Not everyone can lay claim to an imprimatur. “What is an imprimatur?” you might ask. An imprimatur is an official license by the Roman Catholic Church to print an ecclesiastical or religious book. They are not easy to come by, but Diana Johnson did it. And she did it for our children.
Diana Johnson is the author of the book God Likes 3. In simple words and phrases, she brings to light many of the ways that God uses the number three throughout salvation history. Children will recognize the stories and associate the way God uses the same number through the Old Testament to present day.
It would behoove me to highlight that writing Catholic theology books for children is not easy. The Catechism itself is over 756 pages (depending on the published volume), with almost three thousand entries regarding the faith – 2,865 to be exact. And those paragraphs are packed with cross-references. Yet Diana expertly dissects the deep Catholic faith and restructures it in a way that, without losing any depth, conveys the message for the mind of a child.
It is with great pleasure that I am able to interview this woman of God and share her life story and the story of this book.
Kelly: Diana, tell me your story!
Diana: I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My father was Methodist and my mother Catholic. I come from an interfaith marriage. Both of my parents were successful professionals. I was raised mostly by my grandma. Dad enjoyed volunteering as the accountant of his small church. He was a good example of Christian stewardship for me. I remember my mother dedicating every minute outside of work to the service of the family. She told me that back in those days, if you married a Catholic you had to sign a document agreeing to raise the children of the marriage in the Catholic faith. I was baptized as a baby in the Church and attended Catholic schools for grades 1-12 and graduate school.
The most influential people in my faith journey were the women in my family. My Aunt Olga taught me many songs and the Guardian Angels prayer, which was the first prayer I ever learned. My grandma Maria and godmother Lydia taught me, through their example, the devotion to the Blessed Mother. I don’t remember hearing people praying at home, but I will never forget seeing those two women quietly in the privacy of their rooms holding their Rosary beads and praying it every day. I had another Aunt Olga, from my father’s side, who loved the Bible. She was the first one to plant the seed of the love for the Scriptures in my heart, and in my college years my mother, Maria, truly cultivated that seed. She would mail me the magazine The Word Among Us and asked me to read a little page every day. I did not get into it right away, but she was gentle yet sweetly persistent. It took me a few years to get into devotional reading, but eventually I did. She also taught me to journal and the power of the written prayer. Now, as I share with you, I realize she was the first one to get me into writing!
Kelly: And now you live in Newport News, Virginia with your family. Tell me, how did you meet your husband and what brought you to this area?
Diana: My husband and I met at Virginia Tech during my sophomore year. He first saw me in a Chemistry class, but he introduced himself outside the dining hall. Virginia Tech actually played a significant role in my faith formation. It was there that I first became a Eucharistic minister and started attending daily Masses. I remember when it was just two or three students at a weekday Mass, and Fr. Rick would sit us in a small circle in an aisle of the chapel for the Liturgy of the Word and then bring us to the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It was a very intimate experience. It was there that my love for the Mass and the Eucharist started to flourish. We have two girls who also attended VT and grew up in the faith as well with the Newman Catholic campus ministry. My husband’s career brought us to Newport News from Akron, Ohio.
Kelly: Your children are older now … what was it like raising them in the Catholic Faith? Do you have any spiritual tidbits for younger mothers who are looking for ways to teach the faith to their children?
Diana: Ohio played a significant role in our family’s faith journey. We were both very involved in women and men’s prayer groups and Bible and book studies. The kids attended Catholic schools for the most part except for three years in which they attended public schools. During those years, I learned that by state law I could take them certain amount of hours out of school for religious activities. Besides going to Sunday Mass as a family, I remember taking them to daily Mass once a week prior to school, registering them in CCD and in children’s retreats in the spring. Sometimes I had to write excuses to their school teachers and make up school work. Every morning, Jeff and I read them the gospel reading of the day and we shared a children’s reflection before they got on their school bus. It took a bit more focus to teach them the faith during that period, but I must say it was a very united effort and it brought us together in prayer and reflection on a daily basis. We always enjoyed dinner time together, and prayed with them at meals and before going to bed. It was the sweetest and a peaceful way to close our day and know what was in their hearts.
A friend of mine had started in her parish a weekly after-school children’s prayer group called Armata Bianca, which means “White Army.” It was modeled after the so called prayer groups started by St. Padre Pío in Italy. The kids learned the Fatima prayers and to pray and lead the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament. Then they were offered a snack and some related art activity afterwards. My kids loved participating and a group of moms helped me to start a similar children’s Rosary group in our parish. It is a beautiful ministry. My daughters are now a youth leader and Eucharistic minister in their parish and community. Armata Bianca had a lasting impact in our family’s connection to the Virgin Mary.
