When I was given the chance to review Maria Morera Johnson’s book Super Girls and Halos: My Companions on the Quest for Truth, Justice, and Heroic Virtue I jumped at the opportunity. Not only was I intrigued by the title, but who wouldn’t want to read a book by someone whose most recent prizewinning bestseller was entitled My Badass Book of Saints?
I wasn’t disappointed as the book lives up to its title. It grabbed my attention right at the beginning when the author revealed one of her earliest heroes: Lieutenant Nyota Uhura of the Starship Enterprise. Anyone who knows me and my family knows how we feel about Star Trek. I knew immediately that Mrs. Johnson and I were kindred spirits.
You will never read another book that explores saints and their virtues the way this one does. Mrs. Johnson blends her personal stories and insights with tales of secular heroines and saints who together exemplify similar virtues. The Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance are revealed to the reader via the stories of such pop culture icons as Wonder Woman, Dana Scully, Hermione Granger, and Katniss Everdeen, along with the lives of saints like St. Clare of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Cunegunde, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
These engaging stories are accompanied by explication of the virtues from The Catechism of the Catholic Church and steps for the reader to follow to strive to attain each of them. And although readers will be learning a lot about saints and virtues, it will feel more like listening to stories told by a friend.
In her introduction, Mrs. Johnson recounts a moving story of her father’s excitement while watching the first moon landing on television, and how he encouraged her to put her little hand on the screen so that she could touch the future. She writes: “My dad, who was my hero, had heroes of his own. It was a small lesson with a big impact: grown-ups had heroes who were other grown-ups . . . today, grown-up me has lots of grown-up heroes. I call them saints.”
Reading this book encouraged me to think about my own heroes, and specifically about the saints who have inspired me. I was a little girl when I first read The Song of Bernadette. Later I chose St. Bernadette to be my Confirmation saint.
Bernadette Soubirous was a humble young woman, impoverished and uneducated, who did not aspire to renown. She found within herself unexpected faith and courage after the Blessed Mother appeared to her. Once these apparitions ended she was content to enter religious life and lived in seclusion until her painful death from bone cancer at 34. She refused offers to travel to the miraculous spring at Lourdes, remembering Mary’s words to her: “I cannot promise you happiness in this world but only in the next.” Unquestioning faith, obedience, and humility are virtues I have yet to achieve but hope to through her intercession and example.
Several bloggers received free copies of Super Girls and Halos from Ave Maria Press in exchange for honest reviews. There are 15 stops on this blog tour, and a giveaway is part of the fun! Please click below to enter.
Super Girls and Halos Giveaway
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Who are your secular heroes? What about your Saint Super Girl? I’d love to hear if you’d care to share in the comments!
So for my Five Favorites today, I would like to share five of my favorite saints!
1. Saint Peter
Peter is absolutely my favorite saint. He’s so endearing. I find myself shaking my head and smiling when listening to his exploits at Mass. So enthusiastic. So clueless! So like us. Peter blathered about building booths for Jesus and company at the Transfiguration, leading the Gospel writer to opine, “He did not really know what he was saying.” Peter denied Jesus. Peter tried to walk on water and sank instead. But Peter also was the first to name Jesus as Messiah, and he was the rock on which Jesus chose to build His Church. How inspiring for all of us that Jesus chose this imperfect soul to be the first Pope, demonstrating that faith and love, not education and ability, are what count most.
2. Saint Monica
St. Monica’s feast was last week and it was then that I suddenly realized I should be praying to her! My kids are nowhere near as wayward as St. Augustine was in his wild younger days, but all mothers pray for their children and who better to be our patron than this mother whose prayers were answered in such a spectacular fashion?
I chose her as my Confirmation saint after reading (and re-reading and re-reading) The Song of Bernadette. My visit to Lourdes as a teenager remains a highlight of my life. An uneducated peasant girl who never sought out sainthood and who was unexceptional in every way before her visions, she is a reminder to all of us that God can use anyone and that anyone who accepts a mission from God will be given the grace to carry it out. I’ve written more about her here.
4. Saint Patrick
Even if you aren’t Catholic, you probably know all about St. Patrick; he’s that popular. But aside from the fun of St. Patrick’s Day, I feel a special debt to him which you can read about here.
If you went to Catholic school you probably recall being made to dress up like your patron saint for All Saints Day. Coming up with costumes for these occasions for my kids has always been a challenge since I am not what you would call crafty, but I was very pleased one year to send Teddy off to school wrapped in a sheet and with the first few lines of the inscription that was carved into the head of this poor martyr written on his forehead in red ink.
