About Jon M. Sweeney

I am an independent scholar, culture critic, book editor, and writer of popular history. I’m the author of The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation (Image, 2012), which was a History Book Club selection, and was just optioned by HBO, Inc.

I am married, live in Evanston, Illinois, and have three kids. My oldest daughter is in college; my son is headed off to college next fall; and my youngest is an 18-month old daughter who is now climbing the bookcases. I am currently finishing a book with Phyllis Tickle, and starting to write another with my wife about our interfaith marriage.

I’ve worked in books all of my life, beginning with my first college job in 1987 at Ex Libris Theological Used Books in Wheaton, Illinois. After seminary I managed Divinitas Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Central Square) for two years, and then moved into publishing, working for a Lutheran-owned house, a Jewish-owned house, a publisher owned by a Christian religious community, starting a multifaith trade spirituality book imprint, and editing books by everyone from Sufis and Vedantists to evangelical Christians and the Eastern Orthodox.

My personal path has been anything but linear: After 20 years as an evangelical, and 21 years as an involved Episcopalian, in 2009 I became a Catholic on the feast day of St. Francis. My primary congregational involvement today, however, is Jewish.

I actually love organized religion (would never say that I’m spiritual but not religious) and want to see it survive, but I’m not interested in doing things to simply prop up falling institutions. I’m drawn to the ancient and medieval and a lot of what I write stems from wanting to understand the past.

I started this blog because I called myself “almost Catholic”–at that time I was an evolving Protestant who wanted to be more and more Catholic (both uppercase and lowercase c). Now I am actually a Catholic, but that doesn’t really define me. In many ways I’ll religiously and spiritually always be “almost.”

Francis and Clare of Assisi are a passion of mine, and I’ve written several books about them including a joint biography, Light in the Dark Ages: The Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi, which was a History Book Club and Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and The St. Francis Prayer Book. I also edited and re-introduced Paul Sabatier’s classic biography of St. Francis to a new generation with The Road to Assisi: The Essential Biography of St. Francis. It too was picked up by History Book Club, BOMC, Crossings Book Club, and the Literary Guild.

I often speak at conferences, retreat centers, and churches. I welcome you to contact me. The photo, above, was taken in Assisi in May 2009, and shows me next to an icon of St. Clare outside of San Rufino. Since then I’ve lost a bunch of weight–but haven’t been back to Assisi since. Write me at I’d love to hear from you.

  1. Hi Jon,
    Please check our my new book, “St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims.” Web page is
    I would like your comments about it. Thanks.

    Frank Rega

  2. Frank,
    I spoke with your publisher; they are sending me a copy. Haven’t seen it, yet, however. Soon! Peace, Jon

  3. Greetings, Jon. My name is Carl McColman and I’m a blogger by night and Catholic bookseller by day. My blog is at and the store I work for is at We carry your books in our store. “Almost Catholic” sounds like a great title, looking forward to it. Anyway, just wanted to introduce myself and say hello.


  4. I just read the Lure of the Saints. It is an amazing book. I was raised Baptist, but I feel more connected to Catholism. I have been defending the Catholic church for many years, and your book helped me understand why. My personal saint may be the pilgrim who wrote The Way of the Pilgrim. I am looking forward to reading your other books.

  5. Jon,

    Just checking in to see if you’d like me to send you a copy of my book,
    Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back. Happy to send you one if you can send me your address–seem to have lost your card!

    Hope all is well with you and yours….

    ken wilson
    (from Ann Arbor)

  6. Jon,

    How do I begin to thank you for your book?

    I have been on the road to Emmaus since I was a young child. The burning sensation that the travelers in the story felt has been getting stronger for me throughout the year and the signs coming more and more frequently that something important was happening to me.

    My Dad’s parents were Catholic. He was raised Catholic and as a young adult made a thought-filled decision to leave the Church and faith altogether. Faith was not promoted or sought in my family. On the few occassions that my parents tolerated church, we attended Presbyterian and UCC services that fit more with my Mother’s upbringing. I fought this burning I have felt with everything that I had for the better part of 35 years. (You and I are about the same age.)

    Recently, I was in a bookstore looking to replace my childhood King James Bible with something that I could stash away to read secretly at lunch or in the privacy of my hotel room on business trips. Just to explore, you know?

    I couldn’t find an appropriate Bible and I turned around and glanced at the shelf behind me. Your book, in bright red, called out to me. “Almost Catholic.” ‘Well, that’s about right,” I thought and laughed out loud. I have always felt strangely comfortable at Mass, even though I had never understood much of what was going on. I have always felt a pull to Catholicism and it was becoming clearer throughout the year that it was more authentic than I cared to admit.

