For several years, my husband and I hosted an All Saints Day costume party for friends in our parish.
It was always entertaining, but the best part was staying in character as we guessed each other’s “saintly” identities. One year we all laughed when three married women came as nuns, and one nun came as a married saint.
I was reminded of these parties as I read Patricia Mitchell’s Saints Tell Their Stories. This illustrated book is a cheerful gathering of holy men and women who address young readers directly, in a way that can awaken the imagination. Children meet twenty-six saints from various countries and historical periods. In the process, they are also encountering Jesus, seeing engaging examples of prayer and service, and learning that God invites each of us to know him personally.
Old Friends, New Friends. Some of the saints are very familiar, like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Joseph, but they introduce themselves in fresh and striking ways. St. Francis, who is known for his poverty and simplicity of life, says, “I was poor, but because Jesus loved me, I was rich!” Then he invites readers to reflect: “You are rich, too, no matter how much money your family has, if you know and love Jesus.”
The book also presents lesser-known saints who can appeal to young readers. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is a good example. “Do you like sports?” his story begins. “I loved skiing and mountain climbing. But even more, I loved God. And I loved helping God’s people, especially those who were poor.”
And then there is Innocent, a Russian Orthodox priest and bishop. He learned six languages and traveled by kayak, dog sled, and reindeer to care for his people in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska.
Read It Together. Saints Tell Their Stories is a good choice for reading out loud with children. The colorful illustrations by Maria Cristina Lo Casco invite children to place themselves in the saint’s world and also lend themselves to further questions. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is portrayed as a young sister talking with several children and a woman on the front steps of a New York City tenement building. What could they be talking about?
Looking at the page for St. John Bosco, who devoted himself to the care of disadvantaged and unruly boys, you might ask: “Which person in this school yard would you be? Are there ever fights in your school yard? How do you think God can help when someone is acting wild?”
Often, it’s the text of the story that inspires additional questions. This quote from St. Francis could be a great discussion starter: “Sometimes we think we can’t do great things for God. On our own we can’t, but the Holy Spirit can help us do anything.”
As you go through the book together, you can share about your favorite saints and also encourage children to choose one or two saints as their own personal heroes. Some might go for dramatic stories—maybe Patrick, who was captured by pirates, or George, who killed a dragon. Some might choose more private heroes of the inner life, like Thérèse of Lisieux or Jerome, who spent decades in a cave with his books.
Act It Out. Many of these stories could be adapted to serve as scripts for a children’s All Saints Day celebration in a parish or school. Imagine a St. Anthony of Padua in a brown bathrobe talking to a handful of paper fish or a St. Patrick giving away shamrocks as he explains the Trinity: “Just as the shamrock has three leaves but one stem, so God is three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but one God.”
Taking on the part of a saint can be a real learning experience for children. When one of our daughters was about twelve, she celebrated All Saints Day as Blessed Kateri Tekawitha, using a red blanket and a bowl for grinding popcorn. She came away with a deeper realization that God can be involved in everyday chores!
St. Ignatius of Loyola was a young man when some unknown person gave him a book of saints’ lives that set him on the road to holiness. Today, when movie stars and pop singers are the most popular idols around, why not introduce the young people in your life to some worthy spiritual companions? You might just set into motion a cascade of friendships with God. n
Therese Boucher is an author and religious educator living in Princeton, New Jersey.