From the President’s Desk – Inspiration and the Catholic Writer

Image by Ellen Gable Hrkach 2015

Image by Ellen Gable Hrkach 2015

Where do you find inspiration? As a writer, I find inspiration in places you might expect and those you might not. Not surprisingly, I find inspiration in Scripture and in the lives of the saints. Reading the Bible and the lives of the saints often inspires me to include a chapter or whole storyline about that citation or saint in my novels.

I also find inspiration in simple things. Years ago, I watched a tiny hummingbird hover near our kitchen window, his little wings flapping so quickly that I could barely see them. I was mesmerized by this little creature’s simple beauty, and it inspired me to write an entire storyline involving a hummingbird in my novel, A Subtle Grace.

Last week, I was frantically trying to finish several writing deadlines, focusing on the monitor in front of me. My office happens to be in a corner of our bedroom, near the window to our backyard. It was about 7:00 a.m. and my boys had just gotten on the school bus. We live in the country, thick forests on both sides of our house and a large field behind our yard. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I could see movement beyond the window. Looking up, I was surprised to see a beautiful young deer grazing on the grass just beyond the window. I calmly stood up and went to get my iPad to take a photo. I took a few photos, but I watched her and marveled at her beauty. All of a sudden, she stopped munching and looked up in my direction. I stared at her as she stared at me. For the next half-hour, I watched her graze and move about our yard with no fear. I had a bazillion deadlines to meet, but I decided that it was more important to marvel in the beauty of God’s creation than to sit at a computer and work on my deadlines. And, you guessed it, it has sparked inspiration for a scene in one of my works in progress.

Where do you find inspiration? Please feel free to comment below.

Upcoming Events:
Catholic Writers Conference Live July 22-24, 2015, Somerset, New Jersey, to be held in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show. Great speakers, wonderful fellowship and Mass, adoration and confession every day. Register here at this link: Catholic Writers Conference Registration 2015

CatholicWritersRetreatLogo2011iiiiThe Catholic Writers Retreat is taking place in late October. Your Word is My Delight takes place October 25-29, 2015 at the St. Francis Retreat Center, 703 E. Main Street, DeWitt, Michigan 48820. Register online here at this link or call 866-669-8321. $490 for five days.

Image copyright Ellen Hrkach

Image copyright Ellen Hrkach

One last thing: today is my husband, James, and my wedding anniversary, 33 years married (we’ve known each other for 37 years). When I came to Canada in 1978, I never expected to meet the man I would end up marrying. I never thought I would be living in Canada and enjoying these seven-month long winters! Through 33 years, James has held my hand and cried with joy during the births of our five sons, grieved with me during the loss of seven babies through miscarriage, laughed with me in good times, fought with me in bad, and has been a faithful witness of God’s love to me. Happy Anniversary, James!

As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me: president (at) catholicwritersguild (dot) (com)

In Jesus and Mary,

Ellen Gable Hrkach
President, Catholic Writers Guild

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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – Teresa Frailey

thK10058UZSome books leave you disappointed, some books you finish with bated breath, and some books you finish with a feeling of satisfaction that it was an enjoyable book which won’t collect dust on the shelf in coming years.   My experience with Flowers for Algernon was none of these, however.

This book was published in 1959 after several failed attempts.  Since then, it has never gone out of print and has been considered a classic of its time, receiving the Hugo Award for Science Fiction. Flowers for Algernon tells the story of Charles Gordon, a mentally handicapped, young man who longs to have the intelligence of normal people. Algernon is a white, lab mouse, the first to successfully survive an experiment developed by two doctors to increase intelligence—in fact, triple it. Charles Gordon, with an IQ of 68, becomes the first human experiment.

The reader progressively sees the change in intelligence that occurs in Charles Gordon, whose progress reports relate the story. At first his grammar is poor and his cogitating is at a child’s level. At the same time, the reader feels drawn to Charles. His innocence and longing to be smart endear him. In Charles we glimpse a truly beautiful soul.

As the progress reports continue, the grammar becomes better and Charles’ thoughts become more advanced. The experiment progresses and Charles’ mind begins to soar beyond that of most people. As this occurs his relationships with other people deteriorate. He falls in love with the teacher who taught a night class for the mentally disabled that he used to attend. But his exceeding intellect drives an unavoidable barrier between them. The doctors who developed and administered the experiment (who Charles once adored as geniuses) disappoint him as he finds his mind far exceeding theirs.

