"Saints show us the way of where we are going ultimately and what's possible with our lives, and (how to) live lives of great charity, generosity, selflessness and holiness," Father Chris Collins '93, SJ, vice president for mission at the University of St. Thomas, said during a discussion about All Saints' Day with Will Peterson, president and founder of the Modern Catholic Pilgrim, and Dr. Ben Heidgerken, a new faculty member in the Theology Department at the Minneapolis-St. Paul university.
All Saints' Day is a Holy Day of Obligation in the church, but many may not be aware of the diversity among the saints.
At Heidgerken's own parish, he said, they have been thinking of ways to make sure that they are showing a full welcome to all the members of the congregation, and one way is through the stories about saints.
"We have minority populations from various parts of the world from East Asia and from Africa and I noticed that in our own church we didn't always have that kind of representation on the walls (through icons and images)," he said. "I was thinking of ways that we could actually say 'everyone belongs here,' so we worked together on an art project that we're now calling the "Many Parts" art project that emphasizes and highlights a lot of different saints from around the world and focuses particularly on the differences, on the challenges and the conflicts even that existed in their times to help us imagine new ways of acting and living in the world today."
He mentioned two particular saints of ethnic background: Christian de Chergé, a Frenchman who served as a monk in Algeria in the 1990s, and Henriette DeLille, a Creole woman who started a religious order for mixed-race women that served the enslaved in Louisiana. DeLille died just before the Emancipation Proclamation, never getting to see the day when Blacks were free.
"These kinds of saints can be sort of a window for us that they can show us a way to live in the present that still reflects the light of Christ," Heidgerken said.
There are also saints with Minnesota ties, Peterson said. One of them is Solanus Casey, a priest who grew up in Stillwater more than a century ago.
While All Saints' Day takes place every year on Nov. 1, the day also begins Black Catholic History Month and Peterson discussed some of the Catholic Church's patron saints for racial justice. One of them is St. Martin de Porres, a Peruvian of mixed race who was canonized in 1962 by Pope John XXII.
"He has a national shrine in Memphis," Peterson said, "and one of our saintly six African Americans, Sister Thea Bowman, is buried there in Memphis. So, in a couple of weeks here on Nov. 5 we're taking a group, starting at her grave in the cemetery in Memphis and walking to the national shrine of St. Martin de Porres, praying for their intercession for justice and reconciliation."