Knights of Columbus   Print This Page | Close This Window
Archived Online Discussion
Topic: My Life with the Saints
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Thursday, November 29, 2007
Father Martin
Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Carl A. Anderson:
Thank you all for joining us today as we discuss with Fr. Martin his very interesting book about the saints.

Jason J.
Why do we need to worry about saints when Jesus is enough? I was never brought up to pray to saints.
Father Martin:
A great question! And one that I try to answer at length in my book, especially in the final chapter. Basically, Jesus is enough, and the saints would be the first to tell you that. But the saints are given to us as guideposts on the way to Jesus. In a sense, they "point" us to Jesus, but showing how you can be a follower of Jesus in a particular way in a particular time. Each saint followed Jesus in his or her own way, emphasizing, through their life and work, different parts of the Christian message, and they show us how to do the same in our lives. So they are our companions along the way to Jesus.

They are also our patrons, who pray for us in heaven. And if you have a hard time with that last answer, you might remember a time when you asked your friends to pray for you. If so, why wouldn't the saints be willing to pray for you, too? So the saints are our patrons and companions, who point us to Jesus.

Kyle K
New Haven
What is the status of Father McGivney becoming a saint? Have there been any miracles?
Carl A. Anderson:
Yes we have submitted a miracle to the Vatican and are waiting for them to review it. And I am continually impressed by the number of seminarians and young priests who have a devotion to Fr. McGivney. He is a great example of the power of a parish priest to transform not only his parish, but the world beyond it.

Maria C.
Wallingford, Conn.
What do you think the best way is to teach our children about the saints?
Father Martin:
First, I would say by trying to become holy in your own life. By showing your children what holiness is like in this day and age, and in your own family, you teach them about sanctity. One the greatest things you can be on this earth is a parent, and this is a quick road to holiness, I think. Truly I think some of the holiest activities in life have to do with raising children.

Second, by telling them the stories of the saints in ways that they can understand. Especially about all their patron saints: the saints they are named after, the saints whose name they take at confirmation, the patron saint of the parish, etc. Let them know these wonderful stories, and let them come to know the saints through your own life, too!

Carl A. Anderson:
I certainly agree with what Fr. Martin said. Particularly about being an example and cultivating respect and devotion to the saints - with your own devotion as a model for your children.

Los Angeles, CA
I really enjoyed the pictures of the saints on the cover. What inspired you to use those pictures from the Cathedral in Los Angeles?
Father Martin:
Thanks! I always think that the appearance of a book's cover is an important way to draw a reader in. When I first saw John Nava's tapestries in Los Angeles, I was moved to tears. As you probably know, for some saints we have a good idea of what they looked like (from photos, for example). So Mr. Nava did a great job with making those saints look realistic. But for those for whom we have no idea of their appearance, he used local people, from Los Angeles. So you get a vivid sense of the saints as those who are not only like us (that is, human) but also among us. And the tapestries are just huge: they run down both walls, with the saints facing the altar. So when you are at Mass the saints are beside you, and you all face the altar together: it's an amazing depiction, and experience, of the "communion" of saints. I knew as soon as I saw those tapestries that I wanted them for the cover: they so well expressed my theme of the saints as real-life people. Luckily, my publisher agreed!

Mary Jenkins
Tallahassee, FL
There are a handful of saints and blessed from the U.S. (Elizabeth Ann Seton, Francis Xavier Cabrini, Kateri Tekakwitha), and several whose causes are under way (Pierre Toussaint, Father McGivney, Solanus Casey). Do you think there is anything uniquely "American" about their witness to the faith their life of holiness?
Father Martin:
That's a very interesting question. You know, I would say that for the ones who came on the scene after the country was settled (that is, after Kateri and the North American martyrs) they were living out their holiness is a very pluralistic society, and their lives reflected this. After all, Mother Seton was originally an Episcopalian, Frances Xavier Cabrini was working in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious city of New York, and Father McGivney was still working during a time when there was still plenty of virulent anti-Catholicism around. Each of them, I would say, found that the "American" brand of holiness included the ability to live and, as Thomas Aquinas would say, flourish, in an environment that was not specifically "Catholic," as it had been for saints of the Middle Ages, or even for those of the early modern period in Europe, for example. And of course in this, these American saints show how we too can be holy in a pluralistic world.

