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BEFORE THE CROSS | Less-well-known saints have great lessons for us

Some saints teach us by their obscurity that you don’t have to be famous to be holy

We celebrate All Saints Day on Nov. 1. It’s a good time to think about obscure saints — people who don’t show up on the Church calendar and whose stories, therefore, we may not know very well.

• St. Amand of Flanders (584-675). He’s the patron saint of all who produce beer. St. Amand was a missionary bishop. His mission in Flanders was initially unsuccessful, though things changed after he raised someone from the dead. He was unsuccessful in subsequent missions to the Slavs and the Basques. Eventually, he returned to great success in Flanders.

Why do I bring him up? Because his life teaches this beer-producing region that holiness doesn’t require an unbroken chain of success, just fidelity and effort.

• St. Theodore Guerin (1798-1856). She was born in France near the end of the French Revolution. When her father was killed by bandits, her mother fell into a deep depression. Although she wanted to enter religious life, she stayed home to care for her mother. After five years, with her mother’s consent, she entered religious life and became a teacher. At the request of a bishop, she came to America in 1840 to open a school and care for the sick.

Why do I bring her up? Because one of the schools she founded was Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College, the oldest Catholic women’s liberal arts college in the United States. St. Mary’s is located just outside Terre Haute, Ind. In fact, if you’re driving through Terre Haute on Interstate 70, you’ll see signs for her shrine. Just as we know and love St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, the people of Indiana know and love “Mama Teddy.”

• St. Rose Venerini (1656-1728). She was engaged to be married, but her fiancé died. She entered a Dominican monastery but returned home after a few months to care for her mother following her father’s death. After her mother died, she discerned, under the guidance of her Jesuit spiritual director, that she was called to remain a lay woman in the world, and dedicated herself to the instruction and formation of poor young women. She opened the first public school for girls in Italy. Although she faced opposition, she won over her opponents because her work bore such good fruit in the moral improvement of her students and their mothers. Eventually, with the support of the pope, she opened 40 more schools. Pope Clement XI said to her: “Signora Rosa, you are doing that which we cannot do. We thank you very much, because with these schools you will sanctify Rome.”

Why do I bring her up? Because she reminds us that you don’t have to be a priest or a nun to be holy.

There are many such obscure saints — men and women of every time, place and culture. All are worth studying, because each has a lesson for us. Perhaps, as much as anything, they teach us by their obscurity that you don’t have to be famous to be holy.

All Saints Day is an opportunity to study, learn from, and celebrate the obscure saints. The Catholic TV Network produces a monthly children’s video about obscure saints, an opportunity to get to know some. Even better, though, is to imitate them. Perhaps we can be obscure saints in our neighborhoods.

More on saints:

For more about obscure saints, read this week's Living Our Faith story

Watch Catholic TV Network’s series about obscure saints

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