St. Viator student’s book offers donkey’s view of Christ’s journey to cross

Reviewed By Michelle Martin
Sunday, May 1, 2016

It’s not every high school freshman who has a book about the connection between Jesus’ birth and crucifixion on Amazon, or who uses a book to raise money for Catholic schools and other institutions.

But Shane Cloonan, 14, who attends St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, did exactly that with “Journey to the Cross.”

The book, which started with a writing assignment when he was a sixth-grader at St. Anne School in Barrington, was a two-year journey for Shane that culminated with the release of the hardcover book last fall.

“It was really cool to finally hold the book in my own hands,” he said.

The assignment was to write a Christmas story from a different perspective. Shane decided to write about the Nativity from the point of view of the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem.

“At that time, our family had two Sicilian donkeys, and that’s where the idea came from,” Shane said.

His mother, Debbie Cloonan, wasn’t sure it would work when Shane shared his idea, but when she read it, she said, “I told him, ‘This is really good.’”

She urged him to expand it to cover the crucifixion as well.

Shane said he took some time to think about it and figure out how he wanted to make the story work. Using the crucifixion allowed him to incorporate the legend of how some donkeys got cross-shaped markings across their back and withers. The story goes that the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday followed along as Jesus carried the cross, wanting to take the burden onto its own back.

When Jesus was raised on the cross, the donkey was unable to bear the sight and turned away. Then God caused the shadow of the cross to fall across the faithful animal, and the marking remained.

In Shane’s book, the same donkey that carries Mary to Bethlehem carries Jesus into Jerusalem and witnesses the crucifixion.

The book was illustrated by Richard Browning, a former art teacher of Shane’s from Elgin Academy. Browning also put the Cloonans in contact with State Street Press, which published “Journey to the Cross.”

Shane said the thing that took the longest was editing.

“It’s amazing how many sets of eyes have to look at something, and you still find things wrong,” he said. “There are so many things that can slip by.”

He is working on the St. Viator school newspaper this year, and said he plans to continue writing as an avocation, but has not yet decided on a career path.

Since September, the book has been used as a fundraiser in some way at St. Colette, Rolling Meadows; Our Lady of the Wayside, Arlington Heights; St. Hubert, Hoffman Estates; and St. Mary, Elgin.

Forty percent of the proceeds of any books ordered through Shane’s Facebook page ( or his website ( before May 22 will be donated to Catholic Charities, according to Debbie Cloonan.

Shane, who was confirmed at his home parish on Easter, said writing the book made him think differently about his faith.

“It showed me a way to teach about God that kids could understand,” he said. “It’s simple instead of complex and boring.”

“Journey to the Cross” is available for $19.95. For signed copies call 847-207- 7996.