As Cheryl Dickow was teaching English and Religion to Catholic junior high students over the course of several years, she began to notice a problem. Although she was able to provide books to her kids that addressed basic Christian values, she had difficulty finding material that was explicitly Catholic and saw the hunger her students had to learn more about the faith.
“I was always searching for books that were Catholic in content and would appeal to that particularly challenging age group,” Dickow said Jan. 5. “They want and need so much in their books – they want 'real' characters and situations but need to see truth and honesty and integrity; they need role models who are worthy of such a position.”
Dickow, who holds a Master's Degree in Education and lives in Waterfront, Michigan, said that for years she relied on books that reflected “good Christian values,” but that a Catholic book is “a very specific entity.”
“Catholic,” she said, translates into books “that may have a priest or a character receiving communion or it may have reference to the Blessed Mother or the Rosary and so on.”
“To find books that had a storyline that intrigues middle-schoolers and keeps their attention while also being 'Catholic' was no easy task.”
In a drastic move – and after much prayer and discernment – Dickow acknowledged the need her students had for engaging books that addressed Catholicism. In 2007, she took a leap of faith, left her job and founded a publishing company called Bezalel Books.
The name for the company comes from a Hebrew word that means “in the shadow of God.” Bezalel is also the name of a craftsman in the book of Exodus in the Old Testament “to whom God gave great skills so that all that Moses was commanded to make would be done according to God’s will,” she noted.
“Ultimately, the mission and purpose of Bezalel Books is to serve God through the gifts, talents and resources of those authors whose works are under our imprint,” Dickow said.
The heart of her company's mission, Dickhow explained, is the desire to bring “great Catholic literature to Catholic classrooms” and create a “Catholic Scholastic.”
Since 2007, her group has published books such as Patti Maguire Armstrong’s “Dear God, I don’t get it!” and Rosemary McDunn’s “The Green Coat: A Tale from the Dust Bowl Years,” among other titles.
Dickow has also published books for adults such as her fictional “Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage,” which she called “a Catholic Woman’s Chick-Lit” book, and Peggy Bowes' “The Rosary Workout,” a volume that touches on health and wellness centered on the Rosary.
In the three short years since its creation, Bezalel Books has already enjoyed numerous successes.
A study for young women called “All Things Girl” has gone on to become a 12-part television series on EWTN, and “The Green Coat: A Tale from the Dust Bowl Years” was number one on Amazon.com for two summers in a row in Historical Fiction as many teachers across the nation made it required summer reading.
Dickow's own work of fiction has also enjoyed success and is a popular book club selection as well as a woman’s inspirational book.
Dickow said that the daunting task of starting up a publishing company has been “a family affair.” With the help of three sons from ages 18-22, a husband she has been married to for 25 years, and an outside webmaster, “we pretty much have everything covered.”
“Before I made the final decision to start Bezalel Books, my husband and I did a lot of research about publishing to learn the ins and outs and ups and downs; and we did even more praying and discerning,” she said. “This was a big financial risk for me to leave my teaching position but if I truly wanted to respond to God’s call upon my life, it almost seemed like I didn’t have a choice.”
“Overall, we simply try to see where there is a need in the Catholic world and fill that need.”
She also gave words of encouragement to other Catholics who see needs that correspond to their individual gifting but are intimidated by the task.
“Gifts and talents from God are always meant for His good and His glory,” she said. “For me this translates into the need to discern how God wants you to use your gifts and talents. It may be within the Church, filling a need, or it may be elsewhere.”
“For this reason I think the first and most important step is to spend time in prayer and discernment,” Dickow emphasized.
“This doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that all will be smooth and easy,” she noted. “Which is why, of course, proper discernment is key – in the beginning and all along the way.”
“Along with discerning, research and gathering knowledge is important. Together, these things reduce intimidation and prepare you to best serve God and His Church.”
Cheryl Dickow is a regular contributor to CNA's Catholic Womanhood page. Her columns can be read at: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cw/author.php?id=35