Blessed Are You Book Club: An Interview with Melanie Rigney

By Sarah Damm

Welcome to WINE’s Summer Book Club where we will read and discuss Blessed Are You: Finding Inspiration From Our Sisters in Faith by Melanie Rigney! We’re so happy you are joining us! We pray this book club will bless you and give you tangible ways to live the Beatitudes in your daily lives. We look forward to hearing from you in the comments section, throughout our time together.

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To kick-off our summer book club, it is my pleasure to introduce you to the author of our book club selection, Melanie Rigney, who lives in Arlington, VA, and feels most at peace at her parish’s perpetual adoration chapel.

Q: Welcome, Melanie! Please briefly introduce yourself to our book club participants.

A: I’m a cradle Catholic who left the Church when I was nearly 16, then spent 33 years without a faith life. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t believe in God as that I didn’t think He believed in me. My life, including my 20-year civil marriage, started crumbling. In 2004, I ended up in Washington, DC, a city where I knew two people, in my first federal government job. On Christmas Day 2005, I returned to full communion with the Church, thanks to a lot of God and people. I am grateful every day to be a daughter of the King. I grew up in South Dakota, as one of four children, and lived in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio before landing here in northern Virginia.

Q: How did you first begin your career as an author?

A: I always considered myself a competent writer and an excellent editor, and I’ve been paid to do both, mainly the latter, since I was in high school. But oh, that crazy God; He had other plans. I felt called to write about my return to faith in a memoir that ultimately wasn’t published. But the experience opened the door for me to write for Living Faith and to coauthor with my friend Anna LaNave When They Come Home: Ways to Welcome Returning Catholics, a how-to manual of sorts for pastors and lay parish leaders to establish programs to help “away” Catholics interested in coming back. Then, a good friend and I pitched a devotional book to Franciscan Media. The editor ultimately wasn’t interested, but asked if we’d do one on women saints. It wasn’t my friend’s cup of tea, but I loved the idea and so Sisterhood of Saints was born.

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Photo courtesy of Melanie Rigney. Used with permission.

Q: Please share with us how you first heard about WINE and your participation in it.

A: Oh, WINE! Pat Gohn is my go-to spiritual writing mentor. Beautiful, Blessed, and Bodacious rocked my world; it put on the light bulb that I truly am a “spiritual mother” to others, and did a lot to deepen my relationship with Mary. Anyway, so Pat has become a friend, and she mentioned there was this national group, based in Minneapolis, that celebrates women’s unique gifts and seeks to bring them closer to the Lord and to each other. I started reading the WINE blog and following WINE women on Twitter, and loved the sense of community. I was humbled to be asked to write a devotion when Pat’s book was the book club pick, and humbled further to have Blessed Are You selected for the current session. Oh, and of course there was the 90-minute phone call with Kelly Wahlquist, founder of WINE, where it turned out we have a zillion things in common! I’d be in Italy right now for the pilgrimage if I weren’t in the process of selling the condo my sister and I own … and moving a whole block away.

Q: Let’s talk about the book that we’ll be reading this summer! How did you develop the idea for Blessed Are You?

A: I had thought about writing a “brotherhood of Saints” devotional to accompany Sisterhood, but I was asked to come up with some concepts involving women saints. During that time, I was studying the Beatitudes and thought, “The language is so beautiful, but living the concepts is sooo hard.” Then it occurred to me … It’s always been hard to live the Beatitudes, for everyone. But all of us, saints and saints in the making, are called to do it. Jesus did His best work when He told us stories, and so I thought, maybe sharing the stories of how some of these women lived the Beatitudes will help people today … both in drawing closer to the Lord and in seeing that saints are more than icons and prayer cards. They breathed. They loved. They helped. They were persecuted. They persevered because of faith. And we can too.

Q: And how did you decide on the specific saints we will meet in your book?

