Students at Sr. Mary’s Visitation School in Elm Grove dress up as their favorite saints every year and present a Saints Museum. (Submitted photo)
The Feast of All Saints is nearly upon us. Many schools and parishes throughout the archdiocese have made this feast fun and accessible to our youngest Catholics by encouraging them to dress up as their favorite saint.
At St. Mary’s Visitation in Elm Grove, this takes on a whole new level with the “Saints Museum,” where under the guidance of theology teacher Gary Newman, seventh- and eighth-grade students select a saint, write a report and dress up. Parishioners, parents and friends then get to walk through an interactive experience where each Saint gives a short presentation. If your middle schooler has this project, the former teacher in me encourages you to do as little as possible. This is their assignment, not yours. Provide the materials, be a sounding board, but let them do the work.
If your child is younger, however, their costume is probably going to fall to you. If, like me, you are not the craftiest person who ever lived, fear not. You can still make a memorable experience without staying up all night sewing. I have scoured the Milwaukee Catholic Mamas Facebook Group, Kendra Tierney’s Catholic All Year Blog, and Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s Saints Around the World, and realized that many saint costumes really come down to the details. What is the saint holding? What is the significance? Upcycling an old cardboard box is a great way to provide many of the small pieces.
Raid the dress-up box. There are saints of all sorts that can be brought to life by adding a few minor details to an existing costume.
Do you have armor and swords? Your child could be St. George (include a dragon), David of Scotland (add a scepter and crown), Joan of Arc (add a banner and horse) or Florian (add a pitcher).
Was your daughter a princess last Halloween? Perfect. Hand her a basket with bread and teach her about St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Hand her a scepter and orb, and talk about St. Adelaide of Burgundy.
Is your house overflowing with Star Wars paraphernalia? Perfect. Jedi garb can be quickly pinned and draped to emulate Franciscan Friars, Carmelites and Capuchins. Saints include Teresa of Avila (just add a quill), Therese of Lisieux (do not forget the flower), John of the Cross (add quill, crucifix and a book), Edith Stein (add a cross and a Star of David), Teresa of the Andes (add a crucifix), Albert Chmielowski (add a paintbrush and cane) or Clare (add a monstrance and crozier).
If the dark side has taken over, opt for an order that wears a black habit. Maronites, Benedictines and Holy Cross all work here. Saints include St. Andre Bessette (carry a jar of pennies — he was always taking donations for the poor), Rita of Cascia (add roses, figs, a thorn and a wound on the forehead), St. Faustina (add an image of Divine Mercy) and St. Hildegard of Bingen (add a book and quill).
Do you have an old angel costume from a Christmas pageant hanging around? Add a trumpet, a lily and a scroll, and you have St. Gabriel. Add a fish and a walking stick for Raphael. Add scales, a banner, a sword and a dragon for St. Michael.
Use the white tunic from the angel costume as the base for any saint from the early Church. If you are looking for one who isn’t among the apostles, look to Jerome (add a beard, lion and quill), Barnabas (add a staff and an olive branch) or Blaise (add two crossed candles).
Keep the white tunic and add a black cape to dress like your favorite Dominican — Thomas Aquinas (add a monstrance, book, dove and ox), Catherine of Siena (add a lily, cross and a couple of dots for stigmata) — or use a blue striped sash to become St. Mother Teresa.
Bring in your favorite stuffed animals
We all know that St. Francis of Assisi loves animals. If your little one has a favorite stuffed animal you can’t wrestle away, use that as your starting point. Bears (Ss. Gall, Corbinian), lions (St. Daniel), lambs (Ss. Agnes and John the Baptist) and doves (Ss. Ambrose, Augustine, David of Wales and John Chrysostom) are frequently seen in saint symbolism.
Look to the Modern-Era Saints
There are saints and blesseds who wore clothes similar to the ones already in your child’s closet. Dress clothes for boys can be used to emulate Bl. Benedict Daswa (add a soccer ball), Bl. Ceferino Gimenez Malla (add a rosary and a stuffed horse) or Bl. Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago (hold a Candle—he loved Easter Vigil). Black pants and a black shirt? There are many holy priest saints. Let your son dress as St. Damien of Molokai (add a lei and a shovel). Jeans and a polo? Bl. Carlo Acutis. Your kid can even bring their favorite video game controller or pokemon cards.
Do you have a lab coat and a stethoscope? St. Gianna Beretta Molla and St. Giuseppe Moscati were both physicians.
At the end of the day, look at this activity as a fun way to show your child(ren) that there are as many ways to be a saint as there are humans on this earth. We have holy men and women of all shapes, sizes, ethnic backgrounds, abilities and professions praying for us. Start with what you have and find the saint already there.
We are all called to be saints, and who knows? Perhaps someday in the future, God willing, your child will be the basis for someone else’s costume.