On March 17, many people will consume corned beef and cabbage, green bagels and beer -- but give hardly a thought to the saint for whom this day is named.
Greg Tobin, author of The Wisdom of St. Patrick, to be officially published by Ballantine this coming St. Patrick's Day, hopes to change all that.
"It's not frustrating exactly, but it is amazing to me that St. Patrick d sn't have the reputation of St. Francis," Tobin said. "He has a powerful voice that still speaks to us today." Tobin is also editor of the upcoming anthology Saints and Sinners: The American Catholic Experience Through Stories, Memoirs, Essays and Commentary, to be published by Doubleday this fall.
Both books reflect the surge of interest in religious as well as Irish topics that Tobin has spotted during his day job as editor-in-chief of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
The Wisdom of St. Patrick is not only an alternate selection of BOMC but also of its relatively new sister club, One Spirit, itself an acknowledgment of the growing religious/spiritual book market.
But Tobin's journey toward writing these two books is also very personal. Like many in his generation, Tobin rediscovered his religious bearings when he had to decide on the spiritual education of his two sons. Tobin's newfound spiritual interest -- as well as an approach by literary agent Alexander Hoyt -- led him to write The Wisdom of St. Patrick, his first work of nonfiction after having written paperback westerns "on the side" during his 20-year publishing career.
Tobin grew up with an image of St. Patrick gleaned from "little Lives of the Saints books and holy cards, bearded and mitered, shamrock in hand, banisher of snakes." But he soon found out -- sorry, folks -- that the snake story, and much else, was mere myth.
Instead, Tobin discovered that "Patrick was a mystic who believed in the power of prayer." Hence, The Wisdom of St. Patrick's format: a brief bio/introduction, then excerpts from the saint's writings discussing such topics as humility, grace, grief and vocation, followed by commentary and a related prayer.
Tobin's research also has given some old texts new print forms. Not only are St. Patrick's own Confession of St. Patrick and Letters to the Soldiers of Coroticus appended to Tobin's book, but he also convinced BOMC's book development group to reprint J.B. Bury's The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History, published by Macmillan UK in 1905. Released last month, it's doing "remarkably well" for BOMC, said Tobin.
For the Saints and Sinners anthology, Tobin has made an effort to include all Catholic American voices, although the Irish-American voice is perhaps the loudest. "Not all the authors presented here are as straightforwardly connected to the same root system," said Tobin. "But they spring from the same fertile, American earth."