Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
My girls frequently talk about what they will be when they grow up. One says that she would like to be a mom, while another proclaims her desire to be a princess, and another often talks about becoming a sister or nun. Around the canonization day of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I read the newest book from “The Life of a Saint” series published by Magnificat and Ignatius Press called Mother Teresa, The Smile of Calcutta. Within hours of reading the book, one of my daughters came up to me with the book saying, “I want to be that kind of sister.”
My mother, too, read the lives of the saints to me as a child. We had many books about saints, from short one-page descriptions to longer chapter books. There were some saints I went back to again and again. When I was preparing for my Confirmation I read a long book featuring 57 saints, and from it chose St. Gemma Galgani as my Confirmation saint. Reading about the lives of these holy men and women showed me the sacrifices, the joys, and the great love present in their lives as they pursued holiness. They demonstrated to me that there was something worth living for greater than the pursuit of worldly happiness, and knowing that was something I clung to as I grew from childhood into adolescence and on into adulthood. I still love to read about the lives of saints and I love to read their writings.
I recently learned that there are six books in “The Life of a Saint” series, and I certainly hope that they will work to produce more, because every single one of them is a gem. They are: Peter, Apostle of Jesus; Francis, The Poor Man of Assisi; John Mary Vianney, The Holy Curé of Ars; Bernadette, The Little Girl from Lourdes; Thérèse, The Little Flower of Lisieux; and Mother Teresa, The Smile of Calcutta. Each of these books is carefully based on the lives of these saints and each has nice, colorful illustrations. They present very felicitously each of the saints’ spiritualities. The final page of each book lists more facts about each of the saints, their feast days, devotions that they had, and further historical data.
St. Peter’s life is drawn from the Scriptures. The book presents the episodes of the life of St. Peter as they are told in the Gospels and in Acts. It shows how he went from being a fisherman to the first pope of the Catholic Church, and does it very well.
The story of St. Francis of Assisi seems to be drawn largely from the book The Little Flowers of Saint Francis. I love how it presents his life intelligently to children, showing St. Francis’s genuine love and desire to serve God. And having seen many of sites of his life when I went to Assisi in college, I found that the illustrations of the Assisi countryside add a lot to the story. In reading this story, children will find that the life of holiness beautiful and worthwhile.
The life of St. John Vianney is an especially beautiful telling of his vocational call from the age of seven, his struggle to learn theology in order to be ordained, and how he flourished as a simple parish priest, giving all to God. The opening episode is particularly poignant as his family had to go to Mass in secret during the French Revolution, but despite the loss of faith in France, he was able to lead people back to Christ through his simple love of God.
Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to St. Bernadette a year before the death of St. John Vianney. Her experience of the apparitions, and her simple childlike faith and obedience, are shown beautifully in the book on her life. Yet, her life also did much to bring faith to people across the world. But the words from Our Lady that the book particularly emphasizes are ones that are good for even children to remember, “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next.”
The last 19th century saint featured is also from France (the books were originally published in France). St. Thérèse of Lisieux is another great saint for children, as her vocation was revealed to her at a very young age. I am particularly devoted to the saints of the Martin family, so I loved to see how carefully the book presented episodes of St. Therese’s life from her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. I think it is important for children to see, as St. Therese saw, that even though they are little, they can depend on God to lift them to Him, like in an elevator. St. Thérèse’s spirituality is quite apparent in the pages of this sweet book, and I am so glad that my children will read it again and again.
The last book in the series is the one I mentioned first. We hear the story of Saint Teresa of Calcutta from the beginning of her vocation as a sister through the founding of the Missionaries of Charity to her death. This book wonderfully shows her spirituality of joy and self-gift, things that we hope each of our children grow up to emulate.
I find these books personally helpful as well, as they help me remember in the rearing of my children that the world has always been hostile to Christianity and the truth. We need these saints to be models of a Christian life for us when the world lies to us. I want my children to grow up knowing that a life of sanctity is the only life worth pursuing, that we are not promised happiness in this life, and that we can have the joy of Christ’s love no matter what it going on in the world around us. So often it feels that all of the world is against us, but these saints are for us, and Christ is for us. In this week of Allhallowstide, let us not forget that we are in a communion of believers, and we are not alone.