Every year, Catholics look for ways to observe the 40 days of Lent.
Finding inspiration for prayer — one of the three Lenten faith
traditions, along with fasting and almsgiving — is a top priority and
one favorite source for many is the Little Black Book.
Now in its 17th year of publication, the Little Black Book has its
origins in the Diocese of Saginaw and was the idea of Saginaw’s bishop,
the late Bishop Kenneth E. Untener.
A gifted homilist and writer, Bishop
Untener died in 2004.
Cathy Haven has been editor of the Little Black Book since 2004. In
an interview with The Compass, the newspaper of the Green Bay Diocese,
she explained how this Lenten resource Bishop Untener created for
members of his diocese turned into an internationally popular devotional
It is now published in English, Spanish and Vietnamese and also comes
in different colors and themes: the Little Blue Book for
Advent/Christmas; the Little White Book for the Easter season; and the
Little Burgundy Book, an undated four-week reflection on stewardship in
light of the Gospels.
For copies, visit www.littlebooks.us.
“In the mid-1990s, Bishop Untener had decided that he wanted to do
something that would kind of bring the traditions of Lent to the
forefront of peoples’ minds,” said Haven. “He started a Lenten task
force and chose the theme of reconciliation.”
The task force included diocesan staff members with backgrounds in
religious education and liturgy. The result was a Lenten reflection that
was well received. The popularity of this reflection led to the first
Little Black Book.
In 1999, Bishop Untener asked Haven, who was diocesan director of
communications, and Sister Nancy Kyotte, an Immaculate Heart of Mary
sister, to help him create a reflection that would use the tradition of
“lectio divina,” a prayerful way of reading Scripture, to help people
prayerfully experience Jesus’ passion.
However, “he wanted something that could be put into a coat pocket,”
said Haven, a booklet with no artwork identifying it as a religious
publication so anyone could carry it in public. The goal was to “spend
six minutes with the Lord” every day.
“Even though it was intended for our diocese, we received a lot of
calls from around Michigan,” said Haven. “Then it kept growing.”
According to Haven, more than 3 million books have been sold
worldwide. “Last year, we did an Advent and Lenten book in large print.
It was so well received that we also added an Easter book in large
Haven said she is pleased that the Lenten booklet remains popular
today, nearly 13 years after Bishop Untener’s death. She also feels
blessed to be part of continuing the bishop’s legacy.
While new material
is featured each year, the staff of Little Books — a nonprofit
corporation not affiliated with the Saginaw Diocese — continues to draw
from Bishop Untener’s writings.
“I am honored by the fact that I am doing this,” said Haven. “I know
God’s hand is in it because of how well it’s done. We have a small group
that works on this and I think we all feel like we’re part of something
much bigger than us. There is a very strong sense of purpose in what we
One person who is grateful to see the Little Black Book continue is
retired Green Bay Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau, a longtime friend
of Bishop Untener and author of numerous books on spirituality and
“I had the privilege of knowing Bishop Untener for over 15 years,”
said Bishop Morneau. “He was an excellent teacher, a powerful homilist, a
dedicated shepherd and a disciplined evangelist.”
Bishop Untener had a gift and a strong desire to “draw people closer
to the mystery of God revealed in Jesus,” said Bishop Morneau.
“One of the ways that he did this was through the publication of the
Little Black Book. I used to watch him make entries in his Franklin
Planner, carefully noting passages from Scripture, lines of a poem, his
encounter with children and adults, his daily experiences of grace,” the
bishop said “He was a ‘noticer.’ He had the gift of language. Season
after season he would write down his experiences of faith and share them
with the people of his diocese and far beyond.”
This Lent, thousands of Catholics in the Diocese of Green Bay and
elsewhere will turn to the Little Black Book for their Lenten
Reflections, based on Christ’s Passion according to John,
began Feb. 26 and end Easter Sunday, April 16.