Through pictures like this, illustrator Preston McDaniels helps children learn about adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. COURTESY PHOTO

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Long ago author found peace before the Eucharist; now she leads children there

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At a young age Mary Elizabeth Feda discovered peace and consolation before the Blessed Sacrament.

When she was 9 or 10 years old and running errands on Saturday mornings for her mother, Feda would stop at the Church of the Good Shepherd in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan.

“My mother always said ‘Don’t pass the church without stopping in and making a visit,’” Feda said. “So I would stop in, and I would go up to the Communion rail and just kneel in front of the Tabernacle and pour out my little heart to Jesus. … And that’s when it started.”

Feda – now a mother, grandmother, director of family faith formation at Christ the King Parish in Omaha and a newly published author – is passing on her love of the Eucharist through  her children’s book, “Discovering the Land of Virtues with Grandma Eliza.”

Author Mary Elizabeth Feda COURTESY PHOTO

The book is the first in a series, with more adventures forthcoming, said Feda, a parishioner at Christ the King.

In the debut story, two girls and their grandmother drive to a mall, where they’re swept up by a tornado.

The tornado is definitely a Nebraska touch for the author who grew up on the East Coast. 

“I wanted it to be a Nebraska story,” Feda said. “I love Nebraska. I moved here in 1975 and fell in love with Nebraska and with the people.”

The state is where she met her late husband, Bill, who was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue.

The book’s illustrator also is a Nebraskan, Preston McDaniels, a member of St. Mary Parish in Aurora, in the Diocese of Lincoln.

McDaniels has illustrated other children’s books that might be familiar: “The Princess and the Kiss,” “A Perfect Snowman,” the “Phineus L. MacGuire” series and the “Lighthouse Family” series.

‘FEAR BE GONE!’

In the “Land of Virtues,” Feda and McDaniels transport readers and the story’s characters, via the tornado, from Nebraska to the Land of Virtues.

After the frightful trip, an angel shows the girls and their grandmother around and takes them to a shop called “God’s Peaceful Presence.” There they are led to a eucharistic adoration chapel, where they can “let go of all your fears and rest in His presence.”

“Fear be gone!” an Angel of Peace teaches them to pray. “Jesus, enter my heart.”

Feda – who earned a master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute in Greenwood Village, Colorado – inserts reassuring truths throughout the book – about prayer, joy, God’s love and growing in virtue.

She also writes from a grandmother’s heart.

The book was inspired 13 years ago by two of Feda’s granddaughters during a visit to their home in Lincoln.

Two of Mary Elizabeth Feda’s grandchildren, now young adults, inspired the author to write. COURTESY PHOTO

“Felicity … who was, I think, 5 at the time, came out of her bedroom in her princess gown with a crown on and had a blanket in her arms and said hello to me,” the author said. “She then came over to me with the blanket and said: ‘Grandma, put on your gown. We’re going to the ball.’

“So I wrapped the blanket around me and followed her into her bedroom, where her sister was sitting on the bed in her princess gown. And she said: ‘Hi, Grandma. We’re going to the ball.’ And I said: ‘I know. I’m going with you.’”

“She pointed to the bed and said: ‘This is the coach.’

“And I said: ‘Well, can I drive?’

“And she said: ‘Grandma, this is pretend, and we have a driver.’”

“Just to be invited into their imaginary play was a wonderful treat for me,” Feda said. “And it stayed with me for quite a while. … Words started to come, and it (the story) started to take shape.

“So I started to then sit down at my computer and type words like ‘Land of Virtues.’”

STORY EVOLVED

“Initially it was going to be about friendship,’ Feda said, “but over the course of time it changed direction.”

The storyline shifted from learning about how to overcome friendship problems to “you bring everything to Jesus in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,” she said. “He is at the center of our lives, so that whatever it is we’re carrying, whatever burden … we can come and kneel before Him.”

Other characters in the story are based on real people who’ve had a lasting impact on Feda.

An angel, Clara, is based on a friend: Clara Osten, a member of St. Mary Parish in Wayne. Grandma Eliza is a combination of her mother and grandmother, Feda said.

Plans to write had to be put on hold several times, including when she cared for her first husband, Bill, who had cancer and later died from the disease.

“But he encouraged me with the story,” Feda said. “He said even if you don’t get it published, you have really accomplished a lot.”

Book plans continued on hold as she grieved his death and eventually remarried two years later.

Her second husband, John, also encouraged her writing, “but I kept feeling like I needed credentials. I needed to say: I have a master’s in theology, so what I’m writing about isn’t just a grandma writing about her grandchildren. It has to have so much more.”

Work on her master’s degree had begun years earlier at Creighton University, but that education also had to stop when Feda’s first husband became ill.

During a short reprieve in Bill’s cancer battle, she tried to take some online classes at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. But that only lasted a semester, she said, before they learned that the cancer had spread to his brain.

Both the book and the graduate degree had to be put aside for years as family concerns took priority. But in April Feda finished her degree, graduating from the Augustine Institute. 

GOD’S TIMING

Madeline and Felicity, the grandchildren who inspired her, are now 18 and 19 and college students.

Through the long writing process, Feda said, she learned to trust in God’s perfect timing. 

And through the wait, the book “was covered in prayer,” she said. Early on, a friend, Diane Gentrup, a parishioner at St. Mary in Wayne, offered a Mass for the intention that the book would be published.

Now, Feda said, she sees the blessing of having her book released during a National Eucharistic Revival in the Church.

She said she hopes her work will “teach not only children, but parents, that Jesus is present in the Eucharist.

“And it’s powerful,” Feda said, “that our Creator comes to us every day in his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.”