Interview: Mary Stommes on prayer, Catholic publishing and her time editing Give Us This Day
Mary Stommes served as managing editor at the Catholic publisher Liturgical Press from 2006 to 2010, when she transitioned to become editor of a new monthly publication from the press called Give Us This Day, a popular daily resource for prayer and the reading of Scripture. As the first editor of Give Us This Day, Ms. Stommes played a pivotal role in its creation and its subsequent growth. (Part of her faith journey was described in a personal essay published in America in 2003.) Ms. Stommes marked her last day at Give Us This Day on June 29, 2023. She spoke to America on June 27 and reflected on her work with Liturgical Press and her faith.This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your first exposure to Liturgical Press, either in your personal life or professional life? And what prompted your decision in 2006 to accept the position of managing editor?
My first exposure to Liturgical Press was actually in the parish where I was baptized and made my first Communion. We used the missals, the hardbound ones, that Liturgical Press published. I remember reading Liturgical Press bulletins, which featured Father Daniel Durkin, who was a Benedictine monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn. Father Durkin would write bulletin notes or reflections each week. I was young, but I remembered his name.
Fast forward in time. I was a young mom and I owned a salon with two other women, and at the same time I was a volunteer catechist. One of my clients in the salon became a dear friend of mine, Lorraine, an evangelical Christian, who was a grandma just about to retire. She was so deeply respectful of Catholicism, and so in love with Scripture, that when I was a young mom in my 20s, I went out and bought my first Bible. I started praying with Scripture every morning.
Our mentors see things in us that we are not ready to name and acknowledge.
A couple years later, I started working part-time for my parish, and I took a Scripture course through an initiative between our diocese and the School of Theology at St. John’s. And who was my Scripture professor? None other than Father Daniel Durkin. He was instrumental in encouraging me to go back to school at the age of 40. I decided to get my [bachelor’s] degree in theology at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. I very quickly added a second major in written communication.
During my last semester at school, Father Durkin emailed me and told me that Liturgical Press had posted a position for managing editor. It was definitely one of those situations where our mentors see things in us that we are not ready to name and acknowledge. I applied for the position, and I was working at Liturgical Press three months before I graduated with my undergraduate degree, and then went on to take graduate courses. I was just at the press a few years when the brainstorming began for what eventually became the monthly publication Give Us This Day.
How would you describe Give Us This Day to potential new readers and subscribers?
There is the Benedictine flavor to it, with short prayer for every morning and evening. It has the lectionary texts, and then there is the “Blessed Among Us” section and a reflection each day. Ultimately, it is a daily prayer resource—a user-friendly prayer resource. It is really a gentle invitation to prayer as well as a guide.
Give Us This Day is a gentle invitation to prayer as well as a guide.
I think establishing a prayer routine is not an easy thing to do, but Give Us This Day gets people to realize that it is not this giant effort. I often say that if readers only get to the first verse of the psalm in their morning prayer and cannot go any further because something there speaks to them, then that is more than enough. It’s not about what they did not get to, it’s about what they did get to. It is important to establish that routine, but readers often realize it’s not actually about the routine, it’s about the relationship that’s unfolding from setting aside quiet time for prayer—a deeper relationship with God and even with themselves.
When I looked through a copy of Give Us This Day, I noticed a wide range of types of voices represented in the “Reflections” section and of individuals featured in the “Blessed Among Us.” What types of individuals are highlighted for Give Us This Day, and why?
Many times the “Blessed Among Us” feature is a “capital s” saint: a canonized, official saint. But many times it is not someone officially recognized by the church. It might even be someone who is not Catholic. Figures like Martin Buber or Abraham Joshua Heschel are included along with St. Augustine and St. Catherine of Siena, and just a whole host of people—so many lesser-known people who were just very good friends of God.
As for the reflections, about two thirds of them are newly commissioned pieces, and our greatest treasure is the breadth and depth of the author pool. I have had the great privilege of working with these commissioned writers on a one-on-one basis over all these years. They are lay and ordained, men and women, young and old. More and more, we have been trying to think about who are the underrepresented voices in the church and trying to connect with those new people. It is rewarding to think about connecting all these different voices into a real community of prayer.
There is such a hunger, and I believe that people are being fed.
Has anything surprised you during your time with Give Us This Day?
Honestly, it is the overwhelming gratitude from the wide community that is Give Us This Day. There is such a hunger from people—people who don’t name it, or couldn’t articulate it. I can’t even really articulate it. But there is such a hunger, and I believe that they are being fed. Often I ask myself, why would I be surprised by that gratitude? Because ultimately it is just completely thanks to God.
Even in the criticism, in the pushback, I find blessing. I think what it forces us to do—and I say this to the Give Us This Day team over and over—is that it forces us to think about our mission, our vision, and to articulate that respectfully, but it also forces us to listen. Maybe sometimes we miss the mark; but yes, as for the surprise, mostly it is the gratitude.
In this moment of transition, do you have any plans for the future?
Well, I believe that we need to listen to our gifts and to use them for whatever and wherever God is calling us to use them. So for some time, I thought that if God was calling me away from this work at this time, then I would know that when the next thing comes. But that’s not always how God speaks to us.
I came to the knowledge that this is very, very good work. And we are such a talented team. But I just had to ask myself, is God calling me to keep up this pace until I do fully retire, and maybe don’t have anything left in me to give? And the answer to that was no.
As for the future, I will see. I am praying about it, and I know others are praying about it, too. I always say that I trust God. And I really, really, really mean that. I really do.