Q&A: Look Again, Thomas! by the Sisters of Life helps children see the world, people through God’s eyes

Roxanne King

“Left and right, up and down, straight and crooked, and all around they went…” so goes the delightful new children’s book by the Sisters of Life, Look Again, Thomas! In it, armed with special “seeing glasses,” the boy Angelo leads his stand-offish neighbor Thomas on a journey that helps his little friend to see the world through God’s eyes and to discover the beauty, good and love in it and in people.

Although authorship is given to the Sisters of Life, the order founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York to protect and promote the sanctity of human life, Sister Elizabeth Ann Binder, 53, wrote and illustrated Look Again, Thomas! and the order’s previous storybook, the tender I Would Climb Any Mountain for You.

Originally from Milwaukee, Wis., Sister Elizabeth Ann graduated from the University of Dallas and worked as a graphic designer for 12 years before entering the Sisters of Life in 1997. She currently lives in her order’s new convent and house of prayer in Washington D.C., where she designs and does the layout for the Sisters of Life magazine, Imprint.

Sister Elizabeth Ann was recently interviewed by the Denver Catholic. The interview has been edited for space.

Denver Catholic: What prompted the book?

Sister Elizabeth Ann: The book was inspired by a young boy named Angelo Pio. Angelo’s mother, Gina, discovered during her pregnancy that her child had Down Syndrome. Experiencing unbelievable pressure, Gina called a priest friend who encouraged her to call the Sisters of Life.  She moved in with the sisters soon after and gave birth to her baby boy. Angelo Pio was beautiful from the time the sisters first saw his little sweet face. Since that day, Gina and Angelo have been bright lights in all of our lives.

When I first began thinking about the message I wanted to communicate through a children’s book, Angelo immediately popped in my head. Angelo has this amazing ability to delight and wonder in the beauty and goodness all around him.  He sees goodness everywhere. Like other children with special needs, every day he greets people with a purity and innocence.  I’ve often thought that Angelo is not the one with the disability — we are. His love isn’t conditional. He sees people and the world around him through God’s eyes — and he calls each of us to see with that same “God vision.”  And I think his blue glasses added just the right touch to the story.

DC: The story centers on two boys and unfolds over one day; describe that day.

EA: Two boys, Angelo and Thomas, put on their “seeing glasses” and take a wonderful trip through forests and ponds, hills and deserts.  As Angelo and Thomas later reflect on their day, Thomas begins to realize the importance of looking beyond the surface of things to seeing the deeper realities within. And most especially “looking again” at the people he meets, beyond what someone looks like, what they can do, or what they have, and finding the goodness within their heart — and then encouraging another in that goodness.

DC: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

EA: The realization that each person is a unique, beautiful, unrepeatable gift to the world. We can judge people so superficially by what they look like, what they do (their capabilities) or what they own. We fail to meet the real person inside when we do this. And we deprive ourselves of discovering and delighting in that unique “something” that this person holds within that reflects some aspect of God never before seen. We deprive ourselves of the gift. See them as God sees them. He loves them unconditionally. He desires to be close to them. He wants them to grow and become more of who they ARE each day. The gift of encouraging others in their goodness. The gift of being that “shooting star” that leads others to Christ. The reality that YOU are good. As St. John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us.” In a world that has lost a sense of the unrepeatable beauty and sacredness of every human person, we need to be people with eyes that see.

DC: Why the Sisters of Life authorship?

EA: The books communicate a message that every Sister of Life desires to communicate — that you are good, beautiful and sacred. That you are loved by God who had you in his mind and heart for all eternity. And because of this your life has tremendous meaning. People desperately need to hear the truth of that today.  If you are called to be a Sister of Life you simply have a burning desire to share that with everyone you meet. The children’s books simply express what is on the mind and heart of us all — this charism of life. The book is from us all!

To purchase Look Again, Thomas! (Hardback, $25) and I Would Climb a Mountain for You (Softcover, $12), visit sistersoflife.org.