When his intellect is reaching places no human has ever conceived, he sees a mentally handicapped boy at a restaurant and glimpses his old self. He is immediately horrified by the fact that he was once like him—stupid and slow in Charles’ mind—barely perceiving anything but the surface but simultaneously realizing he lacks something. He finds himself laughing along with several other people as they tease the boy and is instantly revolted by his own insensitivity. The fact that he was like him startles Charles, but the fact that he laughed at the boy much the same as people had jeered at him makes him disgusted with himself. He wonders why people will go out of their way to aid and help the blind and physically handicapped, but the mentally inferior become the objects of ridicule from the people around them. The reader is given a window into the mind of Charles Gordon, masterfully opened by the author, in which we see the world through the eyes of brilliance itself and through eyes that are blinded to the depth and intricacies of life.

But at the pinnacle of Charles Gordon’s intelligence, Algernon, who preceded him in the experiment, dies. The mouse’s motor abilities first decrease and his intelligence and motivation drop while his life fails.  Charles realizes he will eventually follow suit. Feeling an urgency pressured by time, he starts to research the Algernon-Gordon effect as he takes the liberty to call it. He realizes that this experiment, even though a failure, still has the potential to help advance research in the area of mental disability. He struggles to complete the research as his mind begins to deteriorate at the same incredible speed it soared. His ability to compute and comprehend even his own work ebbs. He finishes his research—a gift to science and humanity, a gift that would benefit the mentally handicapped—just before he loses his ability to do so.

As his mental capacity shrinks, he grasps for some thread of his brilliance to hold on to. But his gift begins to sift through his fingers like sand. He was given a beautiful gift—to see the world in brilliant light, to unlock its secrets, and to understand its infinite majesty. A door was opened where he could see for the first time out of a darkened room into a world filled with light. The author gives the reader a moment of realization, of something easily taken for granted, that our minds are beautiful gifts, capable of understanding and perceiving, of thinking and unlocking the doors of nature’s mysteries.

The world begins to darken once again for Charles Gordon. A window is swiftly shutting, and the radiance of knowledge is distinguished. Only fleeting recollections connect him to the past: shattered fragments of an old life are strewn about him…the doctors, the night class teacher.   Thus, Charles decides to leave the city and go where no one else knows him as both a genius and as mentally handicapped. The story ends with him asking,  in a childish way, that someone remember to put flowers on the grave of a little white mouse, Algernon.

The story didn’t leave me with bated breath, nor disappointed. It leaves the reader changed, in my experience. The author instills in us a love for the innocence of souls like Charles Gordon, people who may only see the surface in some ways but see far deeper in others. It leaves you touched by the fact that intelligence is a gift and reminds us of the beauty of things we seldom notice. It awakens in the soul a true respect for all human life and an understanding that brilliance comes in many forms.

Flowers for Algernon only takes a couple hours to read, but it’s not a story you’ll likely forget. As with all truly great novels, it sticks in some part of your mind. It may not be a story you read twice, but it’s a story definitely worth reading once.


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Haters Gotta Hate

iStock_000014031984XSmallSo, here in 2015, thanks to public media, we have gotten to a place where we judge, comment and hate rampantly and openly.  Everyone who has two cents to own a phone, twitter or face book account feels entitled to express any opinion at any time no matter how crude or poorly thought out it is.  Even though we regularly see the craziest and cruelest of opinions “out there,” some of us still express shock when it seems that pure hate has been openly expressed, posted, scrawled in a public place or exercised by one human upon another.  Why the surprise? Did we think, as a society, that the very loose and public expression of negative, personally aimed emotions somehow fixes them or makes them go away?

In the human personality, hate is neither new nor unique.  It has always been with us and drives things like genocide, discrimination and war. Recall that the very first crime recorded in Scripture was because of one brother’s hate for another.  Taylor Swift has even made an observation on this human trait with her new song Shake It Off.  The lyrics contain this line: “Haters gotta hate, hate, hate, hate, hate!”  As a believer and witness in the world, though, what’s your position on hate?

Hate has velocity.  It’s a strong and frightening emotion.  For a believer it would be easy to make a blanket declaration that hate is wrong, sinful and then wash our hands of the whole thing.  In the spiritual walk, though, Jesus expects us to be keener observers of the times around us. Hate can be big or hate can be small.  Hate can be directed away from you or toward you. As with all human behavior, the Lord expects us to react in a way that brings all people to grace, even haters.  Telling someone not to hate is really an incomplete notion. Criticizing them openly is merely a magnification of judgement and solves nothing.  Folks that hate openly are, in reality,  demonstrating  the most woundedness.  They should be surrounded with prayer rather than just ignored. If they are in your immediate circle, you can also go out of your way to show them kindness. What about the occasions, though, when hate is a personal matter?  What happens when the hate is aimed right at you?

