Read an Excerpt
What is a saint?
Do you have any heroes?
I bet you do. Think for just a minute about the people you think are great. Think about people you want to be like when you grow up.
Who are they? Your parents? Your grandparents? A teacher? An athlete, a singer, or a world leader?
Most of us have heroes. Heroes help us figure out what’s important in life and what it takes to be the kind of person we want to be.
Did you know that the church has heroes too? They’re called saints.
You’ve heard of saints. There’s a good chance you go to a parish or a school named after one.Maybe your town even bears the name of a saint—such as San Francisco or St. Louis. Perhaps you have something else in common with a saint: your very own name.
Reminders of saints are all around us. But did you ever wonder what exactly a saint is? Did you ever stop to wonder how the saint you’re named after got to be a saint in the first place? Let’s see if we can find answers to these big questions.
SAINTS ARE HOLY PEOPLE
When you think about the saints you’ve heard of, such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis, or St. Thérèse, probably the first word that comes to your mind is holy. But what does that mean? What is a holy person?
It’s a simple answer, really. Holy people put God and his will first. Nothing else in the lives of holy people can even come close to competing with God—not money, not possessions, not fame, not even physical comfort.
Holy people listen to God and let him work through them. They try to see people as God sees them. They also try to treat them as he would. That’s why most saints are known for, among other things, the way they helped the poor, the sick, and the outcast. Hardly anyone else in the world pays attention to such people, but God never forgets them, so the saints don’t either!
All saints are holy people, but that doesn’t mean they’re all exactly alike. In this book, you’ll find young saints and old saints. Saints are men and women, boys and girls. They come from all over the world, and they have many different skin colors. They all have different talents too. No two saints are alike. Each holy man or woman shares different gifts with the world, building up God’s kingdom in his or her own unique way.
SAINTS ARE MODELS FOR US
Sometimes when we listen to Jesus’ words, they seem so very hard to follow. Sometimes we wish that God were easier to understand.
Saints—those joyful, holy people—show us that Jesus’ words aren’t impossible to live by. They show us that no matter who we are or what our talents may be, it’s possible for us to put Jesus first. And putting Jesus first will bring us more happiness than we could ever imagine.
Saints also show us that God is real and that the strength and grace he gives us is real too. Saints were able to do amazingly brave things not because they were so strong themselves, but because God made them strong. Saints show us what a difference God’s love can make in the lives of people who suffer. Saints wrote letters, books, and prayers to share with us their deepest moments with God.
So when we wonder where God is, saints are there to show us.When we wonder if following God is really possible, saints are there to show us that it is.
SAINTS PRAY FOR US IN HEAVEN
Have you ever asked someone to pray for you? Have you ever prayed for someone else?
I’m sure you have. Praying for someone is a way of loving that person. It’s a way to show compassion and care. It’s a way to try to help.
Now, you already know that saints are holy people who put God first. That means that they put love first, since God is love. Saints never stop loving and never stop caring. They don’t stop loving even after they’ve died!
Death is not the end of life. Jesus brings us eternal life with him. The saints, holy people that they are, continue to love as they enjoy life in heaven with God.
Think of it this way: You ask your friends to pray for you or for other people all the time.Well, up in heaven, you’ve got a whole bunch of very special friends—the saints! That’s why we talk to saints now, even after they’ve passed away.We know that they’re with God.We know that they are filled with love. And just like our friends on earth, they’re happy to pray for us all the time and any time we ask them to!
SAINTS ARE HONORED BY THE CHURCH
Millions of holy men and women have walked on God’s earth. You probably know some yourself.
Sometimes holy people are so special and so close to God that the church decides to recognize them. These are the people we call “saint” with a capital S. These are people the church wants the whole world to know about. That way the whole world can see how much goodness and joy God’s love can bring into a person’s life.
The church recognizes these very special holy people by canonizing them. Canonizing means declaring that a person was a special friend of God and because of that is a special friend of everyone in the world.
This is how canonization usually starts. After a holy person dies, people start to talk about his or her Godcentered life. A few people may start to honor the holy person by asking that person to pray for them. People honor a holy person by asking him or her to pray for their specific problems. If those prayers are answered, the word spreads. Eventually, if enough people are convinced that the holy person is special enough for the whole world to know about, they ask the church to decide whether the holy person should be declared a saint with a capital S.
It takes a long time to make a decision like that. At the Vatican, the center of the Catholic Church, the officials in charge must know everything about the holy person’s life. They must read everything the person wrote. They must listen to and carefully examine stories of answered prayers and even of miracles that are related to that holy person.
If they decide that knowing about the holy person would help the people of the world grow in God’s love, they give the holy person the title of “Venerable.” If, after that, more people do grow in faith and have their prayers answered, the holy person is declared “Blessed.” At that time, the church appoints a certain day in the year to be the holy person’s feast day.
