As a kid attending a Catholic school, St. Christine’s, I heard a fair amount about saints. There was the ‘A’ team of the most popular personages: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and a handful of others, but it wasn’t until recently that I became aware of the army of other deceased do-gooders upon whom the Vatican has conferred its highest honor. In fact, a precise tally of saints is not known, though estimates hover around the 10,000 mark. A cursory Internet search reveals a treasure trove of obscure names: Botulph, Basilissa, Faustinus, Gundisalvus, Ulric, Turibius, Finbar, Drogo… the list goes on and on.
Many are patron saints of a particular occupation, cause, or country. Barbers, for example, have patrons in Cosmas and Damian, Arabian twin brothers who were tortured, crucified, stoned, shot by arrows, and beheaded…the very definition of overkill. Beltmakers have Alexius as their dude, while the go-to saint for shoeshiners is Nicholas of Myra. Whatever one’s particular affliction or area of interest, there’s bound to be a patron saint for you amongst the throngs of the venerated.
It should be pointed out that the Church is particular about the proper preposition when hailing a saint. One technically does not pray “to” a saint—that would be idolatry, a definite no-no. One would pray “with” a saint, relying on their elevated status and greater proximity to the Almighty to intercede on one’s behalf. So, for example, if I had a big business deal about to close, I might enlist the aid of St. Homobonus, the patron saint of business people, or if I slipped and fell on the ice I could give a shout out to St. Amalburga, patron of bruises.
In the 80’s, during the tenure of Pope Paul II, the rules for achieving sainthood changed dramatically. For centuries, sainthood had been conferred by a more democratic method, popular consensus, but the revised process called for a rigorous vetting by Vatican historians and theologians. Under such scrutiny, some saints were de-haloed and scrubbed from the ranks.
The most famous of these would have to be St. Christopher. Growing up, we always had a magnetized St. Christopher medal attached to the dashboard of the car, a talisman guarding against drunk drivers, potholes, and various hazards of the road. The thinking today is that Chris was largely a myth and a triple-A card would be more practical than the dashboard medal of my childhood.
One popular saint who has remained in the pantheon is St. Anthony—commonly invoked as an aid to finding lost things. “Tony, where are my car keys?” Being that I lost my connection to the Catholic Church years ago, I suppose I could have tested his intercessory powers by praying to—excuse me, with him: “St. Anthony, where did my faith go?” But I didn’t.