39 NEW SAINTS
YOU SHOULD KNOW
by Brian O’Neel
Servant Books, 2010
156 pages, $13.99
To order: servantbooks.org
The virtuous life can still be found. Just take a look at the biographies Brian O’Neel presents in 39 New Saints You Should Know.
These stories “show that sanctity is the only thing worth having, the only thing that gives life any real meaning,” O’Neel writes. “They also show that sainthood is for everyone and not just the boring pursuit of a halo and a harp to strum on in the clouds of eternity.”
The author presents the lives of both heroes and heroines of our Catholic faith. Included in this list are well-known faithful figures such as St. Pio of Pietrelcina or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. He also treats the reader to some lesser known inspiring men and women. One of those is the self-sacrificing life of Blessed Anna Schaeffer.
Growing up in Bavaria, Schaeffer’s dream was to be a missionary. However, as God would have it, she would serve God and the Church from her bed for close to 25 years. Just before her 19th birthday, while working as a housekeeper, she noticed that the stovepipe over the laundry boiler had become detached from the wall. In trying to fix it, Anna slipped into a vat of boiling lye, scalding both of her legs.
At first, she was understandably angry at God, as it became clear that she would spend the rest of her life bedridden. However, due to the persistence of her parish priest who brought her Communion nearly every day, she slowly began to realize that by uniting her suffering with that of Christ on the cross, she could help save souls.
She would go on to spend her days writing letters, offering words of comfort and focusing on prayer for the conversion of sinners before dying at 43. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1999.
Each of O’Neel’s chapters is concise and well written. He ends each story with a prayer that encapsulates the charism or spirituality of the person. The book highlights saintly virtue from all walks of life. In short, there is someone here for everyone. Need help with a difficult student or a slow learner? Turn to Blessed Marie-Joseph Cassant who, despite the naysayers, persevered in his studies and was ordained a priest in 1902.
Or perhaps you have a wayward family member who is caught up in the occult or the New Age movement or simply weak in his Catholic commitment. Blessed Bartolo Longo is the one for you. As a college student, Longo frequented fortune tellers and soothsayers with friends, which eventually led him to be ordained a satanic priest. But he became depressed, haggard and “to some, his eyes looked like black coals,” O’Neel writes.
Longo sought help from a good friend, who eventually led him to a priest. The priest served as a spiritual director for the young man, who returned to the Church with a series of confessions and went on to dedicate himself to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
This book could easily serve as a daily source of inspirational reading. It is too bad that the book’s moving tales end at Chapter 39. However, that could be the call for each of us to become Chapter 40.
O’Neel sums it up best, as he writes, “My hope is that you will come to know and emulate these older brothers and sisters in Christ, gaining them as your heroes, and more importantly helping you to know Christ and desire a deep and intimate relationship with him.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.