And finally, after a number of years, the Vatican officials may declare this holy person a “Saint.” They make this decision after many people have come to understand God more and have had more strength to follow Jesus and to pray—all because of knowing about the holy person’s life.
So a saint is a person who puts God first, lets Jesus live through him or her, is a model for us, prays for us in heaven, and is honored by the whole church for all that he or she has done to bring God’s love into the world.
In this book, you’ll read about lots of saints from all over the world and from all across time. You’ll see that holiness doesn’t have any boundaries. Any person of any age, living anywhere at any time, can put Jesus first and let God strengthen him or her to do marvelous things.
People Who Love Children
Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
St. Nicholas 4th century
Children all over the world know him and love him.
In Germany, he’s Kriss Kringle. In France, he’s Pere Noel. British children call him Father Christmas. Of course, you know him as Santa Claus.
He’s got another name, you know. It’s an ancient one that goes back hundreds of years. It’s one of the very first names people called him: St. Nicholas.
Children tell lots of fun stories about Santa Claus, Pere Noel, or Kriss Kringle. All of these stories remind us of how much we’re loved and of how happy we are when we give. The earliest stories we know were told about St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra.
Hundreds of years ago, Nicholas lived in a seaside town named Myra, which is in the country we now call Turkey. Ever since he was a small child, Nicholas loved God more than anything. He studied hard, prayed often, and followed Jesus by helping the poor.
The people of Myra loved Nicholas so much that when their old bishop died, they immediately elected Nicholas to replace him. He served them well for a long time.
Nicholas was loved for one reason. He loved. He loved God and God’s people so much that he would do anything for them.
Here is a story about Nicholas that has been passed down through many generations.
There was a man living in Myra who was very poor. This man had no wife, but he had three grown daughters who lived with him.
In those days, when a young woman got married, she had to bring money or property with her into the marriage. This is called a dowry. If a woman didn’t have a dowry, she would never marry.
This man was so poor that he had no money for his daughters’ dowries. And he didn’t have enough money to support them either. He had, he believed, only one choice: to sell his daughters into slavery. Nicholas heard about this terrible situation. Late one night, Nicholas crept to the man’s home and threw something through the window. It was a bag of gold—enough to pay the dowry for his oldest daughter.
The man was overjoyed, and his daughter was too. She married, but her father was still left with a problem. Two, to be exact.What about the two younger daughters? Sadly, he prepared to send them away.
Nicholas returned one night and again threw a bag of gold through the window. The father rejoiced. But he wondered who was helping him and why.
Of course, Nicholas didn’t want the man to know. He knew that it’s best to help others without letting them know we’re helping them. If we help others in this way, we help because we truly want to and not because people will praise us for it.
But the father was determined. He had one daughter left and no money for a dowry. He certainly hoped he would be helped again, especially because he wanted to find out who was doing it. So he locked the windows and watched out the door.
Nicholas still wanted to help, but he didn’t want to be seen. So, in the back of the house, far from the father’s sight, he dropped the bag of gold for the third daughter right down the chimney!
Other stories are told about Nicholas. It’s said that God worked through Nicholas’s prayers to raise children from the dead—some who had been killed in a fire and another child who had drowned. All of these stories tell us the same thing about St. Nicholas. He lived for God, which means that he lived for love. If people were in need and he was able to help, St. Nicholas gave them hope and strength. St. Nicholas never paused for a minute to wonder what he should receive in return for his help. He only thought about what he could give to those who needed him.
Stories about St. Nicholas spread from his home in Turkey up to Russia, where he is still a very popular saint. Through the centuries, people passed on stories of him across the most northern parts of Europe, then to Germany, France, and England, and finally to the United States. The children in every country gave St. Nicholas a name in their own language, and ours is Santa Claus.
Christmas is a fun, exciting time, isn’t it? It’s fun because of all the time we get to spend with our families. It’s fun because we do a lot of celebrating. It’s fun because we get to think, sing, and pray about Jesus, who was born into the world to save us.
Christmas is also fun because we get to give.We can show our family and friends how much we love them by giving them special gifts that we make or buy.
We give because we’re thankful.We’re thankful for friendship and love and for all the people who take care of us.We’re thankful to God for giving us life.
St. Nicholas was thankful too, and that’s why at Christmastime we try to be just like him. He was so grateful for the life God had given him that he just couldn’t stop giving joy and hope to others— no matter how far he had to travel or how many roofs he had to climb!
St. Nicholas showed his gratitude for God’s gifts by giving to others. What gifts can your family share with those in need?
St. John Bosco 1815–1888
Who’s your favorite teacher?
If you’re like most children, your favorite teacher is someone who cared a lot about you. That teacher cares enough to give you extra help when you needed it. Maybe she noticed when you were sad and cared enough to ask you why. Or maybe he worked really hard and did a good job, all because he cared about you.
