The Mouths of Babes

Young Catholics speak up

What do Miss Wisconsin 1999, a Vietnamese immigrant, a law student, and a Catholic Worker have in common? They’re young (twenty-seven and under), they’re Catholic, and, along with 147 others, they submitted essays to Commonweal’s Younger Writers Contest (see page 14 ff.). The question that provoked these young authors’ interest: "What are the tensions and the opportunities entailed in being a Catholic in America? How does the church help or hinder you in integrating your faith with your culture, politics, imagination?"

In judging the contest, the editorial staff was struck by the variety of experiences and approaches: Miss Wisconsin wrote about her public appearances promoting chastity; the Vietnamese student, about coping with literal and cultural poverty in her adopted country. The lawyer-to-be parsed the difference between the Vatican II generation and his own: the latter no less religious but markedly less institutionally committed and informed. The Catholic Worker struggled to feel at home in his parish. A handful of adjectives kept coming to mind as the essays circulated from cubicle to cubicle in the Commonweal offices: thoughtful, energetic, serious.

Anna Nussbaum, a high school senior from Colorado Springs, Colorado, took the prize. Gorgeous prose and a novelistic approach to the question distinguished her essay in a strong field. Her "Axioms of Faith" provides a portrait of one young Catholic,...

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About the Author

Daria Donnelly (1959-2004) was an associate editor of Commonweal from 2000 to 2004. In 2002, after having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, she became associate editor (at large) and co-editor of the poetry section.