First, congratulations are in order! Jesus himself gave us a “heads up” on this: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” (Jn 15: 18-20) So when you experience that occurrence when, no matter what you do, people express hostility toward you, step back.  You have been singled out as a soldier of Christ even if the hater can’t put their finger on the reason for their disdain. Grief and/or retreat is not the position to take.  Go to prayer and meditate on John 15:18.  Then resolve to be even more Christ-like in the situation.  As Christ’s witnesses for the world, we must remember that we will not always live a life that is full of bubble-gum and ponies.  If that is the case, you must be doing something wrong!  Haters……….gotta be loved, loved, loved, loved!

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CWG Prayer Chain Post: May 17, 2015

The CWG Prayer Chain Post is a weekly post for members to include their special intentions by adding a comment.

First John 4:11-16

My dear friends, if God loved us so much, we too should love one another. No one has ever seen God, but as long as we love one another God remains in us and his love comes to its perfection in us. This is the proof that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us a share in his Spirit. We ourselves have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as Saviour of the world. Anyone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God. We have recognized for ourselves, and put our faith in, the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.

The power of prayer and the power of people praying.


Mary, Mother of God
O Mary, Mother of God, as You are above all creatures in Heaven and Earth, more glorious than the Cherubim, more noble than any here below, Christ has given You to His people, firm bulwark and Protectress, to shield and save sinners who fly unto You. Therefore O Lady, all embracing refuge, we solemnly recall Your sweet protection and beg Christ forever for His mercy.

Please leave a comment with your intention. If you have problems adding an intention, email it to Mike Hays at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add it.  God bless.

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Poetry Sunday in the Spring – Katie O’Neil

Now that spring has really come, there are some great poems about the season. Since the flowers are now all blooming and you can begin to buy strawberry plants and other early season planters, the bounty of the earth really seems at the forefront of the mind. Classic poet and Victorian-era British convert to Catholicism Gerard Manley Hopkins has a great poem on this in “Spring”:

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning

Another great poem in a different vein on spring [it is a great commentary on the human soul’s potential to be buffeted around and to find itself lost in the face of the enormity of the world] is D.H. Lawrence’s “The Enkindled Spring”:

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,Tree hydranger September 11, 2013
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration 
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.
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Joy: Meditations on the Joyful Heritage of Christianity, by Louis Evely


Tree hydranger September 11, 2013“We can understand Lent…we devote ourselves to penance, compassion and mortification, but how lax we are during the days that follow our sorrow. We do not even know how to rejoice…The day is coming when the Spirit of Truth will breathe upon us, and we do not joyfully await it.”

Louis Evely invites us to prepare for Pentecost by walking The Stations of Joy, meditations on the apparitions of Jesus to his disciples. With great tenderness, patience and affection, Jesus attempted “to awaken his apostles to his joy, to convince them of his resurrection, to transform their sorrows into joy.” The risen Jesus had to “un-set” their minds, open and rekindle their hearts, despite the fact that they barely recognized him.

Mary Magdalene thought that Jesus was the gardener because he had taken on his glorified form. It was only when he called her “Mary” that her heart knew him. He sent her to alert the apostles. “When God revealed himself, he tore every veil…he dazzled, he amazed…” Mary, the patroness of contemplatives was asked to leave her comfort zone and become the apostle to the apostles.

During each station, Jesus had to break through mind-sets and prejudices that prevented the acceptance of his death and eventual ascension, not as losses, but as reasons for hope and joy. The Disciples of Emmaus marveled at his hopeful words, but they couldn’t recognize him until the intimacy of the table and the breaking of the bread. They spontaneously shared the good news with the apostles.

Peter, filled with guilt, was ready to return to fishing, to walk away from his calling. He recognized Jesus preparing breakfast. He jumped into the water to meet Jesus and admitted his love. Forgiven, Peter accepted his vocation as the “fisher of men.”

Thomas doubted, standing in for the skeptics among us, in order to convince us of our reasons for joy. Why do we doubt? Why do we decline the invitation to joy?

Paul never doubted. As Saul, he viewed Jesus as an “absurd imposter,” a heretic. As a Pharisee, he scrupulously observed every aspect of the law, yet upon his conversion, he proved the most innovative and energetic of the apostles. He had seen Jesus and his disciples as an evil, until Jesus personally intervened, sending Paul to embrace the Gentiles, including us.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, mother of the apostles, our mother, mother of sorrows but also mother most joyful, knew that in spite of everything there was, and she was, a cause for our joy.

The Ascension: Jesus disappeared; he did not depart from us. He can be seen through the eyes of faith. Those who see him through faith, receive joy. Joy is a measure of faith. Joy leads us to the apostolate.

