Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.
Author Susan Peek shares how she got to know about St. Camillus de Lellus and why she chose him to write about! Her answer is so amazing!
A Soldier Surrenders by Susan Peek
About the Book:
At last . . . a saint for strugglers! Soldiering, gambling, brawling, drinking. As a young man, Saint Camillus excelled at them all. Add to that his fiery temper and innate knack for getting in trouble, and Camillus de Lellis seems the last person who could ever achieve holiness! But God had plans for the stubborn young soldier, whether Camillus liked it or not . . .
“This novel for adult and young adult readers will introduce them to a great saint – a physical giant who had to contend with many personal struggles, much weakness, and repeated failures before he could become a moral giant. The story of Camillus de Lellis’ conversion will leave no reader unmoved, and those that feel hopeless about themselves will find new hope, a hero, and a friend in Christ.” – Michael O’Brien Bestselling Catholic Author.
Back in print by popular demand, this fast-paced and inspiring story of the wayward soldier-of-fortune who became an intrepid Soldier of Christ will appeal even to those who don’t normally like to read!
I asked author Susan Peek why she chose to write about this saint:
My special friendship with Saint Camillus, one of my absolute top buddies in Heaven, started three decades ago. The year 1986 found me a glowing, wide-eyed wannabe nun in a Carmelite cloister, and Saint Camillus existing as a mere name on the tattered page of my daily missal that popped up every July 18. Above his Mass readings, in tiny print requiring a magnifying glass to read, were typed the words: “St. Camillus was born in Italy. His youth was spent in dissipation but he was converted and gave himself to the service of the sick in the hospitals. He founded an Order which bears his own name. He died at Rome July 14, 1614. Pope Benedict XIV canonised him in 1746, Pope Leo XIII declared him patron of hospitals and infirmaries and inserted his name in the litany of the dying.” End of itty-bitty print. So every July 18, I would open that page, squint to read the tiny words, yawn, attend Mass, and inevitably forget about St. Camillus by the time I got my piece of dry toast for breakfast. He was just another . . . ahem, boring saint.
I imagine that most Catholics around the world treated him more or less the same way. He must have been fed up that so few people knew or loved him, because one day he zapped me. I remember the day perfectly. It was 1:30 in the afternoon, the time allotted for spiritual reading. I browsed the convent library, dismayed that every saint life I picked up seemed so, well . . . let’s be honest: Boring. I had already read the few exciting saint stories the small cloister library had to offer, and everything left on the shelves contained long lists of names, big words, tons of dates, and no action whatsoever. THEN . . . hidden behind a stack of dusty theological volumes, I spied a hardback book simply entitled “Saint Camillus.” Not even remembering his name from my tattered missal page with the minuscule print, I pulled it out, intrigued, wondering who this guy was. That book, literally, changed my life.
It was written as a novel, so immediately had dialogue and action. Camillus was far from holiness in chapter one – quite the lovable rogue, in fact. I was hooked. I read, engrossed, until the bell rang. It was hard to put down. Over the next several days, I found myself dying for spiritual reading time so that I could find out how this stubborn, proud, endearing young soldier was ever going to earn the accolade of “saint.” Finally I was enjoying – REALLY enjoying! – a saint book!
Then, half way through the book, he converted, became holy, was ordained a priest, and did all the usual boring stuff for the remaining 100 pages. The plot was gone. There was no reason left to root for him and worry about him, and my interest in the book waned.
(Maybe you can tell I wasn’t cut out to be a Carmelite nun. I wanted action-packed stuff. Excitement. Adventure. Not the typical things found in a cloister.)
Fast-forward to 1993. By then I had left the convent, gotten married, and was expecting my fourth child (who, by the way, is now a cloistered nun 🙂 ). Although I had always loved to write and secretly hoped my entire life to somehow become an author, the diapers and babies and duties of motherhood kept me far from my typewriter. Until one summer afternoon when I received a phone call that also changed my life. The man on the other end was a friend of my sister, and he was hoping to start a Catholic movie company. He had heard from big sis that I love to write. So he asked if I would consider writing a movie screenplay for him. Needless to say, I was blown away. “What do you want it to be about?” I asked. His answer, “Whatever you want to write about,” blew me away even more. It took me 30 seconds to decide. I wanted to write only one story – the conversion story of Saint Camillus (the bits BEFORE he became holy and, well, boring).