Children throughout history have loved teachers who cared about them. In Italy, more than a hundred years ago, one special teacher was loved by the thousands of students he taught and helped during his lifetime. That teacher’s name was Don John Bosco.
John Bosco grew up on a farm in Italy.When he was just nine years old, he had a very strange dream. He was in a field, surrounded by crowds of other boys who were all behaving very badly. Suddenly, the figure of a man appeared, glowing with light, and told little John that he was to be the leader of these children. Can you imagine how John felt? Of course he was surprised and afraid. He told the man he didn’t see how he could help all those boys.
The figure, still shining with a peaceful, clear light, told John something very important. He said, “Not with blows will you help these boys, but with goodness and kindness.” After he said this, the boys in John’s dream stopped misbehaving, and they became calm.
From that point on, John knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to help boys who were troubled. And he wanted to help them with love, not with harshness or cruelty.
John Bosco’s dream came true, but it took quite a long time. He had to study for years before he could be ordained as a priest. Then John Bosco had to find a way to help boys. He had to do all of this on his own. No one else was helping boys the way John’s dream had told him to do it—with gentleness and kindness.
After he became a priest, John lived in Turin, a large city in northern Italy. At that time— the middle of the nineteenth century— Turin was a beautiful place to live for some people, but a terrible place for many others. New factories were being built all the time, and poor families were moving to Turin from the countryside, hoping they could get better jobs.
Sometimes they could get better jobs, but many times the factory jobs were worse than work on the farms. Factory workers made little money and had to live in dirty, crowded slums. Young Don Bosco (in Italy they call priests “Don” the same way we call them “Father”) walked these streets with great sadness, seeing how hard life was for so many people. It was especially hard for young boys, who had no schools to help them. The boys were running wild, just like the boys in Don Bosco’s dream.
One day, John was in the back of his church after Mass. He heard one of the church workers yelling, and he went to see what was wrong. The man was shouting at a boy who had come into the church on this chilly day to try to get warm. Don Bosco had never seen the boy before, but he told the man to stop yelling. The man wanted to know why.
“Because,” said Don Bosco, “he’s my friend.”
From that moment, Don Bosco decided that the best way to help the poor boys of Turin was to be their friend. He invited the boy who’d come into the church to return the next week and bring some other boys with him. They came, and the next week they returned with even more boys. Soon Don Bosco had more than four hundred boys joining him on Sundays in the slums of the city.
Since Don Bosco didn’t have a building to use at first, he had to do his work outside. It was a good thing anyway, because Don Bosco’s work with these boys was really play. He took them on long walks into the country, where they had picnics and played games. He taught them about how much God loved them and how important it was for them to put God’s love first in their lives. Every Sunday, he said Mass for the boys in whatever church he could find.
Don Bosco called his meeting with the boys an “oratory.” Ora means “prayer” in the Latin language, and Don Bosco wanted his boys to understand that prayer is always the center of a happy life. With the help of many people, Don Bosco’s oratory grew, first into a real school and then into an orphanage as well. The oratory’s very first building was just a small shed, but by the end of Don Bosco’s life, the oratory had grown to include a large group of buildings where hundreds of boys could live, learn, and play.
Don Bosco’s students always remembered him with love because he loved them very much. In those days, most schools allowed teachers to punish students by hitting them, but Don Bosco wouldn’t allow it. He wanted his teachers to always treat their students with respect and kindness. He wanted the teachers to be a part of their students’ lives, not only by teaching them but also by joining in their games and listening to their problems.
When Don Bosco died in 1888, he left behind many schools and a religious order called the Salesians, named after another great saint, St. Francis de Sales. This order was devoted to passing on his message of love to boys and girls all over the world.
He also left behind thousands of students, young and old, who remembered the kind, gentle, and patient Don Bosco as the best teacher they’d ever had.
St. John Bosco knew that the best teaching is based on love.Why do you think that’s true?
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton 1774–1821
Saints love children.
They love poor children. They love sick children. They love the children they teach in school, and they love children who have lost their parents. They love children in every land all over the world.
And of course, saints love their very own children!
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first person born in the United States to be canonized a saint. She did a lot of different things. She was a writer. She was a teacher. She was a leader.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was also the busy, loving mother to five children!
Elizabeth was born in New York and grew up during the American Revolution. Her father was a doctor, and her mother died when little Elizabeth was only three years old.
When she grew up, Elizabeth was known throughout New York City as a beautiful, generous, kind young woman. She was a Christian and was quite interested in religion, but she was not a Catholic. She was very popular—she went to lots of parties. And when she was twenty years old, she married William Seton, a successful businessman.
Elizabeth and William were happy together, and they were even happier when their babies were born. After nine years, they were the parents of three girls and two boys.
