I attended a large Catholic elementary school, and one of my favorite activities was annually selecting a saint after whom we chose to model our lives for All Saints Day. In the younger grades, we were permitted to dress up in costume, which made the event all the more thrilling! One year I chose to learn and present about St. Joan of Arc and another year about St. Elizabeth of Hungary. These were proud moments, because I learned from a young age about heroic young women, and I wanted to be like them in their courageous faith.
Today it seems this may be the extent of most children learning about the saints, if at all. In most Catholic homes, parents send their children either to Catholic grade school or religious education classes, where they hope their children will learn everything they need to know about the Faith. What a tragedy!
Here are some of my ideas for introducing the saints to your children from preschool through elementary school. I can’t say the suggestions are exhaustive, but hopefully they will kick-start your inspiration toward catechesis of the saints.
Display icons, statues, and framed images of saints in your home. I will never forget the first time both Felicity and Sarah asked me with fascination, “Who dat, Mama?” and pointed to the framed image of St. Philomena on the wall. I had forgotten about the portrait, because it had hung in the same spot since Ben and I moved in our house, which was before our children blessed our lives. Both of the girls were about one year of age when they asked this question, and I proudly responded, “That’s St. Philomena, sweetie.” Then I proceeded to point out the anchor and lilies she was holding. There’s nothing more natural in captivating a child’s interest in the saints than by honoring them in your home. Start there.
Purchase a resource about the saints and have your children select one to learn about each week. My favorite resources on the saints are from Sophia Institute Press, Holy Heroes, and Worthpoint’s Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives encyclopedia of saints. All of these resources are perfect for a child of any age, and they are versatile so that you can choose to incorporate them into homeschool lesson planning or family dinner conversations. Holy Heroes offers some CDs that you and your children can listen to in the vehicle or anywhere you choose! With such options, there’s really no reason to neglect introducing images and stories of the saints’ lives to our kids.
Watch movies about the saints or enact a scene from a saint’s life (with costumes) on your weekly family night. To me, this is a double awesome point, because you are scheduling regular time with your family and incorporating saintly fun into it! Older kids might outwardly think this is lame, especially dressing up, but when they enter junior high and high school, ask if they’d like to direct or read the script. It’s a less “cheesy” role for them, yet they are still involved. There are also some really fantastic movies about the saints, but be selective depending upon the age group of your children. Some movies are subtitled and very long. Catholic Family Catalogue offers a great selection of animated movies about the saints’ lives that are more likely to retain your youngster’s interest.
Talk about your favorite saints and pray to them as a family. Our daughter, Felicity, developed an early devotion to the Little Flower, because she saw books, statues, pictures, and holy cards scattered around our house. In turn, she has asked numerous questions about St. Therese, even requesting to have a framed image of the Doctor of the Church in her bedroom. Now that Felicity is approaching five years old, I can more freely talk about how she and St. Therese are so much alike, which furthers her burgeoning devotion to the Little Flower. Even Sarah asks about St. Padre Pio and “Mama Mary” when Ben and I are praying novenas to them and she sees their images on holy cards. Again, these are natural opportunities for education and exposure to the lives of the saints for your children.
Finally, remember to teach your children that we are all saints in the making! Include the humanness of each saint: their weaknesses, perhaps lives before conversion, etc. Too many of us grow up believing that saints are somehow spiritually superior to us, because their sanctity was always the focus of religious lessons. But what I identified with the most when I was growing up were the struggles, the interior darkness, and eventually overcoming adversity that the saints experienced.
Sometimes what keeps children and adults alike on the “straight and narrow path” is knowing that we each have the potential to be sinners and saints. When we inevitably falter, we can model to our children the importance of reconciling ourselves to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we say, “I’m sorry” to our kids, we are paving the way for humility in their lives so that they know sainthood isn’t always perfection in this life, but in the next.