Who are your favorite saints? You can tell me in the comments below. And check out Mama Knows, Honeychild for more favorites!
“Catholic and Southern, Wife and Mother.” That’s how I described myself for my original About page on this blog as well as on Twitter. What I put first says everything about who I think I am and what is important to me.
But especially since I’ve started doing genealogical research, I’ve learned that Catholicism has come down to me along a very slender thread. Raised to think of myself as half Irish and half Scots, I have learned that I’m just as much German and English. And my forebears were mostly Protestant.
My father’s side of the family is Protestant. My mother’s father’s side is Protestant. Her mother’s mother’s side is Protestant (although Grandmother did convert). It was her mother’s mother’s father’s parents, Hugh Higgins and Mary Foley Higgins, born in Ireland in the 1830s, who were the original Catholics in our family.
And you know, don’t you, who brought the faith to the Irish?
I’ve dressed in green, and worn “Kiss me, I’m Irish,” pins, and sung hymns to St. Patrick every year since I was a child without ever thinking of how much I owe him. And as my husband pointed out last night when I shared this revelation with him, St. Patrick’s influence continues through the generations, since John would never have become Catholic if he had not married me.
Thank you, St. Patrick.
Yesterday was the Feast Day of St. Louise de Marillac. Frankly, I don’t know the first thing about St. Louise, but I was well-acquainted with one of her namesakes.
Sister Louise de Marillac Lovejoy (just Sister Louise to us) was my American History teacher when I was a junior at Knoxville Catholic High School. She was a Sister of Charity who’d been allowed to live in Knoxville so she could take care of her aging aunt. At that time this meant she was the only Sister we’d ever seen who didn’t wear a habit (although she did wear a veil). And she was a character.
Feisty, scrappy, opinionated, dictatorial, passionate–these are all good words to describe Sister Louise, who dominated her classroom and argued every point vociferously, accuracy be damned. She often regaled us with tales of the terrible atheist, “Maureen O’Hara.” Correcting her was pointless. She did not even care if she got the names of her students wrong–she just re-christened them. James, whom she called Charles all the time because that was his older brother’s name, eventually became “Charles James.” Mariette was “Marietta.” She couldn’t pronounce “Kneier,” so she called that girl “Miss Kim.” Mr. Dodd became “Mr. Todd.” And you better believe they all answered to whatever Sister decided their names were!
Sister’s greatest joy was catching out-of-uniform students as they walked past her classroom. As she lectured, she always had one eye out for them. She would break off mid-word and run out of the room, then she’d come back in, carrying the out-of-uniform jacket, cackling with glee. The offending garment was held hostage in her closet until its owner paid a ransom, which Sister gave to the Missions.
Honestly, we did not get very far in our American History Book. The last thing I remember was trustbusting and Teddy Roosevelt. Part of that was because of Sister’s enjoyment of going off on tangents, like the atheist thing. People loved to argue with her and could really get her going. I remember one whole class devoted to a diatribe on why wearing an ankle bracelet signaled you were a prostitute. “This is true, class,” Sister would assure us. Along with “There’s always that 5%,” that was Sister’s favorite saying.
The other reason we never reached 1910 was that Sister spent a long time on the areas of history she thought were important– mostly the colonial period. Sister had an interesting way of teaching. She would reiterate the point she wanted to make over several classes until we had it memorized, then have us chant it back to her, like parrots. It worked, by God. I bet if I could get my old classmates in a room and ask them what the Magna Carta was, they would immediately burst out with, “The first step along the road to self-government.” The Mayflower Compact was, “The first step along the road to self-government in the New World.” And what three important things came to Jamestown in 1619? “Slaves, women, and the Virginia House of Burgesses.”
In addition to American History, Sister taught a Current Events class that Seniors could take as an elective. It was interesting because kids who tended to be cut-ups and classroom trouble-makers often took the class, because they enjoyed sparring with Sister.
Sometimes we would be sitting in the classroom and some former student, visiting the school for the day, would arrive and come in to give Sister a hug. How delighted she always looked to see them. She looked grouchy a lot of the time but her smile really transformed her. I know we wondered at the time why old students flocked back to visit. Today the school itself remembers her with a Social Studies Award given out in her name each year.
The last time I saw Sister I was at St. Mary’s Outpatient Clinic for a three-hour glucose tolerance test when I was pregnant with–I think–Emily. I was happy to see her but sorry that she wasn’t herself. I had heard that she was terminally ill at that time, and her spunk seemed gone as she told me that she wasn’t feeling very well.
