Madeline Lasnoski, 16, tells children the story of St. Philomena during the St. Jerome Parish All Saints Day Family Celebration on Saturday, Oct. 22. (Photos by Anne Trautner)

More than 200 children dressed as nuns, bishops, soldiers, priests and other saints gathered at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Oconomowoc on Saturday, Oct. 22.

They were there for St. Jerome’s All Saints Day Family Celebration, and each child was dressed as their favorite saint for the event.

“During this time of the year, most people celebrate Halloween. But little do they know that the word ‘Halloween’ actually comes from ‘All Hallows’ Eve,’ which literally means ‘the eve of the holy ones,’” said event coordinator Colleen Pedersen. “Our society tends to fill this holy celebration with spooky decorations, gory images and the culture of death. And so, we would like to bring back the real, Catholic meaning of ‘Halloween’ and celebrate the Feast of All Saints.”

Led by youths dressed as angels, children and their families took part in a Eucharistic procession around the church grounds. Luminaries lit up the pathways against the evening sky.

Then, “angel guides” took groups of children and families to visit 12 different saints, represented by high school students. Each of the saint actors told the story of their saint.

Josie Lasnoski, 14, told the story of St. Juliana of Nicomedia, a martyr who was born in the year 285. Josie explained to the children that St. Juliana was tortured, but she never gave up her faith.

“My father was a pagan, and at a very young age I was betrothed to another pagan. When the time of my marriage approached, I refused to marry him. My father was very confused and begged me to reconsider. When they found out I had converted to Christianity, I was sent to jail, where the guards hung me up by my hair,” Josie said as she portrayed St. Juliana.

Josie had heard the story of St. Juliana before.

“We do together time with our family, and mom reads about different saints to us,” Josie said.

The story of how the saint was hung by her hair stuck with Josie, and she decided that was the saint she wanted to portray. She started studying the saint’s life a couple months ago.

At each station, the “saint” handed out a treat or a trinket to remind the children of that saint’s faith. After telling the story of her saint, Josie gave each child a Twizzler to remind them of how St. Juliana had hung from her hair for the love of Jesus.

“The Twizzlers kind of look like braids,” she said.

Annual Tradition

The “Tour of the Saints” event started at least 30 years ago as a homeschool venture. While it still was predominantly homeschooled families who attended this year’s event, it is now open to the greater community.

“The kids do a good job. It is amazing when you do this first-person; it just makes it more alive. They have to learn about the saints in order to talk about them,” said Christine Dax, who assisted with the program.

In turn, the younger children learn about the saints as they go to each station.

“You are not only catechizing and sharing your excitement with the little ones, you are catechizing parents, too,” Dax said. “It’s really kind of cool that everyone is learning about the saints because these are the heroes of our faith.”

Catechizing children was something very important to Adele Brise, who was born in Belgium in 1831 and immigrated to Wisconsin with her family in 1855.

“Mary, the real Mother of God from heaven, appeared to me and told me to teach the children of the area the Catholic faith,” Maggie Barrett said as she portrayed Adele Brise.

The apparition occurred in Champion, where the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help now stands. Maggie, 16, goes with her family on a pilgrimage to the shrine from their home in Slinger at the beginning of each school year.

“My favorite thing about Adele Brise is her devotion to the Eucharist. She was greatly devoted, which is beautiful,” Maggie said.

Teaching Children

Madeline Lasnoski, 16, told children the story of St. Philomena.

“I took a vow of consecrated virginity, which means I would never be married or have children. I took my whole family to Rome. While we were there, the emperor fell in love with me and wanted to marry me. When I refused, he subjected me to cruel torture to try to make me marry him,” Madeline said as she portrayed the saint.

Madeline told the children who visited her station that the emperor took many measures to try to break Philomena’s spirit. He had her scourged. He had her tied to an anchor and tried to drown her in a lake. He tried to have her shot with arrows.

But God and his angels intervened, saving Philomena. When people saw the miracles and how God worked through Philomena, they converted. In the end, Philomena was beheaded, but miracles still happened through her intercession.

When asked what her favorite thing is about St. Philomena, Madeline answered without hesitation.

“She is the patron saint of us: kids. So, that alone is meaningful. Whenever I want courage, I ask for her intercession. I feel like her courage, her young virginity, her choice to not marry the emperor, are powerful. She could have said no, but like Mary, she said ‘Yes’ to God.”