Let Louis Evely help you prepare for Pentecost. Each page of this short book will provoke the reader with Evely’s unique perspectives on the Season of Joy. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, your heart may burn within you. Be joyful. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit.

Posted in Book Review, Catholic Theme, Easter, Faith, Inspirational, Lenten Devotion, Prayer, Resurrection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Best of April

roundupWhoosh! Another month just flew by. Did you blog? We did!

Please check out what your fellow Guild Members were doing while you were spring cleaning, filling out tax returns, and otherwise engaged.

Larry Peterson took on the whole culture – perhaps his blog should be named ‘& Come Out Fighting!’ Bravo, Larry.

Michael Seagriff looked inside the Church for emerging problems and gave much-needed correction – pass it on!

Carolyn Astfalk coins a new term (diadem-dumb…love it!) and shares a beautiful story from Real Life. Don’t stop till you get goosebumps near the end!

And I, Charlotte Ostermann, am thoroughly enjoying my New Catholic Bible Study series on Catholic365. Please join me in the book of Ephesians.


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Review: Eve’s Apple by Marie Therese Kceif

In Eve’s Apple, Marie Therese Kceif talks about her life as three chances, three careers, three marriages and three apples.

“Many times in my life God has had to give me three or more chances in different ways and through different people to hear his guidance in a matter before I actually listened. If I had listened, I would have found safety, refuge from the storm brewing up.”

She went from the Wisconsin farmhouse of her childhood into stellar careers in aviation, the U.S. Army and the automotive industry. This brilliant and strong-willed achiever went from marriage to a docile man with little affection to an affectionate but dominating tyrant, to a loving man who is learning about the Catholic faith.

Three apples

Marie went after the apple of success beginning with the military. She writes, “I allowed my marriage to fall apart and my faith to be waylaid like some ambushed convoy.”

Now God shows her daily where vices weigh her down and where the tempting apple of wanting her own authority and way keeps her from “a fullness of joy.”

But when she thought God was punishing her for her affair and divorce she experienced the apple of living in the consequences of sin. She had to deal with the stepchildren from a marriage she had helped break up. And with her husband’s abuse. “He dragged me up the stairs once by my hair and played Russian roulette with a bullet in the pistol. . . .He closed all the blinds and pulled the phones out of the wall so that I could not call for help. . . .He was driving really fast on the ramp to the highway, swerving so that the car started to tip, saying he was going to kill us both.”

She escaped to a safe house with her baby but without her wallet, credit cards or any identity. Soon she moved back to her repentant husband and the abuse stopped but only for a short time.


She found sanctuary in a Catholic church nearby and talked to a janitor who counseled her not to go back. But she did, trying to fix the situation.

When her husband hit her and threatened to kill the baby with a hammer, she escaped. This time, she called the police. Her husband was arrested and spent time in jail.

When the couple reunited again the abuse continued, their second son was born and she had a tubal ligation. The saga continues with her husband’s unfaithfulness and a second divorce, which leaves her with his children and theirs, and bankruptcy.

Joy in surrender

Exhausted and broken-hearted, she calls out to Jesus as she hugs the family’s big white Catholic Bible, Please show me where there is joy in my journey.” How does he answer? At the grocery store she finds a pamphlet for a retreat, “Joy in the Journey… Maranatha!” and gets the last spot open.

The retreat begins her surrender to God. “I could scarcely believe that he still loved me, forgave me and was even pursuing me with real love even though I had behaved like the woman at the well.”

She received the grace to forgive her husband. As God’s blessings continued, she found a home, a good-paying job and a man who knew how to love her. After dating for 4 ½ years, they were married in a fairy-tale wedding in a little village church. She went through the yearlong process of annulment from her first husband and had her tubal ligation reversed.

In Eve’s Apple she looks back on her life through the lens of her vibrant Catholic faith, shares lessons God is teaching her and backs them up with scripture. “In all of these revelations shown to me through marriage, children, Mary, dreams, scriptures, and the pillars of the Church, God has been preparing me for the plans he has for me. He has set my feet upon sharing my story. . . . My mission here is not finished. I know I have much to battle, much to witness to for him, and it will not always be easy, but with God’s ways and guidance, I will run the race well.”

Eve’s Apple is available on Amazon and at Inspiring Voices.

