Evanston resident, spiritual director and retreat guide Susan Garthwaite is the author of “Saint Hildegard: Ancient Insights for Modern Seekers,” which is a treasure trove of St. Hildegard’s bracing, rich and transforming insights.

Author, Evanston resident and spiritual director Susan Garthwaite Credit: Supplied

Written for today’s seekers and spiritual directors, it takes us deeper into our own experiences in the company of the mystic visionary St. Hildegard, whose 12th century wisdom, is still strikingly relevant to our contemporary struggles, enriches our journeys. 

A cocktail-party description of “Saint Hildegard:

St. Hildegard is only the fourth woman to be named a Doctor of the Church. She was a 12th century Benedictine Abbess in Germany. As a mystic visionary, she wrote remarkable books and composed the largest body of sacred music of the entire Middle Ages. My book, St. Hildegard: Ancient Insights for Modern Seekers, applies her wisdom to common spiritual experiences of today.

When you realized you wanted to be an author and or spiritual director:

Writing has always been a joy. I have journaled since my teens. I was a research scientist earlier in life, so I wrote many scientific papers. Then, when I hung up my lab coat, I started writing spirituality papers. About ten years ago I decided to work on a book. I wanted to do a book that was original and thought-provoking. Finally, I decided the Hildegard book would be exactly that.

When I was working in research, colleagues sometimes engaged me in spiritual conversations. I came to realize I could be a spiritual director, so I did the training. I have had a full roster of seekers for almost 20 years.

Your first published work:

A series of review articles on antibiotics. Then I published my medical physiology Ph.D. dissertation research and went on to publish a lot of science over many years. I’ve been writing spirituality papers since 2006, and then my book launched just last September. It has felt like a second dissertation in a new field.

How writing a book impacted you:

It’s been really exciting and rewarding. I was amazed that my scientific skills came in handy for doing the book. I’ve had to adjust to the enthusiasm people have for Hildegard and for the book, the demands on my time, and to having so much of my personal spiritual journey available to readers. I am so fortunate to have this experience.

Author you most admire, dead or alive:

St. Hildegard of course! But I also admire St. Teresa of Avila—she is easier to read, too. For fun, I read mysteries and admire Louise Penny and Sue Grafton.

Your favorite detail about Saint Hildegard:

She courageously went out and preached in public squares. She also was a woman of great joy and hope.

The last time you read aloud to someone or someone read aloud to you:

I read from my own book at an event sponsored by Bookends and Beginnings and again at St. Nicholas. Recently, I was privileged to hear Lois Farley Shuford read from her new book, “Finding Home.

Book you love the most:

St. Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle.

Book you hate the most:

Nonfiction books that are actually fiction or untruthful or that distort facts

Book you think should be in every child’s library:

I am not qualified to answer that. When I buy books for children, I ask my sister who was an elementary school teacher and now volunteers in a school library.

Book you are reading now and want to recommend to others:

I am always on the trail of new academic books about Hildegard, but they’re not for everyone. I’m reading Louise Penny’s mysteries. They’re based in Quebec and have interesting characters. I recommend them for mystery fans.

What you like most/least about living in Evanston:

Most – the lake, the diversity, the liberal political climate, living among university scholars, public transportation, quality library and excellent medical facilities.

Least – south Evanston, where I live, is crowded and we need city attention, for example, to improve Main Street. There isn’t the same beauty and quality of life everywhere – we have neglected pockets around the city.

Where you’ve lived besides Chicago:

Wisconsin and Missouri

Three favorite local shops/restaurants (B&B is just assumed, so you can leave us out 😉)

Ten Thousand Villages; Kabul House; Tapas Barcelona

A question we should have asked you but didn’t: Haw your book won any awards?

The affirmation of my book from the larger book community has been beyond my dreams. It has won the AmericanBookFest best book award in Religion; Illumination Book Award gold medal in Spirituality; Nonfiction Authors Association gold medal; Nautilus Book Award silver medal in Religion/Spirituality; honorable mention in the Forward Indies Religion category; and honorable mention in the Catholic Media Awards for contemporary spirituality.

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  1. The book on Miss Garthwaite is wonderful. Can you please email me where I can find her book on St. Hildegarde. I have a friend who is a Benedictine Oblate and as a new retiree is seeking to become a spiritual director.

    1. Dear Barbara, I think you can find it at Bookends and Beginnings! I am sure they will help. They are at 1712 Sherman Ave. in Evanston and their number is (224) 999-7722.