In the liturgical life of the Church, on July 6th we celebrate the feast of St. Maria Goretti, my patron saint and a dear friend. For as long as I can remember, Maria has been my constant companion. I have very distinct memories of talking to her as a little girl when I was afraid or needed some sort of spiritual help. Just as she was always with me as a girl, she has been my constant companion into adulthood as well.
Maria was a young girl who grew up in Italy in the 1890’s. Her father died when she was very young, leaving Maria and her family in poverty. Maria was tasked with helping her mother take care of their home and younger siblings.
In order to maintain the house and farm, Maria’s mother took on two borders, a father and son. One day while everyone was out on the farm and Maria was in the house doing household tasks, the son attempted to rape her. Knowing this was contrary to God’s will, Maria defended herself, which resulted in her attacker stabbing her 14 times. Maria died three days later, forgiving the man that attacked her.
I was 8 or 9 when my mom first told me the story of Maria. I’m pretty sure my mom modified Maria’s story a little, as some of the details are not appropriate for an 8 year old. But Maria quickly became a close companion. Over the years she’s taught me much about courage, perseverance and most of all, the importance of living a chaste and holy life in a world that cares for neither chastity nor holiness.
The Church teaches that the saints are here to be models for lives of holiness. They show us what it means to be followers of Jesus. They also become our companions in our journeys of faith.
The saints have much to teach us, but we must know them first. Maria has become my life long friend because my mom introduced me to her story as a child. The saints want to be the lifelong companions of your children as well. As a parent, you are invited to introduce your children to the saints that will walk with them throughout their lives.
There are many ways you can introduce your children to the lives of the saints. Here are some simple and practical ideas you can begin implementing today.
Study the saint of the day.
Growing up, my mom always made a point to check to see which saint we were celebrating in the liturgical life of the Church for that day. If we were celebrating the feast of a particular saint, she would find short stories about their lives and read them to me and my siblings. This is a beautiful way to start to make your children familiar with different saints throughout the year.
Websites like catholic.org have great summaries for many different saints. You can simply search for the saint of the day and share that story with your children.
Celebrate feast days for namesakes and patrons.
Throughout the year, we celebrate important dates like birthdays and wedding anniversaries for ourselves, our families and friends. In the same way, celebrate the feast days of the saints that are important in the lives of your children.
Every year I celebrate the feast of St. Maria Goretti on July 6th and the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo on August 28th. Augustine and Maria have been influential figures in my life and celebrating them each year reminds me of who they are, what they have done in my life and what they have taught me. It also gives me a chance to thank God for the great gifts he gave me in these two people.
Celebrate the patron saints in your life and in the lives of your children. These saints could be the saints your children are named after. If your child is not named after a saint, look and see if there is a saint whose feast day falls on your child’s birthday or on another special anniversary in the life of your child and celebrate that saint.
I try to celebrate by doing something special. You can do something small, a special dessert after dinner, a pancake breakfast, or something fun as a family. The idea being that you are celebrating in a small way the feast of this saint as you would the birthday or special anniversary of someone you love. This will help your child relate to and connect with their patron saints over the years.
Introduce them to saints that share their interests, passions or struggles.
A great way to introduce children to saints, especially as they get older, is to introduce them to saints that share their passions or interests. Have a child that loves music? St. Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians. Have a child that loves to play sports? St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes. Maybe your child is intellectual and studious. St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of students.
You can also find saints that struggled with some of the same things your children might struggle with. St. John Vianney and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati struggled in school. In fact, John Vianney almost didn’t become a priest because he had such trouble with his classes and Pier Giorgio failed many of his exams. Sts. Teresa of Avila and Thomas Aquinas were called names by their peers. St. Dymphna is the patron saint of those that struggle with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
The list goes on and on. Use the interests and desires of your children to introduce them to saints that will walk with them and guide them throughout their lives.
Take them deeper.
Finally, when you find that your child takes a particular interest in a saint, take them deeper. Maybe find a book about the life of the saint. Search for movies that tell the stories of these saints. If possible, when you travel, visit churches named after the saints they love.
As we grew up, my mom was always good about finding little prayer cards with our favorite saints on them to help us remember them. One year for Easter, she gave me a little icon of St. Maria Goretti. I still have this icon in my home today.
The saints are here to be our companions and guides. They want to be involved in the lives of your children, to lead them closer to Christ. Through these little and simple ways, I hope you are able to introduce your children to their lifelong companions, just as my mom introduced me to mine.
Cover Image: A mother and daughter venerate a relic of St. John Vianney which was brought to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in 2018.