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 | By Denyse Shannon

Spiritual novel by a local Catholic is a journey of faith

An engineer by trade, Mark Heires never aspired to become a novelist, but in retirement, he’s found a niche that helps not only him, but also his readers, grow in faith. Mark recently published his first novel, Searching High and Low, which he says is symbolic of everyone’s faith journey.

“The theme of my novel is that everyone, whether they think about it or not, is on a journey to find God. And like the lead character, they find one of a thousand reasons in life to fall away from their faith,” he said.

Though he intentionally adds biblical symbolism, and even a few quoted Scripture passages, he has come to believe that the Holy Spirit at times helps with the effort. His belief was confirmed when he was on a trip to Ireland with his wife, Peg, after he finished writing it.

“I asked our guide if we could go to (St Mary's) Cathedral in Limerick. The guide took us, and it turns out … the Gospel was from Luke 15. It is the parable of the lost coin, lost sheep and the lost son.”

Searching High and Low follows the story of a search for a lost son and includes a lost coin and lost sheep. For Mark, this was a sign.

“I thought:  ‘this really encapsulates my book,’” he said.

Writing with a purpose

Mark, a member of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Sanford, said he at times feels the nudge of the Holy Spirit while writing.

“There’s a lot of providential stuff, Holy Spirit stuff. I found writing at that level is – it’s like ideas are coming from somewhere, going through me onto the page,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll find I’m writing something down and wonder why I’m writing it, and later, I’ll see … that’s why that happens.”

Before this debut novel was published, Mark wrote another book that never went farther than his desk.

“I knew I wanted to write, but at the same time, I wanted to do what matters and wanted to do something with Christianity, something faith based … almost a little ministry,” he said.

Once he finished the book, his wife Peg read it and asked, “Why did you write this book?” That question hit him hard.

“To do such a big project, it should really have a purpose,” he said.

A Catholic foundation

Mark 's early faith was strengthened in a German Catholic community in Iowa. He also attended Catholic schools, including the high school where his mother taught.

“When I think back to when I was little, I don’t ever remember meeting somebody who wasn’t Catholic,” he said. He also has three aunts who became sisters, one of whom inspired a character in the book.

“I have a side story about a novice who writes a letter to the family in the story,” he said. He added that the character is loosely based on his aunt, Sister Rita, who is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Like Sister Rita, many characters in the book are based loosely on people Mark has met in life, including a man he used to work with.

“He was a forward artillery observer, just like my lead character,” he said. “A lot of the detail and things that happened in relation to the World War II part, which is all backstory, come from him.”

However, Mark said the spirituality of the main character is nothing like the man he worked with; that aspect came from Vince “Leroy” McCarty, the father of a college roommate, who had written an unpublished memoir about the European Theater. He was a Catholic who made a promise to God that if he survived the war, he’d pray the Rosary every day.

While Mark never walked away from his faith, there were times during college that he, like so many others, didn’t attend Mass every Sunday. A little over a decade ago, he started a project to read the Bible.

“I had read the first five books quite a while ago, as a Lenten thing. Then I started going through the rest of the Bible,” he said, adding that while it took years, this process of reading the Bible kept him grounded in the Scriptures and helped him write his book.

Lost and found

The main character in the book is a World War II veteran who loses his faith in the battle trenches. Through a series of events, he finds God again. His faith journey, while unique, also speaks to the ways in which a believer’s faith may be tested.

“He was depending on God, and he felt God didn’t come through for him. It was a big moment in his life that changed the trajectory of his life for quite a while,” Mark said.

Woven throughout the story are symbols of how God continues to search out and to find the lost – searching high and low for the man, despite his efforts to make his own way.

“What I remember from the reading of the book was really a movement from untested faith to agnosticism and then back again to faith,” said Father Dan Fox, OFM Cap., pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish. “What I particularly liked were the various stages or levels of belief in the characters. I find this to be true in my pastoral ministry.”

The main character’s wife is a preacher’s daughter with a strong faith. Through her use of biblical symbols, the reader is drawn into the story of the Lost Sheep.

“In a spiritual novel, it's such a strong metaphor for many aspects of Christianity,” Mark said. “In this story, the son is missing … God is asking [the main character] to sacrifice his son. Are you willing to do that and still retain your faith? It’s that kind of story.”

He hopes it is also the kind of story that leaves a lasting impact on readers.

“My hope for the novel is that people may be drawn to read it because it is a fascinating plot with vivid characters,” said Mark. “And then, as the ending unfolds, they will be inspired to turn back to or grow stronger in their faith. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”