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Van Schyndel delivers message about God’s presence and love in ‘I Saw You Today’

Personal experience seeking God during a difficult day inspired poem, which was turned into a book for young readers 

By Jeff Kurowski | On Mission

GREEN BAY — Jacob Van Schyndel said he never envisioned that a moment of revelation would lead to him becoming an author.

Jacob Van Schyndel holds a copy of his book “I Saw You Today” at Cathedral Book & Gift in Green Bay where he is the general manager. The first-time author credits Fr. Edward Looney for his guidance in the writing and publishing process. (Jeff Kurowski | On Mission)

Van Schyndel, general manager at Cathedral Book & Gift in Green Bay, was working at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center in Green Bay at the time when word about deaths in the hospital made its way to the kitchen.

 “It was a really rough day a few years prior to (me) coming back to the faith,” he said. “I asked, ‘God, where are you?’ You get that disheartening hope.”

Van Schyndel decided to go to the hospital’s rooftop garden for his break and continued to seek God’s presence, he recalled, speaking to On Mission.

“I saw a squirrel running along. I heard the birds. I felt the breeze. I felt this calm,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘OK, you’re around me everywhere.’ It kind of came together. Where can I see Christ in all things and know that he is with me? Creation is supposed to remind us of God’s beauty and wonder, so it kind of started with that.”

Inspired by discovering God in that moment, Van Schyndel wrote a poem he titled “I Saw You Today.”

“I didn’t do much with it then. It was a personal poem. I shared it with a few people who liked it,” he said. “Some years later, I shared it with somebody who said, ‘Why don’t you turn it into a book?’”

Van Schyndel consulted with Fr. Edward Looney, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Shawano, and priest moderator and priest celebrant at St. Martin of Tours Parish, Cecil. Fr. Looney is a published author of works in various genres, including children’s books.

Fr. Looney provided some “good tips,” said Van Schyndel, including helping him find an illustrator and publisher.

“It was really nice to have him as a mentor,” said Van Schyndel, a member of St. Matthew Parish in Allouez.

Breaking up the poem on the pages of the book was among the first tasks, he said. The illustrator for “I Saw You Today” is Niaz Ahmad, who is based in Pakistan.

“Communicating (with Ahmad over the sketches) took about six months,” said Van Schyndel. “‘Tweak that. Fix that.’ The hardest part was the dove (illustration). The dove represents the Holy Spirit moving.”

“I Saw You Today” was released for global distribution by the publishing company IngramSpark on March 1, 2024. Van Schyndel uses the pen name J.J. Van in response to the publisher thinking his name was too long.

The message of the poem, turned into a book, is that “God is all around us and all things remind us of him,” said Van Schyndel.

“He created us. He’s within us and he loves us,” he said. “We sometimes have to take a moment to look around at words, actions, deeds, the grandeur of nature.”

The book is available at Cathedral Book & Gift, St. Patrick’s Gifts & Books in Appleton, On This Rock Christian Books & Gifts in Oshkosh, Lighthouse Christian Books in Green Bay and through Barnes & Noble.

Feedback has been rewarding, said Van Schyndel. The book is designed for young readers, but has resonated with adults as well, he said.

“One lady was crying. She said, ‘I know people who are lost and abandoned, and everybody should know that God loves them.’ She was teared up because she was touched by it,” he said. “To see that your words have that impact and for young kids to see these illustrations means a lot.”

The theme and “sentiment” of the book is “within the Catholic faith,” but the message can apply to other faiths as well, he said. 

Van Schyndel lives out his Catholic faith as a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus. He is currently Marshall of the Eastern District of Wisconsin for the Knights of Columbus. 

Van Schyndel also teaches confirmation at St. Sebastian Parish in Isaar.

Through his position at Cathedral Book & Gift, he coordinates the Kid’s Catholic Story Hour, held at 11 a.m. on the first Saturday of each month. Fr. Adam Bradley, administrator at St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay, will read “The Seed Who Was Afraid to be Planted” on May 4.

So the question has to be asked: Will the book “I Saw You Today” be the featured book at a future Catholic Story Hour for children?

“Maybe next year,” said Van Schyndel with a laugh. “Story Hour is going well. Our book clubs are doing well, especially the Saturday morning one that is going through the Hobbit series.”

“It’s first Communion season, so it’s been really busy,” he added. “I like seeing all the people coming in each day.”

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