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12 saints to guide students through the school year

The saints take up no room in our backpacks or tiny dorm rooms, yet they are with us always.
Our Faith

As another academic year begins and students and parents scramble to gather all the supplies they need for school, let’s not forget the resources we have in the saints. While saints cannot be found in the tantalizing store aisles full of pink erasers, folders, and quad-ruled filler paper, they work just as hard for us the whole school year if we ask them. The usual suspects, St. Joseph of Cupertino and St. Francis de Sales, show up on most “Saints Who Students Should Know” lists, but here are some additional saints who students can call on in their hours of need.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Perhaps the biggest challenge of a young person’s life is determining God’s plan for themselves. As a college professor, I tell my students that God speaks to us through our talents and passions. What are we good at? What fills us with a sense of purpose? Even if we can answer these questions, figuring out how to employ our skills and passions in the real world is daunting. Finding guidance in this is one of many ways a devotion to Mary is powerful.

A spiritual director once recommended to me a devotional practice of praying three Hail Marys every night to ask Mary for vocational guidance. Since then, every night as I drift off to sleep, I pray my three Hail Marys. Some nights, I’m deeply present and impassioned in my plea for direction. Other nights, it’s a yawn-filled mantra of muttered Hail Marys on repeat that dissolves into sleep. In both cases, I know Mary hears me. In my waking hours, with a gentle motherly push, she turns me in the direction her son has planned for me. I have a peace about my life’s work I could not have known without her.

Just as Mary understood with her fiat that God had great plans for her, she understands what our saying yes to God means. Three Hail Marys a night tells us what life we should be saying yes to.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

A list of aspirational Catholic saints for students would be remiss without the inclusion of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a vibrant social activist who felt God stirring in him at a young age. Like St. Pope John Paul II before him, Frassati was an avid outdoorsman who loved mountain climbing and skiing. His short life was filled with the pursuit of finding God in nature and in the poor and sick surrounding him. Frassati captioned an iconic photograph of himself climbing a mountain “Verso l’alto,” meaning “To the heights,” which represents his desire to reach God. In a student’s pursuit to perform well and succeed in school, they’d do well to aspire to Frassati’s heights, to seek God in the trees and birds and, as always, in the poor. This Prayer for the Courage to Be Great comes from frassatiusa.org:

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Heavenly Father,
Give me the courage to strive for the highest goals,
to flee every temptation to be mediocre.
Enable me to aspire to greatness, as Pier Giorgio did,
and to open my heart with joy to Your call to holiness.
Free me from the fear of failure.
I want to be, Lord, firmly and forever united to You.
Grant me the graces I ask You through Pier Giorgio’s intercession,
by the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas falls in the category of traditional patron saint of students, but not many know he had a particular interest in the distinction between studiousness and curiosity. The debate over whether curiosity is a vice continues in Catholic circles today, a fact that rankles my professorial heart as I pray that my students be filled with curiosity.

Aquinas believed that we all have a desire for knowledge but that curiosity must be tempered. What he meant was that knowledge should have truth and good at its center and that we need to avoid the pitfalls of trivial and less gratifying diversions.

Technology is extraordinary, but it encourages immoderate curiosities that at best derail our afternoons click by click and, at worst, lead us down paths filled with darkness rather than light. Our prayer for intercession to Aquinas is that we avoid the distractions pulling us from the right and true pursuit of knowledge. Here is a prayer Aquinas himself wrote:

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding. Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance. Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally. Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm. Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion. I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Blessed Carlo Acutis and St. Isidore of Seville

If we were half as successful at inviting Christ into every corner of our life as we are at inviting technology into every corner, we’d be getting somewhere spiritually. All of us suffer from overdependence on our phones, an addiction that is particularly problematic for today’s students who suffer from higher rates of depression and suicide than previous generations due to social media and tech dependencies. Students are required to use technology in savvy and informed ways, but the distractions woven into the fabric of technology make moderate use nearly impossible. Fortunately, we can ask several saints for intercession in this matter.

As a young computer programmer, Blessed Carlo Acutis seems like an unlikely choice for a patron saint of healthy computer usage, but his priority was “to always be close to Jesus, that’s my life plan.” Toward this goal, Acutis used the internet in life-serving ways, developing sites like miracolieucaristici.org, which documents eucharistic miracles around the world. In speaking of Acutis, Pope Francis said, “Carlo was well aware that the whole apparatus of communications, advertising, and social networking can be used to lull us, to make us addicted to consumerism and buying the latest thing on the market, obsessed with our free time, caught up in negativity. Yet he knew how to use the new communications technology to transmit the Gospel, to communicate values and beauty.”

