When Roma Downey’s publisher presented her with a book-tour schedule, Salt Lake City wasn’t on it. Downey insisted that had to change.
“I went back and I said, ‘Oh, no. Wait a minute. I’ve got to go to Utah. It’s my second home,’” the former “Touched by an Angel” star said with a laugh.
So she’ll be here Friday, March 23, to talk about and sign her first book, “Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessings All Around Us.” This is, after all, where she lived during the nine-year run of “Touched by an Angel” (1994-2003), which made her a household name.
“It still feels like home,” said Downey, whose daughter, Reilly, was born “right there in St. Mark’s [Hospital]” in 1996. She and her husband, TV producer Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “The Voice,” “Shark Tank”), own a home in Park City “because I fell in love with Utah and have continued to come up there.”
She’s built a brand and a bit of an empire since then. She’s produced TV miniseries like “The Bible” and “The Doveworkers,” and movies like “Woodlawn” and the 2016 remake of “Ben-Hur.” And she’s the president of Lightworkers Media, a family and faith division of MGM, and the Light TV digital network.
Despite her success, Downey said she feels “incredibly vulnerable” about her book.
“It’s my story,” she said. “And it’s about how God has shown up in my life. It’s a deeply personal tale of my life’s experiences in the shadows and in the sunshine. With the sadness and the joys.”
She’s known both. Downey was just 10 when her mother died suddenly at age 48. She recalled visiting the grave with her father, carrying a bouquet.
“When I put the bunch of pansies on her grave, a real butterfly flew in the air. And my father said, ‘That little butterfly could be your mother’s spirit,’” Downey recalled. “It was just a little bit of light in the darkness of my grief … and a reminder that God is always watching over me. And ever since then, I have seen butterflies.”
Not just real butterflies, but butterfly tattoos and jewelry. Butterflies in art and advertising.
“It seems whenever I’ve been at my lowest point, a little butterfly just shows up,” Downey said. “And I see it as a symbol — as a reminder — that I’m not alone. It’s a real encouragement for me.”
“Box of Butterflies” is a collecton of stories about Downey’s life, mixed with scriptures, poems and quotes that inspire her. She writes about growing up in Northern Ireland amid sectarian violence. Of coming to America to pursue her dream of becoming an actor. And of “all the angels along my path. All the people who were blessings.”
She writes of the mother-daughter-like relationship she had with her “Touched by an Angel” co-star, Della Reese. When Reese’s daughter died in 2002, “she took me in my arms and said, ‘I always knew God brought me into your life because you needed a mother. I didn’t realize he was bringing you into my life because I was going to need a baby girl,’” Downey said.
Reese wrote the foreword for “Box of Butterflies,” although she didn’t live to see the book published; she died in November.
“But you know she’s around somewhere,” Downey said. “I feel her with me. Her legacy lives on in ‘Box of Butterflies’ as well.”
She aimed the book at “somebody not unlike myself. Somebody who, perhaps, had experienced loss. And the grief that comes from loss.”
Not just death, but divorce, job loss, loss of hope, trust and faith.
And Downey wrote the book “to be a comfort. To encourage. And invite people home to God, really, because I see such a spiritual hunger and void in our lives.”
It’s the message she’s bringing to Salt Lake City.
“I think many people are walking around feeling unworthy of being loved. I know that I did,” she said. “I think that having lost my Mum so early, I thought that if I’d been more lovable, if I’d been a better girl, perhaps my Mum wouldn’t have died. Which, of course, is absurd.”
For her, the remedy to shame and pain is “always love.”
“And I can’t wait to go share this book with my friends there in Salt Lake City,” Downey said.
Roma Downey in Salt Lake City
When • Friday, March 23, 7-9 p.m.
Where • First Baptist Church, 777 S. 1300 East
Admission • Tickets are not required.
Book signing • Those who have pre-purchased the book from The King’s English Bookshop (1511 S. 1500 East) will have priority placement in the signing line. To order a signed copy, call the store at 801-484-9100 or go online to kingsenglish.com.