KAUKAUNA — As a stay-at-home mom, Megan Bolle has found a way to entertain her four children, ages 8, 6, 3 and 18 months, while teaching them about the saints. Her passion for creating what she calls “saint peg dolls” has even grown into selling them online.
Bolle and her husband, Joe, are members of Holy Cross Parish. They first met while attending college at the then University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley in Menasha. Both ended up transferring to different schools, but were reacquainted five years later when Megan saw a photo Joe posted on Facebook. It was taken outside of the Chubby Seagull ice cream store in Sherwood, which, at the time, was owned by Megan’s aunt, Amy Brandt.
“That kind of kicked off our conversation,” she said, adding that she learned both had been born “17 hours apart in the same hospital.” They dated for one year, were engaged for one more and then married at Sacred Heart Church in Sherwood in 2012.
When their oldest child, Charlotte, was 3 or 4, Megan enrolled her in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a religious education program for children offered at St. Mary Parish in Appleton. “They organized a peg doll exchange between parents, so we did a resurrection set,” said Bolle.
The dolls — small wooden pegs that are hand painted — are a way to introduce children to the saints while playing together.
Bolle said she created a peg doll of Mary Magdalene, while her sister, Rebecca VanDinten, painted an angel. “It kind of was just downhill from there,” said Bolle with a smile.
Soon after, Bolle heard about a saint peg doll exchange on Facebook that was held twice a year, so she joined the group. For the first exchange, she painted St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. “All my friends were like, ‘Oh I hated this, I’m not doing this again.’ I was like, ‘I kind of really liked it.’ So then, I just started doing them for my kids.
“We have a huge basket of them now, from all of the exchanges and the dolls that I’ve painted for them,” said Bolle. “It’s some of their go-to toys and it’s just so fun to see them lining up their little saints in a little parade or setting up church with them.”
It launched a passion that not only resulted in hundreds of peg dolls, said Bolle, but a side business she calls “The Wooden Intercessor” found on Etsy.com. “My children play with their peg dolls almost daily and love choosing which saints will accompany them to Mass on Sunday,” she wrote on her Etsy webpage.
While her friends didn’t share her love for creating peg dolls, Bolle said she “fell in love with the process. … It felt like I could actually share our Catholic faith with other people and help to bring the lives of the saints to other Catholic families.”
Choosing and creating saints for her peg dolls has been a way to research the lives of saints and how they lived out their faith, she said.
“It’s been a very awesome way to learn more about the saints and how we, as Catholics, have just this amazing bank of people who we can ask to pray for us,” she said. “That was the big reason behind why I named my business ‘The Wooden Intercessor’ — because the saints are definitely there to pray for us and they are amazing intercessors.”
She said her husband is very supportive of her business. “He even has made posts on Facebook, ‘Look what my wife made.’ He really appreciates being able to have them in the house and be a gateway to talk about his faith,” Bolle said.
In addition to Charlotte, her other children include Amelia, Jude and Genevieve.
“When we had our youngest, I put my shop on vacation mode and went on maternity leave,” said Bolle. “A month later, COVID happened. So it was like the world’s longest maternity leave.” She said she recently returned to making her peg dolls “and it just felt so calming to have it back open and to be able to start painting again.”
The couple’s faith is an important part of their lives —Joe has participated in every “Walk to Mary” pilgrimage from De Pere to Champion since they began in 2013 — and creating the saintly peg dolls is another way to grow in faith, said Bolle.
“It has made me realize that there is a lot that I didn’t know (about the Catholic faith) and it’s really allowed me to get further into the history of our faith and what a lot of these people have actually gone through in their lives,” she said. “There have been times in my life when I’ve had it rough, and then I look at the saints, and I’m like, ‘Oh, not even close.’ What they walked through is so much more. So it’s been very inspiring.”
Name: Megan Bolle
Parish: Holy Cross, Kaukauna
Favorite saint: Teresa of Kolkata
Words to live by: “God doesn’t require us to succeed. He only requires that you try.” — St. Teresa of Kolkata.