If You Want to Become a Parent of a Saint, Read This Book

My path to holiness is through the vocation of fatherhood, and my ultimate goal there is to help my children get to Heaven

Cover of ‘The Parents of the Saints’ by Patrick O’Hearn
Cover of ‘The Parents of the Saints’ by Patrick O’Hearn (photo: TAN Books)

One of my favorite paintings is Vincent Van Gogh’s “First Steps.” It is set in a garden next to a small house. A father crouches down with arms outstretched toward his young child, standing just in front of her mother.

The reason I like the painting so much is that it is a beautiful image of what my role and responsibility is as a father: provide, protect, encourage and love. The garden — or maybe it’s a field — means to me that parenting is not a project of construction, but of cultivation, and the fruit I am trying to grow is holiness. It is my ultimate goal for my children that they become saints. As Patrick O’Hearn writes in his book The Parents of the Saints, God “wants parents to cooperate with Him to raise up extraordinary souls.”

How that is done is another matter. What are the tools and methods I should use in the garden of my home to bring that harvest to reality?

As I was converting to Catholicism, one of the things that struck me about the saints was how unique they all were. There is no cookie-cutter mold of a saint. Yes, they all had the virtues, but courage in a saintly king looks different from courage in a cloistered nun. O’Hearn writes, “Holiness is found in the home as much as in the cloister.” There are many differences, but there are patterns to be observed.

As a father, my path to holiness is through the vocation of parenthood, and my ultimate goal there is to help my children get to Heaven, which makes O’Hearn’s book invaluable to me and every Catholic parent. There are many canonized saints, but very few of them were parents. Nothing at all is known about the parents of most saints. So, the information we have about the parents of the saints is like a winning playbook for parents. 

Just as the saints are unique, so, too, were their parents. But, like the saints, there are patterns, which O’Hearn identifies for us. He calls the common characteristics the “hallmarks” of these parents, and each chapter recounts the couples who demonstrate that particular hallmark. Each hallmark could be called a virtue of parenting. 

Rather than giving a dissertation on each hallmark, O’Hearn simply tells the stories of these parents and allows the reader to see and be inspired by the parents themselves. Plutarch, the ancient biographer, tells us, “Virtue, by the bare statement of its actions, can so affect men’s minds as to create at once both admiration of the things done and desire to imitate the doers of them. … Moral good is a practical stimulus; it is no sooner seen, than it inspires an impulse to practice.” O’Hearn puts Plutarch’s wisdom to good use, and every parent who reads his book will be inspired to imitate the example set before us.

One of the best examples for me, perhaps because of the stage of my parenting life, was the mother of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Maria, who revealed her secret to raising a saint. She knew that she couldn’t do it, so she acknowledged her own inadequacy and begged Our Lady to be her substitute. This action is classed by O’Hearn as an act of humility — one of the hallmarks of a good parent and, perhaps, the most important virtue. It is inspiring to see how humility can be lived out in the vocation of parenthood.

Even still, we parents may be left looking for a practical way to begin. After seeing the virtues in action, we still may need help identifying where we can grow and some practical steps to get started. Our age is unique, as is every age, with its own set of challenges and cultural norms. 

Thankfully, O’Hearn has partnered with Marianne Dyogi, a Catholic wife and mother from Arbor Family Wellness Village, to create an eight-week study guide with reflection questions, family activities and other resources, all in the context of the seven hallmarks of saintly parents. The Family Formation Guide for the Parents of the Saints will be available very soon.

In light of these resources, we can all work to make our homes places, as O’Hearn writes, “where prayer, play, household responsibilities, quality time, and virtue are prized above everything.” That kind of home is the soil in which our garden must be planted. The tools and the fertilizer are the seven hallmarks. The gardener? Hopefully, God himself, because a saint is someone who only does the will of the Father and through whom God acts unimpeded.