Book review: A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim


When asked by Eerdmans Publishing Company to review A Gathering of Larks  by Abigail Carroll, I hesitated at first. I am dense when it comes to poetry. Unless the language is plain, the meaning escapes me. I don’t know how to read it nor can I write it, despite the fact that I have written a plethora of song lyrics.

The cover and the title won me over. I am a bird lover yearning for spring when scores of birds will fill my yard again with song. It seemed like a good way to prepare for that eventuality.

I cannot judge Abigail Carroll as a poet as I have no point of reference. What I can say is that her lines moved me. More than half the book has turned-down page corners to mark poems that struck a nerve. Her writing is accessible to anyone whether or not you are a poetry connoisseur. She addresses her poems as letters to someone who is on the minds of many because of his namesake, Pope Francis.

Carroll offers a brief biography of the life of St. Francis of Assisi which is helpful when reading the letters that follow. He was born around 1181, the son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant. He was expected to follow his father into the family business but instead became a French troubadour. Eventually he chose to become a knight and joined the Fourth Crusade. That plan was thwarted the very first night by a disturbing dream which drove him back to Assisi in shame. Over the course of time he abandoned his wealth and adopted a life of poverty, caring for lepers and rebuilding the church (sometimes literally). An order of friars grew around him along with a sister community led by St. Clare of Assisi.

"Book Review: A Gathering of Larks" by Susan Bailey (

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St. Francis is affectionately remembered for his love of nature and animals along with canticles and poems he wrote in his later years while afflicted by poor eyesight and chronic illness. He never lost his ability to lift up the spirits of those around him with his creative skills.

Carroll’s letters to St. Francis are deeply personal without falling into sentimentality or lament. Her intimate knowledge of Francis aids her in building a bridge between his world and hers. That bridge extends to the reader who is brought along on the journey through her use of everyday cares and concerns.

During her course of writing the book, Carroll suffered a foot injury which left her totally dependent on others to take care of her needs. She weaves this experience into her letters discovering through her correspondence with Francis that ability to let go of control over her life and revel in the unexpected freedom her injury brings.

Illustrated with drawings by John James Audubon, A Gathering of Larks is an easy read filled with wonderful messages. Read to get the overview, and then prayerfully study with pencil in hand to ponder the many messages within.


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Copyright 2017 Susan W. Bailey


About Author

Susan Bailey is an writer, speaker and musician. She is the author of River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times, published by Ave Maria Press, and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message, part of the Literary Portals to Prayer series published by ACTA Publications. Along with her own blogs Be As One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion), Susan frequently contributes to and the Association of Catholic Women Bloggers. She has also contributed to and Catholic Online. Susan writes articles and a monthly column known as Be as One for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press. Bailey, who works as a marketing/advertising assistant for a local real estate firm, is an associate member of the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, where previously she served as chair and secretary, helping to organize the biennial “Gather Us In” women’s conference, one of the first major Catholic women’s conferences in the country. As part of her duties she wrote the monthly column for The Catholic Free Press known as “Concerning Women” and appeared on CatholicTV’s “This is the Day” to promote the conference. A professional musician and graphic artist, Bailey released four CDs, performed on EWTN, CatholicTV and World Youth Day 2002, and worked as a cantor in her parish of St. Luke the Evangelist for fifteen years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education (with concentrations in US History and Music) from Bridgewater State University. She and her husband, Rich, have two grown children and live in North Grafton, Massachusetts. Susan invites you to join her email list where you will receive updates on exciting professional developments and speaking engagements. Email subscribers also receive special giveaways and previews of new projects. Susan loves a good conversation and looks forward to corresponding with you! Join here.

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