Liguori Publications, Liguori, Mo., 2011; $7.99.
Unlike author Christine Gibson, I learned about the lives of saints while I was growing up. Our Catholic school readers included stories about saints, and I frequently read from the “Lives of Saints” on our family bookshelf.
My parents made sure that each of us children had two saints’ names and kept us mindful not only of our patrons but also of the patrons of lost causes and lost belongings, safe childbirth and a happy death, animals and journeys. I grew up secure in the knowledge that saints would intercede for me to the throne of God.
We children delighted in celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas, and I still keep the tradition of “finding” his gift of apples, oranges and nuts Dec. 6. At times during childhood I fell in love with particular saints. I recall that Blessed Imelda merited my ardor at some point, perhaps when I received First Communion. I still enjoy reading contemporary biographies of saints.
For all of that, I still had not encountered some of the saints Gibson presents in her slim volume. She includes memorable women from Scripture (such as the Blessed Virgin, Veronica, and the Poor Widow); many saints I’ve long known (Lucy, Teresa of Avila, Elizabeth Ann Seton); a few familiar newer entries into the canon (Gianna Molla, Faustina Kowalska); and several saints about whom I’ve recently learned via other books (Margaret Clitherow and Mother Theodore Guerin).
Still, Gibson names several fine women who were previously unfamiliar to me.
Gibson introduces the saints and a few Blesseds, all females, in connection with mothers’ needs and concerns. Under “Everyday Challenges” the reader will find “When you are bored with life,” matched with St. Emilie de Rodat. While I’d not before heard of this 18th-century saint, I now know she never experienced boredom while devoting her life to teaching and serving orphans, prisoners and the elderly.
In the second chapter, “Family Life and Parenting,” I met Blessed Ana de los Angeles Monteagudo of Peru, suggested as an intercessor for a mother who needs to change a child’s behavior. Stubborn children are apparently no match for a convent full of unruly nuns. After being appointed prioress of her Dominican convent, Ana’s persistent efforts at reform led to poison plots and hot coals heaped on her head.
“Following God’s Call,” the third chapter, presents “When you feel called to serve the least among us” and Blessed Laura Evangelista (Mother Mary of St. Joseph). This 19th-century Venezuelan woman founded many homes to care for orphans and elderly persons. Laura Evangelista lived her call to service to the age of 92.
In the fourth and final chapter, “Faith Struggles,” I learned more about St. Josephine Bakhita, whose name was familiar but not her story. Josephine was born in Sudan and kidnapped by slave traders at an age when most children in the United States would be in second or third grade.
Maltreated and sold multiple times before she was 17, Josephine ended up with an Italian family where she learned about Catholicism. Attaining her own freedom, Josephine joined the Canossian Sisters. Now she is an appropriate patron for those who “feel enslaved by sin.”
These examples give a good idea of the pattern for this little book’s 50 entries. A reader can choose a topic that matches a need, learn a bit about the recommended saint and how she connects with the issue, and conclude with a Scripture verse or two and a short prayer.
Another way to use the book would be to choose any saint who seems to beckon and reflect on what she models. Or a reader could proceed through the book one subject and saint at a time. No entry is more than a page or so in length, and a couple minutes a day will provide 50 days of prayerful reflections.