A Soldier’s Saint

BOOK PICK: For God and Country: The Heroic Life and Martyrdom of St. Joan of Arc

For God and Country

The Heroic Life and Martyrdom of St. Joan of Arc

By Father Michael Cerrone

Sophia Institute Press, 2015

240 pages, $18.95

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The existing scholarship and hagiography on St. Joan of Arc is extensive. It includes historical analysis, detailed biography, transcripts of 15th-century court tribunals and testimonies of eyewitnesses, as well as popular treatments by literary luminaries like Donald Spoto and Mark Twain. But Father Michael Cerrone’s purpose in writing yet another book on the life of St. Joan of Arc is not to add to the already voluminous scholarship on this great saint. “Rather,” he writes, “it is my humble meditation on her legacy of virtue, always victorious over vice.”

Father Cerrone divides his book into seven parts, each covering a major portion of St. Joan’s life, beginning with her holy childhood and ending with her canonization in 1920. What makes this book unique among other books on St. Joan is that each section concludes with a teaching on a topic relevant to that aspect of her life. For example, the reflection following the first section on Joan’s early life is called “A Godly Upbringing” and describes the duties of parents, the purpose of education and training in the virtues. Here, Father Cerrone also includes an excellent summary of holy matrimony, which is especially applicable today: As Western culture systematically deconstructs civil marriage, Christians must know and understand what we believe about this foundational institution.

What comes through the writing is Father Cerrone’s devotion to St. Joan, which began when he was a young military cadet and took note of the fact  that Joan was the only female saint depicted in the stained-glass windows of the chapel at West Point. Many years later, he learned that his ordination to the priesthood took place on St. Joan’s feast day, May 30. Father Cerrone spent a total of 20 years in active military service, including 15 as a chaplain.

With this interesting background, Father Cerrone is a perfect biographer of St. Joan. His understanding of military history and tactics is evident as he explains the moves and countermoves of the warring English and French; the book includes helpful maps of France during the Hundred Years’ War. I really appreciated Father Cerrone’s reflections on soldiery, “just war,” true patriotism vs. nationalism or chauvinism, the duties of captors toward prisoners of war and the need for soldiers and commanders to be virtuous. This format transforms the book from a mere historical biography into a devotional catechism illuminated by the life of St. Joan of Arc.

A note to parents: Joan was sexually assaulted by her captors more than once, and even though Father Cerrone reports on these incidents very carefully and tastefully, always emphasizing Joan’s virtue, parents may want to screen this book ahead of time before offering it to their younger children.

Clare Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.