by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Eileen: Ann, could you tell us about where you live and how you chose to live there?
Ann: I live just outside a small town, Fillmore, in central Illinois. My husband and I had been renting a place in another town and since we had two children and hoped for more, we wanted to live in the country. On March first, ironically the anniversary of the date when we first met, we passed by a country house that looked perfect and happened to be for sale. Unfortunately, when we looked into it, it was outside our price range, and John didn’t have a job yet. By the providence of God, a man came to our door a few weeks later—a friend of a friend—and said he wanted to show us a property for sale. He took us right back to that one. By then, John had acquired a teaching position at a nearby prison, the house price had dropped, and the deal was made. It is a large house and through the years, John made alterations, and it accommodated our growing family beautifully. After John passed away, the house and land remain as daily reminders of his love and devotion.
Eileen: Your Catholic Parish is Mother of Dolores; would you describe for us some of the characteristics that drove you to the parish?
Ann: Originally, we attended our local parish, St. John the Baptist, until it closed. Then we attended St. Joseph church in Ramsey. But during those same years, we also attended several conferences at Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry, which is based in Vandalia. Eventually, we became so involved in serving at OSMM in various capacities that it made sense to attend Mother of Dolores parish there as well. Like each parish, it has been a blessing to our faith and family.
Eileen: What inspired you to choose elementary education as your major in college?
Ann: To be honest, I started out in a nursing program, but I struggled through some of the science classes, faced some serious, moral questions in reflection to some of the attitudes I encountered, and eventually realized that I wasn’t inspired enough to fight all the challenges I’d have to face to get through nursing. So, I talked to my brother, Tom, who was in the seminary at the time—and who eventually became a Catholic priest—and asked him what he thought I should do. He simply reminded me of what I spent a great deal of time doing—taking care of kids at my mom’s daycare. God prepares us for our future with our past. I realized he was right, and though he never accepted the credit, he definitely set my feet on the right path.
Eileen: You switched from institutional teaching to homeschooling. What drew you in that direction?
Ann: After graduation, I volunteered for the Dominican Sisters as an Apostolic Volunteer in south Chicago as a third grade teacher. Then, I joined Peace Corps and served in the Philippines. After that, I worked at St. Stephens school in Milwaukee, and finally obtained a job at LA Unified teaching fifth grade in Pacoima, CA. John and I met in church in LA, and after we were married, we moved back to the Midwest, started a family, and moved to the country. His work as a teacher in the prison system and my experience as a teacher in both big cities and small towns convinced us that our children’s education must be taken very seriously. Ironically, the principal I worked for in my last school at Wood River, Illinois actually homeschooled his kids. I felt I had enough experience to tackle the challenge, so with John’s support I forged ahead. I wanted my children to grow up with a sense of family unity and to face the sacrifices of living their faith authentically. While homeschooling, all sorts of challenges (academic, interpersonal, spiritual) must be faced head-on and that has proven to be a great blessing.
Eileen: Did your interaction with your own children lead you to writing in regard to virtue and vices?
Ann: I probably focused on vices and virtues more in response to my own life than to what I hoped—or feared—for my kids. I grew up painfully aware that the best of intentions could lead to dark ends when we are uninformed and make decisions based on blind pride. In order to be a parent who could direct her children, I needed to surrender to a truth beyond my vision. An impossible task for mere mortals. But Tolkien’s story demonstrates the infinite possibilities of grace. Virtue is grace personified, while vice is grace rejected.
Eileen: Eileen: Your book, The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings brings out the characters in regard to the choices they make. What inspired you in this direction?
Ann: All my life experiences up to that point prepared me to write The Road Goes Ever On: my family’s suffering from the usual cultural issues, living with students from various countries (my mom rented rooms to foreign students), my teaching history, and raising kids informed me of the complexities of this life journey and how temptations can be masked as virtues. John loved The Hobbit and LOTR, so he read the books to the kids. When discussing the books, I saw so many parable points, that John encouraged me to write them down. Eventually, he encouraged me to put them into book format. I wrote the book in response to John’s enthusiasm and in a desire to join Tolkien’s masterpiece with the journey of our own lives.
Eileen: In your book you make clear both virtue and vices; do you think this is important in the secular society in which we live?
Ann: In today’s culture, we are so far from the grace of God that we don’t see ourselves clearly. When I reread The Road Goes Ever On last summer—reediting it for the second edition—I was afraid that it would appear completely out-of-date and preachy. It may be preachy at times—sorry about that—but I also appreciated the fact that most of what I wrote is in response to objective reality. I’m not relating the gospel according to Ann. I’m simply passing along what life has taught me—what God has revealed to us all. Gravity is still in effect. Virtues grow our souls. Vices devour us from within.
Eileen: Your degree in Fine Arts has given you an added advantage in writing. Some of your books deal with Science Fiction. What are some of the benefits of the Catholic Writing Guild that are helpful?
Ann: I applied to get a Catholic Seal of Approval from the CWG for one of my later historical fiction books, and I was rejected based on editing errors. Devastated, I decided that I couldn’t write. I gave up and didn’t put a word into print for months. But God wouldn’t leave me in peace. I was miserable. So I humbled myself, took money from my retirement account, and invested in a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. Ellen Gable—the president of the Catholic Writers Guild for a number of years—became a friend and mentor, and she encouraged me to forge ahead.
During the program, I realized that a horrifying number of current writers in the entertainment industry are driven by distorted images from our culture that deforms their work. By the grace of God, I had several talented professors, and they forced me to think deeply about how best to engage my love of the craft. A blend of literary and science fiction writing grew from that contemplation.
Eileen: In a world that doesn’t care for reading, you have become even more prolific than many. Is this because you feel compelled to get the message you have of faith, hope and charity out to others?
Ann: The world suffers from sin and all its consequences. In all humility, I attempt to reveal what is hidden in plain sight as honestly as possible. God is the source of all healing and goodness, but the world knows him not. Reflecting a culture that suffers from this loss joins me to His redemptive message that calls to all of humanity. Though many people are not readers, many people enjoy a good story that reaches inside and touches their soul. I write short stories, novels, and screenplays. Time will tell how—or if—God sees fit to utilize my work. If He smiles, I’m happy.
Eileen: How has your Catholic faith added to your writing and emphasis on goodness?
Ann: I once read that the Catholic faith is a “messy mystery.” I chuckled at the time because that’s very accurate from our human point of view. The Catholic faith glories in the universality of God, the vastness of His reach, His infinite love, which we cannot define or contain. But in understanding that, God has also recommended the love of others who are not of my faith in name. When John became sick, people from all denominations responded with charity in action. Being Catholic has anchored me in grace, and opened me to His presence in ways I would never have imagined possible.
Eileen: Is there anything else you’d like to say as we reach a great deal of subscribers all over the world, and we would like to get your message out to all?
Ann: In our faith, we believe there will be two judgments: one for each person—one for humanity. We are made in God’s image—one—yet indelibly united to the whole. When one member suffers, we all suffer. God asks us not to judge but to serve Him, immersed in His creative, unifying love. United to Him, we are united to all.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin