Walking with the Saints is a collection of inspiring stories and thoughtful prayers based on the lives of the saints for every day of the year. There is both an English (John Donne, Alban, Dunstan) and ecumenical (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Baptist Vianney) flavour to the book, but also Celtic (Ita, Fursey, Moninne, Felim and Richard Fitzralph of Dundalk) and international (Sundar Singh, Sunniva and Mary MacKillop) dimensions, as can be seen even from the short selection presented here.
Jenny Child works in Canterbury Cathedral. She has also published another book of short prayers, Lord Hear Our Prayer (2011) with Columba Press.
379 pp. The Columba Press. To purchase this book online go to www.columba.ie
As I walked on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, I knew that I was following in the footsteps of St Aidan and St Cuthbert who lived there on that beautiful tidal island in Northumbria just south of the Scottish border. I felt moved to write a book to encourage people to ‘walk with the saints’ in their daily pilgrimage.
In addition to the familiar Biblical saints, I have included lesser known ones as well as some who have been martyred for their faith in our own time. As Brian Wren, the hymn writer says ‘there are big saints and little saints’.
I am privileged to work and worship in a holy place – Canterbury Cathedral. Here saints such as Alphege, Dunstan, Anselm and Thomas Becket lived their lives in service to God and humanity. Many people who visit, remark that there is something special about the place. The cathedral, like all holy places, has been sanctified by the prayers and praise of those who have lived and worshipped here through the ages.
Perhaps the best description of a saint comes from a small boy. When asked by his Sunday School teacher ‘What is a saint?’, he replied, looking at the stained glass window above him, ‘A person through whom the light shines.’ An apt description.
May God give us grace to follow the saints and to be inspired by their example.
She was possibly born near Waterford, Ireland about 475-80 AD. Even as a child she wanted to spend time in prayer. When she moved to Limerick, she founded a convent where she spent much time in prayer and fasting with special devotion to the Holy Trinity. This dedication probably came from a dream which she had as a young girl when an angel offered her three stones. These stones signified the gifts of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Ita is supposed to have taught several Irish saints including Brendan, to whom she may have given a triad of doctrines. She told him that God loved three things – a pure heart, a simple lifestyle and generous love. It was Ita who first introduced the concept of the saints as ‘soul-friends’. This idea came to Ireland from Egypt and North Africa. Tradition has it that she wrote an Irish lullaby to the infant Jesus. Ita spent a great deal of time in solitude but was also a wise counsellor and many came to her seeking advice. She died about 570 AD and there are many churches dedicated to her. Ita is one of the two leading female saints of Ireland along with Brigid.
Merciful Father, we give thanks for all the saints of the Celtic Church, particularly Ita. Give us wisdom to listen and motivation to act.
Bede, the author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, says that Fursey was born near Lough Corrib, Galway at the end of the sixth century. He was of noble birth and would have had access to sacred writings as well as having the opportunity to observe monastic discipline. He journeyed with Foillan from Ireland to East Anglia in England where he converted the Roman fort of Burgh Castle into a monastery. When King Sigebert, the king of this region, was killed by the pagan King Penda of Mercia, Fursey travelled to France and established a monastery at Lagny-sur-Marne. He died at Mezerolles in 650 AD and was buried at Peronne in Picardy. This monastery later became a hostel for pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. Bede also recounts Fursey’s visions of the afterlife (one of the earliest reported).
Lord God, you allowed Fursey to glimpse your glory. Keep our feet planted firmly on the earth so that we can be used in your service, but may our hearts be fixed on heaven and our eternal home.
Possibly a member of the royal household of the O’Neill family in Ireland, Modomnoc was born in the sixth century. He studied in the monastery founded by St David at Menevia in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Here one of his duties was looking after the bees. It is said that when a swarm of bees settled on the ship in which he was travelling he knew that it was time to return to his native Ireland. So bee-keeping was introduced to Ireland as he took the swarm and made hives for them when he decided to live in Tibberaghny, Co Kilkenny, Ireland. Some writers claim that he may have been Bishop of Ossory.
We thank you, 0 God, for the signs you give us of your guidance. Make us astute to be aware of your leading.
John Donne, Priest, Poet
Born c.1571, John Donne was brought up as a Roman Catholic and was the great-great nephew of Thomas More. Like many young people, he was sceptical about religion. However, during his studies at Oxford and Cambridge, he found his faith in the Church of England. After much soul-searching, he was ordained and later became Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He showed compassion and understanding to those testing their vocations to the priesthood. Donne was much loved by the people of London who flocked to hear him preach. He wrote several love poems to his wife, as well as religious ones, which became very popular in the twentieth century. John Donne died in 1631.
God of all beauty and creativity, we give thanks for the poetry and the life of John Donne. May we take the time to pause in our busy lives just to see and appreciate the diversity of this world which you have made and may we guard its fragility.
Osburga was the abbess of a convent founded by King Canute at Coventry. When she died c.1018, miracles are said to have taken place at her tomb. The people of Coventry wanted to honour her and so her feast day was established in 1410.
Lord God, bless those who seek to live holy lives, that knowing they are saved by your grace, they may rejoice with all Christians.
Andrew Hubert Fournet
During the French Revolution Andrew Fournet the parish priest at Maille, Poitiers, fled to Spain. After five years in exile he became ashamed and returned to France to minister to his flock in secret. He had a couple of narrow escapes from government officers and was in fact caught once. He had not wanted to be a priest, desiring a life of idleness and enjoyment. However, after spending time with an uncle who was in charge of a very poor parish he felt called to offer himself for ordination. When Napoleon allowed the Church to operate openly in France again, Fournet continued his ministry at Maille. He founded a group of teachers known as the Daughters of the Cross which cared for the sick and taught young girls about the Christian faith. He died in 1834.
Give courage to those who risk their lives by being Christians and in preaching the faith. May they know that you are with them no matter what happens to them, O Lord.
Gemma fervently wanted to be a nun. She was born in 1878 near Lucca, Italy. However, as she suffered bouts of serious illness she was prevented from achieving that goal. During the years 1899-1901 she often received the stigmata (the wounds of Christ) in her own flesh as well as having visions. She also suffered severe attacks by the Devil. Despite these trials, she showed great patience in her life of pain. The name ‘Gemma’ is still popular with many parents for their daughters.
Lord Jesus, when you walked upon this earth, your hands were always ready to heal. Look in love on all who suffer, especially those who feel hampered in their service to you by the physical and mental problems of their bodies.
Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury
Born at Baltonsborough near Glastonbury of a noble family, Dunstan joined the household of his uncle Athelm, Archbishop of Canterbury (923-926 AD), and later went to the court of King Athelstan. In 935 AD he was expelled from court on the charge of studying pagan stories and of being a magician. Dunstan almost decided to marry at this time but instead took his monastic vows privately and was ordained by Elphege, Bishop of Winchester. He then returned to Glastonbury, living as a hermit and engaged in painting, metalwork and embroidery, as well as making church bells and was appointed abbot of Glastonbury. In 955 AD his enemies conspired against him and he was banished from court, spending time in exile in Ghent in Belgium. Later King Edgar asked him to return to England making him his chief minister and then appointing him Bishop of Worcester (in 957 AD) and of London two years later. Enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 AD, there is a legend that says that during the service a white dove flew down from the roof of the cathedral and settled on his shoulder. Dunstan spent a great deal of energy restoring monastic life on the pattern of the Rule of St Benedict. The form of the Coronation Service used at the crowning of Edgar by Dunstan in 973 AD became the basis of the medieval rite. In his twenty-nine years as archbishop, he led a prayerful life, worked tirelessly for peace, was generous in endowing churches and was a diligent teacher. His influence on the Church was profound. As well as being talented in the illumination of manuscripts, he was also an accomplished musician. Dunstan died in 988 AD and is now buried on the south side of the high altar in Canterbury Cathedral.
God of artistry and beauty we thank you for Dunstan’s life, his talents and his pastoral care. We pray for all leaders of your church that they may set an example of godly living that we all may be inspired to follow.
Kevin, Abbot of Glendalough
Kevin was the founder and first abbot of Glendalough in Co Wicklow just south of Dublin. Set in a beautiful valley with a stream running through it, Kevin chose it as the ideal place to live his life for God. Kevin is thought to have been born into a noble Leinster family which had lost its claim to kingship. Educated by monks, Kevin was ordained a priest. Like-minded companions gathered round him, seeking to live in dedication to God. A story is told that he fed his community for some time with salmon supplied by otters. There is a beautiful legend, that once while the saint had his arms stretched out in prayer, a blackbird laid an egg in his hand. Rather than disturb the bird, he stayed in the same position until the egg was hatched.
As your saints of old were at one with creation, so may we care for the world which you have made. May we ensure that no living thing is treated cruelly or exploited, dear Lord.
A sixth century Cornish abbot and Cornwall’s most noted saint, Petroc came from south Wales and founded a monastery at Padstow (Petroc’s Stow). He also established other monasteries to which he paid final visits before his death. Petroc spent much of his life as a hermit on Bodmin Moor and when he died he was buried at Padstow. However, through theft and trickery his relics were scattered but some of his remains are contained in a reliquary in the parish church at Bodmin.