A: Wow, good question. I knew a bit about a lot of saints, thanks to the gift of writing Sisterhood of Saints. So with Blessed Are You, I wanted to share the stories of women from a variety of time periods and countries with a variety of vocations—wives, mothers, working women, women religious, social workers, martyrs. I also wanted the stories to be somewhat different from what people would expect. For example, while I greatly admire Teresa of Avila as a Doctor of the Church for her writings on prayer, in this book, the part of her life I wanted to share was how she took the Carmelites back to their roots, how the person who sought popularity and admiration when she was young went on to focus on righteousness and gently leading others in her community back to it.

Q: As you were writing Blessed Are You, what beatitude did you feel closest to? And what beatitude challenged you the most?

A: I felt the closest to “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). I think of Peter when he says to Jesus in Mark 10:28: “We have given up everything and followed you.” Every time we “give up” something, it costs us in worldly ways. If we give up on gossiping, it may cost us a spot in the “in” group. If we give up on a dream, as one of the women in this chapter did, it may take us awhile before we understand that God’s plan, or the way He uses our mourning, can bear more fruit than we had ever dreamed. I also felt close to this chapter because it includes Elizabeth Ann Seton, and one of her relics spoke to me back in 2013. As someone who has felt abandoned and alone, her conversion story, the way in which she was comforted, resonates profoundly with me.

I probably struggled the most with Matthew 5:10-11, on persecution. Only one of the women I wrote about was a martyr in the traditional sense; the other three lived through situations that were very difficult and yet continued to trust in the Lord.

Q: As our WINE friends begin reading Blessed Are You, what do you hope they will take away from it?blessedareyou

A: I hope they will take away that we truly are all saints in the making. The women saints want to help you, want to intercede for you. Go back and spend some time with your confirmation saint or another saint you’ve always admired or perhaps always found difficult. What challenges or joys did she have that are similar to yours today? How did she pick up her cross every day and follow? Let her help you. Let your friends here on earth help you. Let Christ help you. While the Beatitudes are daunting, they can be lived, and lived well, if we place ourselves at the Lord’s feet. Learn from the saints, canonized and otherwise.

Q: What’s next for you personally and professionally?

A: Short term, my sister and I are moving, as I mentioned, so that’s top of mind personally. I guess this is a cross between personally and professionally—some friends and I, with approval from our diocese, will be putting together a conference for Catholic women over the age of 40 this October in northern Virginia. I’ve got kind of a quirky idea for my next writing project (yes, it involves women saints) but still discerning whether/how to go about it. I’m also excited that Creative Communications/Bayard asked me to write a booklet that comes out this Advent called Mercy From the Manger. It was a gift to integrate some of Pope Francis’ writings on mercy with the Advent readings and come up with an accompanying prayer.

Q: Are there any additional thoughts you would like to share with our WINE friends?

A: Celebrate the gift of coming together as community that this book club provides. I hope you like the book. I hope you find a new friend among the women in it. But most importantly, I pray you open yourself up to the sistership opportunity WINE offers … and to confidence and trust in the everlasting life the Lord offers.

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YOUR TURN: Why are you excited about being part of our summer book club? What do you hope you will take away from it? Share your answers in the comments box below.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 1: Spiritual Poverty. For the complete reading schedule and information about our online book club, visit the Read Between the WINEs Summer Book Club page.

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Sarah Damm

Written by

Sarah Damm is a Catholic wife and mom to six children. She spends her days like many moms—running errands, helping with homework, and cooking meals. She publishes her own blog, sarahdamm.com, and she is a columnist for CatholicMom.com and WINE: Women In the New Evangelization. Sarah is a contributing author to two books: As Morning Breaks: Daily Gospel Reflections and The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion.

Enter the Conversation...

46 Responses to “Blessed Are You Book Club: An Interview with Melanie Rigney”
  1. Kathy Pichler says:

    I discovered this book club by accident and checked out WINE. I like the idea of what can be accomplished in each of us when we “gather” to share ideas and am looking forward to reading this book and sharing thoughts each week.

  2. Chris says:

    Thank you for helping us grow in our faith. It’s been a long time since I’ve read about my confirmation saint. Good idea!

  3. I received an e-mail about this book club just as I was completing a diocese Catechist course. I have been taking these courses for a couple of years and it has helped in my Christian growth. I really didn’t have time for another course right now, but I knew I could make time for the book club- and I have a special need for this right now. My husband’s (of 47 years) health has been slowing going down the past 2 yrs. and lately he has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.

    We moved back to MS in 2002 and 2004 (him/me) to help take care of elderly mothers after many happy years in MT. I grew up here, so it was not so much a change for me, but a great change for Mike. Now it seems our time together is growing short. This morning at church I learned that a HS classmate is in critical condition with the same diagnosis as Mike. I’m not sure I’m ready for this, but I think this book club will help.

    • Elaine says:

      Alice, my this sisterhood of saints in heaven and earth be a source of support for you. You and your husband are in my prayers. Peace and joy to you.

      • Thank you so much, Elaine. Your support means the world to me. Right now, I have my daughter and my future (July 2nd) home, but they will be leaving Tuesday morning. We have had a great, if short, visit. At this point, I’m really trying to take things one day at a time. This will probably be a wonderful learning experience for me.

        Blessings,
        Fonda

  4. Kate says:

    I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’m excited to be a part of a virtual sisterhood through the study of this book! I’m a cradle Catholic and a new mom who feels a great need to be reimmersed (is that a word? My spell check doesn’t like it!!) in my faith. I hope that through the study of and conversation around this book, I can do just that.

    My take away from reading Melanie’s interview is her line, “saints are more than icons and prayer cards.” She’s so right and we often forget that, or at least I do! I hope to learn much more about these female saints as we move through our reading.

  5. Fran Murphy says:

    I have a Lutheran friend who tells me about her churches Women’s Book Club and really wanted to be part of something like it in my Catholic faith. I am grateful this is available. I am looking forward to getting to know these women saints so that they truly become more real to me.

  6. Carla Martin says:

    I am excited that I bumped into this organization/club. At this crossroads in my life it is just the thing that I need to successful navigate the waters. I am totally excited about reading women who we cradle Catholics grew up thinking of as iconic, as regular women. Totally new concept for me!!!

  7. Denny says:

    Am looking forward to spending time with others to explore ways women can support one another

  8. Colleen Bonniwell says:

    I am excited about the Summer Book Club because of the potential for growth in better understanding the Beatitudes; and very much excited for the new relationships I hope to make with the Saints brought to life in the book as well as the Saintly Women who will share discussion on the book.

  9. Deidra Gibson says:

    I am eager to learn how these women saints lived the beatitudes. I need all the help I can get to live them. I also want to share what I am experiencing with the four women in or bible study group. Maybe we will use this book next. Thank you for making this available.

  10. Elizabeth Msyberry says:

    I’m happy to take part in this summer’s book club. I look forward to learning about how the saints lived the beautitudes in their lives as inspiration for all of us. Reading the interview with the author for the first “meeting” is a great way to introduce us to and frame the content. Thank you for your inspiration which aids me in my journey.

  11. Karen Bushman says:

    As a Director of Religious Education, I am looking forward to learning more about the women saints and their connection to the Beatitudes. Hopefully, my experience in the study will allow me to bring a WINE group to my parishes.

  12. Hi all! Just dipping in to say hi… isn’t WINE an amazing ministry! Such a bunch of Spirit-filled women. Please know that I will be praying for each of your private intentions this summer. I hope you find a woman saint in the book or in your discussions who becomes an inspiration… and a friend. Blessings, Melanie

  13. Sarah Damm says:

    On behalf of WINE: Women In the New Evangelization, we are SO happy that you are reading with us this summer! Thank you for sharing why you are excited about the book club. I pray that it will bless you—your faith life, your families, and your parishes! If you need anything during our journey, do not hesitate to ask. WINE is here to support and encourage you, as we read, ponder, and pray together!

  14. Teresa says:

    Hi! I am part of women’s small group which has been meeting for years. We used to meet every other week, but it is now down to once or twice a year. I guess I am missing that opportunity to share and learn with other women. Who knows… maybe this book club will jumpstart me into lighting a fire back into my small group!!

  15. Grace Davila says:

    Looking forward to doing something different this summer and challenging myself!

