To hear him tell it, Father Daniel F. X. Powell Jr. was just doing his job, giving homilies and ministering to the flock. And then…
“Next thing you know, there’s a book,” he laughed.
The truth is a lot more complicated than that, and Father Powell is the first to give almost all the credit for the book that bears his name to two of his parishioners at St. John Neumann Parish in Lancaster.
“Sunday Snippets From Fr. Dan: Everyday Lessons for Living a Christ-Centered Life” is a compilation of Father Powell’s homilies from September 2019 to March 2020. The book is available from a variety of online sites, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and www.westbowpress.com.
“Father Dan’s homilies always seem to target an interest or concern I am having in my life,” said parishioner Marcie McCarthy, recalling the epiphany she had while sitting in the pew in September 2019.
“Father Dan began this particular homily by saying, ‘Last Wednesday was National Cheeseburger Day,’ and I thought, ‘How did I miss that?’ He continued by saying, ‘…and I had the most awesome cheeseburger!’ with details that had me riveted. I love cheeseburgers, probably more than I should,” McCarthy said. “I wondered how Father Dan could possibly relate a cheeseburger to Jesus. Well, he did. He said, ‘Jesus tells us that we need to use our Master’s resources to help others. We simply need to ask God for the grace to make it all about Him.’ I knew at that very moment, without a doubt, that I needed to share Father Dan’s homilies with the greatest audience I could find.”
McCarthy and parishioner Angela Richards undertook the process of compiling many of Father Powell’s homilies into a book. The inspiring cheeseburger homily is among them, of course.
Although McCarthy is sure the inspiration came from Jesus, convincing His vessel here on earth took some work.
Father Powell said he was skeptical of how the process might work for a couple reasons. The first was logistical – because he doesn’t write his homilies to be read word-for-word, the only record of them is the video on the parish website. That meant someone had to transcribe them. That’s where McCarthy and Richards came in and tirelessly listened to and typed the homilies.
The second concern Father Powell had was that reading the homilies would not be the same as hearing them.
“The written word is different than the spoken word,” he said. He wasn’t sure how messages delivered to a church full of parishioners in the context of the Mass would come across on paper. For that reason, the book pairs the homilies with the Scripture readings that preceded them, to help give the reader context.
Father Powell said he was cooperative, but unsure of the final outcome.
“They had to twist my arm a little,” he said. But ultimately, the knowledge that McCarthy, Richards and others felt his words were good enough for a book made him feel he was doing his divinely-inspired job. “I need to just trust that God’s got his hand in this.”
The book was a bit of a leap of faith for Richards, as well.
“My background is in business and this was totally outside my comfort zone,” she said. “We were compiling and self-publishing this book during the pandemic when the publisher was very short of staff and everything we did took twice as long as it should have.”
Father Powell is happy to share his homilies if people enjoy reading them, just as he is to preach the word from the pulpit.
“Father Dan is very relatable and his homilies reflect that,” Richards said, “which is why during the darkest days of the beginning of the pandemic, we had over 200 families/people join our parish.”
Richards described Father Powell as quite a character: “He skis. He kayaks. I’m told he’s a really good golfer. He drives around in a Jeep truck, and he has a Boston terrier, Maggie, that everyone in the parish knows and loves! He jokes about being bald and the boots that he wears in the colder weather and loving the color orange – he has a pair of orange boots also!”
In addition to sharing some words of wisdom, Father Powell is happy to share the proceeds of the book with a cause that is near and dear to his heart. All profits from the book benefit St. John Neumann’s sister parish, St. Francis of Assisi in El Factor, Dominican Republic.
Father Powell’s affiliation with the Dominican Republic spans 20 years, back to when he first travelled there while a campus minister at Millersville University and Franklin & Marshall. He fell in love with the people and the place and has maintained a connection through several pastoral assignments.
Several of the young men who were boys when they first met are now in their 20s and have families and responsibilities of their own. Father Powell and his parish are helping one family in the Dominican Republic build a house and another family with medical expenses surrounding the arrival of a fourth child.
Father Powell, who said he’s grateful for Whats App and Google Translate, hasn’t been to the Dominican Republic since January 2020. He’s hoping to make another trip after Christmas, but said it’s hard to say for sure.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” he said, noting that it’s important to see there are people in the world who are working hard but struggling and could use our help. He said visiting the Dominican Republic is not an easy trip, but it’s valuable for all involved.
Father Powell encourages anyone reading this article to consider helping the sister parish, whether it’s by buying a book or sending a donation in care of St. John Neumann Parish. The parish has a dedicated account with the Diocese for this cause.
(Learn more about St. John Neumann Parish and Father Powell’s homilies at www.sjnlancaster.org.)
By Lisa Maddux, The Catholic Witness