So many saints have played a role in bringing the gospel to the British Isles, may we give thanks, O Lord, for their lives and may we emulate their examples.
Alban is thought to have been a soldier who sheltered a priest who was fleeing persecution. The priest’s example had a profound effect on Alban who was converted and baptised. When pursuing soldiers came to arrest the priest, Alban swapped clothes with him to allow him to escape and continue his preaching. Alban refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor and so was beheaded c.250 AD. He was the first British martyr and the town of St Alban’s developed around his shrine.
Lord God, we give thanks for Alban, the first British martyr, and his selfless act in offering his life so that the priest could continue with his ministry. Bless the people of Great Britain that inspired by so many saints they may live lives pleasing to you.
Sundar was born in 1889 in northern India to a wealthy family. He studied Hinduism as well as reading the Koran. He became a Sadhu (a Hindu who forsakes all pleasures) but could not find any peace. Sundar attended a missionary school but rejected the teachings of Jesus and indeed he ripped a Bible apart and burnt it. Three days after this he awoke and said: ‘Oh God, if you exist show me the right way, or I will kill myself’. Suddenly there was a brilliant light and he saw the figure of Jesus in the radiance. Then he heard a voice say in Hindi: ‘How much longer are you going to search for me? I have come to save you’. Sundar suddenly realised Jesus was alive and fell to his knees and felt peace such as he had never known. He was baptised, much against his family’s wishes, and his father disowned him for becoming a Christian. Dressed in a yellow robe, barefoot and with no provisions he wandered from village to village preaching the gospel. He visited Tibet where he endured much hardship. In Nepal he was persecuted by a Buddhist Lama for promoting a ‘foreign’ religion. Sundar travelled to many countries including Australia, Europe and Israel as well as extensively all over India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon). He visited Tibet every summer, however, in 1929 he was never seen again.
We long to have the bravery to preach Christ and him crucified as Sundar Singh did. 0 Lord God, give us your strength in our weakness and help us to know that you are with us to the end of the world.
Richard Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh
Richard was a brilliant scholar and had been Chancellor of Oxford University. He taught at Balliol College Oxford in 1325. Richard paid his first visit to the Papal Court at Avignon in France in 1334. After being appointed Dean of Lichfield he returned to England a year later. He was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh in 1346. Born in Dundalk he was known for his pastoral care. Although deeply interested in church history, he nevertheless found time to minister to his people in Dundalk and Drogheda during the Black Death. His writing influenced John Wyclif, particularly regarding use of possessions. He died in 1360 while visiting Avignon for the third time. He was interred in 1370 in St Nicholas’s church Dundalk.
God of all knowledge, we pray for all those involved in study at universities and colleges. May they value the opportunity to learn and recognise that you have given them the ability to study and acquire knowledge.
Also known as ‘Darerca’ or ‘Bline’, Moninne became an abbess and foundress of Killeevy, Co Armagh. This foundation consisted of eight virgins and a widow whose son, Luger, later became a bishop. At least one of her community travelled to Whithorn in south-west Scotland to Ninian’s foundation with the intention of establishing more monasteries. When she died c.518 AD, many miracles of healing were attributed to her.
You call some to devote their entire lives to prayer and contemplation, O God our Saviour. It is good that some can spend time in prayer unhindered by the worries and stresses of the world. May we feel supported by their intercession for us.
Sunniva was an Irish princess who became a nun. She and some companions sought to live holy lives. They settled on an uninhabited island called Selje, off the west coast of Norway. Their little community dwelt in caves and lived on fish. A neighbour, Jarl Haakon, heard about them and went to investigate. The nuns fled to the caves asking God to protect them. A massive rock fall blocked the entrances to the caves. Many years later the incorrupt body of Sunniva was discovered. In 1170 her relics were moved to Bergen.
Lord, you have promised to be with us in every circumstance of life. May we trust you that whatever happens to us, you will never forsake us.
Mary’s parents, Alexander and Flora MacKillop, were poor Scottish emigrants who came to Australia to make a better life for themselves. Her father Alexander had studied for the priesthood but had never been ordained. Mary was born on 15 January 1842 at Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia and was the eldest child. She received her education at private schools as well as from her father. While still a teenager she worked as a nursery governess and a store clerk to help support the family. Mary felt called to the religious life but realised she had to keep working as a teacher for her family’s sake. She and her sister moved to Penola in South Australia and founded a free Roman Catholic school for the poor with the support of Father Julian Tennison Woods. Mary also co-founded Australia’s first religious order in 1866 – the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Its mission was to provide education for poor children in remote areas. Soon she had another seventeen schools under her jurisdiction. Some of her ideas conflicted with the church’s hierarchy and her bishop, who believed some exaggerated stories spread by her educator, told her to surrender control of her schools and her Order. She refused and was excommunicated in 1871. It is thought that this came about because of her part in the exposure of a priest accused of abusing children in a parish north of Adelaide. A year later, her bishop apologised for the baseless allegations against her and returned her to full communion. Mary spent most of her life caring for the poor and improving conditions for the Aborigines. She died in Sydney on 8 August 1909 where she is buried. Mary was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI on 17 October 2010 – the first Australian born saint. Mary was described as ‘very Australian, feisty, a lover of the bush and champion of a “fair go” for the needy’.