But life never follows a straight road, does it? Life hides sadness around corners and hardship on the other side of joy.
That’s what Elizabeth discovered.Within a few years, her father died, her husband’s father died, and the family business started to fail. To make matters worse,William himself fell ill.
Elizabeth and William decided that a trip might just help them come up with some answers to their problems. Italy was where they wanted to go. They thought the weather would help William, and they had friends in Italy who could help with their business.
So William, Elizabeth, and one of their children, eight-year-old Anna Maria, set off. They were excited and happy about this wonderful trip, and everything went very well—there were no terrible storms, no shipwrecks, and no pirates.
But at the end of their journey across the sea, the strangest thing happened.When their ship arrived in Italy, the officials on shore learned that a disease called yellow fever had broken out in New York. No one on the ship had yellow fever, but they had no proof that they were well.
Without that proof, the officials wouldn’t allow the people to come into Italy. Everyone on board had to be kept in quarantine. That means that they weren’t allowed contact with any people on land. They had to stay isolated until everyone was sure that the yellow fever had not been brought to Italy.
So William, Elizabeth, and Anna Maria were taken to a stone tower that stood in the middle of the bay outside the city. It was a place that had been used in the past to house lepers, but now it was to be their home for the next thirty days.
Elizabeth tried hard to keep everyone’s spirits strong, but there was little she could do about her husband’s health. Already ill, he only got worse in that cold, damp tower. The family was released from quarantine on December 19, but it was too late for William to get help. He died two days after Christmas.
Poor Elizabeth! There she was, in a foreign country with her daughter, while her four other children and a failed business were at home across the ocean.
What could she do? How would she and her children live?
Elizabeth Ann Seton had always been close to God, even as a child. As she grew older, every stage in her life—her happy marriage, the birth of each of her wonderful children—brought her even closer to God.
But all along, something had been missing. Once she was in Italy with her Catholic friends, Elizabeth discovered what it was. It was the peace of the Catholic faith, especially the loving presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
When Elizabeth returned to New York, she thought long and hard. For months she prayed, reflected, and wrote in her journal. What should she do?
The answer was soon clear. Elizabeth had found the truth in the Catholic faith, so she would devote her life to it. On March 14, 1805, Elizabeth Ann Seton became a Catholic.
Once again, her life changed. You see, in those days, not many Catholics lived in the United States, and those who did faced a great deal of prejudice. None of Elizabeth’s relatives understood what she was doing. And soon it became clear that the wealthy people of New York, people who’d been her friends since she was a child, were turning their backs on her.
Except for the peace that Elizabeth, and now her children, found in the Catholic faith, everything seemed to be getting worse by the day. She had no money. Her friends and even her family were treating her as if she had committed a crime, just because she had become a Catholic. Elizabeth tried to open a school in New York City, but her own children were the only pupils. Other people were afraid she’d try to make their children Catholic too!
One day, Elizabeth was sitting in the back of church, quietly praying. The priest had noticed her during Mass. Now he couldn’t help noticing her again. Elizabeth’s prayer seemed so deep and true that the priest couldn’t help but wonder who she was. So he asked.
Elizabeth told him her name and her whole difficult story. The priest thought about it and decided that God had brought Elizabeth to this place. The priest needed help—he wanted to start a school back in his home state of Maryland. Perhaps Elizabeth was the one who could help.Would she be interested?
Of course she would. It was exactly what she had hoped for. Elizabeth’s sons had already been sent to boarding school in Washington, but her three daughters were still with her. Together they moved to Maryland, first to the city of Baltimore, then to the country.
And there, Elizabeth started her school. She taught her own girls, as well as girls from all around the area, including African American and Native American girls. The first winter in the country was very hard—Elizabeth and her daughters lived in a log cabin with hardly anything on the windows and doors. It was cold, and sometimes they awakened to find that snow had blown in and covered the floors!
But Elizabeth’s school grew. Other women came to join her as teachers. Soon it was decided that the women should be organized into an order of sisters, a group of women who give their lives to God in a special way, vowing to live for him alone.
Elizabeth agreed, but on a few conditions. She wanted her children to able to stay and keep living with her, and she wanted to always be free to tend to their needs. It was agreed, and the Sisters of Charity was born.
Elizabeth Ann Seton loved children—all children. She bravely took care of her own children when she was all alone and friendless in New York. She taught them, cared for them, and most important, guided them into faith in Jesus. One of her daughters also became a sister, and one of her sons became an archbishop!
Through her work in the countryside of Maryland—building a school, helping it grow, and even writing textbooks and teaching— St. Elizabeth Ann Seton showed us that saints are people who really listen when Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton always tried to see the good that God wanted to come out of everything that happened to her, even the sad things. What lessons have hard times in your life taught you?