Saints can seem remote and distant, close to God but far from people. But theyre more like us than we give them credit for. Their lives were like ours, full of dilemmas and struggles, with bad choices as well as good. But their goodness won out in the end, as ours can. Interest in angels is quite popular at the moment, but it is the saints who are really like us in both their strengths and frailties.
Youll find their stories here, told simply and briefly, with cartoons throughout. Theres a saint for every week of the year, and a list of patrons , find out why Clare is the patron saint of television or how Andrew came to be patron saint of Scotland. Who knows , you may even find your own personal saint to pray to!
Bernard Cotter, a native of Dunmanway, Co Cork, has worked as a priest in parishes in Ireland and the US for twenty-one years. Whether writing for magazines or parish newsletters, he tries to present faith in simple, accessible terms.
When people gathered in Milan to pick their new bishop in AD 374, a row quickly broke out between two factions who wanted their man appointed. Ambrose stepped in to calm the dispute - and found himself elected instead! Within a week he was baptised, ordained and made bishop of the city, at the age of thirty-five.
Ambrose was never afraid to stick his neck out, no matter how difficult the dispute. He confronted people in power regularly and forced the emperor to do public penance after Theodosius authorised the massacre of 7,000 innocent people in revenge for a rebellion in which just a few Roman officers were killed. When another leader tried to steal a church away from Milans Catholics, he led a sit-in rather than concede.
Ambrose was a passionate man, never afraid to speak the truth, no matter what people thought.
Factfile: St Ambrose (339-397), patron saint of learning, beekeepers, domestic animals and Milan (Italy): feast day - 7 December.
Many miles separate Galilee from St Andrews in Scotland, but the saint of that name brings the two places together. Andrew worked as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, but after his death, some of his remains ended up in faraway Scotland.
Saints relics have always been important: they help people remember that the saints are real people, just flesh and blood, no matter what extraordinary things they have done. Some of Andrews relics were once brought to Scotland for safekeeping. Thats probably why Andrew the fisherman is the patron saint of Scotland.
Though Andrew was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus, he too had to undergo martyrdom for his faith. He died by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross - which is why Scotlands flag features a diagonal white cross (also known as St Andrews cross).
Factfile: St Andrew, patron saint of fishermen, Greece, Romania, Russia and Scotland: feast day - 30 November.
When Angela set up the first order of teaching nuns, she called it after Ursula, a legendary leader of women. Angelas Ursulines were to devote their lives to teaching, with the courage of St Ursula.
Angela herself had a tough start in life, losing the people closest to her early on, including her parents. This helped her understand the needs of young girls. In those days, only rich children could get an education. She believed that education for all would improve society.
Once, when visiting Rome, the Pope asked her to take charge of an order of nursing sisters. Angela refused: it was not what God wanted for her, she believed. Instead she worked for Christian education - based on love and kindness, with firmness and concern for the individual.
Factfile: St Angela Merici, (1474-1540), patron of the sick, those who have lost their parents (Angelas died when she was ten): feast day - 27 January.
St Anthony is best known today as the saint people turn to when they want to find something theyve lost. He is the patron of lost items, probably because in his life he tried to help people who felt lost.
Anthony was born into a wealthy family in Lisbon, but was impressed with the Franciscans and joined them while Francis of Assisi was still alive. Anthony went to Morocco to preach the Gospel, but was shipwrecked and ended up in Italy instead.
Once when Anthony went to a church service, the preacher didnt turn up. He was asked to step in and amazed everyone with his words. He soon became known as a powerful speaker. Crowds flocked to hear him.
Anthony was only thirty-six when he died, worn out from preaching, in 1231.
Factfile: St Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), patron saint of lost items, sailors, shipwrecks, travellers, the poor and Padua (Italy): feast day - 13 June.
Augustine nearly broke his mothers heart. She brought him up to be a believer, but that kind of life wasnt for him - or so he thought. He left home for college, where he dabbled in several religions and philosophies, while living a wild life of debauchery.
Eventually he became a Manichaean, a belief that focussed on the struggle between good and evil, while allowing its followers a lax moral code. It seemed to suit Augustine perfectly. Then, at the age of thirty-two, Augustine moved to Milan, where St Ambrose challenged these beliefs. Augustine was converted to Christianity, and later became a well-known bishop and preacher.
Some of his phrases still survive: Make me perfect, he once prayed, but not yet! Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee, he said to God. He knew the truth of this from his own life.
Factfile: St Augustine (354-430), bishop of Hippo in North Africa, patron of brewers (because of his early wild life!), printers and theologians: feast day - 28 August.
Bede spent almost his whole life (from the age of seven) at the abbey of Jarrow in England -learning, writing and teaching. Even in his lifetime he was called venerable. Then, after his death, he became the patron saint of scholars.
Bedes books covered everything: astronomy, history, music, maths, grammar, medicine and science, as well as scripture. But his faith was as important to him as anything else he learned or taught.
During his last Lent on earth, Bede translated the Gospel of John. He said he didnt fear death because, in his own words, We have a loving Lord. His favourite prayer was Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. After he prayed it on Ascension Thursday, AD 735, he died.
Factfile: St Bede the Venerable (673-735), patron of scholars: feastday - 25 May
Many people who went to the film The Exorcist probably wondered if possession by the devil was a fact or a fantasy. Benedict would have no doubt: he fought demonic forces regularly. The St Benedict Cross associated with him is still used in exorcisms today.
Benedict founded monasteries and taught monks how to live, telling them that they should work as well as pray. Not everyone agreed with his approach. Once a group of monks tried to kill him by putting poison in his wine. He had a habit of blessing his food before every meal. When he blessed the container of poison, the glass shattered - while his would-be murderers watched in amazement!
Benedict could read consciences, make prophecies and prevent attacks from the devil, which makes him a formidable saint. And since 1964 he has been patron of Europe.
Factfile: St Benedict (480-550), patron against poisoning, temptation and witchcraft, of schoolchildren, farmers and monks: feast day - 11 July.