Carl A. Anderson:
I think that in our pluralistic society, what these saints have in common to a large degree is their emphasis on charity. In a society with many cultures and religions, our example is our best means of preaching the gospel. These American saints had to deal with a hostile environment, pluralism, and a new form of culture and government - that is democracy. In Fr. McGivney's case, much of his work was directed to preserving and enhancing Catholic identity within a democratic society.

St. Louis
The book has many people that are saints in the broad sense of the word - not yet canonized, but examplary. Are there members of the Knights of Columbus that are saints in either sense? Could you list some?
Carl A. Anderson:
Well we have the cause for Fr. McGivney, and there were many Knights of Columbus martyred in Mexico who are not yet beatified - in addition to our saints and blesseds from Mexico. We have Blessed Carlos Rodriguez from Puerto Rico, Fr. Willman from the Philippines was quite saintly, and many of our military chaplains like Fr. Davitt who died at the end of World War I were examplary.

Santa Fe, NM
I really enjoyed the book, especially the way in which you made the saints so personal by describing your relationships with them. What would you suggest to someone looking to cultivate a relationship with the saints. Should we start with just one?
Father Martin:
Well, thanks for the compliment. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book! I guess the best way for someone to cultivate a relationship is to be aware of the ways that God has of drawing you closer to the saint. That is, you might hear about a certain saint's life during a homily, or reading a book, or even watching TV, and say, "Wow, that sounds interesting!" Or a friend might continually mention a saint, and you might say, "Boy, she really likes her! I wonder why." Or you might happen to read a little brief passage from a saint's writing, and find it appealing, and think "That's beautiful." In each of these ways God, I think, is drawing you to the saint. Then, I think, the best way to start understanding the saint is to read a good biography, and start to meditate and then pray to the saint. And remember that the saint is praying for you, too! And I believe that one reason we're drawn to a saint is that the saint is already praying for us.

Carl A. Anderson:
I would look for saints that either have situations or qualities that especially resonate with you. For example, having been a lawyer and worked in government for many years, I have a devotion to St. Thomas More, and I think people who may find themselves in particular circumstances may find the similar circumstances of a saint, particularly edifying. Someone undergoing persecution might find in the life of Cardinal Van Thuan might find his life edifying in particular way. A mother in a difficult situation might find a special closeness to St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

You have so many saints in your book, so many religious orders represented. How does Jesuit spirituality fit them all in?
Father Martin:
What a great question! Well, one way to summarize Jesuit spirituality (also called Ignatian spirituality, after St. Ignatius Loyola) is the notion of "Finding God in All Things." Which is not only an ideal that all the saints tried to aspire to (even those who predated or knew little about St. Ignatius), but also a way of seeing how God is at work in all things, and in all people, in a variety of circumstances. The saints show us God at work in all things, which is, I would say, a very Jesuit concept indeed!

Carl A. Anderson:
Of course I am no expert, but it seems to me that each saint has in his own way answered the second week of Ignatius's spiritual exercises, that is the call of Christ the King. And just as personally, responded to the third week, the meditation on the suffering of Christ.

Denver, CO
Who would you suggest is a good saint for beginners? Is there a saint that the average American can relate to easily?
Father Martin:
St. Peter is one that everyone can relate to, since he is a saint that made a lot of mistakes in life--such as denying Jesus. I think people feel very comfortable with him. As one writer said, St. Peter shows us that we often come to God not by doing right, but by doing wrong, and then recognizing our own need for forgiveness, and our dependency on God. And St. Francis of Assisi, I think, is the world's most popular saint. That joyful man and lively preacher is even embraced by non-Christians. So there is a great deal of natural appeal. St. Therese of Lisieux is a natural too, since her "Little Way" is quite accessible. (Though it may be hard for some newcomers to relate to life in a cloistered monastery.)

But I would also add people like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, John Paul II and Mother Teresa (all of them on the canonization path) since they lived a little closer to our own time, and might be easier to relate to.

I think other than those I mentioned above (which I think are universally appealing), the American saints hold particular appeal for Americans. So I think of people like Mother Cabrini and Elizabeth Anne Seton and Bishop John Neumann. One of my favorite new ones is Mother Theodore Guerin, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-in-the-Woods, who even ran into some problems with the local church, which shows us that even the saints, the holiest among us, struggled at times, in all sorts of arenas!

