In my previous column I wrote about prayer – how we pray, for what we pray – and I wondered why a desperation pass in a football game is called a “Hail Mary.”
I had suggested that a pass play in a critical situation could be called a “Jude Mood,” referring to St. Jude, the patron of desperate causes. Since then I’ve wondered how and why some saints receive patron and/or intercessory titles while others do not.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The invocation of saints as intercessors reached its greatest intensity in the Middle Ages, particularly in the veneration of patron saints that gave rise to local feast days … customs and folklore.”
Noting that a patron saint is venerated as a special protector or intercessor, the Encyclopedia of Catholicism explains that individual persons, occupations, churches, dioceses, countries or particular problems maybe under the protection of a patron saint.
A person’s patron saint is the saint whose name is received at baptism. The patron saint of the United States, for example, is Mary, under the title of Immaculate Conception.
A saint may be declared a patron once he/she has been canonized but among more than 5,000 saints, some have become patrons of countries, professions and special needs through popular devotion or custom rather than by any official designation. About 300 are designated as patrons and/or intercessors, some dedicated to more than one cause, group or occupation
They may be closely associated with the history of a country or have been engaged in some form of work associated with a particular profession or have performed certain ministries or healings related to special needs. Sometimes, however, the connection is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain.
So, we have some patrons/intercessors with a direct connection to the cause they represent while others have vague relevance or no connection whatsoever.
For example, among saints with a direct connection to a cause are St. Blaise and St. Peregrine. Laziosi Peregrine, patron of cancer patients, a 14th century Italian priest known for preaching, austerity and holiness, was miraculously healed from an incurable wound in his leg and/or foot, after he experienced a vision. His feast day is May 16.
The feast day of better-known Blaise, patron of people with throat disease, is observed Feb. 3 with a traditional blessing of throats. Blaise was a 4th century bishop and martyr who had encountered a mother whose child was suffering from a disease of the throat. She implored his aid and through his intercession the child was cured. Since then this aid has often been solicited in cases of similar disease.
Others whom we implore for special needs are 13th century St. Anthony of Padua, patron for lost items (feast day June 13), whose stolen book of psalms was returned following intense prayer, and 3rd century St. Christopher, patron of travelers (feast day no longer observed), who made a living carrying people across a river. But a connection to their intercession is considered legendary, popularly regarded as historical but not verifiable.
Also remotely connected is popular St. Valentine’s Feb. 14 feast day perpetuating the custom of sending special greetings to those we love and cherish. This widespread observance appears traced to an ancient pagan practice that has little or nothing to do with St. Valentine.
While research indicates patronal designation occurs through the canonization process, direct connection and/or legendary reference, there may be another method to designate a saint as patron/intercessor of a particular cause, individuals or occupation. Let’s call it “designation by suggestion.”
For example, let’s take St. Blaise. In addition to praying for his intercession for those with throat ailments, let’s make Blaise the patron of firefighters, even though they already have St. Florian. After all, wouldn’t Blaise be an appropriate patron for the protection from the dangerous service they provide? Also, aren’t firefighters susceptible to throat disease resulting from the obvious possibility of smoke inhalation? Wouldn’t it be ironic to see firefighters being blessed with two lighted crossed candles touching the throat?
With no intent to be sacrilegious, offensive or disrespectful, here are some real saints whose name could reflect a patronal connection. With feast days attributed to Butler’s Lives of the Saints, John Delany’s Dictionary of Saints and the Encyclopedia of Catholicism, let’s use our imagination:
- Athletes (female) – St. Olympias, Dec. 17.
- Athletes (male) – St. Olympius, June 12.
- Athletes (professional) – Bl. Michael Pro, Nov. 25.
- Astronauts, astronomers – St. Cosmos, Sept. 26.
- Bakers, cooks, chefs – St. Flavin, Feb. 18 and/or St. Flavius, June 22.
- Birds and bird watchers – St. John of Capistrano, Oct. 23.
- Couch potatoes – St. Lull, Oct. 12.
- E-mailers – St. Emil (a derivative of Emilian), Nov. 12.
- Fisher people – St. John Fisher, June 22 and/or St. Polycarp, Feb. 23.
- Florists – St. Chrysanthanus, Oct. 25 and/or St. Hyacinth (of Poland). Aug. 17.
- Hair stylists – St. Willibald, July 7 and/or St. Winnibald, Dec. 18.
- Health care workers – St. Hyginus, Jan. 11.
- Hotel/motel operators – St. Hospitius, May 21.
- Meteorologists – St. Cloud, Sept. 7.
- Miners – St. Colman (of Lindisfarne, Ireland), Feb. 18.
- People afflicted with a stomach disorder – St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Nov. 17.
- Philanthropists – St. Donatian, May 24.
- Rosary makers St. Bede (the Venerable), May 25.
- Stone masons – St. Roch, Aug. 16.
- Students, teachers – St. Scholastica, Feb. 10.
- Teenagers – St. Juvenal, May 3.
- Wild animals – St. Wulfstan, Jan. 18.
- Winemakers – St. Antony Mary Claret, Oct. 24.
- Zookeepers – St. Hippolytus, Aug. 3 and/or St. Augustine of Hippo, Aug. 28.
With a reminder that God loves everybody, it seems God also wants us to be happy. So, folks, lighten up … let’s add some humor to our faith life … and keep God happy.
(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)