Rather than be obsessed by celebrities who tend to be ‘famous for being famous’, get to know a few of the saints. None of us are ever going to be worthy, but they’re good to emulate. And once you get to know them, you’ll find that most had very interesting lives.
Who needs celebrity tosh on TV, when you read about the lives of Catholic saints? St Francis of Assisi was a real party boy in his time, and Durham’s own St Cuthbert (buried on the island of Lindisfarne where he spent most of his life in prayer as a hermit) used to guard sheep. He even passed laws to protect eider ducks, and is regarded as ‘the world’s first environmentalist’. It’s said that he became a monk after witnessing angels carrying St Aiden (the monastery’s abbot) to Heaven.
You can even take an ancient pilgrimage on the Northern Saints Trails. These six routes cover County Durham and Northumberland (including the holy island of Lindisfarne). England used to be a Roman Catholic country until the Reformation when Henry VIII banned it, to form the Church of England so he could divorce. Many monks and nuns were killed. Stories of northern saints are interesting and dramatic.
Saint of the Day is a beautiful guide to Catholic saints, who represent almost every background. Saints used their God-given talents to witness God’s compassionate love, with many coming from surprising backgrounds. Based on the popular saint of the day sign-up at Franciscan media, learn about ancient saints, plus newly added saints including Solanus Casey (who founded a soup kitchen in Detroit, during the Great Depression).
Guided by Saints is a beautiful book inspired by the passionate resolve of St Clare of Assisi (a close friend of St Francis). Also inspired by the gently humility of Blessed Solanus Casey and the fierce bravery of St Joan of Arc, discover how saints have so much to teach us by their examples, choices and virtues. Most of us will never deal with the situations these holy women and men had to face. But we can still learn from them. This journal features 30 saints (and those on the path) with different backgrounds and life stories.
Gracie’s unique guide to modern saints
Artist Gracie has a wonderful website The Modern Saint, where she uses her creative skills to modernise the lives of the ancient saints. St Mary (above) was a Celtic nun in Australia who got ex-communicated (only returned just before her death) because her order of nuns reported alleged sexual abuse by a priest, in the last century.
She paints funky images, shares their stories and also includes information on what she believes they would care about today. You can also use the site to discover your most likely ‘kindred spirit’ saint, and then you know which of her affordable prayer cards to buy, with images on the front and prayers on the back, to keep with you when you need them.
Gracie believes (and we agree!) that stuffy images and boring text can lead people to be uninspired by Catholic saints and lead people away from their faith. Also now in book form, these descriptions and artist images will change the way you think about saints:
- St Agnes, a wealthy beauty from Rome who after deciding she did not want to marry (but devote her life to God) was dragged through the streets and set on fire, then beheaded. Today she would likely care about domestic abuse and assault survivors.
- St Basil was from Turkey and after becoming a priest. He created soup kitchens for helping in famines, weeded out leaders unfit for church positions, and criticised unjust public officials. He looked to reform (not punish) thieves and prostitutes, and built shelters, hospitals and hospices, and even helped to break up human trafficking rings. Today he would be involved in world justice.
- St Dymphna was a beautiful red-head from Ireland, whose father began to lust after her, when his wife died and he wanted to marry again. When she refused, he cut off her head with a sword. She is now patron saint for people with mental health issues.
- St Ignatius of Loyola was a Spaniard, who came from a family with minor nobility. After a materialistic start in life, he read up on the saints while recovering from a soldier’s wound, and used the rest of his life to service. This is the aspect of the Catholic church dedicated to using your unique God-given talents to help others.
- St Francis of Assisi (and his friend St Clare of Assisi) are the patron saints of animal welfare. Francis was born to a wealthy family and was a real party boy, until he gave all his possessions away to live a simple life. Animals apparently stopped everything to listen to him preach. Today he is also patron saint of simple living and ecology. These are the saints to pray to, if you love animals more than humans (and fellow Catholics don’t understand you!)
St Paul’s Eight Steps to Happiness
St Paul’s Eight Steps to Happiness breaks open the life of this much-loved saint, in a gem of book that reveals eight types of justice, and how you can exercise them in your own life. Each chapter unpacks one of these virtues with a ‘summing up’ section to apply to modern life. The book also includes handy tables to break down the teachings of St Paul in connection to Sacred Scriptures, for easy references in daily life. Also learn of the six types of grace that are waiting to pour into your life, with practical applications and the fruits that result. ‘Take every thought’ captive, and find happiness by focusing on all that is beautiful, good and true.
100 block-print portraits of saints and mystics
Everything Could Be a Prayer is a luminous collection of over 100 block prints by artist Kreg Yingst. He carves images of Teresa of Ávila and others onto blocks of food, then inks and prints them on paper. This is visio divina (a form of ancient prayer where one meditates on works of art).
From Brigid of Kildare we learn hospitality and from Takashi Nagai, we learn trust. Each print is paired with a scripture, a meditation and prayer. Complete with Lent and Advent reading guides, this is a rich resource for private prayer and communal reflection.
Kreg Yingst is an illustrator, who focuses on block printing. His original works are created from carved blocks of wood and other materials, then printed onto paper. He has a BA (and MA in painting from Eastern Illinois University). His work is found in numerous private collections. He lives in Florida, USA.
explore the lives of lesser-known saints
Pray for Us is a unique and interesting book that explores the lives of 75 lesser-known saints who sinned and suffered and struggled their way to holiness. A popular missionary will stretch anyone’s preconceived notions of holiness when they read of a chain-smoking socialist, a teenage video gamer, an opium addict, a satanic high priest, a disabled beggar and a self-absorbed mean girl, who all became saints.
This book highlights the sorrows and struggles of broken people, who turned their lives around and dedicated themselves to God and his work. Through these edgy profiles with fresh and fascinating stories, the author explores the universal call, and shows how God can transform anyone (from grouchy theologians to bratty teenagers) into saints. Anyone can become a saint if they trust in the Lord! Among those you’ll meet are:
Blessed Carlo Acutis (an Italian teen who enjoyed video games and loved the Eucharist) but refused to waste time on things that weren’s pleasing to God.
Blessed Sara Salkahazi (a chain-smoking socialist and wild child from an upper-class Hungarian family) who exposed the plight of the working class, and smuggled Jewish people to safety during World War 2.
Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo (a married women who defied her family’s opposition to lead the church in Madagascar).
St Dulce Pontes (the daughter of a wealth family in Brazil) who decided to serve the poor by becoming a nun, and teaching literary to children and their parents in the slums.
Blessed Bartolo Longo, a satanic priest who returned to the Church and worked to bring people back to Christ. He also founded schools for the poor, established orphanages and created Rosary groups.
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a Christian opium addict who never got clean, but still had the courage to die a martyr’s death for his beliefs, during the Boxer Rebellion in China.
An extensive index includes name days and patronages to help you find the inspiration you are looking for, in the lives of these holy people.
What a diverse collection of captivating stories. These are not dull saccharine accounts, stringing together bare facts and dates, as most saint collections do. These stories of relatively uknown saints will make your heart come alive. Get this book for any person who thinks saints are boring and irrelevant. Brandon Vogt
Meg Hunter-Kilmer is a Catholic writer, retreat leader and missionary who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Notre Dame.