Guadalupe story anchors new poetry book from local author

Photo Caption: John Riedell of Germantown Hills holds an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe he painted about 20 years ago. The painting is reprinted on the cover of his newly published book, “The Tilma and Other Poems.”

By: By Tom Dermody

GERMANTOWN HILLS — A career as a newspaper artist and cartoonist testifies to John Riedell’s ability to create images with pencil, pen or paint. But the member of St. Mary of Lourdes Parish here is also gifted in making pictures with words, and last week a collection of nearly 60 of his poems was published in book form.

In “The Tilma and Other Poems,” released by Tate Publishing on Feb. 24, Riedell shares and explains his Catholic faith, including his devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The cover features a representation of Our Lady of Guadalupe that Riedell painted in the 1990s. That was the same he wrote “The Tilma,” a 100-stanza, story-in-rhyme describing the Blessed Mother’s appearances in Mexico to a poor Indian named Juan Diego in December of 1531.

“The Tilma” introduces and anchors the 164-page paperback collection that also includes Riedell’s poetic reflections on nature, patriotism, family, and faith — including meditations on the sufferings of Christ.

“Here’s a story, interwoven with glory and human worth, when heaven came down in a rose-colored gown and appeared upon the earth,” begins Riedell’s prologue to “The Tilma.” The poem is preceded by an introduction and accompanied by 15 footnotes explaining background and symbolism.

“Hundreds of hours went into that poem,” Riedell told The Catholic Post, recalling meticulous research that included visits to Mexico City and Guadalupe as well as working from an account of the story written in Aztec. “I tried to make every line rhyme with another line and thereby made more work for myself.”

Readers will appreciate that extra work, including Riedell’s attention to poetic rhythms that make each selection flow lyrically. In fact, a few of the Guadalupe-inspired poems became song lyrics for a music project Riedell produced several years ago.

The collection is accompanied by 15 color photographs illustrating some of the poems, beginning with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe miraculously left on the tilma — an outer garment worn by Juan Diego when he presented the bishop of Mexico with roses as proof of Our Lady’s appearances.

Riedell has a devotion to the rosary, and one photo features a rosary placed over an open Bible to illustrate his poem, “Roses, O Roses.”

“A garland of roses, I give unto thee,” it begins. “Roses O roses, my Rosary. A garland of roses, petals of prayer. Roses O roses, to thee do I bear.”

Riedell expressed gratitude to Tate Publishing, which is a Christian-owned but not Catholic publisher, for “being tolerant enough” to allow him to express his faith as a Catholic writer and poet.

Much of Riedell’s poetry, not surprisingly, is very personal. “Mom and the Shed” tells of the death of his mother, Flotilla, in a farm shed fire in 1980. The book is dedicated to her, Riedell’s father, Joseph, and the author’s wife Serafina — a native of British Honduras (now Belize) whom he met while working at a Catholic mission there in 1960. The Riedells have three sons.

“Ones So Brave” honors Apache helicopter pilot Keith Yoakum — a friend of Riedell’s brother Francis — and his pilot gunner who were shot down in 2007 during the Iraq war, giving their lives for their country.

Riedell is a Navy veteran and a graduate of the Navy’s journalism school at Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago.

The author hopes his book is used as part of poetry or religious education in Catholic schools. A former teacher of English and writing in Iowa, Riedell has compiled an accompanying supplement to the book explaining the different poetic styles used and “some things to consider in writing poetry.” The supplement and more information about the author can be found on his website,

“The Tilma and Other Poems” is available for $13.99 online at, Tate Publishing, (which also offers a digital download for $10.99), and in Peoria at Lagron-Miller Company.

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