My Child’s a Saint

by Lois Donahue

If today some mother were to utter those words you can be pretty sure that somewhere close by you’d hear half-whispered responses – like – “Sure, honey, and my child is co-pilot on a UFO” or “If she thinks her kid’s a saint, she don’t know her kid like my kid knows her kid.”

Someone less cynical might say, “Now there’s a wishful-thinking mother if I ever heard one”, perhaps followed by this bit of sarcasm, “Wishful-thinking? You’ve got to be kidding – she’s delusional!” Hopefully one person would whisper at least something bordering on compassion – “Poor thing, she probably really believes it.” Just as certain as we are that there are saints with God in Heaven so, too, we know they each had a mother who could now legitimately make the above statement…to learn about only a very few of these mothers let’s turn to some of the things which have been written about them over the years.

Aleth, the mother of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, died when he was only fourteen and for a time left him understandably depressed for she had been ‘his model, his guide, his friend’. She had named him after her own father and seemed to know instinctively that he was meant to serve the Church. Consequently she was primarily responsible for having him educated to fulfill that destiny.

In the case of St. Gregory of Nazianzen, one of the great Eastern Fathers of the Church, we are told that, although his father was a very holy man, it was his mother who ‘gave him a sound Christian upbringing’.

It seems quite apparent that two things about St. Brigid’s mother, Brocessa, contributed to the life focus of this Saint who is known as one of the most remarkable women of her time. Brocessa, was a Christian and what was thought at the time, a ‘slave’ of the court of her druid, chieftain husband. Having observed her mother’s faith and subjugated status, it is not surprising that Brigid devoted her life both to promoting the Christian religion and to the advancement of practical help for women.

A mother’s concern about her child’s connection to God is made evident in various ways. The mother of St. Gemma Galgani worried that Gemma, an Italian word for ‘gem’, was not a saint’s name; but a priest comforted her by unintentionally making an almost prophetic statement – saying that maybe her child might become a “gem of Paradise”. This future saint gave her mother credit for giving her the desire for Heaven and for helping her learn about God.

‘Example’ is always one way mothers influence the lives of their children. The mother of St. John Neumann, a Bishop who wrote two catechisms and actively promoted Catholic education, was no exception to this rule. Agnes often attended daily Mass and took John with her. Also it was customary for her, along with one or more of her children, to ‘drop in’ to church for prayer. In addition to that, each Friday she would make bread and, with the help of her children, distribute it to the poor – regularly reminding them that – when they saw poor or sick people they should thank God for their own blessings. When John was twenty he was still unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. It was his mother who told him it was hard for her to believe that, because, as she put it – she saw in him obvious signs that he wanted to be a priest. It was what he wanted and was what he became.

There are many better-known mothers whose children have been canonized, such as Monica the relentlessly prayerful mother of her sometimes seemingly prayer-resistant son, St. Augustine, or Marie Vianney of whom her son, St. John the ‘Cure of Ars’, when complimented on his love of the Church and of prayer, said, after first crediting God, “I owe it to my mother, she was so good”.

There is Zelle Martin, the mother of St. Therese, the Little Flower and Margarita, mother of St. John Bosco, and on and on – pages that fill books and stories that speak volumes. I only give you this very brief visit with some of our saints in hopes that you will become curious enough to explore more of the blossoms to be found on the branches of our spiritual family tree.

I admit I have selected women who exemplify motherhood at its best but I am sure you realize some saints had mothers who were weakly human. However, in some providential way, they, too helped shape a saint. After all, from the people who touch our lives, we can learn what not to do as well as what to do.

Back when Marilyn and I considered having monthly themes for the year, we thought ‘mothers’ would be appropriate for May. That’s how all of the above came into being; but, in the process of gathering information about mothers, I learned that other women influenced our saints. Here are some family members I found:

St. Thomas More’s oldest DAUGHTER, Margaret, whom he lovingly called ‘Meg’, was known to be his favorite. She corresponded with him when he was in prison and visited him often. Their close relationship was not only evident as he lived his life but certainly contributed to the biography of her father written by her husband.

At fifty years of age, St. Nicholas of Flue, having married and fathered ten children, asked his wife’s permission to leave her and the children in order to become a religious hermit which he truly believed was his call from God. Dorothea unselfishly, although apparently not without some sadness and resistance, granted her husband’s request and thus gave to the world an ‘outstanding religious figure’ who became famed for both his holiness and his wisdom. Great leaders as well as everyday people came to him for advice – including Dorothea who, bless her heart, seemed to have forgiven or at least, in some way, had come to understand his rather curious life-altering decision. (In my purely sympathetic, wifely opinion, I feel she, too, deserves a Pearly Gates home address.)

St. Basil the Great, one of Christianity’s famous orators, gave his grandmother, who helped raise and educate him, credit for his strong faith.

Lioba, a cousin of St. Boniface, in response to his request, took her nuns to help him bring Christianity to German pagans.

St. Benedict referred to his sister, Scholastica, as his ‘twin soul’.

It was Bona, aunt of St. Clare, who first introduced her niece to Francis, then known as the ‘eccentric sensation’ of Assisi, and thus began the God-centered relationship which kindled a ‘renewed religion’ in Christian Europe.

There are many examples of similar friendships where women, other than mothers, might have, in any number of ways, helped determine the life direction of a saint.

One was Louise de Marillac, who was both a friend and co-worker of St. Vincent de Paul. She was his ‘right hand’ as well as part of his ‘great heart’ as they labored together for social justice and toward sainthood. There was, to name only a few, Paula in the life of Jerome, Rose aiding Martin de Porres, Catherine, the supportive and encouraging pen-pal of Philip Neri.

All of this made me stop and think about the great number of people who undoubtedly moved in and out of the life of any of our saints — everyday kind of people who probably did some seemingly inconsequential things which, in reality, may have helped make that person a ‘saint’.

Thinking about that made the ‘since and maybe’ wheels in my brain start to turn and I began to wonder – ‘since’ God created every single human being with the intent that they some day join Him in heaven as a saint, ‘maybe’ He wants us, with his help, not only to work on ourselves in the hope that we will be a saint but also to reach out to others – with a touch or a smile or a helping hand or a prayer or some of our time or a bit of listening – in the hope that we might help make a saint.

An afterthought about saints — When we see or hear the word “saints” within a religious context, it is quite natural for us to think specifically of the saints now with God, especially those who have been officially “canonized” by the Church. But, when the Church, itself, uses the word “saints” as an essential part of one of the truths put forth in our profession-of-faith prayer, the Apostles’ Creed — (the communion of saints) — it tells us we need to expand our understanding of “saints” to also include the faithful waiting in Purgatory for their already assured and forthcoming “sainthood” as well as the countless number of us here on earth still struggling to earn our halo. However, these familiar words, “communion of saints” do more than simply capsulate a truth, they tell us that we are all part of that wonderful “togetherness” arranged by God wherein we are a true family community, strongly and securely united because of common beliefs, interests and concerns and love-bonded with an enduring affection which allows us to be there for each other through both prayer and intercession.