About the Author of Eve’s Apple: Marie Therese Kceif

From farm life in Wisconsin, Marie Therese Kceif went on to have a varied full life. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Mathematics. Marie became an active duty US Army Captain and pilot, automotive manager, Bible study leader, RCIA guide, lector, speaker, writer, mom and wife. She lives with her husband in Fenton, Michigan. You can contact Marie Therese at

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Monday’s Writing Tips – Building a Farmer’s Stand





This is the last blog about potatoes.  I promise. It is just too good a metaphor to give up easily. So now you have your edited manuscript. You have sent it out to all the agents you thought would be interested and nobody seemed to want it. As a result, you’ve decided to approach publishers yourself. Do you have a game plan when you look for publishers?

Like any product, you need to be pragmatic and logical. That is why you shouldn’t be emotionally involved. I make a list of publishers to whom I will send the manuscript. I do this ahead of time, I look up the publisher’s guidelines and follow them. On the Website I can usually find whether this publisher wants a query letter, sample chapters, etc. Making a long list of those publishers who publish or are looking for my genre is personally important. It stops the hurt when the manuscript or query letter is dismissed. I cross out that publisher and proceed to the next with little pain or discouragement.

When I pick out publishing houses who sell my genre, I first send the manuscript (following the guidelines) to the large well-know publishers. I have faith, and think that –as the lottery says-“You have to be in it to win it.”

When and if I receive the rejection letters, I send my work to smaller presses. I usually receive more interest and feedback from smaller, independent publishers. I know so many writers who ignore the smaller presses. That is a mistake. Even a new publisher who is just starting out is a good option. I love the idea of helping a new publisher grow as my readership grows. I love the idea of us growing together.

I don’t ignore the live conferences. I attend all the conferences and retreats that reflect my genre and that I can afford. Many of these conferences offer pitch sessions where you can try to sell your book to an acquisition editor. If I find that they are not interested in this particular novel I thank them for their time. I work to  remain calm, polite and inquisitive about what they are looking for. Never, ever get angry or rude! Don’t burn your bridges. This is probably not your last work or novel. I pitched my work to one publisher at least three or four times. I thanked her for her time and interest. She listened to my pitches each year and on the fifth year, she published my work.

Even if a publisher is not interested in your book, she may know and recommend your novel to another publisher that she knows is looking for that type of work. I think it is easier to find a publisher by building a good relationship with the editors.  A friendly relationship with an editor endears you to that person. I even know some writers who were initially rejected and later commissioned to write a book the publisher did want.

What do you do, then,  when you have exhausted all these options and still can’t find a publisher? What would a farmer do with his potato? As a farmer, I know what they do when the market won’t carry their potato. They build their own stand and sell directly to the public. In your writing world that is called self-publishing. Do not throw your potato on a shelf to rot. Make sure it is clean and fresh and build a stand! For years self-publishing was done by what was called ‘vanity presses.’ Self-published books were dismissed and to be sure there were many unedited, messy books out on the market that gave self-published books a bad name. It is no longer that way.

Many famous writers self publish simply because they can make more money. It is important not to close that door. Some well-known authors that have self-published are Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, Mark Twain, Bernard Shaw, Stephen Crane, Beatrix Potter and many more. Some famous self-published works include Remembrance of Things Past, Ulysses, The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, The Joy of Cooking and so many more.

I have self-published and have been published by traditional publishers. There are benefits to both. I make more money per book by self-publishing. I have better distribution with traditional publishing. No matter which I choose it is up to me to promote and market my work. If I built the stand to sell my potato it doesn’t sell if nobody knows I am sitting there. Publishing is just the beginning. Now take off your farmer’s hat. It is time to become a salesman.

Karen Kelly Boyce lives on a farm in NJ with her retired husband Michael. She has two grown children and two grandchildren. She is an award-winning novelist and writes a children’s series for Chesterton Press

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CWG Prayer Chain Post: May 10, 2015

The CWG Prayer Chain Post is a weekly post for members to include their special intentions by adding a comment.

Psalms 98:1, 2-3, 3-4

Sing a new song to Yahweh, for he has performed wonders, his saving power is in his right hand and his holy arm. Yahweh has made known his saving power, revealed his saving justice for the nations to see, mindful of his faithful love and his constancy to the House of Israel. The whole wide world has seen the saving power of our God. Acclaim Yahweh, all the earth, burst into shouts of joy!

The power of prayer and the power of people praying.


Mary, Mother of God
O Mary, Mother of God, as You are above all creatures in Heaven and Earth, more glorious than the Cherubim, more noble than any here below, Christ has given You to His people, firm bulwark and Protectress, to shield and save sinners who fly unto You. Therefore O Lady, all embracing refuge, we solemnly recall Your sweet protection and beg Christ forever for His mercy.

Please leave a comment with your intention. If you have problems adding an intention, email it to Mike Hays at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add it.  God bless.

Posted in Catholic Writing and Publishing | 1 Comment