Carl A. Anderson:
We haven't mentioned yet Mary, and we could all start there. Also it might be well to meditate - particularly now - why Bishop John Carrol and Pope Pius IX proclaimed Mary, under her title of Immaculate Conception to be the patroness of the United States. All of us have a mother, and many of us are parents, so it is very easy to relate to her and the family situations that we find - especially in the Joyful mysteries of the rosary.

Francis P.
Portland, OR
Who is your favorite saint, and why?
Father Martin:
Well, my top three would be St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Pope John XXIII and Thomas Merton, but if I had to choose I would probably say St. Therese of Lisieux. There is something so appealing about her "Little Way," for so many people: the call to do little things with great love. And it continually amazes me how much she touches people through her writings. Here's a story to illustrate that: A few years ago I was speaking at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, a huge Catholic convention sponsored by the L.A. Archdiocese. After giving a talk on the saints, I spent some time signing my book for people. And I usually ask people who their favorite saint is, so that I can write something like, "May St. Paul and all the saints and blesseds pray for you." I must have signed a few hundred books, and at least half of all those people, when I asked after their favorite saint--people of all walks of life, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, from all over the country--said "Therese."

Carl A. Anderson:
It's hard to limit this to one. Obviously I have a special devotion to Fr. McGivney, our Mexican KofC martyrs, but obviously being close to John Paul II and Mother Teresa, they both have a special place for me.

Oklahoma City, OK
In your chapter on St. Bernadette, you speak very warmly of the movie, "Song of Bernadette." Why do you think Hollywood or filmmakers or TV producers aren't doing more films about the lives of the saints or heroic priests, Catholic personalities? Recent ones, like "Sophie Scholl" or "Romero" or "Black Robe," were critical successes, even if they weren't box office successes.
Father Martin:
Well, you could point to something like "Dead Man Walking," about a heroic and saintly woman today, which did very well critically and financially. But overall, I think that there are a few reasons for religious movies about the saints not doing well. First, I think the culture has become less "friendly" to the saints, so that, while in the 1940s Catholics still felt an affection for people like Bernadette, today you might have even devout Catholics scratching their heads at a story like hers, if shown on screen. Second, I think that many people are so suspicious of anything that smacks of religion that they often stay away, and even otherwise open-minded critics sharpen their pens.

For example, when "Spitfire Grill" came out (a movie with a decidedly Christian message) I read several reviews by reviewers who said they were shocked--shocked--that the movie had been financed by the Priests of the Sacred Heart. Because that meant that there must have been an "agenda" at work. Horrors! As if other movies and other producers and directors don't have agendas! But there are so many great stories out there. For example, the great mainstream movie about St. Ignatius Loyola has yet to be made!

Carl A. Anderson:
A lot of film makers do not believe in God and therefore they are not so impressed by faith or saints. However, it’s clear from the success of movies that do deal with these topics that the public really wants more of this type of entertainment.

Andrew H.
Prairie Village, Kan.
Have you considered a sequel? There are so many fascinating, heroic priests/women religious, saints and blesseds from the 20th century whose stories deserve more widespread attention and devotion; for instance, Father Walter Ciszek, SJ or Archbishop Romero.
Father Martin:
You know, there is a long list of saints who almost made the book. And I sometimes wonder if, when I get to heaven, some of them (to whom I've prayed frequently and asked for favors) will say, "So you couldn't find space for me in your book?" I'm joking of course: I would suspect that the saints are freed from those kinds of grudges when they get to heaven!

In general, the ones came closest to being included in the book were St. Isaac Jogues, the great Jesuit missionary; Blessed Katharine Drexel, the Philadelphian heiress turned sister; St. Thomas More, the English martyr; and of course St. Paul, one of my favorites.

But as for a sequel, I think that one strength of the book--at least for me--is that I told the stories of only those saints about whom I feel passionately, passionately about. That is, I wrote only about my very favorite saints, those for whom I feel the greatest connection. So I think a sequel might be a little more tepid: that is, those who I like but about whom I don't feel as strongly. So it might not be as fun to write--or to read! Besides, My Life with the Saints took ten years!

