder as it morphs into its own cocoon, finally emerging as a colorful butterfly.
After the butterfly injures its wing, Billy lovingly nurses it back to health, allowing it to once again soar through the air.
In addition to the caterpillar and butterfly, the pages are adorned with images of cats, birds, rabbits, and deer.
“It’s a story about the sacredness of all life,” the author says. “The book was meant to be a children’s book, but I believe the message is for everyone.”
He calls the story “an environmental parable,” and explains that his writing has been heavily influenced by Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, on caring for the environment and the beauty of God’s creation.
Father Mann said his project was inspired by the profound disregard for life that he witnesses in today’s society. He sees it in the human trafficking phenomenon, the proliferation of abortion, and the abuse of so much of the animal kingdom.
Prior to the pandemic, Father Mann had developed an outreach to artists living in a gentrified area of Brooklyn.
“They had a real sense of beauty and love for creation and yet they would be pro-choice when it came to the unborn,” he said. “That really bothered me because it was inconsistent. Life is life. You can’t pick and choose which you’re going to support.”
One of the things that held up the completion of the project was finding someone to illustrate Father Mann’s text. He discovered through Instagram an award-winning artist, Martin Piwowarski, in Poland. For more than a year, he and the artist communicated through Instagram, sending proposed drawings and critiques back and forth.
Another delay developed because Father Mann had never self-published a book before and didn’t understand the process.
“I was unsure about where to go,” he admits. “It was making me dizzy.”
He finally hooked up with BookLocker.com, a self-publishing production house that assisted with editing, layout, and design.
While the priest isn’t sure whether sales of the book will cover the costs of production, he has pledged any profits to help women struggling with their pregnancies and also to support programs that help abused and neglected animals.
Just as he is in awe of creation, he hopes that “The Wounded Butterfly” will add to people’s understanding of the beauty of all God’s creation. He explains that everyone can take practical steps to protect creation.
“I hope people see the created world as God’s gift that needs to be cared for,” says the priest. “I think we should be compassionate in all our actions.”
Father Mann hopes that as news about his new book gets out he will be invited to parishes to do book signings or read his book to students in class. He suggests that the book could be used as a tool in religious education courses.
The book is dedicated to the author’s deceased parents and siblings as well as the family’s past and present pets, and a generous benefactor. It ends with a quote from Pope Francis about “respecting the environment in which we live.”
“It’s a timeless message, but it’s especially relevant to our times,” says Father Mann. “It’s surreal. Something that came to me in a dream is something that I am now holding in my hand. It’s a very special thing.”