The next months were a flurry of excitement. Researching, writing, having a blast. My husband Jeff hopped on board and we actually wrote the movie together. My sister’s friend loved it, bought it, and started costumes, casting, producing, the whole nine yards. Then . . . he ran out of money. The project ground to a halt. Disappointment and apologies abounded. Everyone tried to accept God’s will. Seemed like Saint Camillus didn’t want to be known after all.
Later, my husband and I found an agent in New York who loved the screenplay but was unable to sell it. Unlike now, back in the 1990’s Catholic movies were all but non-existent. No producer was interested in a saint’s life for a movie.
The manuscript was henceforth stuffed in a bottom drawer and left to gather dust. Meanwhile, I had more babies, kept busy with more diapers, and forgot about the whole thing.
Until one day several years later. I woke up from a nap, literally, as if hit by a bolt of lightning. I jumped out of bed with the urgent thought, “Adapt it as a novel!” I felt it so strongly that I grabbed a pen and paper right then and there, and started writing.
By the end of the year, “A Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis” was not only published, but incorporated into the curriculum of a small Catholic school in Idaho. Humble beginnings, but it has since gone through four editions, been sold for foreign translation rights in Europe, and is now used in Catholic schools across the English-speaking world. And all because of a dusty book in a Carmelite library and a phone call from a wonderful man with a vision.
I truly believe Saint Camillus is a saint for everyone. He was not always holy. He struggled. He fought. He was a man with many vices and much to overcome. But he did it. He became a saint! And if he can do it, so can we!
Maybe someday he will zap you from Heaven too. He really is a friend worth getting to know!
Within the first few pages of this story, I knew that this was a much needed story for our age. Children are not always raised in ideal situations. A parent dies. Or parents divorce. One parent may have faith, but the lifestyle and ideals of the other may be more appealing to the child. The parent with faith worries about the effects of the culture on the child.
St. Camillus’s mother was strong in her faith and tried to impart it to her son, but his father was a soldier and didn’t have much time for that. As a boy and young man, Camillus found his father’s ways more attractive. His mother died while he was young and as soon as he was able, he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a soldier.
This is not the end of the story but only the beginning. This story makes so clear the powerful message that Our Lord is always there, with each one of us, calling us to Himself and to holiness. Our Lord never gives up on us.
Maybe more so than other saints, the story of St. Camillus’s conversion gives hope to the person who struggles with weakness and sin. Camillus had a bad temper and a love of gambling. For the longest time, he did not see the value of faith or self-control. He may have recognized virtue in others but did not see it as a possibility for himself.
But God did not give up on him, just as He does not give up on any one of us. Like a good father, Our Lord allowed many sufferings to come to Camillus. And like so many of us, Camillus had to reach rock bottom before he could look up in faith.
While I enjoy the stories of saints who responded to the call of God at a very young age, St. Camillus is not that saint. In many ways, he is more relate-able. For those who struggle with sin or various addictions, who feel deeply the hardships of life, and who suffer from the consequences of their own actions, there is the story of St. Camillus de Lellis.
Peek’s fast-paced writing style is perfect for this story. She brings the reader right into the conflict, struggles, and agony Camillus endures. She weaves the action, thoughts, and emotions of characters together expertly. I also found myself deeply moved by the moments of grace and spiritual insight that came to him and the way his conversion unfolded.
I recommend this book to everyone who loves saint stories. You will not be able to put this book down. But I especially recommend it to the person who struggles or who feels he or she has fallen too far and is unable to reach that better way. There is hope for us all. Holiness is obtainable for anyone. God can do all things. St. Camillus de Lellis, pray for us.
Visit Susan Peek and learn more about her and her books:
Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.