Nearly five years ago, John Schlimm of St. Marys, Pennsylvania, wrote about his unlikely friendship with an aging Benedictine nun that turned into a popular memoir, Five Years in Heaven.
Sold around the world, including Korea and China, the book offers poignant scenes between John and the late Sister Augustine Huefner, who had been a resident artist at St. Joseph Monastery, the first Benedictine monastery of women in the U.S.
During his five years of weekly visits, John encouraged Sister Augustine to continue to create art — in the form of colorful ceramic bowls and an abundance of other items. And she inspired him to be his most creative, loving, forgiving and compassionate self.
Read the following Q&A with the author to find out more about Five Years in Heaven and the inspiration behind all of his 19 books. Go to his website at www.johnschlimm.com for more about the author and his work.
FAITH: You say in your book that your relationship with Sister Augustine was “life-changing.” How was it life-changing at the time? And now, years later?
JS: When I was living those five years, my friendship with Sister Augustine was life-changing because she helped me to clarify many of the things I was struggling with at the time, such as wondering if I had made the right choices in my career, and was I on the right path, or any path for that matter, moving forward.
Also, within the walls of her studio and shop, she provided me a stunning break from the world outside every week; a moment to catch my breath, embrace new lessons and inspirations, and then emerge back into the world with renewed energy and purpose. I glimpsed heaven right here on earth within those walls.
FAITH: You’ve written a total of 19 books, from cookbooks to inspirational volumes. Your new book, Extraordinary Dogs is coming out in October 2019. You’re even writing a children’s book right now. Did your relationship with Sister Augustine motivate you to write as much as you do?
JS: My friendship with Sister Augustine has continued to motivate me to keep trucking along regardless of rejections and challenges and other setbacks, and to keep pursuing all of the ideas I have in many different directions, from writing to art to education to the advocacy work I do with people and animals.
Sister Augustine once told me, “Every story has its time to be told.” She also enlightened me to the fact that “God’s time” is not the same as our time.
Knowing this now, I work on the projects I feel passionate about and called to do in the moment, knowing that their time to be told or realized will come. For example, the contract that my agent recently negotiated with Familius for my first children’s book is for a manuscript that I wrote more than 15 years ago. There was just never the right time for my agent to pitch the book because I was busy working on other projects. This past spring, the timing was perfect and the deal was signed!
FAITH: Can you see a common thread in all of the books and participatory artwork that you have done and are doing?
JS: As a storyteller, writing has provided me with the blessing of many different platforms through which to entertain, educate, inspire and help all living beings. My books and other writings, such as my essays about my Generation Z students, have opened many doors, helping me to impact the lives of people of all ages and walks of life and of abused and rescued dogs and other animals.
FAITH: Your new book, Extraordinary Dogs, also touches on messages of love, forgiveness, healing and survival.
JS: The 50 heroic and courageous dogs I write about truly embody the best of what each of our furry pals represents within our hearts. This specific group of dogs has been on the forefront of some of our nation’s greatest tragedies — from 9/11 and the school shootings at Newtown and Parkland to hurricanes and wildfires to private moments inside courtrooms, prisons, hospices, schools and the homes of veterans. These dogs are American treasures, who, along with their dedicated handlers and families, will win readers’ hearts and further enlighten the better angels of our nature.
FAITH: Can friendships, like yours with Sister Augustine, always be sacred and inspiring?
JS: For sure! Even in the quickest, everyday crossing of paths we can encounter a shining light in others. It can be something as simple as a smile shared between strangers who are passing one another on the street. That smile could very well be just what that passing stranger, or you, needed in that moment! This is the whole concept behind my participatory art piece, titled “The Smile That Changed the World (is yours).”