    In reading your book, I discovered that I have always been Catholic without knowing it. What struck me was how you seemed to be suggesting that Catholicism is a phenomenological approach to faith. I had studied phenomenology in college in the context of the arts and performance and it had completely changed my view of the world. You can imagine how stunned I was when a quick Google search revealed that a young Polish priest had written a book in 1969 called, “The Acting Person: An Anthropological Contribution to Phenomenology.” The priest’s name? Karol Wojtyla.

    The idea that a Catholic Mass is an interactive performance, while a Protestant service is an academic lecture helped explain to me so much of what I have felt all this time. With that understanding I went to Mass recently and found myself enjoying the experience with tears streaming down my face. It was and continues to be intensely physiological. It is life changing. Daily prayer, Bible reading, and Mass are a new part of my life to stay.

    I have just arranged to begin RCIA at my local church. I would like so much to share more with you. You have my email address above. It would mean the world to me if you would email me so I could thank you properly.

    In peace,
    Tom (from Guilderland NY)

  7. Hi, Jon. I read an excerpt from your book “Born Again and Again” and I really resonated with it. I, too, grew up fundamentalist, but the emphasis on sin and merit and atonement in western Christianity never made sense to me. It left me with too many unanswerable questions. I wove my way through all the Protestant denominations and Catholicism until I discovered my home in the ancient and mystical tradition of the Orthodox Church. Anyway, thanks for sharing your faith journey. It is amazing, precious and beautiful.

  8. Hi, Jon,

    Your review of Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Leaving Church” really impressed me. It was comprehensive, literate and balanced. It made me want to read the book, especially since I am also a former pastor who has left the church. In fact, I was kicked out of the Presbyterian Church on a charge of heresy. I’m wondering if people ever have the effrontery to ask you to review their own books. I would love to have someone of your insight and background review my book, “A Handbook for Heretics.” In any case, thank you for making other people’s work available to the rest of us in such a readable manner. Sincerely, John W. Sloat

  9. Jon,

    It sounds to me like you may want to consider being a member of our SFO (Secular Franciscan Order) or perhaps you already are? You would be natural with you back ground and much more importanly you knowledge and desire to live the Franciscan life, it would see!!!

    Peace and all good things,

    Michael sfo

  10. Jon is it possible to send you a personal email? I identify with some of your spiritual journey, my own was conversion from Judiasm to Christianity. I was searching for prayers to St. Clare and am looking for a beautiful picture of St. Francis receiving the Stigmata. This led me to your website. Interested in your biog. and hope to contact you directly. God Bless.
    Rose Brenner, NY

  11. Jon,
    Just today I finished your wonderful book, ALMOST CATHOLIC, and my husband will read it next. We became Episopalians together upon marrying, and then later became Roman Catholics upon becoming parents. When reading your book I was torn between thinking, “Why doesn’t Jon do the same?” and “I understand why Jon wishes to stay in the wonderful Episcopal Church,” where we maintain many ties. Today I see that you indeed became a Roman Catholic and you honor the paths that brought you here, including attendance at Jewish shabbat services. I shall be most interested in reading your other books.
    Shalom & Pax
    Liz, Colorado Springs

  12. Hello Jon,

    I have read your book “Almost Catholic” awhile ago and suggested the book for my step son. I found the book while I waS doing my browsing in bookstores, not really intending to buy… but my passion for the “reasons why” pulled me to purchase your book.

    It was nice to see you took the extra leap into the Church. Your book is part of my spiritual collection. I will keep my eye out for your other books.

    Peace in Christ,


  13. Hi Jon,

    I “checked out” your book “Cloister Talks” from my local library on Saturday and love it. I too am someone who enjoys solitude and silence and am facinated by the way God is able to speak to me when I allow myself to get away from the craziness of life.

    I am the 2011 Women’s Retreat leader for my parish Padre Serra which is located in Camarillo, California. Ventura County. I would love to talk to you to explore the possibilty of having you be our facilitator. Our retreat is the last weekend in January and will take place at St. Mary’s Seminary in Santa Barbara.

    Please e-mail if you think this might work for you so that I can give you more information about us and what our retreats typically look like. This will be our 16th annual retreat!

  14. Jon,
    I just finished reading “Born Again,” and found it refreshing and easy to identify with. I also grew a fundamentalist and no longer am. I was born in Wheaton and attended the UW at Madison in the late 60s and early 70s. I am a grandson of John R. Rice whom you mention in your book. And I am now finishing my own book about the history of fundamentalism. I am now starting to look for an agent and a publisher. I would be happy to send you my book proposal or even a manuscript for your review if you are interested. Thanks for doing your work, brother!

