Msgr. Tuzeneu signs a copy of his recently published book. Dorothy K. LaMantia photo
Msgr. Tuzeneu signs a copy of his recently published book. Dorothy K. LaMantia photo
" I wanted to write something with family values, no horror, no hidden messages, except for family, faith and life. " Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu author and pastor, St. Mary Parish, Barnegat

Each week, parishioners of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, look forward to the parish bulletin, especially the letter from their pastor, Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu.  While his topics vary – issues of faith, family or the world at-large – he often hooks his readers by telling a story.

When Msgr. Tuzeneu announced that his first novel, “The Cloud People,” was to be published, his parishioners were surprised and intrigued by the new direction his writing had taken.

“Writing was something I always did,” he said. “I made up stories when I was a kid, but I never really thought about a book. Years ago, I wrote a book about Santa and the Easter Bunny, which was meant to be a gift for family and parishioners at Christmas.”

Intended for a middle-school audience, “The Cloud People” is the story of a boy named Billy, who is taking his first solo trip by airplane to visit grandparents.

Shortly after take-off, Billy falls asleep then awakens to see a face in the clouds outside his window.  When the eyes of the face open, they look directly at Billy then close abruptly, startled at having been seen by the boy. The face disappears, but Billy is captivated by the vision and determined to find out if it was real. The mystery draws in his grandparents, uncle and best friend and transforms his visit into an adventure full of surprises and lessons about life, loyalty and friendship.

The story originated during a flight 10 years ago.

“On a trip to Tennessee, looking outside the plane window, I saw what appeared to be a cloud with a face. I started writing a short story about it,” he said. “The ideas kept growing until they became … a book.”

Finding time was the first hurdle for this dedicated pastor of a two-church parish.

When he began writing four years ago, he sat down at his word processor two hours in the evening. “I chalk it up to good old Catholic guilt.  I couldn’t write during the day when I was supposed to be working, so I wrote at night, because it wasn’t my job to write,” he said.

After almost a year of evenings spent writing, he had three chapters – then COVID-19 emerged.

In 2020, when Masses and prayer services went uncelebrated, and councils and committees did not meet, the pandemic cloud provided a silver lining – a gift of extra time.

“When the office closed, the Holy Spirit said, ‘You might as well be productive.’ Some people cleaned out closets. I wrote a book,” Msgr. Tuzeneu said.

By the time pandemic restrictions started to relax in the fall of 2021, Msgr. Tuzeneu completed a 20-chapter novel. Before seeking publishers, he asked several middle to high school students in the parish to read the manuscript because, he said, “I’m not a kid. I like to write, but I’m not a kid’s writer.”

When they recommended that Billy’s voice, not a narrator’s, should tell the story, Msgr. Tuzeneu made the change.

In spring of 2022, he began his search for a publisher. “I sent it out to a number of agents,” said Msgr. Tuzeneu.  “I was never refused, but I never heard anything either.”

He decided to self-publish, which led him to Christian Faith Publishers, Princeton, a company appealing to writers of faith and family publications. They agreed to publish “The Cloud People” and provided guidance all the way to the design of the book’s cover, depicting the characters looking up at a hot-air balloon in a perfect blue sky with clouds smiling upon them.

“Thinking back, it was a lot of work,” Msgr. Tuzeneu reflected. But, he acknowledged, “I enjoyed the character and got caught up in him.  Maybe partially I am Billy – he climbed trees, and certain things came from memories of people and things. I wanted to write something with family values, no horror, no hidden messages, except for family, faith and life.”

The book is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Msgr. Tuzeneu hopes income from book sales can augment donations to St. Mary Church, the parish’s twin in Ziroobwe, Uganda.