God of love, we pray for the people of Australia — that ‘wide, brown land’ of such diversity. May they be inspired by the compassion and care shown by a real Aussie saint.
Born in the sixth century, tradition says that Felim was the father of St Columba. Felim became a hermit living near Kilmore in Co Cavan, Ireland where he later founded a monastery in Tonymore. He is the patron saint of Kilmore diocese. The abbey on Trinity Island in Lough Oughter, not far from the present Church of Ireland cathedral of St Felim, is testament to the early days of Christianity in Cavan.
Lord, we think of those who have withdrawn from the world to live a life of prayer and contemplation. May we too find that quiet space in our busy lives ‘to be still and know that you are God’.
Possibly the daughter of an innkeeper, Helen was born in Bithynia c.250 AD. At the age of twenty she married a Roman general, Constantius Chlorus. In 292 AD he became emperor and divorced Helen. She had borne him a son who was later to become the Emperor Constantine. Helen was converted to Christianity when she was aged about sixty. She devoted the rest of her life to good works, caring for the poor and those in prison. She also generously endowed churches. At the time of her death in 330 AD she was on pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
Good and gracious God, touch our hearts that we may seek to care for those less fortunate and those who are vulnerable.
Born in Germany in 1098, she entered a convent at the age of fifteen and lived a quiet, pious life for seventeen years. Then she began to see visions. In 1136 she was appointed abbess of Diessenberg. Her community grew in numbers and moved to Rupertsberg near Bingen. Hildegard often chided rulers for their evil deeds. She was a talented woman who wrote hymns and poems, as well as works about medicine and natural history. She was almost eighty when she died.
Almighty God, King of kings and Lord of lords, give courage to those who have to rebuke rulers. May they speak honestly but with compassion and reason to those in authority.
Joseph of Copertino
Joseph made his entry into the world in 1603 in a humble garden shed near Brindisi. His father had sold the family home to pay off his debts. Unwanted by his mother, who was soon widowed, Joseph had an unhappy childhood. He had a fiery temper but was pious in his religious duties. After spending several months with the Capuchin monks, he caused havoc in the kitchen when chided for forgetting his duties by dropping a stack of plates. Finally, he was dismissed. His mother, who was glad to be rid of him, arranged a job as a servant at the Franciscan community at Grottella. Here he proved to be reliable as well as spiritually minded and was admitted as a novice in 1625. Ordained priest three years later, he lived the austere life of a mystic. Joseph had a great affinity with animals. He died in 1663.
God our Father, your Son gathered the little children to himself and blessed them. We pray for all children who are unloved and unwanted, hold them in your everlasting arms.
Jutta of Diessenberg
German born in the late eleventh century, Jutta was the sister of Meginhard, the Count of Spanheim. She became a nun and gathered together a community of like-minded Christian women and later was made their abbess. Jutta was responsible for the upbringing of a weak, sickly girl, Hildegard of Bingen, who was to become one of Germany’s greatest mystics. Jutta nurtured the girl as well as educating her. When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard became abbess in her place. Hildegard praised Jutta’s holiness by saying: ‘Jutta was like a river with many tributaries, overflowing with the grace of God.’ Her tomb was visited by many people.
Lord of the years, we give thanks for those who have nurtured us and led us to know you. May we seek to guide the young that they may strive to follow you.
Thorlac of Skalholt
Thorlac was born into a noble family in Iceland in 1133. While still in his early twenties, he entered the priesthood studying in Lincoln and Paris for ten years. When he returned to Iceland in 1161, he lived very simply, caring for others. Some years later he was given a large property where he established a community of Austin canons. He was the abbot there and his mother was the housekeeper. Augustine, Archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim) consecrated him bishop of Skalholt in 1178. He sought to bring some reforms to the church. In his monastery at Thykkviboer it is quite likely that some of the Icelandic manuscripts, which still exist, were produced. He died in 1193 and was canonised by the Assembly of Iceland in 1198. He is Iceland’s first saint.
Lord of every nation, we pray for the people of Iceland, that as a nation inspired by Thorlac’s life of service they may be steadfast in their service to you.