  16. Paula Roussel says:

    I’ve never been involved in a book club before, so I am excited about this new experience. I’m especially excited that I will be learning more about my Catholic faith.

  17. Mary Fitter says:

    Hi all! I am in the middle of a cross pacific/cross country move this summer. I am looking forward to connecting with women around the US as we learn more about living the beatitudes and the women saints who have already paved a path for us to follow.

  18. Linda Martinez-Greer says:

    I stumbled on this book club by accident (the Holy Spirit) but I got very excited and shared with several woman in my bible study. I am the REC and Parish administrator to my community. (it is military so not really a parish) I think this is a great way to learn as well as share with others. Often we doing ministry we work towards having opportunities for spiritual growth for our community but forget about self care and Our own need for Spiritual enhancement. I think this will do both. Thanks for this opportunity.

  19. Michele Toulouse says:

    I heard Kelly Wahlquist speak last August at the Catholic Women Rejoice conference in Vancouver, WA. I have been an avid WiNE enthusiast ever since. What a gift this ministry is to so many women across the country. I look forward to this book club experience with a grateful heart. Blessings to all participants, coordinators and the author, Melanie Rigney.

  20. Debbie says:

    I learned about the WINE book club through an email I received. The idea really appealed to me because I love to read, enjoy books on saints and would like to learn more on living out the Beatitudes. I’ve also always wanted to be in a women’s book club but never was able to find one near home. I’m really looking forward to the book and our weekly ‘meetings’!

  21. NaTasha says:

    Hello everyone! I found out about WINE from my parish and Facebook! I stumbled upon the book club when I was trying to find some more info on WINE. I had just gotten baptized and joined the Catholic Church at the Easter vigil so I’m excited to learn about these wonderful women in this book and the beatitudes! Also I’m excited to meet some other women whom I can share and discuss and learn from!

  22. Anne says:

    I am excited to read and learn more about the saints, especially women saints. I look forward to this book and WINE strengtheningredients my faith and bringing me closer to God.

  23. MK says:

    Hi’. I’ve been in a book club group before but never virtual. I’m away from my large parish in FL and our tiny church in NC does not offer any adult faith enrichment programs or prayer groups so this is perfect for me. A book club format will help me stay on task with my busy schedule and learn from everyone in the group as well. Looking forward to learning more about these saints. Love St. Teresa of Avila.

  24. PatC says:

    Thank you for this opportunity. I have never belonged to a book club before. Looking forward to learning more about women saints. I feel like I have actually known some in my life who have passed away (some men as well).

  25. Mary says:

    Like many others, I stumbled onto WINE by accident. But I don’t think it was really an “accident”. God puts sometimes puts rocks in our path so that we’ll turn in the right direction.

    Melanie’s story about being a cradle Catholic who wandered a way from the Church as a teenager resonates with me strongly. I left when I was 17 and didn’t return until I was 48. My life has taken a lot of twists and turns, but I think God never left me even when I thought I left him.

    I’ve been blessed with belonging to a parish that welcomed me back into the fold with open arms. For the past five years I have been rediscovering what it means to be Catholic and this book club is one more step on that journey.

    Thank you God for the “accident” that brought me here.

  26. Kathy Johnson says:

    This a new experience for me and I get to share this experience with my sisters in Christ. I am hoping to get a spiritual uplift in mt life.

  27. Arleen says:

    I am so excited about WINE and this book club. I have spent years trying to serve the needs of Catholic mom’s who are in those very busy years as moms to elementary and middle school kids. I know momma taxi was my name! This virtual approach while we are all busy with vacations and ball games is a stroke of genius! I have faith that WINE will continue to help us touch these busy women’s spiritual journeys. Can’t wait to share.

  28. Laurie says:

    I was in the WINE book club last summer. We read The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living by Lisa M. Hendey. The book was wonderful as were the reflections and questions that guided us through each chapter. The comments from readers added so much wisdom and richness to our discussions. I am glad the club is underway!

