Chip Minemyer | Retired bishop turns love of mysteries into help for those facing hardship

There is no mystery to the great works done by the folks at Catholic Charities.

But a new “whodunit?” book by a retired bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is supporting the organization’s mission of helping those facing challenges.

“Flight of the Beetle” was written by Bishop Emeritus Joseph Adamec and published earlier this year. The book is headed for a second printing, just in time for the holidays.

“It’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” Adamec said of his project. “I’m doing something that I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s doing some good.”

Catholic Charities helps those struggling to pay for heat or power, or faced with eviction. The organization also offers counseling and adoption services.

The program often steps in when government assistance runs out or has been cut, and the coming winter will be a busy time.

“We’re hearing it’s going to be a difficult year,” said Sharon Felson, a social worker and therapist at Catholic Charities in Bellefonte. “But we want to give them hope.”

The Bellefonte office serves people across Centre County, and also has a satellite office in Lock Haven.

Yes, copies of Adamec’s book are available at the Bellefonte office, 213 E. Bishop St., or by calling 944-9388.

The diocese also has offices in Altoona and Johnstown, and serves people of all faiths and backgrounds.

“There may be a limited perception of what we do and whom we serve,” Felson said. “We don’t turn anyone away.”

“Bishop Joseph’s decision to donate all proceeds from his book sales to Catholic Charities is not surprising,” said Tony DeGol, the diocese’s secretary for communications. “As diocesan bishop, he was always very supportive of the agency, and that support continues in his retirement.”

Adamec, 78, stepped aside two years ago, having served as the region’s bishop since 1987.

He said he wrote his first mystery stories for his school paper while growing up in Michigan.

As bishop, he penned dinner mysteries every year for nine years. Those stories were acted out by local volunteers.

One of those dinner mysteries, “Gems All Gone,” was the basis for “Flight of the Beetle.”

“I’ve liked to write for most of my life, ever since grade school, but it’s been more for my own enjoyment than any other purpose,” Adamec said, adding: “I don’t know if I’m a writer, but I write.”

Adamec said he has more than 30 Agatha Christie titles in his library.

“I like the way she wrote, and decided maybe I could do something similar,” he said. “It’s easy reading, and that’s what I wanted to do.

“I just enjoy mysteries. They seem to come easy for me. I couldn’t imagine myself writing a love story.”

In “Flight of the Beetle,” a young boy named Joey tackles the disappearance of a family heirloom, a scarab brooch.

The setting for the story is based on Adamec’s hometown, and characters and situations were drawn from his childhood experiences.

It’s no accident that he shares a name with his protagonist.

“The kid is me,” Adamec said. “I had a paper route, and this kid has a paper route. I didn’t solve any mysteries. That part is totally fictitious. But this is as close to an autobiography as I’m going to get.”

He said: “You make things up, but it helps if you have something concrete to help set things up.”

Adamec is still a bishop and active as a priest. He attends Mass at St. Mary’s in Hollidaysburg, and says he is not bored in his retirement.

“Now that I’m retired, I’m not so distracted by the responsibilities of an office,” Adamec said. “I’m going to spend the time trying to get to know my Lord better.

“I believe retirement shouldn’t be the end of your life, just another facet of your life. Or, put another way, not the end of the story, just another chapter.

“Some bishops and pastors have trouble with that, moving on to the next stage. I could write a book on how you should retire.”

Adamec takes joy in knowing the book he did write is helping people in need. He said another mystery novel is in the works.

“The proceeds are not going to administration,” he said. “They are earmarked specifically to assist the poor. Especially during the winter, many people have a challenging time.

“I’m told the charities are down to their last few. But I hope there’s some interest during the holidays.”

DeGol suspects there will be.

“Reaction to the book and Bishop Joseph’s decision to donate profits to Catholic Charities has been very positive,” DeGol said. “I check in regularly with the Catholic Charities office, and they consistently report that sales are strong.

“One couple from Altoona was especially eager to help Catholic Charities. They bought 11 copies of the book to give as Christmas presents, and they are working to promote book sales through other venues.”

And while Adamec is a fan of Agatha Christie, he suspects his love of narratives built upon riddles and secrets unfolding is inspired by a much higher source.

“God is a mystery, and we live in the mystery,” Adamec said. “Maybe that’s where it came from.

“God put this all together. How? Why? That’s for us to ponder. We want to know why all the time. Every new day is a production.”