Gwen Adams’ ‘By an Unexpected Way’ offers true stories that uplift and inspire

Reviewed by Father Luke Spannagel

If you know me, you know that I am in the habit of finding the good. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a perfectionist, and while I am always looking for ways to improve in any situation, I also remind myself to notice the good and rally around it.

With some difficult things in the news cycle — and in particular some recent discouraging statistics regarding belief in the Eucharist — I found myself on the lookout for some great joys and blessings to boost my spirits.  I definitely found it in “By an Unexpected Way:  Stories of the New Evangelization” by Gwen Adams.

If you could use a boost in hope, if you are looking for some inspiration, or if you just simply want the joy of knowing some uplifting stories of Catholic people in our day, I wholeheartedly recommend “By an Unexpected Way.”


Adams has divided the book into three sections modeled after the description of “Missionary Spirituality” given by St. John Paul II in “Redemptoris Missio.” Part One focuses on docility to the Holy Spirit, Part Two looks at the charity of Christ, and Part Three highlights intimate Communion with Christ.  Each part contains several stories, each of which could easily be read in one sitting.

In this collection of stories, Adams brings us great joys from many different areas of our country, as well as many different outreaches of our faith. From a struggling school that has been revived to people joining to fight for the integrity of their neighborhood, from a Catholic wilderness camp to a Catholic coffee shop offering outreach in a strip mall, this book offers a wide ranging look at successful and fruitful works within our Catholic Faith.

According to Adams, “One goal of this book has been to tell stories that illustrate trust in God’s providence. . . . Nothing is more important than relearning how to entrust ourselves, the New Evangelization, and the future to God’s loving providence.” Meeting this goal well, Adams outlines the details of each story, highlighting great moments of trust in God, as well as collaboration with other faithful Catholics.

Among these stories one will read accounts of people who trusted in God by leaving jobs to pursue a new mission. Some stories highlight successful endeavors in the midst of certain obstacles like financial shortfall and persecution. Other stories tell of people pursuing a mission that seems beyond what is possible, only to see the details fall into place over and over again.

Without a doubt, “By An Unexpected Way” serves as a concrete reminder of what is possible when we entrust ourselves to God and give our best efforts in accord with His grace.


Another common thread among these stories very much related to trust in God is that each story highlights people growing closer to Christ through prayer, especially through the True Presence of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist. Time and again these faithful people put themselves in the presence of Christ in adoration, in churches and chapels. And time and again they received the assurance, strength, and direction needed to press on with their good works.

On several occasions, when reason would dictate an impossible obstacle or thoughts of abandoning the mission, time with Jesus in the Eucharist would bring the solution and wherewithal to pursue it.

Adams writes that her other goal “was to offer comfort through stories that would remind us, first, that we are accompanied by God and others, and second, that we are living out a story replete with meaning and grand purpose” For me, this comfort was a great gift!

If you know Church History and the lives of the saints, you know that great works often happen in collaboration among believers, and that many who accomplish great things have the encouragement and support of those around them. That certainly is the case for the heroes of these stories, with wonderful people offering help and support all along the way.


I’m also excited to tell you there are connections to priests and places in our Diocese of Peoria that are noted as well!  (I’m going to leave those as a surprise for when you read this book!)

These stories, then, serve as another reminder to us that we are never alone in striving to live out our faith and pursuing what God asks of us. We also benefit from inspiration that wells up from seeing great successes. Through the sharing of these victories, Adams has provided a great reminder of how much is possible when we are united with God and with one another.

Without hesitation, I think these stories would be a great gift to anyone. I am always so uplifted by hearing about good people and the great things God is accomplishing through them. Knowing the patterns of prayer, trust, and communion in these stories, I’ll be looking forward to a sequel based on stories happening here in our diocese!

Father Spannagel

FATHER LUKE SPANNAGEL is pastor of St. Mary and Sacred Heart parishes, both in Rock Island, and is a member of The Catholic Post’s six-member book review team.

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