Summoned to Serve|
Saints serve as heroes for us
The lives of these spiritual role models have long intrigued us
By Deirdre Daly O'Neal
The world needs heroes and the Catholic Church offers many, in the form of saints, from
great thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and Teresa of Avila, to single-minded pursuers of
holiness, such as Francis of Assisi and Therese of Lisieux.
For Catholics, spiritual role models generally fall into two categories: Persons who have
officially been declared saints by the church, and individuals, living or dead, who have
no official designation of saint but who are held in high regard for living Christian lives.
This latter group might be called saints by popular demand.
Spokespersons for Catholic bookstores and publishing houses, including Sheed and
Ward, Loyola University Press/Chicago, The Crossroads Publishing Company, and U.S.
Catholic Bookstore in Chicago say interest has never been higher in Catholic saints and
U. S. Catholic bookstores report top sales for books about social activist Dorothy Day,
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, theologian and priest-philosopher Henri Nouwen, Pope John
Paul, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Carmelite contemplative St. Therese of Lisieux,
and the late archbishop of Chicago, Card. Joseph Bernardin.
St. Therese of Lisieux was a cloistered Carmelite who entered the convent at age 15, and
died of tuberculosis at age 24. She advocated teaching holiness by doing all things well
for the love of Jesus, rather than expecting holiness to come by doing great deeds in
In 1997, Pope John Paul named her a Doctor of the Church, an elite title reserved for
saints and theologians whose preaching or writings are considered to be an outstanding
guide to holiness for all the faithful.
Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a family that was nominally Episcopalian.
Dorothy was both an agnostic and a communist sympathizer by the time she was in her
early 20s. In 1926, at age 29, she gave birth to a daughter out-of-wedlock, an event that
ultimately led to her spiritual re-awakening and conversion to Catholicism.
The social activist is best remembered as the co-founder, along with French-Canadian Peter Maurin, of the Catholic Worker Movement. Beginning in 1933, members of the Catholic Worker Movement opened houses of hospitality for the poor and homeless in cities across the United States, many of which still operate today. She died in 1980, at the age of 83. The cause for her canonization has been introduced at the Vatican, although Dorothy herself was known to take a rather dim view of official sainthood.
Also popular, said spokesperson Adrienne Curry, are writings by Catholic mystics, persons, often hermits or members of contemplative religious orders, who are in deep personal communion with God. The most widely-read mystics include Juliana of Norwich (1342-1423), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), and John of the Cross (1542-1591).
Children have a special need for heroes, said Irene Murphy, managing editor for Benziger Press and editor of a series of religious education textbooks for children. Each grade in the Benziger religious education series is assigned its particular patron saint.
We try to assign a saint who will reinforce the particular message that we are trying to get across to the children at that grade level, Murphy said. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of the second grade, when most children make their First Communion, because of his great love of, and reverence for, the Eucharist.
Mother Frances Cabrini - the saint of the immigrants - is the patron saint for third graders because she exemplified the living out of the Beatitudes. The study of the Beatitudes is a major part of the third grade curriculum.
In fourth grade, the children learn about St. Francis of Assisi, who is known for his tremendous love of all of God's creation. This theme fits in with the fourth grade curriculum's emphasis on the responsibility for protecting the environment, Murphy said.
Next: Mary and the poor