Sometimes I pick up a book and worlds open.
My Jesus and I is another educational work from the Salesian order, written in 1949 by the Most Rev. Louis LaRavoire Morrow to help elementary age children prepare for their First Communion. It was originally intended for use in a classroom with an instructional poster set, both of which are still in print.
The book is gentle and directly emotional. Each page has a line of a prayer with a question or commentary underneath it, and a picture from either a Bible story or from a child’s daily life as he or she is accompanied by good and bad angels, Mary, and Jesus.
A letter printed inside the back cover explains:
My Dear Child:
I have made this little book for you, because I want you to know Jesus better and better each day. He is a good Friend, who loves little children like you….
Jesus wants little boys and girls to know how He lived, and what He taught. He wants us all to be good, loving one another, and obeying our teachers and parents.
My Jesus and I is both sweet and strange. I find I’ve grown quite fond of the helpful little angels in these illustrations. They are so busy! Sometimes they are happy, sometimes dismayed, but always present, even if they are just tending the garden while you play.
On another page, Mother Mary wakes a sleeping child while Jesus points the way to church. These are some of my favorite angels–one holding the ringing alarm clock (see the jagged sound lines!) and the other digging a shoe out from under the bed. Oh, that Sunday morning always brought such attendants!
If you look at a lot of Christian children’s books you’ll find that many of them are written by women, but My Jesus and I was written by a Catholic Bishop. Who was he? I wondered.
Born in Weatherford, Texas in 1892, Louis LaRavoire Morrow grew up in Mexico (his double surname follows Hispanic custom) and, after becoming a priest, lived in the Philippines and India. He became bishop of Krishnagar in West Bengal, India and his ministry spanned World War II, the Bengal famine of 1943 and the Partition of India. He was also a Council Father to the Second Vatican Council. The Sisters of Mary Immaculate (an order which he founded) describe him as a “staunch believer and supporter of the Human Rights Programme of the United Nations; and also an ardent advocate of women’s rights.” He was a prolific writer of educational materials.
As I mentioned, My Jesus and I is still in print, and there is some discussion surrounding its depiction of evil. The current edition has apparently replaced several of the images of Satan with something more modern and less-affecting, but judging from the comments on Amazon, not everyone is in favor of the change. They are wild images, but no scarier than the Ghost of Christmas Future, and always presented within an atmosphere of calm.
Sometimes temptation actually looks rather friendly. “Do you want candy?” The kindly devil has brought a chair to help the child reach that forbidden treat while the good angel gently pulls the child towards a picture book.
One final note: while she is not credited, many of the illustrations in My Jesus and I are signed by Anita Magsaysay (later Magsaysay-Ho), an important Philippine modernist painter. I imagine all the original images are her work.
In her biography (written by Alfredo Roces) Magsaysay-Ho said,
“In my works I always celebrate the women of the Philippines. I regard them with deep admiration and they continue to inspire me—their movements and gestures, their expressions of happiness and frustration; their diligence and shortcomings; their joy of living. I know very well the strength, hard work and quiet dignity of Philippine women, for I am one of them.”