Marquette Academy teacher, senior combine on book to mark life’s milestones

OTTAWA — Clara O’Neal never intended to write a book. But words came to her one day, so she wrote them down.

“The words just came from my heart — they came from God ultimately,” said the Power Preschool teacher at Marquette Academy. “It was something he wanted me to do and I never set out to do.”

Clara O’Neal

The result is “You’re On Your Way!” which was published last fall by WestBow Press and available just before Thanksgiving. The 38-page hardcover book, illustrated by Marquette senior Madison Pha Snook, is intended to be given as a gift to people of all ages as they approach milestones in their life.

“As a school teacher I am asked every year to sign books for parents or grandparents. It’s called ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ by Dr. Seuss. Each teacher, as the child moves along, makes a little entry, from preschool all the way up to high school,” O’Neal explained. “Typically the parent or grandparent gives that child this gift and then they can reflect back on all their teachers who make an entry into it.”

With her book, O’Neal invites readers to look forward at key moments and consider “Now what will you do? You’re special, you’re talented, and creative; it’s true. But the next chapter in life is driven by you!”

“There is no other book out there that is Christian oriented, and I thought this would be a great book for many milestones — for baptisms, for graduation, for confirmation, Communion, for somebody getting married, an engagement, moving into a new home, starting a new career,” she told The Catholic Post. “Whatever that next chapter is in your life, may God be with you along that journey.”

Calling those milestones “true blessings from God,” the mother of two said all parents long to see their children meet and accomplish them.

“ALL IN GOD’S HAND”

O’Neal enjoyed her collaboration with Madison Pha Snook, who is active at Marquette and competes competitively in gymnastics. Home-schooled from third through eighth grade, Madison has thrived in Jane Mills’ art classes for the last four years.

“She’s an amazing illustrator,” O’Neal said. “Her illustrations are magnificent and they really bring the book to life. Each time I’d offer suggestions she followed through with it. She was lovely to work with.”

Madison Pha Snook

“We bounced ideas off of each other but for the most part she told me that the pages are how I interpret the book and how I would picture it,” Madison said. “I hoped to use my illustrations to convey a new beginning for anyone reading it.”

She added that after illustrating the book she sees art as more than a hobby. She will continue her gymnastics career at the University of Oklahoma after graduation and plans to major in art.

O’Neal’s life has also taken paths that differed from what she planned for herself.

Raised in an orphanage until the age of 12, she wanted to be a nun like her beloved Sister Gregory, who was a mother to her there. That changed when she went to Western Illinois University in Macomb and God introduced her to Barry O’Neal, she said.

Wanting to help people, she majored in social work and worked in an Alzheimer’s unit in a nursing home until her son, Blake, and daughter, Bailey, were born. She was able to stay at home with them and it wasn’t long before the children on their block started to come to the O’Neal house for stories and other activities.

“The teacher came out in me,” she said. “One of the moms came over and said, ‘Have you ever thought about going into teaching?’”

O’Neal started substitute teaching at St. Mary Immaculate School in Plainfield and taking courses at St. Francis College (now University) in Joliet to earn her teaching certificate. When the family moved to the Ottawa area in 2000, she was hired as the fourth grade teacher at St. Patrick School and never looked back.

“It’s all in God’s hand, it really is. I never set out to be a teacher,” she told The Catholic Post. “I surrendered to God’s will and 36 years later we’re married happily and have two beautiful grown children. God is so gracious and so good and I am humbled by all the work he’s done. I give God all the credit — we have to. We wouldn’t be here without him.”

“You’re On Your Way!” can be found at your local Catholic bookstore or at amazon.com, where it is also available in a Kindle edition.

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