Monday, January 13, 2020 - Updated: 3:41 pm
Regina Munsch’s hope is that her children’s book, “Growing Up Catholic in Pittsburgh,” finds its way into “church bags” throughout the region.
You remember church bags. They’re handy containers of coloring books, children’s Bibles, puzzles and other quiet toys to be enjoyed by toddlers who might get bored or fidgety during Mass. Munsch’s book would be a perfect addition to every church bag in the region.
A 22-year-old senior at the University of Pittsburgh, set to graduate in the spring with a degree in industrial engineering, Munsch wrote the book a few years ago for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. A Girl Scout from her earliest years, she had completed her Bronze and Silver Awards doing projects at her parish, SS. John and Paul in Franklin Park/Marshall Township.
For her Bronze Award, she arranged the games portion of vacation Bible school. Her Silver was to run the Christmas pageant that her older sister, Maria, created for her Gold Award.
“For the Gold Award, one really important facet of it is that it has to be something that will last a long time,” Munsch said. “So you can’t do a project that is just going to happen once and never really going to be seen again. You want something that is recurring.
“Having a child’s name in a book or their ability to put forth something that can be used and reused over and over again, we thought would be a really nice facet to add that would go hand in hand with the motive behind everything.”
The book features short poems on each page about different Catholic aspects in the Pittsburgh area, from the three rivers (think Trinity) to parish fish fries and the Pittsburgh Creche. It even connects Kennywood Park to the faith by comparing the seven sacraments to the park’s seven roller coasters.
All of the illustrations were drawn by students in the SS. John and Paul faith formation program, which Munsch went through as a student in the North Allegheny School District.
“We wrote out all of the different poems, and then paired pictures with them and gave folders to each of the faith formation teachers for different grades,” she said.
“We gave them all different assignments based on their grades, and they went from there.”
Munsch knew some of the children from her involvement in the parish’s live Nativity that she assisted with for a few years.
“It’s cool that a lot of the kids who are in faith formation classes are kids like myself who went to public school, not Catholic school,” she said. “So to be able to engage the children who don’t go to Catholic school in that kind of project I think is something that’s not common.”
She had to sift through hundreds of pictures to choose the ones for the book. Some of the artwork wasn’t as complete or colorful as others. Munsch used an online design program to assemble a rough version of the book, then later hired a graphic designer to put together the final, polished version.
Munsch credits Father Joseph McCaffrey, former pastor of SS. John and Paul; Jason Gawaldo, faith formation director; Franciscan Sister Annie Bremmer, former pastoral associate; and graphic designers Susie and Jay Hernishin of SJH Design for their support and assistance.
The book, which took about four years to complete, is promoted through her website, growingupcatholicpgh.com, and can be purchased for $10 each through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
“If she sells some books it’s great, but I think it’s more about the process and letting people know how important her faith is and that she went on this journey, and that it’s kind of fun,” said Regina’s mom, Roslyn. “My girls have always been with books. We’ve been a book family. We always felt it was important to read to kids and let the kids learn how to read.”
Roslyn said it also was an enjoyable project for their family, sitting at the kitchen table thinking up ways to illustrate things like the seven sacraments and the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Being in college, playing trumpet on the Pitt varsity marching band and being president of the Blue and Gold Society student ambassador group, Regina encounters people sometimes who question her Catholic faith.
“It’s a really cool opportunity to show them why I’m so proud of my faith and why I stay with it. It’s definitely a really great conversation starter with people, too. Like, ‘Hey, I wrote a book.’ It’s not something you’d expect to hear from an engineering student.
“I’m also fortunate to have parents (Bill and Roslyn), a sister and a grandmother who really kept my faith prominent in my life.”
Her education isn’t over, either. After graduation, she will head to the Pitt dental school to pursue a career as a dentist.
The main message of the book, Regina said, is that our Catholic faith is all around us, especially in Pittsburgh.
“I think just letting the people know that wherever you look you can find God. I think that’s a really important thing. With all of the crazy messages that go around on social media and in the news, it’s not always positive things. But if you have faith and you look hard enough, God is there. He’s with you, but you just have to look a little bit.”