Catholic families are always looking for beautiful Catholic books for children. An alumna of a faithful Catholic college is giving families more timeless options.
Maura Roan McKeegan says that her education in the theology graduate program at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, inspired her to become an author. Now she’s published several Catholic children’s books as a fruit of her experience in the Franciscan University community, including St. Conrad and the Wildfire, just recently released.
The Cardinal Newman Society is grateful to McKeegan for sharing about the impact of her faithful Catholic education on her life and work, as a part of our “Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education” series.
Newman Society: Why did you choose to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville? What impact did the University have on you?
Maura Roan McKeegan: When I was a young adult—after I graduated from a state university—I attended a summer conference at Franciscan University. I loved it so much that I went back the next year, and the next. I began to daydream of going there to study full-time. I wanted to know more about God, and I couldn’t think of a better place to learn. Franciscan had changed my life so much in three weekends; I could only imagine what three years there would do.
At first, it felt like an impossible dream. I was a classroom teacher and didn’t know how I could leave my job. But soon, God showed me that He was calling me to go to graduate school at Franciscan. I moved to Steubenville to pursue a master’s degree in theology, and Franciscan became a second home to me. The material I studied was so beautiful that it sometimes made me cry. The classes I took, books I read, and people I met helped me grow exponentially in the way I understood and lived my faith.
Eighteen years later, I am still here with my husband, raising our children in Steubenville, and marveling at the way God used three weekends to give me a gift that would last a lifetime.
Newman Society: How has your education at Franciscan University influenced your work as an author?
Maura Roan McKeegan: My education at Franciscan University inspired me to become an author. I remember sitting in Dr. Scott Hahn’s class and listening to him talk about typology—how Adam, Moses, and Jonah prefigured Christ; how Noah’s Ark prefigured baptism; how the Ark of the Covenant prefigured Mary. It was all new to me. I had just spent five years as a classroom teacher, and I thought to myself, “Children would be fascinated by this!”
I had the idea of writing a series of picture books that placed Old and New Testament stories side by side, so that children could see the connections. The idea stayed in my head for ten years, until I finally realized that God was calling me to write the series. Now, through Emmaus Road Publishing, I’ve written three books in that series, with a fourth currently being illustrated.
My newest book, St. Conrad and the Wildfire, is separate from the Old and New series. All of these books are the fruit of my time at Franciscan University, both as a student and as a member of the Franciscan family.
Newman Society: Can you tell us about your recently released book for children, St. Conrad and the Wildfire?
Maura Roan McKeegan: About five years ago, I learned about St. Conrad for the first time and was immediately captivated by his story. He was a medieval nobleman who went hunting one day and accidentally set a forest on fire. He didn’t tell anyone the truth about what happened until an innocent peasant was blamed and sentenced to death, and only Conrad’s confession could save him. The course of events that began with his errors eventually led Conrad to become a saint.
St. Conrad’s story struck me as perfect for a picture book. With medieval nobles, a castle, hunting, fire, false accusation, a near execution and the challenge of telling the truth in the face of danger, it had all the elements of an exciting and enduring tale. I also loved how it showed that imperfect people can become saints—that our mistakes can become paths to grace. As a person who makes a lot of mistakes, I found that message consoling.
Newman Society: Why do you think beautiful and well-written Catholic books for children are important?
Maura Roan McKeegan: Picture books are my hobby and my passion. I love the way they unite generations, when young and old cuddle up together and delight in stories that capture hearts through words and pictures. Beautiful and well-written Catholic picture books give us a way to follow what Jesus says when he tells us to “become like little children” in Matthew 18:3. When we sit with children and read aloud together, we build bonds of love in a world of childlike simplicity that children will remember long after they are grown. Beautiful picture books awaken lifelong connections between love, spiritual childhood and faith.