Mount Carmel teacher shares faith through poetry
Joan Gass has been writing her musings for years, not really thinking it would amount to a published work.
But this year, after encouragement from a friend in Marietta, Ga., who by chance met a Christian book publisher from Georgia, Gass published “Alpha Bits of Prayer,” a 46-page book of poems, one for each letter of the alphabet. The title was easy since Jesus is the Alpha and Omega.
“I took everyday objects and used them for reflection,” Gass said, a religious studies teacher of church history and Theology of the Body teacher at Mount Carmel Academy.
The prayers deal with issues people would identify with: apples, dust, holiness, motherhood, quilts, roses and saddles. Among her favorites is “Nine, One, One: Pray” because it touches on what she hopes students gain through her religion class – a deeper relationship with Jesus; not just praying to him in an emergency.
“I want them to learn that he is their best friend,” Gass said. “He’s there in the good times and bad times. (I hope) that they pray not just when they are in a crisis situation or when they need something, but that prayer becomes a part of their everyday life – that it is as natural as breathing.”
Gass’ writings are mostly spiritual. She was previously published in Louisiana Folklore Miscellany while attending the University of New Orleans, where she earned an elementary education degree. She later earned a catechist certificate from the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
She said spiritual role models in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who taught at St. Rose de Lima, and teachers at St. Joseph Academy, especially Arthur Sierra, impacted her spiritual growth just by living their faith. It is something Gass hopes she exemplifies for her own students.
“That’s why I wanted to write this,” she said. “I wanted the older students whom I had taught years ago to have the opportunity to read the book.” Mount Carmel placed a copy of her book in the school library.
Gass said her writing is prompted from above.
“It just comes to me,” she said. “I really think it’s the Holy Spirit. When I write, I feel like I am inspired by God.”
Prayers get used
Gass said she begins each class with prayer and often takes a prayer from her book. She knows other teachers do, too, and has been invited by fellow teachers to read one of her prayers in class.
“When you change it up, it makes it something more personal to them,” Gass said about choosing prayers. “It makes it more meaningful knowing that one of their teachers wrote it. It is definitely through the grace of God.”
Students and teachers lined up Feb. 27 to snatch an autographed copy of her book, which is published by Visual Dynamics Publishing.
“My mom is into prayer, and I thought it would be nice to get her that,” 11th grader Caroline Baer said as Gass signed her copy.
“She is really spiritual, and she is always happy, and she’s really funny, too,” MCA freshman Ally Spring said about Gass. “She’s strengthened my prayer life and would talk to me about my personal life.”
Gass has gained a deep admiration and love for Mount Carmel Academy over the 19 years she’s been there, and she chose to donate a portion of the book sales to the school.
“Mount Carmel Academy has deepened my faith,” Gass said. “I’ve learned from the children about Jesus’ love more than I teach them. They show the face of Christ every day.”
She’s been getting good feedback on her book; it’s already in the second printing. She’s also had a recent book signing at the Catholic Book Store in New Orleans and plans a signing at Transfiguration Church in Marietta, Ga.
Gass hopes “Alpha Bits of Prayer” “blesses people’s lives.”
“My publisher said to keep writing ... to send her whatever I write,” Gass said.
Her next book project is the passion of Jesus.