Catholics have a long-standing custom of naming a child after a saint. The saint then becomes the child’s patron saint with a special petition that he or she intercede for the child throughout the rest of his life. This practice of adopting patron saints dates back to the first churches in the Roman Empire, most of which were built over the graves of martyrs. The churches then were named after the martyrs whose graves they rest upon. The hope was that the saint would intercede for all who prayed there. The custom spread to include regions, countries, other holy places, and of course, to children.
Since it’s not obligatory that Catholic parents name their children after saints, it’s possible that a child wouldn’t have a patron saint. Or, as in my case, my parents named me Margaret (a saint’s name) without having designated a particular St. Margaret to be my patron. This could be the case with many people who bear the name of multiple saints – John, Elizabeth, Peter, and Robert, for example.
What about you? Do you have a patron saint? If not, then it’s time to choose one!
All Christians should have a patron saint. Your patron saint not only intercedes for you but also is a role model for you in your own faith formation and the way you live your life. Patron saints give us inspiration, encouragement, and – if we allow them – become our spiritual companions throughout our lives. Developing a relationship with your patron saint adds a dimension to your spirituality that is both beautiful and productive.
As a kid, it didn’t bother me much that I didn’t have a patron saint but it became more and more important to me as I entered my teens, especially when it came time to choose a Confirmation name. (And, by the way, the saint whose name you choose for your Confirmation also becomes a patron saint for you.) At that point, it made me wonder which St. Margaret my parents had named me after. When they told me there was no one particular St. Margaret, my hunt began to find the one who would be the perfect fit for me. In the meantime, I prayed to all the St. Margaret’s in hopes that one would eventually stand out. I started reading about the St. Margaret’s in the Lives of the Saints and, when I could find them, I read their biographies. I paid attention to their feast days and searched for what I could find about them online. There are so many, all with inspiring stories, that I simply couldn’t choose.
It wasn’t until after I had married and begun to have children that my patron saint revealed herself to me – St. Margaret of Scotland. I happened upon an article about her and was deeply impacted by her story and inspired by her holiness and good works. We also had a lot in common as mothers educating our children in the Catholic Faith. I wanted to be like her and somehow I felt sure that in her motherly kindness she would open her heart to me.
I started praying to St. Margaret of Scotland. I asked her to help me to know more about her and to honor my request for her to become a patron saint. At first, it felt kind of awkward. But eventually, it became easier and after some time I actually developed a relationship in which I felt very comfortable “talking” to her during the day. Now she’s in my stable of saints and holy persons that I ask to pray for me and my special intentions on a regular basis. I’m absolutely confident that she’s there for me at all times and I’m grateful for that.
There are some who say that having patron saints detracts from our devotion to Christ since he is the “one mediator between God and man.” It’s absolutely true that Christ is the one Mediator and we must never disrespect his position as such. However, choosing patron saints and praying to them is not the same as asking for Christ’s mediation. When we pray to the saints, we’re asking them to intercede for us, to remember our needs, and to petition our Lord on our behalf. It’s no different from asking the good wishes or prayers of our friends on earth when we’re in need. Jesus himself said, “whenever two or three are gathered in my name…”. It’s Jesus’s wish that we should pray with and for one another and that includes our friends in heaven.
Choose a patron saint, if you don’t have one. If you already do have one, count your blessings. Then work on your relationship with him or her and take advantage of the special privileges of having a patron saint to be your companion and guide and to pray for you always.