Saints in the making

Catholic schools celebrate All Saints’ Day in style

Aaron Lambert

At other schools, Nov. 1 was likely just another Friday for students. At Denver’s Catholic schools, however, it wasn’t just Friday – it was All Saints’ Day.

On this special feast day, Catholic schools invite their students and teachers to participate in the communion of saints by dressing up as their favorite saints. The occasion is usually marked by class parties, fun activities and even parades around the school.

During his Angelus address at the Vatican, Pope Francis said on All Saints’ Day that “the saints of all times, which we celebrate together today, are not simply symbols, distant human beings, unreachable. On the contrary, they are people who have lived with their feet on the ground. They have experienced the daily toil of existence with its successes and its failures, finding in the Lord the strength to always get up and continue the journey.”

More than just a fun day for students, All Saints’ Day is an opportunity to remind them that they, too, are capable of holiness, and is another way in which Catholic schools live up to their name.

Students at various Catholic schools dressed up as saints for All Saints’ Day. (Photo by Vladimir Mauricio-Perez)

At St. Rose of Lima in Denver, celebrating All Saints’ Day perfectly complements the goal of preparing its students not only academically, but also spiritually.

“We believe all students are called to sainthood, and as we prepare them academically for success in Catholic high schools and college, we also prepare them for heaven,” said Tomas Gallegos, principal at St. Rose of Lima. “It’s seeing themselves as saints, praying to the saints and using that for guidance on how they should live their lives.”

Teachers and staff are also encouraged to join in the fun. Gallegos was dressed as St. Francis of Assisi, a saint that’s had a particularly special impact on his life.

“I had the opportunity to visit Assisi and go see the chapel that [St. Francis] helped rebuild and see where he’s laid to rest,” Gallegos told the Denver Catholic. “He’s someone that I pray to in a very special way, but I also think it’s a good connection for our students who already innately have a love of animals to see somebody who really embodied that.”

At St. John the Baptist School in Longmont, the preschool classes had their own celebration complete with fun activities themed after particular saints. Students sprinkled roses over an image of St. Theresa at her station, searched for lost items at the St. Anthony station, and shot a toy bow and arrow at a target at the St. Kateri station — “target practice,” as some of the students said.

Criscelda Mortimore (left), a parent and volunteer at St. John the Baptist school in Longmont, assists a preschool student during the preschool class’ All Saints Day celebration. (Photo by Aaron Lambert)

Criscelda Mortimore, whose son Ambrose dressed up as St. Mark the Evangelist and is in his second year of preschool at St. John the Baptist, volunteered to help run one of the stations for the children. She likes the All Saints’ Day celebration not only because it’s fun for the kids, but also because it presents an important learning opportunity for students and parents alike.

“I really like how it opens up the opportunity for me to discuss things like [the saints],” Mortimore said. “Although I am one who considers myself to take Catholicism seriously, it can be hard to bring that stuff up in everyday activities.

“I probably would’ve never been able to discuss with him the idea of the symbol of St. Mark the Evangelist being a winged lion and that’s something that I actually learned myself too, were it not for our participation in All Saints’ Day.”

As part of their All Saints’ Day activities, students at Assumption Catholic School in Denver created a prayer chain with the names of deceased loved ones to tie with the celebration of All Souls’ Day the following day. (Photo by Rocio Madera)

More than just the practical application of learning about the saints, Catholic schools’ participation in All Saints’ Day activities also gives students the chance to find new role models in the saints in an interactive way.

“It’s a beautiful thing for kids to have these spiritual role models that they can look to for guidance, individuals who walked the earth and had professions and families, but also chose to devote their lives to Christ,” said Sarah Grey, principal at Assumption Catholic School in Denver. “Our kids are being exposed to so many people — celebrities, athletes, individuals that are maybe not the best role models for them, so it’s a beautiful thing for them to learn about individuals who have died for their faith that they can hopefully try to exemplify.”

Rocio Madera and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.

COMING UP: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.