COMING UP: Denver’s first Catholic classical high school opens under patronage of Our Lady of Victory

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Nearly half a millennium ago, thousands of Catholics heeded Pope Pius V’s call to pray the Rosary requesting Our Lady’s intercession for the deliverance of Europe from Turkish invasion.

In a miraculous triumph, at what came to be known as the “Battle of Lepanto,” the outnumbered Christian “Holy League” overcame the Turkish forces, winning Our Lady of the Rosary a new advocation: Our Lady of Victory.

Today, Denver’s new and first Catholic classical high school has chosen Our Lady of Victory as its patroness, with the mission of developing the whole person and forming students who are holy, well-educated and prepared to engage the present culture and contribute to society.

Our Lady of Victory High School is part of the Chesterton Schools Network, which encourages parent-led Catholic schools across the nation, inspired by the life and work of G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a poem about the victory at Lepanto.

Although the school is not an archdiocesan high school, it has been officially recognized by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila as a Catholic school. This fall’s inaugural 9th grade class will launch at the St. Louis Parish School building in Denver with nearly 20 students.

“Chesterton’s model of joyful Catholicism draws upon the classical tradition but is very evangelical: It engages the culture with a joyful approach to being Catholic… rather than a reactionary one,” said Dr. R. Jared Staudt, President of the school, Director of Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute. “We want to form saints to go out and do great things for the Lord within our culture.”

The classical education approach highlights the trivium (logic, grammar and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).

“We emphasize Socratic dialogue as well as the trivium: how to read texts carefully and understand them through grammar, how to think about them in a coherent manner through logic, and then how to express yourself well in writing and speech through rhetoric; but also the quadrivium: How do we understand the logical order and beauty of the universe?” Dr. Staudt explained.

The benefits of this type of education are many, he assured.

“It’s not just a practical output, but about forming strong dispositions of thinking, of being able to evaluate things, being able to form a plan of action for your life that will translate into being successful in the future.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things,” Dr. Staudt said.

Part of what makes this goal possible is the communion between faith and reason. Students begin the school day with daily Mass; read Homer, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton, etc.; and study the Bible and the Catechism. They participate in a curriculum where history, philosophy, literature and theology are “braided together,” as their website states.

Part of what makes it unique is also its approach to the fine arts and to mathematics and science.

“We emphasize the fine arts because we want the students to be engaged with beauty and wonder… We want to humanize them, to make them more fully alive,” Dr. Staudt said.

“I would say we also approach math and science from that perspective. We take math and science very seriously, but not as something dry and textbook based, but something that is engaging the beauty, the logic, the wonder of the universe, and the fact that we can logically understand [it] because it is itself something that is a creative work of a mind, of God’s mind, and his beauty is impressed within it.”

As part of this approach, the school has implemented in its unique formation a lot of time in the outdoors, beginning the year with a three-day backpacking trip with the students and ending with a whitewater rafting trip.
The school also plans on having retreats throughout the year, attending and hosting fine arts events and providing service opportunities for its students.

“I think that’s truly part of what makes us unique, that we want to develop the whole person: body, mind and soul,” Dr. Staudt explained.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things.”

The seed for the foundations of the school began with the desire of a group of Denver Catholic parents for a holistic, classical formation for their children, also motived by the need for a Catholic high school in the South Denver metro area.

Hoping to open a Catholic classical high school for their children in the future, six dads organized a series of monthly talks titled “The First Educators” at St. Mary Parish in Littleton from September to November 2018 as a first step to help in this direction.

Little did they know that their dream would become reality only a few months later, with the help of Dr. Staudt, the Chesterton Schools Network and the support of other parents around the archdiocese.

With six experienced teachers on board, the mission-driven school is set to begin forming students in the classical tradition.

“We want them to be holy. I would say that is our biggest overarching goal, that we want to form saints in the sense that they are thinking people who are well-educated and well prepared to engage the world and make a contribution in society – but [in a way] that holiness integrates everything else that we do,” Dr. Staudt concluded.

For more information, visit ourladyofvictorydenver.com.