As a young man in his 20s, my father lost both of his legs in an industrial accident. As it was the early 1940s and medicine was not as advanced as today, his doctors told him it was unlikely he would ever walk again. But, my father had faith in St. Jude, the patron saint for hopeless causes, to whom he prayed each day, and before the year ended, he was surprising his doctors and walking on two artificial prosthetics – a feat my father always credited to St. Jude.
My father’s love and devotion for St. Jude grew. When my older brother was born, my dad insisted he be named Michael Jude. A picture of Saint Jude hung in our house, always prompting me to wonder how that ‘tongue of fire’ hovered over his head and why he carried what looked like a gold coin of Jesus on his chest. We grew up listening to stories about St. Jude as well as other heroes of the faith, as my father liked to call the saints. The Six O’clock Saints book series by Joan Windham was a staple in our house. When one of us seven children acted up, my parents would suggest we go read another chapter from the book and try to emulate the men and women we read about.
That book series, and the stories they told of ordinary imperfect people whose lives were touched and changed by Jesus, stayed with me as I developed in my faith. I was St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake as I played in the back yard with my siblings. I prayed to the saints to help me pass a test at school. It was a family event to huddle around the television watching a rerun of the classic movie Song of Bernadette. I was born on Christmas Day so my parents named me Mary Joseph, after Our Lady and St. Joseph. And when I got mad as a child or fought with my siblings, how many times did I hear my parents remind me to go to my room and reflect on my ‘heavenly’ friends for whom I was named.
At my Catholic grammar school, my classmates and I were honored on the feast day of the saint for whom we were named. There were special prayers and stories told about that saint, and as I recall, a free night of homework to celebrate the occasion. While I knew I would never grow up to be a saint, these celebrations and stories about these holy men and women, and the virtues they extolled, encouraged me always to try to do my best.
Consider celebrating the feast day of the saint for whom your child or grandchild is named. Go to Mass on their feast day and do something special afterward, like going out to breakfast or lunch, or treat them to their favorite meal and dessert. One of my co-workers sends her godchildren a card remembering them on their feast day. When your children face difficulties, encourage them to pray to their saint for inspiration. Purchase a children’s book on the lives of the saints and read their stories as part of your child’s bedtime ritual.
Teaching children and young adults about the saint for whom they were named at baptism or the name taken when they receive the Sacrament of Confirmation is a positive way to connect them with their faith. Many saints led challenging lives and overcame temptation through prayer and acts of charity. Those are important virtues for our youth to emulate while also helping them to understand that God can always use the messiness or difficulties of our lives for a greater purpose.
-- Mary-Jo McLaughlin
For more ideas on how to incorporate stories about the lives of the saints into family activities,or for ideas on books about saints, visit NorwichDiocese.org/FaithSparks