As Catholic parents we want to do absolutely everything in our power to help our kids develop a relationship with the Blessed Trinity that will sustain them into eternity. In short—we want to raise saints. But how do we do that? Well, I recently met a gentleman, Patrick O’Hearn, who spent the last three years trying to figure that out. He looked to the people who had already done it—fifty sets of parents who raised canonized saints. The fruit of his exhaustive research is the new book, Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for CE’s readers.
An Interview with Patrick O’Hearn
Shane Kapler: Patrick, I’m sure that the first thing readers will want to discover from your extensive research is whether or not you were able to identify consistent characteristics in the lives of these parents; and if so, what were they?
Patrick O’Hearn: Holiness was the most consistent theme, and it was manifested in seven identifying characteristics, or what I call “hallmarks.” Each of the seven hallmarks is given its own chapter in the book: (1) Sacramental Life, (2) Surrender, (3) Sacrificial Love, (4) Suffering, (5) Simplicity, (6) Solitude, and (7) Sacredness of Life. Certainly there were other virtues, such as humility and courage, but these were incorporated in the hallmarks above. These hallmarks were passed onto their children, the saints.
Kapler: You structured your book in such a creative way. Instead of relating the lives of one set of parents and then moving onto the next, you structured your book around the hallmarks identified above, and then circled back, chapter after chapter, to show how the hallmark was concretized in the same core group of parents. The effect was that, by the end of the book, I experienced this growing intimacy with these parents of the saints. What couples did you develop the deepest “friendship” with while writing the book?
O’Hearn: Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse are my favorite parents of the saints because we have shared many of the same experiences and trials, such as wanting to be in religious life, and also losing children. During college when I was actively discerning religious life, I used to jokingly call St. Therese my girlfriend. But after God called me to marriage, St. Therese was pointing me to her parents. I also have a great love for St. Jose Maria Escriva’s parents. They too experienced setbacks and trials, but Jose’s father was said to have kept his cheerfulness.
Kapler: I thought I knew a fair amount about the home life of Thérèse of Lisieux, but you provide details I’d never come across before. For example, the death of Thérèse’s sister Mélanie-Thérèse was a particularly difficult cross for her parents. Would you share a bit about her passing and how her parents were able to continue on?
O’Hearn: St. Therese’s sister Mélanie-Thérèse died due to neglect from St. Zélie’s wet nurse. Later in life, Zélie had a condition which prevented her from breastfeeding, and which eventually led to her death in her mid-forties. When she lost Melanie-Therese, St. Zélie experienced what we call today, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She refused to pass by the house where her daughter died. Thanks be to God, she did have another baby in her future – St. Therese, who was named after her departed sister. What helped St. Zélie the most was the hope that she would see her little ones in Heaven. Saint Zélie and her saintly husband lived for Eternity. They knew this life was temporary, but still the pain of losing four children weighed heavily on their hearts. Without faith, St. Zelie could have easily abandoned God.
Kapler: As I was reading, I couldn’t help but feel my own inadequacies as a parent. How do you respond to the parent who says, “I’ve already blown it”?
O’Hearn: These parents of the saints were not without their own faults. They made many mistakes, which we can all learn from, such as letting society or secular relatives influence their children. They were not perfect, but they imperfectly sought perfection. Some of them even had children that left the Faith. But what separated them from most parents is that the Holy Eucharist and Marian devotion were everything to them. Above all, they longed for Heaven, and wanted their children to be with them in Eternity to praise God forever. And so, when we read their lives, we ought to be inspired by their great holiness, but at the same time, aware that they too struggled with their weaknesses and sins.
Kapler: Patrick, Parents of the Saints both challenges and encourages me; you’ve given me a lot to mull over. Thanks for taking time out to share some of the fruits of your research with us.