Local author shares love of early Church history

Rod Bennett brings a bit of ‘hillbilly’ to his writing projects, which are gaining acclaim

By Gabrielle Nolan

Rod Bennett admitted laughingly that he is “a little bit of a hillbilly.”

Although the Catholic author grew up in and spent many years living in Atlanta, he was born in Maryville. He currently lives with his wife on his family homeplace in Monroe County, in the foothills of the mountains.

“My people are from this area,” he said. “Our family has been on the same piece of property here for, I think, 209 years now.”

Mr. Bennett, a parishioner at St. Joseph the Worker in Madisonville, shared that he is self-taught “when it comes to history and Church history and the early fathers, and all the other things that I usually write about.”

Mr. Bennett’s own research as an evangelical Protestant convinced him to join the Catholic Church several years ago.

“I was converted to the Catholic faith by reading the history of the Church, and especially the early fathers, the writings of the earliest Christians right after the Apostles,” he said.

In 1996 while living in Atlanta, Mr. Bennett and his wife came into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass.

Mr. Bennett always thought he might be an author one day, and the questions from friends and churchgoers prompted him to begin collecting notes of things that “turned the light on” for his conversion.

“I realized that in order to make it accessible or intelligible to maybe people that weren’t as motivated to dig through the old translations and stuff as I was, to write it up in terms of a story to make it more accessible. When I finally got all that together, I realized I had a book that I could publish,” he said.

“I wrote up my conversion story as a kind of a story about the early Church. It’s a conversion story, but it’s mostly not about me,” he laughed. “I wrote the history of the early Church as I discovered it in the writings of the four earliest Christian writers whose writing still exist in any number from after the time of the Apostles.”

In 2002, Mr. Bennett’s first book, Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words, was published.

Author Rod Bennett leads discussion on Church history during an RCIA class at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Madisonville in January.

“I’m pleased to say it is still in print and has been continuously in print for over 20 years now,” he said. “It’s been a big success, and really I’ve been blessed by what the Lord has done with it. I get lots of mail and messages from people who tell me it was very important in their own journey.”

“I’ve been very gratified to be told it was meaningful to a great many people,” he continued. “The publisher actually says now it’s a little bit of a minor classic in the field of modern Catholic apologetics, so that’s a nice thing to have been a part of.”

Mr. Bennett’s most recent book was his ninth published; These Twelve: The Gospel Through the Apostles’ Eyes was published last year.

“It’s a book about the 12 Apostles and the importance of the apostolic band, why they weren’t optional to Jesus’ mission,” he said. “In many ways, the men were the mission, I said.”

Other titles of Mr. Bennett’s include The Apostasy That Wasn’t, The Christus Experiment, and Chesterton’s America: A Distributist History of the United States.

Before publishing, Mr. Bennett’s works are checked by experts, such as Catholic author Mike Aquilina, who also writes in the field of Church history and the early Church fathers.

When it comes to picking topics for a new book, he usually relies on his own ideas or that of his publishers.

“Every now and then I get requests from my publishers, who say we think you could write a book about this, and so I’m doing it sometimes at the publisher’s request,” Mr. Bennett explained. “But a lot of times it’s just an idea that’s been meaningful to me that I’ve been percolating for some time, and finally it bubbles out as a book.”

Mr. Bennett shared that some of his inspirations are “ideas that I don’t think are understood well enough in the Church these days and maybe need a little attention, need to be brought back to life in people’s mind.”

“Even though I study other aspects of Church history, that’s the thing that won me over, and it’s also in a lot of ways my devotional writings,” Mr. Bennett said. “Many people will use a modern devotional book, but I find all kinds of terrific spiritual writing and devotional writing, prayers, hymns, all the rest of it in the writings of the early Church, which remains my favorite source for inspiration.”

With his knowledge of early Church history, Mr. Bennett gives back to his community by speaking at some of the RCIA classes at his parish, as well as other parishes.

“I haven’t actually been an RCIA leader, but I do get called upon because of the Church history thing to come in pretty often and talk to groups like that about the history of the Church and the constitution, so to speak, of the Church, how the Church was founded and the rest of it,” he said.

“Since I specialize so much in early Church history, that’s something that is featured in almost every course of RCIA, so that’s kept me regular, especially this time of the year, doing RCIA talks,” he continued.

In addition to his love for Church history, American history also is a favorite of Mr. Bennett’s.

“I actually want to write a book about Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “I think it may get written eventually, but it’s, I think, timely right now…. Like many East Tennesseans, I have a fondness for Abraham Lincoln, just as he had a fondness for East Tennessee.”

Besides his own book writing, Mr. Bennett has done freelance work through the years. When his books attract media attention, he will do interviews for various radio outlets.

He was featured on the show the “Journey Home” on the Coming Home Network, which shares conversion stories of people who came into the Catholic Church.

Mr. Bennett also has frequented the “EWTN Live” program with Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa.

His writings have been featured in Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Exchange, and he also has been a guest on Catholic Answers Radio.

Mr. Bennett’s books can be found at Ignatius Press, Catholic Answers, or Amazon.

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