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Saints—Old and New

Saints—Old and New

By Jaymie Stuart Wolfe

There’s a saint for just about everything. Whether you are suffering from a chronic sore throat or applying to law schools (or even writing a blog post like this one!), it’s likely that there is someone who can inspire you with an example of heroic virtue and intercede on your behalf.

Of course, there are the “popular” saints like Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Rita of Cascia, and Thérèse of Lisieux. They’re the ones who are near the top of most people’s go-to lists for help. They often have feasts that are observed in some way with novenas, hymns, or some kind of tradition that is attached to them. Many have religious orders or other associations they themselves founded, or that others initiated in their names.

Then there are the relatively well-known saints who just about everyone has heard of. These are people like Joan of Arc, Nicholas, Thomas Aquinas, and Catherine of Siena. While most Catholics may have little idea of where or when they lived or what these heroes of our faith did, there’s a level of comfort that comes from name recognition—even if it’s only because it happens to be the name of the parish in the next town over.

But after the saints that show up on most people’s radar, there is an almost endless list of holy men and women hardly any of us know much about. Undoubtedly there are people who not only know, but love these saints, too. But they are few—at least in the worlds we live in—and far between. I think of Maurice and Methodius, Cunegunda and and Columcille, and others like Lorenzo Ruiz, and Margaret Clitherow, and Blessed James Alberione. Other names, I admit, I don’t even know how to pronounce.

We often discover saints from this last category when we find ourselves in need of someone who has something in common with us. We may share an occupation or an obstacle, a birthplace or an illness, a personality type or a situation, or a specific need. But for reasons we might not fully understand or circumstances that seem quite coincidental at the time, a particular person’s story is brought to our attention.

Canonizations have that effect as well. When a new saint is named, it is because God and the Church want to give us yet another example of what it looks like when someone lives the faith fully in a certain time and place. Many North American Catholics may be familiar with St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Marianne Cope of Molokai, St. John Neumann and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mother Cabrini. Many of us knew St. John Paul II and were directly influenced by him in person or by watching him on television. We lived in the time also of another very holy woman, Mother Theresa, who was just canonized.

Whether new to the Church, new to us, or old familiar friends, the saints add a dimension of hope to our spiritual lives. It’s just a little easier to run the race when you know for a fact that there have been many who crossed the finish line. And if you need a little extra help now and then, why not look for it in the crowd that is gathering in heaven?

Who are your favorite saints?