When I was a child, we had a beautiful, leather bound compilation of saints on our bookshelf, complete with illustrated pictures of haloed figures in robes, some with wounds, all with serious and stoic expressions on their faces. I was enthralled by them. I was in awe of them. But I didn’t ever relate to them.
Growing up, the saints seemed like perfect, holy, and select people handpicked by God. I was a short-tempered little girl who got bored at church and didn’t always mind her parents. (I still am like this, sometimes.) Sainthood was for those special people. It was not for me.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that saints were (gasp!) real people too, some with sordid pasts and many with a good deal of sins under their belt. And it wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized how important it is to teach our children both the saintly and human qualities of the saints.
“You mean she cried when she was a kid?” My daughter asked incredulously at the breakfast table one morning, looking at her little brother who had just finished a temper tantrum himself. “Like we cry?” We had just finished reading a short biography on St. Thérèse Lisieux which covered a good portion of her childhood and fascinated my daughter. She stared at the illustration of St. Thérèse holding a flower and I could practically hear her thinking. This saint was a little girl once. Like me.
While this past year has not been anything we could have ever imagined, it has given me time to spend with my children and the saints, moments for which I am grateful. Teaching my children from home was not something I had expected to do this year, but I decided to take it as an opportunity to learn about our faith and the people who represent it.
Now at the breakfast table most mornings, we invite a saint to join us. In addition to the Little Flower, we learned about how St. Augustine “didn’t listen to his mom” when he was a kid, that St. Francis of Assisi “led a really nice life before he gave it up for God,” and that St. Frances Xavier Cabrini “loved playing with dolls” and also endured many hardships when she came to the United States. We learned St. Ambrose sang beautifully, St. Barnaby’s talent was juggling, and St. Benedict was a whiz at baking bread.
During these past few months, there have been days when every news story is worse than the next, when the baby won’t nap, and the waffles burn in the toaster. There are days when everyone needs me all at once and everything seems too much and I am never enough. On these days, I am glad to have the saints for both me and my children, to learn by, to live by, and to show us the true meaning of love.
Here are the resources that have helped us get to know the saints better:
“Once Upon a Time Saints” by Ethel Pochocki, illustrated by Tom Matt
As the author states, the stories written in the book “are meant to show human and lovable (most of the time) people whose passion for God led them into preposterous escapades.” My children loved the fairytale-like stories, and they were bite-sized enough to read and discuss over breakfast. Filled with both popular and also some lesser-known saints (Comgall was a new one for us), the author chooses to focus on story rather than statistics. And it works. For example, my kids now fondly think of St. Anne as Jesus’ Nana.
“Stories of the Saints” by Carey Wallace, illustrated by Nick Thornborrow
Although the stories written about these saints are just as beautiful, the gorgeous illustrations are what grab your attention first. I recommend reading the short introduction aloud to your children before you venture into the stories as it encapsulates well the tone of the book. I appreciated that this book didn’t gloss over the difficulties saints had in their lives. For example, the author mentions Mother Teresa’s struggle with her own faith. I love the author’s message that “no matter how flawed or frightened we feel, when we let the courage of faith transform us, the whole world can be transformed, too” and it resonates well with the lives depicted in the book.
“New Picture Book of Saints: Illustrated Lives of the Saints for Young and Old” by Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D.
An oldie but goodie. This is the saints book we keep in the car and let our little ones bring into church. It was the first kids’ saints book we gave our children. The exact one we have belonged to my husband’s late brother, which makes our connection to it even more special, and is a constant reminder to my kids that “Uncle Cory” is always with us.
Whether you follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or her blog, Meg will be sure to give you fantastic stories of well-known and lesser-known saints and beatified people. Our family recently started listening to her podcasts on Saints for Kids. On it, she tells stories about saints, whom she calls her friends, in an engaging and conversational way for both children and adults alike. Through Meg, I have learned many things that helped me teach my kids about our faith, including about the strong-willed St. Eulalia of Merida, whose feast day is the birthday of my strong-willed daughter.
Through all these resources, my kids and I have heard tales of amazing heroes who suffered, sacrificed, and loved greatly for God. However, we also got to know them as people: real, everyday people. Like us. And that lesson is equally important. Because it makes the impossible seem possible.
I want my children to know that they can love playing with dolls like St. Frances Cabrini, they can not listen to their mom like St. Augustine, they can love hiking and the outdoors like St. John Paul II, and they can also, one day, be saints like them too.
Originally published August 5, 2020