We have so many teachers in a lifetime–too many to count or remember. But “there’s always that 5%” who make a lasting impression, and Sister Louise was one of a kind.
Today is the Feast of St. Joseph, one of the few saint days I remember from year to year. That’s because I spent eight years as a student at St. Joseph School, and we had a special Mass to honor our patron. We always sang a particular hymn on that day, and I can’t find a link with either the words or the music, but that’s okay because the lyrics are embedded in my brain along with those of several thousand other hymns:
St. Joseph was a just man, a man of upright life. Our Lord’s kind foster father took Mary as his wife. He knew the pain of exile in far Egyptian land. Obedient, kind, and faithful, he followed God’s command. As head of God’s own family St. Joseph is renowned. He searched the ancient city until the child was found. All honor to St. Joseph, whose merits we acclaim. God bless each home and family in good St. Joseph’s name.
You can sing that to a variety of tunes, O Sacred Head Surrounded and The Church’s One Foundation among them, but the tune we used was in a minor key and I seem to recall it was a Flanders tune. I can sing it to you, if you like.
Anyway, I liked it. It’s a nice little hymn; it gets every single thing we KNOW about Joseph, which isn’t much, right out there. We don’t need to know much to recognize that he is an excellent model to follow in living the Christian life. He was kind to others–to Mary whom he had cause to doubt, and to a child who was not his own. He was obedient, taking Mary as his wife and going to Egypt as commanded by God’s messenger. He was faithful, believing in things that many might have found impossible. He was just, a follower of the law. And he was a hard worker, a man who worked with his hands to provide for his wife and child.
I have a number of wonderful children’s Christmas books that attempt to flesh Joseph out a little bit. And I think Anne Rice did a fine job with him in her Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. It’s fun and interesting to imagine the unknown details of the Holy Family’s life in the years that the Gospels don’t show us, but in the end what little we know of Joseph gives us plenty of reasons to venerate him today.
There has been a fad in recent years to pray to St. Joseph if you need to sell a house, I guess because he was a carpenter. You can even buy a kit which comes with instructions, a statue to plant in your yard, and a prayer to say. That seems more like superstition than veneration to me, but I suppose it is okay if one does it with the proper spirit. There are certainly plenty of prayers out there to St. Joseph, for almost any intention you can think of.
I’m going to end this post with a prayer to St. Joseph for fathers. May he watch over all fathers today and every day, especially those who have chosen to parent a child who is not theirs biologically.
Saint Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You too knew trial, labour and weariness. But amid the worries of material life, your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God’s Son entrusted to you and with Mary, his tender Mother. Assure those you protect that they do not labour alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over Him faithfully as you have done.
When I was a little girl, I received The Song of Bernadette as a Christmas gift. The story of Bernadette and the apparitions at Lourdes captivated me, and I immediately decided that Bernadette would be my Confirmation saint years down the road.
I recently re-read (and who knows how many times I’ve read it already) the book, and found that I am now able to appreciate the adult parts–the political, historical, and ecclesiological parts I used to skim. Not the least interesting fact about the story is that its writer is not a Christian, but a Jew, who wrote the story after he was hidden from the Nazis in Lourdes before making his escape to the United States.
When I was in high school, my grandmother took me on a 17-day tour of France. The highlight was our visit to Lourdes (which Sister deLellis, my high school French teacher, had told us reminded her of a Catholic Gatlinburg). It’s true that cheap Catholic souvenir shops lined the main road to the Grotto, but miracle and mystery existed there too.
Bernadette’s “lady” had asked that “processions come hither,” and every night thousands of pilgrims walk to the grotto carrying candles and singing “Ave Maria.” I cannot describe how beautiful and powerful it was.
Bernadette was just a simple peasant girl, who retired to a convent and died a painful death from tuberculosis of the bone. Today is the anniversary of the day she died at the age of 34, and thus her Feast Day.
Years after her death, Bernadette’s body was exhumed and was found to be incorrupt. It is still on view today at the convent of the Sisters of Nevers, where she lived as a sister.
Above the Grotto where the lady appeared are suspended crutches left behind those who were cured after drinking from or bathing in the miraculous spring. I took home several bottles of the water to use at home. My friends and I used to bless ourselves with it in college before we took our exams!
If I had the money to travel, Lourdes would be one of the first places I would go.
St. Bernadette, pray for us.