  29. Beth Bickel says:

    “We are saints in the making.” What a profound statement to ponder! So many times I struggle to accept the crosses that I bear as a Christian and dream of an easier, carefree life that the world values so highly. I pray that this book will teach me how to stay the course as I strive to live a holy life by illustrating how the saints of old can serve as role models and intercessors for us. I’ve never been part of a Catholic book club before and look forward to being inspired by other Christian women as we walk together in Christ!

  30. Hello, ladies! So exciting to hear about the ways you have made your way here this summer! It certainly proves how the Holy Spirit is at work in the ministry of WINE. I will be one of the contributors to the study, but will be here reading along with you all and hoping to learn from your insights and experiences. Welcome, all!

  31. Jessica says:

    Thank you! This book club was definitely sent to me from up above. I’m about to start a mom’s group in my own parish and this was clearly a sign that I’m following the Lord’s call for us women. God bless all of you in your journey!

  32. Maureen says:

    I discovered the WINE website by accident or maybe the Spirit. Regardless, I have wanted to participate in a book club for some time. The topic … the beatitudes and saints are favorites of mine. I am so eager to have this opportunity to deepen my faith with you!

  33. Janet K. Gorshe says:

    I love the WINE series and getting together with the strong faith community of women that I have found at my parish. For the summer, some of us have decided to have a smaller group to have a more personal dynamic to encourage deeper conversation and to sow a place of comfort for those who find group conversation intimidating. I am excited to take a closer look at these women saints and find the connection to the Beatitudes compelling. I feel truly blessed to have these women in my life.

  34. Elaine says:

    I am looking forward to meeting and putting names and faces on some of those saints who are interceeding for me. I hope to be inspired by their examples. I am notorious for starting books and not completing them. I hope that the support and framework of this book club will keep me on track.

  35. Christine Tredup says:

    I’m in the process of retiring my clinical social work practice & opened up our bulletin noticing the call for book club leaders. This is just what I need. Moved by the holy spirit to call together women friends, I jumped at the chance to host. Hoping the reading of women saints will inspire us to connect deeply with our faith through each other.

  36. Laurie Steehler says:

    I am looking forward to growing in my faith more. Finding a sisterhood of women and saints to connect will I hope deepen my faith. I have a crazy couple of years, my faith has been tested, but every time I start to doubt God always seems to help me through it.

  37. Kathy Peterson says:

    Hi Ladies, I am really looking forward to this Book Club! I love reading and discussing the faith with my sisters in Christ!

  38. bitsy trummer says:

    I am really looking forward to being in a group of women who are all focused on enriching their faith,

  39. Kim P says:

    I am so excited about this book club! I have always loved the Beatitudes…love getting to know more about the Saints…putting them together? Wowza! I am hosting a group in my home. We are just meeting once a month (4th Tuesdays), but I hope this will kick off some much needed fellowship in our parishes.

  40. Rachael Martinez says:

    This would be my second online womens book club read. I read “Walking with Purpose” with a Facebook group of Catholic women so I’m excited to read this new book. I am hoping this book can help be build on what I learned and to continue to grow in my faith and show it to others.

  41. Debbie Miller says:

    I accidentally found WINE and was thrilled to discover this book club.
    I hope to discover new insight… New perspective. Perhaps see myself in some women and thrive to improve myslef and emulate others.
    Enjoy the company of other women through this virtual forum.

  42. Ann says:

    Hi WINE Friends,

    Our small parish WINE group has completed two books, we meet every other week and the conversations and faith sharing have been eye-opening and rewarding.
    The virtual bookclub will be a new challenge. But I’m along for the ride and look forward to a rewarding spiritual journey.
    I love the term sistership! We can all sail together as Melanie Rigney guides us and opens our hearts to the saints, our sisters in faith.
    Blessings to all!

  43. Connie Gray says:

    Hello WINE friends!

    I have been book club facilitator at our parish in Waconia, MN for the past three years but this is the first time I have participated in the WINE online book club. I am very excited to participate and join in with other sister’s in faith!

  44. Mary Kay says:

    I think it will be enjoyable to connect with other Catholic women through reading this book this summer. I am most looking forward to seeing the connections to the Beatitudes.