Blessed Carlo Acutis, please intercede on behalf of all of us who use technology in ways that do not “communicate values and beauty.”

Similarly, St. Isidore of Seville lived long before the internet, yet he created the seventh-century version of Google with Etymologiae, a comprehensive encyclopedia of the world’s knowledge. We can ask for St. Isidore’s intercession in our own internet pursuits with the following prayer:

Through the intercession of St. Isidore, Bishop and Doctor, help us as we journey through the internet to direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to You. Help us to treat all those we encounter online with charity, patience, and respect.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

The first semester away from home for college students can be crushing. A student’s homesickness is a grief for the life they are leaving behind as they adjust to new roommates, schedules, and responsibilities, all of this without the comfort of their families. While there is no official patron saint of homesickness, many saints have endured this affliction. One saint in particular stands out as a candidate.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux spent most of her short life aching for her mother who died when she was a young girl. This prepared her for the deeper spiritual aching that defined her—the ache for heaven. At age 24, St. Thérèse was thrilled at the first signs of tuberculosis not because she was eager to die from the illness, but because she was eager for the promise of heaven. Of her longing for her heavenly home, she said, “The earth is thy ship and not thy home.”

This is a pattern in many saint stories: the leaving of a parent and home behind, and the longing for the deepest sense of home there is—heaven. St. Thérèse understood this acutely and is a serious contender for the saint to go to for intercession when dealing with homesickness.

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St. Rita of Cascia and St. Teresa of Ávila

The twin sister of homesickness is loneliness, and there is no greater loneliness than the one felt when we are surrounded by people. This fact makes a patron saint of loneliness a necessity for students. Unfortunately, much like homesickness, no official saint serves as a patron for loneliness, but both St. Rita of Cascia and St. Teresa of Ávila knew the pain of it well. St. Rita wrestled with the grief of loss and loneliness when her husband and two sons died. St. Teresa withdrew from social interactions that distracted her from God and endured loneliness because of this practice. While most of us are not called to a life of austerity without friendships, students can learn from the loneliness of these women and ask for their intercession using St. Teresa’s own words:

Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.

Sts. James, Alexander, and Patrick Healy

The Healy brothers were the sons of Michael Healy, an Irish immigrant who became a successful farmer in Georgia in the early 1800s. But hiding below the surface of agricultural success was a family secret. Eliza Clark, their mother, was enslaved on their father’s plantation. Facing laws in Georgia that barred Black people from education, Healy sent his children north where the three boys, who often passed for white, became highly educated priests. Patrick is recognized as the “second founder” of Georgetown University.

In its origins, the goal of education was to create an educated, engaged citizenry. An active faith demands we work toward social justice and recognize in each other the universality that gives Catholicism its name. Patrick’s ordination included the verse from John 15:15, “I no longer call you slaves . . . but I have called you friends.” As students grow in their awareness of the world and how God is calling them to contribute to social justice issues, these three brothers serve as models of how to fight racism and use God’s gifts to pull up others who are kept down by laws or institutions that are not part of God’s plan.

St. Vitus

Finally, St. Vitus is the patron saint for one of the greatest issues in a student’s life—oversleeping. This martyr for God was not prone to sleeping in late as his patronage suggests, but instead he was put to death in a pot of boiling oil along with a rooster. Because of this, he is often depicted with a rooster and thereby earned the reputation of helping those who sleep late. Students can ask for St. Vitus’ intercessory protection to avoid oversleeping. Since there is no official intercessory prayer for St. Vitus, we can borrow the structure of the memorable Prayer to St. Anthony with the following options:

St. Vitus, St. Vitus, help me awake. I have a class that I need to take.

Or another option:

St. Vitus, St. Vitus, let me not oversleep. I have a good grade that I’d like to keep.

Of course, there’s always St. Joseph of Cupertino to ask for help when it comes time to take a test, or St. Francis de Sales when a paper is due, but being a student is a whole-self experience because God designed us in rich and complex ways. Thankfully, God also gave us rich and complex resources to help us through the unique trials that school presents. The saints take up no room in our backpacks or tiny dorm rooms, yet they are with us always, waiting to dial us in closer to God and God’s plan for us. We only need to ask.


Image: Pexels/Caleb Oquendo