Kyle K
New Haven
What do you know about Father McGivney? How important will it be for American priests to have him made a saint?
Father Martin:
Uh oh! I'm embarrassed to say that I know mostly just the basic outlines of his life, though I've been following things a bit more closely now that he's on the canonization path and there have been so many more stories about his life in the media. And I've got "Parish Priest" on my bookshelf, ready for my Christmas reading!

How important will it be...It will be enormously important for American priests. After a few hundred years of American Catholicism, there are really very few American saints, and just one or two who were priests, and, as far as I know, none who were native born. (The other American priest-saint would be St. John Neumann, the archbishop of Philadelphia, who was not American-born.) (If you wanted to stretch things you could add people like the North American martyrs, like St. Isaac Jogues, who was martyred in upstate New York, but who came from France.) To have an American-born priest as a saint would give American priests a real boost, particularly after some tough times in the church. We always take encouragement when saints spring from the same soil that we do. That's why Pope John Paul II was so adamant about canonizing saints from parts of the world where they hadn't been recognized before. Moreover, to have someone like Father McGivney, who was a tireless advocate of parish life and of the empowerment of the laity, be canonized, would be a boost to the entire American church--clergy and lay alike. I think it couldn't come soon enough!

Tony Genco, Deputy Grand Knight
Woodbridge, Ontario Canada Council 13630
Which Saint in the book is your favourite? Why?
Father Martin:
That's a question I get asked a lot-and it's a hard one! I think, if pressed, I would have to say that my top three are (from canonized to non-canonized): St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed John XXIII, and Thomas Merton. John teaches me how to laugh, and laugh at myself. And probably Merton is the one who influenced me the most, in terms of my vocation, and my spirituality. But Therese is certainly the one to whom I pray most frequently. And her "Little Way" is just so powerful in my life: her idea of doing little things with love. I think of her almost every day.

Carl A. Anderson:
I have already mentioned John Paul and Mother Teresa, so they are certainly favorites of mine, but I would also say St. Ignatius, having attended a Jesuit university and having attended the spiritual exercises as a college student.

Reggie F.
The Knights now claims several Mexican saints and blesseds, priests and a layman, who were martyred during the persecution of the Church in the 1920s. What is the Order learning about these men to help further the programs of the Knights in Mexico and elsewhere?
Carl A. Anderson:
First, the example of the Mexican Martyrs reminds us of what kinds of men have been attracted to the Knights of Columbus, and my hope is that their example will inspire present day members to greater devotion, greater commitment, and greater sacrifice for the Church. We may not be facing firing squads as they did, but the power of the culture of death to destroy lives is just as strong. It often requires a similar heroic virtue to withstand.

Can you tell us about a good saint for today's world?
Father Martin:
I've always thought that Blessed Pope John XXIII is a perfect saint for today's world. Here was someone who had seen much of the "modern world" in all of its beauty and pain. (For example he served as an army chaplain in World War One.) Moreover, he called the Second Vatican Council, whose main document was called "The Church in the World," ushering in a real era where "the world" was not something to fear, but something to rejoice in, and participate in. So, for example, that document was not called "The Church Against the Modern World" or "The Church Above the Modern World," but "In the Modern World." Blessed John really trusted God enough to engage the modern world, to bring into his council people, as observers, from other religious traditions, and lay people and women. Which was really quite revolutionary. Also, John simply had a great sense of humor about himself, about life, and even about the church--though he was always a devoted son of the church. And a good sense of humor is sorely needed today, I think!

Carl A. Anderson:
Any of them. The world is in such desperate need of examples of holiness and charity that it would be edified by focusing on any of the saints. As much as the world has changed over the centuries, people are still people and still face the same kinds of human problems, so any saint's life can be understood in terms that we can understand.

Patrick Torsiello
Mesa, Arizona USA
How did the word Columbus become part of the Knights of Columbus title?
Carl A. Anderson:
In the 1880s Catholics in Connecticut were treated quite poorly. As a result, Fr. McGivney chose the name Columbus because the explorer was both Catholic and accepted by all Americans at the time as a hero and a founder of our country. The idea was - in part - to show through the Knights that good Catholics could also be good American citizens. Strange as it may seem today, that was not something that was obvious to McGivney's contemporaries.