  15. Hi John

    I have ordered your book on the Prayer of Saint Francis as I am discerning a vocation to the Secular Franciscans, and thought it would help. I shall let you know (I’m sure it will)
    I am joyous to have discovered this Little Saint :)


  16. Jon, this is a great blog and site. Very clean. I am completely mesmerized by the Padre Pio story. And the “and by the way” throw away comment of how Italian priest/chaplains were known to self-mutilate during WW1. that’s a book in itself. and it is so true that he is more popular than St. Francis now or Jesus. And, so yes, he was neurotic. This should come as no surprise if you’ve ever had the pleasure, blessing, curse, to live with near or by a visionary or saidnt.Stanley Visnniewski (who used to call himself the Catholic Worker’s only vocation) used said this about Dorothy Day and Catherine Doherty (whom he also knew – I met Stanley when he visited Madonna House years ago when I was there)”You know, Lauretta, the saints are 99.9% just like us -like Ivory soap- it the .9% where they are connected to God that makes them different”. So…yes, he was neurotic. Does that exclude hime from sainthood? Is he still a saint? Probably..but not for the usual reasons. Like JP II..yes, it’s all political, yes, he was wrong about this, that and the other thing. Is he still a saint? In my books, yes..I don’t know why but yes. It’s not the miracle, believe me… new semi-reitred live allows me the privilage of rattling on..

    Hope you are well.


  17. Dear Jon,

    I just finished reading your article “From Pages to Pixels” in America magazine. Interesting and well written. Reading and information by themselves do not lead to wisdom, particularly when “reading” is about mundane and superficial aspects of life. How much can following the Kardashians add to anyone’s wisdom and contribute to a person’s making good choices and decisions for themselves for the future?

    I am a seeker of wisdom. I tried to capture my journey and what I have found along the way in a book I have written – Knowing and Loving: The Keys to Real Happiness. You can find out more about the book and me at my websited for the book: Hopefully, you will find it interesting. Reading your article and some of your tweets, I think we share some ideas and approaches to religion and spirituality. One chapter in my book is titled “Why I am a Catholic.”

    Keep up your good work.

    Bob Beezat

  18. Dear Jon .,,

    I call my self the practicing Catholic. I cant say that I am almost a catholic, Baptist or any said denomination of any certain religion. I am like some others who haven’t admitted to themselves or to others that followed my pattern in praising God . I was born and raised a catholic. Blindly took all sacraments that made me a bonda fide catholic. Over the years , i had many influences that guided me to my friends church of worship and often times I’d give it a try and bam! I came back to what I believed since I was a child.I tried Budda, Islam, and the like through friends and the one thing that boils down was , “where was God in the mix of things” How did we get categorized into different methods of praise and called it ‘being a Baptist, or being a Muslim. Will God still hear me when I need that faith to guide me through stormy times and the good times?

    Often times , I’d just pray to get the edge off and just ask God Please guide me to be a better parent or a better person to others around me. I never got an vocal answer back but I always got the answers to these prayers from Gods Angels.I call it that because I haven’t physically seen God , but have seen the magical works that others played as an instrument to Gods Plans to help me in my journey to find the answers to my prayers . And so yes I do believe in God. But one of my adult kids asked me, “But are you saved yet?” Heck whats that all about since I am not dead yet and had no earthly idea what does that mean?

    At the age of 50, I got my biggest prayer answered through my sister that came from Texas and said she felt that I might need her help since she was a nurse . I didn’t think I needed her help because after all the surgeon that is operating on my 18 yr old , needed Gods healing hands because that son signed a waiver acknowledged that this surgery holds a life or death situation that required a signature that the parents were not going to sue the hospital. because what he had was only 24 hrs from the second we found out he would die, as oppose to thinking we had enuff time to find a second opinion doctor to properly diagnosis my son and we had no time.Had my baby sister NOT been there at the recovery room and not seen that he was bleeding from the surgery to his brain and spinal cord, my sister wouldn’t be here to call the nurses to page the dr to come back to my sons bed and re open the stitches and stop the bleeding just six hrs after the first surgery started.!
    So yes I believe in that invisible God that grants a listening ear to those that glorifies him for all the many blessings and the destitute that need his healing hands.

    so I am 55 and also almost a catholic but I am also a practicing one. I realized that I am not perfect. I am for the most part a good person, got caught up raising 7 kids and wanting my freedom to go back to school and learn something other than diaper changing and babysitting grandkids.I can see the ugly looks from my family as they don’t realized that God is the only one that I am going to eventually have to answer to . Not them or reasons for my changing into a new person and rediscovering God on a different level . I will continue to read articles and manuscripts that would enhance and rediscover Gods many blessings.
    I haven’t read your book , but its on my list. Thank you for reading.

  19. I love this quote, Jon. I may inscribe it somewhere and try to have it close to own heart. Luckily, I have not succumbed to the lure of tattooing….

  20. I read part of your work on hell and wondered
    if you’ve thought about Paridiso. I’ve found passages that are quite consoling. Some of which are in Revelations…no more tears no more sorrow…Its better than passages from Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Richard Rohr, Merton’s diaries. Its remarkable that such negative stuff is what’s popular or considered worthwhile…

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