It all started with a ghostly face peering through the melting permafrost of an exhumed grave located in the Canadian arctic, the face of John Torrington. I saw his picture for the first time while reading, Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Gieger when I was studying in university. John was a member of the doomed Franklin Expedition, sent by the Royal Navy in 1845 to find a passage through Canada’s arctic to the Far East, bringing glory and riches to the British Empire. The expedition ended in catastrophe, all 129 men dying due to a mix of disease, malnutrition, scurvy, starvation, and accidental poisoning. The human drama of the Franklin Expedition has fascinated me for most of my life, and as I’ve gotten older the thought of these men, and the suffering they must have endured has only tugged at my heart more fully.
I’ve been a consumer of Catholic literature for years, both fiction and non-fiction, so when I decided to challenge myself to write a novel it was clear to me that Catholic themes would be at the heart of the story that I would tell. I just needed to come up with the story! As a husband and father of five kids, I thought about sharing my family experiences, to write about what I know most intimately, but the pull of writing a story, a novel, was more powerful. Then I thought of that face!
Writing a novel was a “bucket list” thing for me. I wanted to discover if I had what it takes to write a full book, one good enough to get published. I also dreamed of looking at my bookshelf and seeing a spine looking back at me with my name on it! I’ve always loved reading, I consume books constantly, both novels, mostly historical fiction, but also every new Stephen King creation that is released, as well as non-fiction works of history. As the aforementioned Mr. King calls his fans, I am definitely a constant reader!
So, I would write a novel about the Franklin Expedition, but it would have Catholic themes embedded throughout it. In planning the book, I decided to focus on characters, because that is where much of the mystery of the event lies. Most of the expedition’s sailors are little known to history, so I could create backstories for them and imagine plausible events during their time stuck in the ice. I picked four names off the crew list and attached them to four basic personalities of fellow teachers I work with at St. Joseph Collegiate and worship with at St. Mary’s here in Brooks. Then, I imagined they were the last four survivors, living their last eight days at Starvation Cove, the most southerly point the crew advanced during their desperate death march south in search of deliverance, hence the name of the novel. I imagined their physical decline and what they must have had to endure as they slowly succumbed to the harsh arctic elements. I also thought about the spiritual reckoning they inevitably faced, and that is where our Catholic faith would become part of the story.
So many people, even my own teenaged children, ask me questions about God and His Church. They ask why bad things happen to good people. Why evil can exist in a world created by God. Why Christians can seem so indifferent to suffering, or even worse, be the cause of suffering. In the novel, the main character struggles with these questions his entire life. This character is Joseph Andrews, a real crew member of the expedition, a name I took off the actual crew list. It is also the name of my oldest son, Joseph Andrew. The character is a good man, honest, forthright, charitable, but disturbed at the hypocrisy he sees in the world. Disturbed by people who say one thing but do another. Before he dies, he finds some heavenly answers to these questions, allowing him to be at peace with his past and hopeful for eternity.
Catholic fiction can be a powerful tool for evangelization. It has been for me. A story written that can inspire the reader in their faith is a gift indeed. I have been blessed to read all the novels of Michael O’Brien over the years, arguably Canada’s greatest Catholic novelist and author of Father Elijah: An Apocalypse, among other great works. Every time I read one of his books, my faith deepens. The publisher of Starvation Cove, Ottawa’s Justin Press, is closely associated with Michael O’Brien and has published several of his works. I could not be more honoured to be associated with such authentically faithful people, people who have impacted my own Catholic faith so fundamentally.
I was speaking to a friend the other day who has read Starvation Cove. She is fellow teacher at St. Joseph’s and parishioner at St. Mary’s. I had asked her a few weeks ago what her favorite part of the book was, and she had a difficult time answering the question. She said she had indeed enjoyed the book, had read it quickly, but there was something about it that she needed to think about and would get back to me when she could more clearly articulate what she wanted to share. She approached me and recounted that it had finally come to her. She shared that what she most liked about Starvation Cove is that the character of Joseph Andrews reminded her of her husband. A good man, a great man actually, who struggles with his faith. Her husband is looking forward to reading the novel. With God’s grace, I pray that Starvation Cove may inspire this man as works of Catholic fiction have inspired me throughout my life. I’m looking forward to listening to what he has to say when he’s done.
I first experienced Catholicism at a Catholic hospital in South Korea. My mom and I accompanied my younger sister, who had to pay frequent visits to the hospital because of her lung ailments. Our family lived in a poor neighbourhood, where I had two direct-hit car accidents. During all this chaos, the hospital was a sanctuary, and the nuns were the kindest people I’d ever met. I felt such lightness and peace there as if the very air in the hospital garden was purer than the one outside it. The difference was so surreal even to my young mind that I remember it still to this day.
The second brief encounter was the beautiful scene of ladies praying in the church with their veils on. As a little girl, I thought it was the most beautiful happening I’d ever witnessed. Putting aside my initial exposure to Catholicism, our family generally believed in the idea of God but did not belong to any religion. After our family immigrated to Canada I suffered immensely difficult trials and setbacks in my school, health and relationships. So, I sought out God or some benign and powerful being that could rescue me.
