Holy Role Models: Saintly Friends and Heavenly Heroes


L to R: Blessed Solanus Casey, Pope St. John Paul II (shown in his first Communion photo), St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Joseph, Jesus (shown with little children), and the Blessed Mother all offer lives worthy of imitation.
L to R: Blessed Solanus Casey, Pope St. John Paul II (shown in his first Communion photo), St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Joseph, Jesus (shown with little children), and the Blessed Mother all offer lives worthy of imitation. (photo: Unsplash; Archdiocese of Cracow/CNA; Shutterstock)

Friendships are a foundational part of every stage of life, but they have a particularly formative role during childhood. As we watch our children, grandchildren, students and godchildren grow up, we hope and pray that they develop good and holy friendships. Peers have a powerful influence on interests, hobbies and decision-making.

Children’s role models form their value systems and viewpoints of the world. From toddlers to teens, we want to make sure our kids are surrounded by friends that challenge them to be the person God intends them to be, and in return, we hope that our kids model virtue and inspire the best in others.

How can we help young hearts cultivate friendships? Real-life relationships are crucial, but we also can cultivate friendships with the holy men and women who’ve gone before us: the saints. Through both their prayer and example, the saints are the heavenly heroes we want every kid to emulate.

While there are thousands of canonized saints recognized by the Church, begin by looking for just a few friends to help kids build connections with. One good place to start is finding a saint who shares a name with the child (first, middle or a similarly derived name).

Katherine Bogner saints
Cultivating a love of the saints is key in catechesis for youth.(Photo: Katherine Bogner photos)

Check out the saints with a feast day on the child’s birthday or baptismal anniversary. If they are confirmed, make note of the confirmation saint they chose. You also can look for saints whose patronage connects with one of the child’s interests: maybe a hobby, future career, or even a struggle or challenge they’ve endured. With that list of saints in mind, choose a few and mark their feast days on the calendar. When those dates come around each year, include a saintly celebration for that heavenly friend. Celebrating can be as simple as sharing a special meal or dessert that day, but could also include attending daily Mass, praying a novena, or doing a fun craft or activity. Just remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated to be memorable.

Good books create an accessible method for kids to get to know the saints. Start growing a collection of well-written and beautifully illustrated books about the saints. Gather them in a variety of styles, from picture books to graphic novels, chapter-book biographies and saint encyclopedias. Be sure to check out the selection at EWTNRC.com/Catholic-Childrens-Books. With those texts at their fingertips, kids have the opportunity to discover new friends on every page. Introducing students to saints that act as both “windows and mirrors” can stretch their knowledge and give them tools to make connections. Saints who are like “mirrors” have similarities to the child, helping them to see how to follow a similar path to holiness. Saints who are like “windows” open up the vast kaleidoscope of God’s creation, highlighting the varied ways that the Lord calls each and every one of us to himself.

Learning about saints doesn’t have to be limited to print. We have a wealth of resources available, thanks to media and technology.

Videos featuring the stories of the saints can make for wholesome entertainment, and podcasts are perfect for car rides or to listen to during quiet play. EWTN offers an array on TV, online and on demand, including They Might Be Saints. Podcasts sharing stories of the saints with creativity include Saints Alive, Saints Stories for Kids by Shining Light Dolls, and Catholic Sprouts.

Taking a pilgrimage is a guaranteed way to help kids establish core memories in correlation with the faith. There are holy sites all over the U.S. to visit. With a growing number of Americans on the path to canonization, it’s likely that there is a shrine, tomb or museum not too far from you. Add a stop during a family vacation or plan a special road trip to get to know these brothers and sisters in the faith who lived and walked here in our own land.

Go visit Servant of God Emil Kapaun in Kansas or one of the shrines of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (in New York, Chicago or Colorado). Pray at the tomb of Venerable Fulton Sheen in Illinois or Blessed Solanus Casey in Michigan.

These saints, from more recent eras and near our local areas, are easy to relate to and learn from, helping us see that we too are called to be saints. We also can surround ourselves with reminders of the saints, a “great cloud of witnesses,” as Hebrews Chapter 12 tells us.

Using sacramentals like holy cards and medals, as well as statues and art (a variety of which can be found at EWTNRC.com), can keep the saints at the forefront of our minds and help kids feel connected to their heavenly friends. Sacramentals will increase devotion and call them to prayer. You can incorporate an image of the child’s favorite saint in your home, even sharing a wish list of saints as gift ideas for birthdays, Christmas and sacrament celebrations. There are also a growing number of Catholic businesses creating wonderful saint toys and dolls, perfect for bringing our faith into everyday play.

Encouraging these saintly friendships in our homes, classrooms and parishes will help build up connections in the Body of Christ, both here on earth and in heaven. The saints have finished the race and kept the faith; now, we can look to their example and ask for their intercession on our own heavenward journeys.

WATCH They Might Be Saints can be purchased at EWTNRC.com or via (800) 854-6316.

Katherine Bogner, a Catholic schoolteacher from Illinois, is the author of Through the Year With Jesus and Through the Year With Mary; she offers free resources at LooktoHimandBeRadiant.com.