Wednesday, June 7, 2017

32 Days: The Girl Who Inspired Fulton J. Sheen

One of the most well known and inspiring aspects of Fulton J. Sheen's life was his daily Holy Hour.  No matter his busy television schedule, world travels, and demands as a bishop, Sheen prioritized his time to include at least an hour each day in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  He credited his success in writing and speaking to this time in prayer, and he remained devoted to this promise for his entire priesthood.

While Sheen's daily Holy Hour has been an inspiration to thousands, he said he himself was inspired by an unlikely hero.  A young Chinese girl during a time of persecution witnessed the desecration of a Catholic Church and saw 32 Consecrated Hosts lying on the floor.  She bravely snuck back into the closed Church, made a Holy Hour, and received Jesus in the Eucharist.  Despite great danger, she returned for 32 days to receive each of the 32 Hosts, but on the last night she was caught by the guard and killed. 

This story is always connected to Sheen but has been difficult to pin down in origin.  Some say that it happened during the 1911 Republic Revolution in China (or earlier Boxer Rebellion), when it could have been heard of by Sheen before he was ordained in 1919 and made his promise to make a daily Holy Hour.  Or it could have happened during the Communist Revolution in the 1940's, serving as a further inspiration for Sheen to continue his promise.  Regardless, this unknown girl and her devotion to our Eucharistic Lord has had an amazing ripple effect during the 20th and 21st centuries.
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You can read more about the story of the Chinese martyr from other sources:
  • A summary of Sheen's connection with this story can be found on p.30-36 in his book St. Therese, A Treasured Love Story.
  • The Cardinal Kung Foundation (Underground Catholic Church in China) relates the story here.
  • You can read about Sheen's resolution to make a daily Holy Hour in an excerpt from his autobiography  Treasure in Clay here.

I share with my students the story of this little Chinese girl during our Fulton Sheen unit and despite the lack of hard facts, they are always inspired by her courage and conviction, especially over things they often take for granted.  So when I found out that Pauline Books & Media had published a new kids' book called 32 Days: A Story of Faith and Courage* telling the story of the Chinese martyr and her connection to Fulton Sheen, I knew that I had to share it with my students.  

I used this book as a read aloud with my class without previously telling them anything about the Chinese martyr.  This book by Ellen Lucey Prozeller begins with a scene of Fulton Sheen being interviewed on television and being asked about who has most inspired him.  We then travel back to 1948 China and meet Pei, an 11 year old girl who witnesses the Communist Revolution and becomes the heroine of the story I related above.  The end of the book cuts back to Fulton Sheen in the television studio and then closes with an afterward sharing info on the research and facts behind the story.

The fictionalized life of Pei shows the realistic struggle and success of a young girl striving for holiness as well as family catechesis shared from the wisdom of her parents and grandparents.  We are given a child's perspective of the historical events of this time and place, helping young readers to begin to grasp the depth of the atrocities of the past.  We also glimpse the possible story of one of thousands of martyrs whose lives are known only to God.

A few of my opinions as a teacher:
  • I really liked how solid church teaching on prayer, the Eucharist, virtue, and more were woven naturally into the conversation of characters. 
  • A lot of time is spent on character development, showing that Pei's holiness was more than just her final actions, which is so important for kids to understand- we are called to sanctity in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.  However, as a result, it felt a bit long as a read aloud.  I definitely think that it would work better for a small group or individual reading.  I would LOVE to see this as a graphic novel (hint, hint Pauline!) or shorter edition more geared as a read aloud. 
  • Some of our best conversations were about Pei's persecution and losing things my students take for granted- attending a Catholic school, receiving the Sacraments, being known as Catholic.  It was great to hear them reflect on what it would be like to lose those freedoms.
  • The provided discussion questions at the end of the book were well written and incredibly useful in the classroom to continue discussions, make kids think, and bring the important aspects of the story together.  They would be equally valuable to an individual reader.
  • Honestly, my students' biggest disappointment was at the end when we read the afterward and they found out that this story was fictionalized and not a biography.  We have read too many stories of heroic people from the past for them to disregard this one as untrue.  The discussion that followed about the value of oral tradition being written down, the themes of the story being shared even without facts, etc. was very valuable and helped develop critical thinking skills.  
I also asked my students their opinion after finishing and discussing the book.  Some of the things they shared included:
  • disappointed to find that it wasn't factual- maybe should have told in the the prologue
  • liked how it went from Fulton Sheen back in time to China and then back to Sheen
  • would like to see it as a picture book that is a shorter version or a graphic novel
  • appreciate the details the author created based on what she knew and her research
  • wanted to know about Fulton Sheen's actual interview- can we find it and watch it?
  • really would love to know the real story
  • I thought it was a little confusing to find out that it was a legend
  • even if it was a legend, it was still a good book, and an example of bravery and martyrdom and people can learn from it
Overall, I think that 32 Days is a valuable contribution to Catholic literature for 9-12 year olds.   Next time, I will probably begin with the end and preface the origins of the story to my students.  Reading with that lens will help them accept the story as it is and be able to learn from the sacrifice and witness of those whom we will only know the names of once we join them in heaven.

Connecting activities:

*Pauline Books & Media provided me with a free copy of 32 Days in exchange for an honest review.  I only recommend things that I have used and love, and these opinions are entirely my own.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you and God Bless you Katie for sharing this with everyone . This was an informafive and Beautifully Written Piece.