“Mooommmmmm…” I cried. “Peter escaped from his cage! Can you help me find him?”
Peter was my golden-haired, fluffy hamster − my first real pet. Peter was lovable, adorable and so very clever. Peter’s attempts at freedom were a semi-regular occurrence, so there I was once again, sitting on the basement steps with head in my hands — crying — at the impending reality that Peter was gone forever.
“Oh Missy,” my mom would say, “it will be OK. Say a prayer to St. Anthony. He will help us find him.” St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and can’t be found.
So I would sit, praying fervently to St. Anthony, except I would replace the word something with Peter.
After the fifth or sixth “Peter is lost and can’t be found,” my mom would overturn a box and there would be Peter. A miracle! A real miracle! Peter was returned safely to his cage and I had St. Anthony to thank for it.
St. Anthony, I learned from my mom, was a man in heaven who, when you prayed to him, would help you when you were missing something very precious or important. He was a saint. He was among many heavenly men and women who I could rely on to help me when I was in need — whether that was a lost hamster, help with a math test or making my bratty little sister disappear (OK, I’ll admit, I never did find the patron saint for the last one).
Over the course of my adolescence, I met more saints. The popular ones of course: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick, St. Nicholas, St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother and the less widely known ones like St. Bridget (for whom my elementary school and parish were named) and St. Claire (my confirmation name).
All of them were unique in their own way. All lived extraordinary lives, loved God passionately and perfectly and went to heaven. But in my young mind, saints were people you couldn’t touch. People who lived a very, very long time ago, who experienced a world much different than mine. Surely people didn’t exist like that today.
Fast forward 12 years. My beautiful mother, the woman who so wisely taught me to pray to the saints for miracles, was in need of a miracle of her own. Diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at the age of 49, she asked for nothing more than prayers. As I sat there with my head in my hands — crying — at the impending reality that I would lose my mom forever, my mom said: “Pray.”
Pray to St. Therese of Liseux, a beautiful young woman who said her mission was to “spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will send a shower of roses.”
God called mom home three years later on her 52nd birthday, Nov. 2. Days later, my dad received a call from the realtor responsible for selling the house in Pittsburgh we had vacated only a month earlier. “Jim,” she said, “There are roses blooming in the garden in your front yard.” Roses blooming in November. A miracle! A real miracle! Mom had returned safely home to her creator and St. Therese of Liseux was kind enough to let us know.
Still, however, like my young mind had surmised all those years ago, saints still seemed far away and relatively untouchable.
Fast forward five years. I began working at Catholic Leadership Institute where we celebrate the Annual Awards for Outstanding Catholic Leadership. The gala celebration honors men and women — lay, clergy and religious who, guided by their Catholic faith, have led exemplary lives and stand as role models for future leaders.
Over the last six years this event has introduced me to people like Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza; spiritual leader, healer and shepherd Cardinal Seán O’Malley; social communications pioneer Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH; and life-long servant of his country and his Church, Secretary Jim Nicholson.
Honoring outstanding Catholic leaders led me to unique men and women, who were living extraordinary lives, who were loving God passionately and perfectly — transforming hearts, inspiring change — modern day miracle workers, modern day saints all on their way to heaven.
On Nov. 1 the Catholic Church marks All Saints Day. This is a day to remember the holy men and women who have given witness to God’s love through their lives of love, sacrifice and mercy. A day in which we not only remember the saints who have gone before us, but celebrate the holiness present in the modern day saints living among us — today, in this world, in our lifetime.
Like roses blooming in November, unique and beautiful — miracles in their own moment in time.
Catholic Leadership Institute will celebrate the 2012 Awards for Outstanding Catholic Leadership on Friday, Nov. 9 in Philadelphia. For more information visit www.CatholicLeaders.org.