Jay Stoeckl SFO, Saint Francis and Brother Duck, Paraclete Press 2013, from $US 16.38 online
Reviewed by Ted Witham
French clergyman Paul Sabatier published his Life of St Francis of Assisi in 1893. Since then, there have been hundreds of lives of St Francis. Sabatier’s Life has had a powerful influence on those who followed him, but ironically it was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books because of its unreliable telling of the story.
Jay Stoeckl, a Secular Franciscan from the United States has produced a life of St Francis in part aimed at children. The only invented character in the story is Brother Duck, a drily humorous fellow who followed St Francis after he saved him from the cruelty of soldiers. Brother Duck brings a wry and innocent voice which enables us to hear the thoughts of St Francis as he makes decisions to follow Christ more closely, and to choose Assisi and humility over Rome and glory.
Saint Francis and Brother Duck is a graphic novel, a comic book. It is not the first graphic novel about saint Francis: in the early 1980s, Marvel Comics teamed up with Fr Roy Gasnick OFM to produce the first telling of the story in this style. Jay Stoeckl’s new graphic novel is full colour making the experience of reading the story immediate and bright.
The challenge for those who tell the story of St Francis to children is make sense of the motivations that drove St Francis to defy his parents and to defy the normal pathways of marriage and work. Stoeckl makes good use of the graphic novel genre to make Francis accessible to children. After the scene in front of the cathedral where Francis returns everything of his father including his clothes, Jay Stoeckl shows Francis asking for forgiveness for the hurt that he had done to his family. While there is no evidence of the attitude to his father that Francis held from then on, this invention does help ground St Francis for children.
This would be an appropriate book to put in the hands of any child 8 years and upward, or in the library of any Primary School. While it does not claim to bring new insights to the story of St Francis, it has a high level of detail, making it suitable as a comprehensive introduction to the Saint’s life.