The Back Story: Part 2 – Viola Athaide

Source: Kevin Burns

Back Story is a series about some of the regular contributors to igNation. It’s a series of short interviews with writers, their influences, how they go about writing, and what they hope their work for igNation will accomplish. The interviews address their approach to writing in general rather than explore any particular piece they have authored for the blog.

Each of the participants in the Back Story series was interviewed by Kevin Burns by telephone. He asked each participant the same set of questions, plus a few more based on things that surfaced during their conversation. What follows is an edited version of a much longer conversation.

Because the igNation format has a limited word-count, each of the interviews in this series will include an additional audio component: “To hear more about [whatever the topic might be]: Click here.”

Today, it’s the educator, Viola Athaide, a member of the Good Shepherd parish in Thornhill, Ontario. Her poetry appears regularly in igNation, in addition to other kinds of observations and reflections on the spirituality of daily life.

KB: Let’s start with a question I’m asking everyone in this series. Can you tell me about the first time you ever saw a work of yours in print? What is that experience like, seeing something you have written actually in print?

Viola Athaide

VA: Oh, my goodness! That was a long time ago. I was doing my bachelors of education at the University of Toronto and one of my poems was included in a book of student work. I had been writing off and on and my poems would usually be left, sitting in a file folder.

When you write you have an idea of how a piece should look and, interestingly enough, years ago when my work first appeared in print I was a little disappointed that they had not followed the format I used in the original. They had reorganized it. I was happy that it was there in print and despite the strange layout it was still my piece of work

KB: Many writers follow special rituals when they write, using certain pens, or special notebooks – you know, the paper kind. Do you have any such rituals?  

VA: Inspiration comes in a flash. I put it down on paper, or on the computer. It just flows. I very rarely change it once it’s written. I let the inspiration flow. I write from experience and use an economy of words to express what I feel. I write about real life situations, what is happening in the world and my reactions to it.

I get this ringing in my head that tells me that is what I have to write about.  A title just jumps into my head I know that this is going to be the piece I will write.

KB: You write for this Jesuit-based online publication. Tell me about your interest in things Ignatian.

James Martin, SJ.

VA: I grew up in India and the Jesuits influenced my life in very particular way. My dad’s brother was a priest who eventually became a bishop. So I grew up surrounded by priests who would come to our home.

Let me say it this way: I knew something about Jesuit spirituality, though I didn’t formally ‘know’ much about it at the time. And I know now. I see how Ignatian spirituality has helped me as I try to see God in all things and to see all things in God.

In all the scripture sessions I run in my parish I always end them with a quiet time for an Examen, and a reflection on the gospel passages using all five senses to experience the scene, the characters, the situation. This is vitally important to me.

Henri Nouwen. Source :

The spiritual exercises reveal so much so powerfully, which is why I make an annual Ignatian retreat at the Manresa Retreat House in Pickering. It’s the Ignatian atmosphere that I seek because it helps to make me grow spiritually.

KB: Do you write for yourself or for other people?

VA: My first poems were about expressing emotions or an idea. I wrote for myself because I never expected that anyone would ever read them. If Father Phillip Chircop SJ at the Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre in Pickering had not pushed me, my work would probably never have found its way out there. I thought my work was just for me, but he said “No! This is going to help other people. You need to put this work out there.”

To hear Viola Athaide explain how one of her readers responded to one of her poems, ‘Garden Blues’, Click here:

The Garden Blues poem is found here.

KB: Can you tell who the writers are who have influenced you most?

VA: I love the work of James Martin, the Jesuit priest. These days I read mostly books on spirituality, though for years I taught English and American Literature, which means the plays of Shakespeare must be on any list. But, my goodness! I am also a Henri Nouwen fan. I have most of his books.

(To hear Viola Athaide on the influence of Henri Nouwen, click here:

Ottawa-based author and editor, Kevin Burns is a frequent contributor to igNation. His latest book, Impressively Free – Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood and co-authored with Michael W. Higgins, has just been released by Paulist Press in the United States and by Novalis in Canada.

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