Dorothy P.
New Haven
Father Martin, I really enjoyed your appearance on the Stephen Colbert show when you went on to talk about Mother Teresa. It was very brave of you, and you were a fine match for his wit! It also introduced you to many watchers of "Colbert" who might not have been aware of you before your appearance. Would you consider going back on his show to talk about "My Life with the Saints"?
Father Martin:
Thanks! I had a lot of fun, too. And you know that Mr. Colbert is a devout Catholic. (He teaches CCD!) There's a famous video of him reciting the Nicene Creed (apparently from memory) on his show, and if you check out Youtube, you'll find a funny video of him dancing to the song (and singing along with) "The King of Glory!" He was a delightful and generous and welcoming guy, and, actually, I suspected that, as a Catholic, he would be a lot of fun to talk to, particularly about Mother Teresa. So I didn't consider it brave of me, as much as an invitation to have some fun, as well as a great opportunity to spread the word about the amazing example of Mother Teresa's fidelity. And, of course, as an author I would be absolutely delighted to be invited back to talk about my book. Interestingly, just the brief mention of the book on his show in September made the book's rankings on shoot right up! I was also joking to my friends that if he did succeed in "running" for president, maybe he would need a "spiritual adviser."

Tony Genco, Deputy Grand Knight
Woodbridge, Ontario Canada Council 13630
Is there a Saint in this book that stands out specifically for the values the are reflective of the values of the Knights of Columbus? Did Father McGivney have a special saint that he modeled his life on?
Father Martin:
When I think of the Knights of Columbus and their charism for fraternal support and outreach to the poor, I think immediately of someone who is an almost-saint, the Venerable Dorothy Day, the American-born founder of another great American group, the Catholic Worker. The title of her autobiography is "The Long Loneliness," and she says that this loneliness is the loneliness we all face in society. And the answer to this loneliness is summed up in one word: community. To me, that is an essential part of the message of the Knights, at least as I have known them in my life: building and supporting community, and communities, through their charitable works and fraternal support. Also, Dorothy Day was one of the millions of active lay people who have made the American church what it is, and of course much of Fr. McGivney's work was in helping laypeople see their own gifts and talents.

So for all those reasons I think of Dorothy Day. But you know pretty soon I think we will be able to pray to a saint who perfectly exemplified the ideals of the Knights: St. Michael McGivney!

As for the second question, I don't know enough about Fr. McGivney's life to answer that. But if I were to hazard a guess, I would imagine that the patron of parish priests, St. John Vianney, would have held great appeal for him, as he did (and still does) for many parish priests. But I'm sure the new book, "Parish Priest," on Fr. McGivney's life would have more to say about all that.

Carl A. Anderson:
We know that Fr. McGivney considered the Jesuits, so certainly it is safe to assume that St. Ignatius appealed to him. As for saints that are reflective of the values of the Knights of Columbus, I think that many knights would identify with each of the saints in this book. I think there are many fathers who would identify with Joseph, I think many would identify with the Ugandan martyrs. So many knights have volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity so I think many would identify also with Mother Teresa.

Father Martin:
Well, I think beginning to go to church again in your neighborhood and going to the sacrament of reconciliation (to reconcile yourself with the church) and then beginning to go to Communion, and feeling in the community. The local church is always the place to start. And remember that even the saints felt estranged from the church from time to time, but that didn't stop them from being holy. Dorothy Day, for example, had an abortion, and think of all the great things that would never have gotten done if she had given up! Also, trust that this desire to return is God's way of calling you home!

Carl A. Anderson:
A first step could be to e-mail Catholic Information Service and one of the priests involved in that program will be in touch with you by email to help facilitate the process for you. Here's a link to the CIs web site -

Father Martin:
Thanks so much to everyone who asked a question or made a comment today, and thanks to Mr. Anderson for his wonderful comments, and for inviting me to participate in your forum today.

I have such respect and admiration for all the work that the Knights do, and have done over the years, for all of the People of God. You are all examples of the way that we are all invited to the "universal call to holiness" and called to be saints in our own ways.

Please accept my prayers for a Holy Advent and Merry Christmas. And please do keep me in your prayers!

Carl A. Anderson:
I would like to thank Fr. Martin for joining us today, and to thank you all for participating with Fr. Martin and me in this discussion of his book and of the saints. We look forward to your participation in future book discussions in the months ahead.

Copyright © Knights of Columbus. All rights reserved.