While raising her own domestic church, Colleen Pressprich wrote her third book with her own five children in mind
GROSSE POINTE PARK — When Colleen Pressprich is unable to find the right resources to help educate her five children about their Catholic faith, she sits down and writes her own book.
Pressprich, who homeschools her children in addition to five of her nieces and nephews, just released her third book, "The Jesse Tree for Families" (2023), published by Our Sunday Visitor.
"The Jesse Tree for Families" follows the same format as Pressprich's other two books, "Marian Consecrations for Families with Young Children" (2020) and "The Women Doctors of the Church" (2022). Like its predecessors, the book combines short reflections with powerful illustrations by artist Amy Heyse, all accompanied by notes to help parents educate their children about the content and have meaningful conversations about the faith.
In the book, Pressprich explains that the Jesse Tree is the family tree of Jesus Christ, and since medieval times, it has been depicted on an actual tree to help educate children about the people and events that led to Jesus’ birth.
“The Jesse Tree name comes from the book of Isaiah, 11:1, which says that ‘A shoot will spring up from the tree of Jesse,’ King David’s father,” said Pressprich, a member of St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms. “The idea of the Jesse Tree is that it’s really a family tree of Jesus. It’s a way to tell the story of the coming Messiah.”
In medieval times, the visual depiction of the Jesse Tree began as a helpful tool for priests to teach their mostly illiterate parishioners the faith; throughout Europe, one can still find medieval stained-glass windows depicting the Jesse Tree, Pressprich said.
“Over the centuries, it became a tradition to use the Jesse Tree during Advent to prepare hearts for the coming of the Messiah, and it also became a tradition to use it with children, who are the population that really does need pictures. They need the visual understanding of who these people are, and they need the concreteness of the tradition,” Pressprich said.
Another part of the tradition is to hang an ornament on the tree each day during Advent to represent a different member of Jesus' family. The Pressprich family does this on their Christmas tree, but other families might designate a smaller Jesse Tree or even create a version to hang on their wall, Pressprich said.
In her book, Pressprich included paper Jesse Tree ornaments that families can cut out and use as they work their way through the calendar, beginning Dec. 1 through Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.
Pressprich first fell in love with the Jesse Tree tradition as a Montessori teacher.
“I found it by chance by looking for Advent things to do with my students,” Pressprich said. “I fell in love with it and made up my own to do with students, and then when I had kids, I knew that I wanted to do a Jesse Tree with them, too.”
Pressprich tried several different versions but couldn’t find one that suited her family’s needs.
“I just never really loved them; they either felt like they were trying to do too much and tell an entire person's life in a paragraph, or they were trying to do too little, and they were just fluffy,” Pressprich said.
When Pressprich wrote her book on Marian consecration, one of the illustrations depicted the Jesse Tree in the background as Mary greets her cousin Elizabeth. The illustration inspired Pressprich and her editor, and they decided it needed its own book.
While raising her kids, Pressprich began writing the book during naptimes and on quiet Saturday mornings when her kids were out of the house.
“My writing happens in teeny tiny chunks throughout the day,” Pressprich said. “A lot of my books are very research-heavy, and then I try to distill it down to a children’s level. I do a lot of research and spend a lot of time in prayer. I spent a lot of time just reading the Scriptures over and over and meditating on them myself and mulling it over.”
Pressprich hopes the book helps readers dive deeper into the Scriptures themselves.
“The Bible is the living word of God, so it’s designed for us, the people living now, and it is designed to speak to our hearts, and because of that, it is different every day,” Pressprich said. “Even though some of these stories may feel well worn — we may feel like we know them like the back of our hand — I hope you see them with new eyes. I hope people will be able to introduce young children to these figures and help them see not just these giants of faith, but as real people who lived and struggled and prayed and encountered God.”
Further, she hopes it gives parents the tools to fulfill their roles as the first educators of their children.
“I hope the book gives parents the confidence to feel like they really can have those conversations about God, about faith, and that they can pray with their kids,” Pressprich said.
As a parent raising her own domestic church, Pressprich loves books, and plans to continue writing in order to help families make the faith more accessible to their children.
“I think a lot of times, children’s books can be dumbed down or watered down, and one thing I’m incredibly grateful for in my Montessori training is a deeper understanding of what children are truly capable of," Pressprich said. "Maria Montessori, a Catholic herself, stressed the inherent dignity of the child and called on adults, teachers, educators, and parents to see their children and not talk down to them. That’s the goal for all of my books: to be accessible, but not fluffy.”
'The Jesse Tree for Families'
Colleen Pressprich's book, "The Jesse Tree for Families," is available to purchase for $24.95 through Our Sunday Visitor. In addition, Amy Heyse, the book's illustrator, made a video for those interested to learn more about how to make Jesse Tree ornaments.
Christmas Culture and Media