By Jonathan Mitchican
The saints are a fascinating bunch — sometimes deep, sometimes challenging, but always interesting. Some saints get a lot of press, like St. Augustine or St. Therese of Lisieux, while others are all but forgotten, like St. Rigobert who befriended a goose by not eating him.
What follows are ten random facts about some saints you probably know and some that you probably don’t. Whether these facts make you laugh, raise your eyebrows, or cross the street to avoid being seen reading this list, my hope is that you will walk away with at least one fun story to tell at your next dinner party. And perhaps — just perhaps — if you’re weird like me, you might find something endearing here that will make you want to start a lifelong spiritual friendship with one of these saints. After all, even the weirdest saint is someone close to God, which is ultimately where we are all called to be.
St. Francis of Assisi Once Challenged a Muslim Sultan to a Trial by Fire
The great saint is known for his devotion to poverty and his love of nature, but he was also a great defender of the faith. He gained an audience with the Sultan al-Kamil during the time of the fifth crusade and attempted to convince him that Christianity was superior to Islam. Toward the end of their debate, Francis challenged the sultan to a trial in which each of them would step into a fire and the one with the true religion would be spared by God. Francis even volunteered to go first, but the sultan decided not to accept the challenge. He did, however, agree that Francis could preach in his land.
St. Thomas Aquinas Made Fun of a Woman’s Feet
There was a nun in a nearby convent who was developing a reputation for holiness. Many of Thomas’s brothers were quite taken with her. One day, Thomas and some of the brothers went to see the nun and found her in the midst of mystical prayer, levitating high above the ground. The others were deeply in awe, but Thomas just looked up at her and said, “You have ugly feet.” The woman stopped praying, came back down to the ground, and began yelling at Thomas for insulting her. Thomas then said that she could not be truly holy if she were so self-involved.
St. Fabian Became Pope while on Vacation
Fabian was a nobleman and a Christian, but he was not involved in ministry or any particular church work. He went to Rome along with many others in A.D. 236 when Pope Anterus died. He hoped to see the great sites of that venerable city and to be a part of the crowd when the new pope was elected. As the election was about to take place, a dove flew into the crowd and landed on Fabian’s head “in clear imitation of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon the savior,” according to the third-century historian Eusebius. The people immediately started to gather around Fabian shouting “Worthy!” Fabian was then obliged to be ordained a deacon, then a priest, and then a bishop so that he could become pope. This, of course, finally gave him an opportunity to wear his “I went to Rome and all I got was to be elected Supreme Pontiff” T-shirt.
There are Four Churches in Wales Named after St. Lawdog
Almost nothing is known about this early church saint, but the existence of four churches named after him in the Diocese of St. David’s in Wales testifies to his existence. He also apparently founded a monastery. I like to imagine that he looked something like this:
St. Clare of Assisi is the Patron Saint of Television Writers
It’s hard to imagine this great ascetic saint who founded the order of the Poor Clares chilling out on the couch and laughing uproariously at a sitcom. Nevertheless, in 1958 Pope Pius XII named her the patron saint of television writers. When she was too ill to attend Mass she reportedly had a vision of the Mass that she could see and hear on the wall of her room. This patronage of St. Clare for television would later be adopted by Mother Angelica — herself a Poor Clare — when she started what became EWTN, which today makes it possible for many people to see the Mass from their hospital beds and their homes.
St. Patrick Wasn’t Irish
His name is practically synonymous with Ireland. Every year, millions of people in America celebrate his feast day by getting drunk on green beer. Yet Patrick was not actually Irish from birth. He was born a Roman citizen in Britain. When he was 16, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates who took him to Ireland and held him as a slave for six years until he escaped and returned home. He became a priest and eventually had a vision in which he came to believe that God was calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. He followed that vision, courageously returning to the land where he had been enslaved and spending the rest of his life there preaching the gospel to the Irish people.
St. John the Russian Made Miraculous Pilaf
A popular saint among the Greek Orthodox, St. John was a Ukrainian captured as a prisoner of war and sold to a Turkish Muslim. He eventually earned the deep respect of his master by his great humility and unwavering faith. One night, when his master was away on pilgrimage, John made pilaf for the family of his master. His master’s wife mentioned that it was the master’s favorite dish and bemoaned that the master was not there to enjoy it. John asked for a plate of the pilaf to give to the master. The wife and her guests laughed but gave him the plate of pilaf anyway, figuring that he would either eat it himself or give it to the poor. John took it back to his room, prayed, and it disappeared, reappearing hundreds of miles away in his master’s room. The master recognized his initials inscribed on the plate and ate the pilaf, which turned out to be the best he had ever tasted.
St. Catherine of Siena Had 24 Siblings
Not all of her siblings lived to adulthood, but she was one of 25. She also had a twin. She may be the great saint in the family, but her mother clearly deserves a medal.
St. Ignatius of Loyola Once Asked a Donkey Whether He Should Commit Murder
As a young man and a new convert, Ignatius was riding across Spain when he met a Muslim who argued with him about his religion. As the Muslim rode away, he said something over his shoulder that was insulting about the Virgin Mary. Ignatius was so angry that he wanted to kill him, but he decided he would let the donkey he was riding determine if it was the right thing to do. If the donkey followed the man, Ignatius would kill him, but if not he would not. Fortunately for the Muslim — and for a whole lot of people who love Ignatian spirituality — the donkey took a different path.
Fr. Jonathan, this is a great list. Love the St. Thomas Aquinas one especially. I’m an Orthodox convert and one of the things that really struck me when making that crossover a few years ago was the plethora of weird saint stories (especially coming out of Russia, oh my goodness!). Here’s the one which perhaps takes the cake – St. John the Wonderworker of Novgorod, a 12th century Russian saint: One night St. John was praying and he hears a splashing in his nearby washbasin. Being as he was alone, St. John discerns that the waterworks are the ploy of… Read more »
good fun facts