I tried to take advantage of the Church’s liturgical and national calendars around the house. The kids liked helping with the Thanksgiving meal and loved the time with our extended family. They liked the Advent wreath which we lit for our night prayers, and our neighborhood kids still look forward to seeing Baby Jesus show up on our front yard manger after Christmas Eve. We kept many of their faith related art projects around the house. They are young adults now, and I still have their first Communion retreat handmade wooden clips crucifix on a bedroom wall. Every summer, I would take them to a special place like a shrine or the like. They really enjoyed going to Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in Cleveland, the Maranatha Spring and Shrine of the United Hearts in Elyria, and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
One thing I learned to do was to take them for 5-15 minutes to the Blessed Sacrament exposition for a short visit. I used to bribe them with a cookie they really liked from a nearby bakery. Recently, my oldest daughter started stopping in a parish for a short visit in her way to work. She still occasionally tells me when she goes and jokingly asks me, “Will you buy me a cookie?”
Family reunions were a must in our family … a sacred time to build bloodline connections and strengthen family ties. Family picnics around the Fourth of July whether at a city park, in the Smokey Mountains or an amusement park with their cousins are among our top treasures. Visiting Puerto Rico for our family reunions and going to church in different states and countries during our vacations helped them experience the universality of our faith.
I read them a lot as babies and toddlers, and they took off in their reading. Trips to the library were a fun part of their childhood. We read their children’s Bibles and kept wholesome children’s books around the house. Sports were a major time commitment especially during the high school years. We had to make some tough and unpopular decisions a couple of times, but always made sure Sunday Mass and good school grades were never compromised.
Regarding Mass, I remember a couple of summers I took the girls to Mass almost daily before taking them to the park or swimming lessons. They actually loved it. Crystal was heading to fifth grade and was an acolyte, so she was allowed to serve every day at Mass. That really boosted her self-esteem and sense of belonging in the parish family. Jazmin was heading to second grade and was a bit jealous of her sister, but that was resolved when the sacristan let her be in charge of lighting and extinguishing the candles. She had her job too and was proud of it. When they were older, they were able to use their musical gifts as well. They participated in children’s choir. It touched my heart Crystal playing “The Bells of St Mary’s” as the prelude for my dad’s funeral. Jazmin was actually the youth Mass pianist during her senior year. We were glad that even as little ones, they found their own place in the Church.
Kelly: Diana, that’s beautiful! You and your husband built a wonderful and loving Domestic Church. You raised two lovely young ladies and now are inspiring even more families with your book. Can you go into detail about the “Aha!” moment when God placed the idea of writing the book in your heart? Your website says that the idea was a muse for some time but when did you sit down and put pen to paper?
Diana: One summer I worked for Karen Congeni — a friend of mine and inspiring children’s author — in the marketing of her first children’s book, titled We Have a Pope! Around that time, I heard our dear Monsignor Wolff in a homily say, “I think God’s favorite number is 3!” That was my heavenly order to start writing. That week I locked myself in the local library for a few hours and came out with the first draft of God Likes 3.
Kelly: And now it’s in print, fully illustrated and ready to go! What has God placed on your heart as the mission of God Likes 3?
Diana: When I wrote the book, I did not have an idea of what the book really was about. All I knew was that there were a lot of threes in the Bible and the Church, and that was a fun fact for me worth sharing. But one day, while praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I asked, “Lord, what is this book about?” That was when I learned that the Holy Trinity is the protagonist of the book! It sounds silly, but it was a grand illumination for me. I distinctly heard, “This book is a celebration of the Holy Trinity!”
My objective is to bring that truth to light in our Catholic homes and beyond, and help children and people celebrate the presence of the Blessed Trinity — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in their faith experience and everyday life. When families read the book, they tell me they start seeing threes everywhere! I love that. It happens to me every day. The stories I hear are amazing.
I also want this book to inspire parents to feed the faith of their children and even their own with sound Catholic doctrine. This is why I requested the Imprimatur from my bishop and included the glossary with an array of references to the Scriptures and Catechism. During one of my school tours, one of the school teachers said “There’s a lot of ‘meat’ in this book.” I hope teachers expand on the many lessons it offers, and use it as a catechetical tool for the children.
I want the kids to go beyond this book, love their faith, the Mass and the Bible. My desire is for God Likes 3 to be a source of spiritual and intellectual nourishment and an inspiration for children and their families.
Kelly: … and the future of God Likes 3?
Diana: I’m very happy to share that God Likes 3 has been translated to Spanish, and we have already received the Imprimatur for the Spanish version of the book. Since I’ve received so many images and stories with threes from my readers, I look forward to sharing from those everyday life moments with my readers at some point. When I finished the book, there were still so many other threes I wanted to include, but I realized I needed to stop to tell my story. I told myself “to be continued.” Only the Holy Trinity knows what comes next!
I appreciate Diana’s love and dedication to our Lord and on behalf of the readers here, I sincerely thank her for being an example to all of us. Sometimes it’s easy to say “Yes” to the Lord when He asks something of us, but it’s the continuing “Yes” of long projects such as marriage, raising children, or writing books that can become quite difficult.
Visit our Book Notes archive.
Copyright 2019 Kelly Tallent