My search for God began in high school when I was see-sawing between self-destruction and reading the Gospels for the first time. I prayed so fervently to the point of sweating. I asked God to let me experience Him in any way so that I, a mere human with so many limitations, could come to believe in His existence. One night, after one of my intense prayers, I went to bed. Sometime after falling asleep, I felt that my body lifted to somewhere very high, perhaps not even our planet or universe.
I had the most vivid and unusual dream where I was praying to God with many other people on our knees on top of a great mountain. Although the mountain was very high, the top was a very large flat area filled with green pastures. Sun or light beamed down on this pasture. All of a sudden, the person praying next to me tapped on my shoulder and pointed to a horrendous female spirit figure standing on the edge of this mountain. This figure is a typical Korean spirit that wears a white night gown with long unkempt black hair flying all around her face. She looked blank with no distinguishable features.
I knew that she was waiting for me to be alone. I also knew that I had to fight her, even to the death if such was to be my fate. I walked toward the figure and the battle began. I was defending myself with a small cross necklace that came into my possession not too long before my search for God began. As one might expect, defending oneself with a small necklace around one’s neck against a demonic spirit was next to hopelessness. Soon I began to tire and feel so afraid for my life. Then I remembered Christ’s holy sacrifice for all humans and how He let himself be tortured because He firmly believed in God the Father’s love and mercy.
That’s when I, in the midst of this fight, put both of my arms up and put my legs together in the same way our Jesus died on His Cross. All of a sudden, the images of His pierced hands and feet flashed before my eyes as if they were powerful blows of light and also as if my own hands and feet were being pierced too. I thought that I was going to die, but everything became white. The spirit existed no more. I was in this whiteness for a brief moment. I felt so strong and happy in this whiteness like I had never experienced in my entire life. Perhaps that’s how we feel in Heaven.
This dream experience was the exact point of conversion of heart for me. If believing can be compared to gardening, this was the seed in the soil. The actual process of this seed sprouting to a baby plant took much longer and many more sinful and painful acts of evil resistance. This sprouting phase took about a decade. Even though I rebelled, broke promises and couldn’t feel any goodness, God never abandoned me. All this while, God watered my mustard seed even though nothing surfaced. I was discouraged for a long time. But when the time arrived, the amazing baby plant sprouted out of the earth and I became a full-fledged Catholic. Going to RCIA was the only thing I could do for those two years due to a health condition. My RCIA sponsor named Cathy was very helpful and gave me the perfect card. When the baby plant came out was when I could finally consciously follow God and proudly present myself as such to others.
Written by Mina from St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary.
My journey to Catholicism formally began in the fall of 2002 when I entered into the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and culminated with my baptism and confirmation at the 2004 Easter Vigil, Saturday evening, April 10.
Practically speaking, though, my journey started many years earlier when I married my wife, Dina – an Italian ‘Cradle-Catholic’ at St. James Catholic Church, here in Calgary in 1991.
Taking our Marriage Preparation classes was really the beginning of a long period of enlightenment, where I began to experience and see more clearly what the spiritual aspects of the joining of our souls would really mean.
We both promised in our wedding vows to raise our kids in the Church, too, and so we regularly attended Mass and the Holy Days of Obligation. It was through this exposure I – then unwittingly – continued my Faith Journey.
When our family was young, we attended St. James and St. Michael’s in Calgary, and Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands, TX. In December 1994 we purchased our first home in Somerset and began attending St. Patrick’s Parish and this became our home church.
As I progressed on my journey I started to be overcome with a desire — a strong, spiritual need — to go to Confession and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I went to see “Merv” at St. Michael’s (I believe he was a Deacon there at the time) and inquired about receiving the sacrament. He explained to me I would need to become Catholic first before I could receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Several years went by and then a close family friend asked Dina if she would sponsor her in her journey through RCIA to become Catholic. I took this as a strong sign to stop procrastinating and I made my own appointment with Sister Pauline at the church to begin my journey to Catholicism and becoming Catholic.
Meeting with Sister Pauline, I shared with her the impetus for wanting to become Catholic and explained that I came from a family who didn’t really practice — or have — a sense of faith. My now-late father was raised Catholic in Holland and we would say grace before meals when we visited with my grandparents on my mother’s side in BC, but we really didn’t have any other faith upbringing — other than the ‘Golden Rule’.
Sister Pauline accepted me into the 2002 fall intake of St. Patrick’s RCIA and you could say the rest is history — but it isn’t! The journey NEVER ends; we’re always expanding our understanding and our relationship with God.
My time in RCIA was so very special! Those I travelled with on the journey and all those who invested their time in — and shared their faith with us — took us all to previously unfathomable levels of faith and spirituality. We shared, we laughed, we cried, we broke open the Word, we prayed! It was an education and a coming alive all at the same time. It was a beautiful experience!
