Teaching the faith to children in a relatable, interesting way is a goal for many parents and grandparents. And for much of her career, Lisa Hendey has been doing just that, as the founder of CatholicMom.com and as a children’s book author. Her latest is called “I Am a Saint in the Making,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below).
Over the years, as Lisa has given talks both in-person and virtually at schools, parishes, and religious education and homeschooling groups, she has conveyed not only her love of the saints, but also a call to action and awareness that children can begin the road to sainthood, even at their young ages. She said, “They really resonate towards understanding that they’re called to live this life of love and mission in the world around them.”
“I Am a Saint in the Making” shares brief stories of various saints that children can relate to on various levels. Lisa says, “With Saint John Paul II, we look back at his love for soccer, skiing. We talk about his virtues, but also his forgiveness in a very challenging situation. Those are simple things that children can grasp onto…I’ve raised two sons, so I know how ornery they can be. But they also have a true love and a pure faith at that age…They begin to ask big questions, but with hope and with trust.”
Diversity is also a key factor in making this book relatable to children. For instance, there is one spread by illustrator Katie Broussard that highlights saints from different parts of the world: Saint Juan Diego from Mexico, who was visited by Our Lady of Guadalupe; Blessed Augustus Tolton, an African American priest from the U.S. who began life as a slave; and Saint Mary MacKillop from Australia, who helped provide educations for poor children.
Lisa explained, “One of our goals for the book was to have any child who picked it up be able to find somebody who maybe looked a little bit like them, that this would be a book that was inclusive and diverse, and that also spread this message that God equips us. He doesn’t make saints who just are born with a halo over their heads. No matter what our station in life, we have that calling. We’re not there yet. I’m a long way from it. But I think that children can recognize in themselves these trademarks of the saints.”
Another aspect of the book’s diversity is immediately apparent on the cover, which includes an illustration of a girl in a wheelchair. Lisa knew she wanted to include that representation because “there are no limits on God’s ability to work through us. And certainly, that is the case with anyone who is challenged by some kind of physical or mental disability. They still have so much to teach us and so much love to share. And often, they do it in very profound ways.”
The book’s final two pages are a message to parents, offering concrete steps to encourage their children towards sainthood. One of the tips given is: “Tell your child the stories of saints in your family who have gone before you, and remember those loved ones in prayer by name.”
Lisa explains, “We all belong to a community of saints. So for those of us in our families, we all know and love our own saints in the making, or saints that we know rest in God’s embrace. To share their stories and to honor their memory is a beautiful thing…Most importantly, we remember to pray that our family members are resting with God. We should spend the rest of our lives doing that and hoping for the same for ourselves.”
One hindrance towards sainthood can be children getting down on themselves after they’ve made a bad choice. How can parents teach their kids not to let a sense of perfectionism derail their path to sainthood, to learn that saints made mistakes, too, and they recovered and move forward?
“For those who are of age to avail ourselves of the sacrament of the reconciliation, what a great gift [it] is,” notes Lisa. “There’s a delicate balance in parenting between wanting to say, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ and also helping [kids] understand accountability and the fact that our actions do matter. Even something as simple as the way that we treat a pet, or the world around us, or a friend. When an infraction happens, it’s an opportunity for God’s grace to rush in, and for mercy to begin to heal our lives. And that’s a beautiful gift, uniquely precious.”
“I hope that every little soul – and every grown up soul – who reads this book,” concludes Lisa, “will understand that God is calling them to [be a saint], and that despite the way that we feel about our own shortcomings and limitations, God has created us with a unique and wonderful mission, a purpose. It’s our role to respond to that call affirmatively and to walk that path, no matter where it takes us.”
(To listen to my full interview with Lisa Hendey, click on the podcast link):