Written by Peter Poos from St. Patrick's Church, Calgary
God is always waiting for our conversion to his mercy and love. For a large portion of my life I was haunted with the darkness of childhood abuse. This is my journey into God’s call and falling into His overflowing grace. As a five-year-old child I was playing in our local playground with children from the local church. When they left, I went home and asked my mother if I could go to church. My mother said I could go with the neighbours, but I wasn’t brave enough to go.
Later, I attended a Catholic high school because my mother believed in academics. In Grade 12, I completed a water pollution project for a Religion class and received a mark of 98%. From that moment, I believed that my vocation would be in the Sciences. That same year (1972), at the age of 17, I became pregnant and consented to an abortion supported by both sets of parents (Catholic and non-Catholic). The day I had the abortion I shut the door on God! I believed I was not worthy of His love; I had killed my own child. By this time, the darkness of my childhood abuse and the weight of an abortion had left my soul in complete darkness. The mask I continued to wear could not hide the pain, and I struggled. I knew one day that the darkness would envelope me and I would end my life: the pain of my soul too unbearable.
With a husband and my daughter my world was unravelling; filled with anger, guilt and darkness. I was asked to become a Catholic so my daughter could continue to attend a Catholic school. To me, it was nothing more than a course, I was never going to be a Catholic. But God had other plans. What I could not or would not do for myself, I would do for my daughter. It was the 3rd scrutiny during the Purification and Enlightenment process that things began to change. Prior to this Scrutiny, I had gone to Reconciliation and confessed my sins. God has an eraser of grace; He forgave me; the door of grace flooded opened. During the 3rd Scrutiny, in his fatherly love, the late Fr. Keith Sorge let me touch his vestments and I fell into the wellspring of God’s love. The search out of the darkness of my soul began, but it was only after a severe leg injury (run over by an ATV) that I could face the overwhelming pain and terror of childhood sexual abuse. The cry of the poor—that is what God hears in our prayers.
In gratitude for God’s grace, I became involved with the RCIA, Project Rachel, CWL, Hike for Life, Eucharistic Ministries and Lector ministries. I obtained a Master’s from Newman Theological College (Edmonton) focusing on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. Today, I am currently raising the awareness of Care for Our Common Home and Food Loss and Waste (FLW) through a CWL resolution and presentation to politicians and Catholic organizations. God had never left my side nor stopped calling me into His grace as I am a testimony to His love.
Written by Jeannette Nixon, St. Patrick’s Parish Calgary.
“I was raised in the People's Republic of China. I had no religion because it is a communist country. Then, God found me. He called me.
My family was going through a challenging time as my nine-year-old son was hospitalized for a year. From birth, he was diagnosed with bleeding in the brain. A vein in his brain burst, and he almost died. My life was work, home, hospital for that year. We were so tired and desperate. One day, someone gave me a wooden cross. That was my first time trying to get in touch with God.
My friend said, there is nothing you can do but ask God for help. Every day I went to work, and in the evening I stayed in the hospital with my son. I prayed daily, ‘God please don’t let him die.’ My son recovered and was released from the hospital. However, he had brain damage and many problems.
One day, in a box, I found the wooden cross again. And I realized that I didn’t keep my promise to God. I had prayed that if he saved Eric’s life, I would follow Him. Not having any idea of where to start and what to do, I contacted Ascension Parish. I learned a lot from going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The more I learned about God, the more I listen to him, the better my life gets. We still have a lot of problems with Eric’s recovery, but God supports me. My life is getting much better.
My relationships with others was a mess. I complained all the time. I would get so angry; now my relationships are better. I am a different person. Every day I ask God for forgiveness, and I also forgive others. Eric can see the change in me. He is now 14, and he goes to the youth sacrament. He can no longer use one of his hands. Daily, he lives with a four per cent chance of bleeding in his brain. We pray to God and figure a way to deal with each situation, day-by-day. There is nothing more the doctors can do. But God hears my prayers.”
An elect from the Ascension Parish, Calgary (2019).
“I remember being four or five-years-old, walking through the ravages of WWII feeling determined to make something good out of the chaos, destruction, death and suffering brought on by what I think of now as a senseless war.
My outlook on life then and now was inspired by a devoted and loving dad and a dedicated and faithful mom. They taught me to love others as God loves you, be good to others as God is to you and to be a giver and let God give you as much as He is sure to give – these are the lessons that I tried to live up to. My thoughts of becoming a nun were triggered by the musicale that was part of our graduation in 6th grade. I was asked to sing my role in the song: “I wonder what I’ll be when I am big someday.” I was told to sing: “ I want to be a nun (3 x) when I am big someday.
I’ve always believed that I get put somewhere for a reason. I went through all these steps—losing a job, applying for another one—so I could be where I am supposed to be. God put me here. Now I am looking forward to being baptized. To make sure that I continue learning about God on my faith journey, I’ve added apps to my phone, and I go to Church more. It has been so rewarding. I used to be fearful, but now I feel incredible love and acceptance. I have a big sense of family that I never had before.
Kindergarten teacher, St. Anthony's School
Christ the Redeemer Catholic School Division
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers