During the thirteenth century, Jacopo de Fazio's popular The Golden Legend recounted tales of Saints like Peter, Paul, and Augustine. Now, Meg Hunter-Kilmer, a Catholic lay-speaker and blogger with a background in systematic theology, has produced new hagiographies for our post-modern moment in Pray for Us: 75 Saints who Sinned, Suffered, and Struggled on Their Way to Holiness, to be released this October by Ave Maria Press.
Humility, virtue, and martyrdom still matter, but Hunter-Kilmer also introduces readers to some surprising figures in the Catholic Church. Some are already canonized and others are on the road to being recognized as saints. But all are meant to provide a model of piety and faithfulness. Within Pray for Us, readers will encounter lesser-known examples of religious devotion, from Blessed Sara Salkahazi, a chain-smoking Hungarian socialist to Blessed Carlo Acutis, a teenage Italian evangelist and PlayStation fan.
PW talked with Hunter-Kilmer about the diversity of saints, and how the people you might least expect can be holy.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
What criteria merited inclusion in your book?
It was important to include saints from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and among the indigenous, as well as making sure that half were women. St. Francis or St. Anthony – who are wonderful! – are already so well known, but the Church is bigger than just them. There are no consolation prizes in my book – everyone here is included because of their faith.
What do you hope to achieve by presenting saints from a variety of backgrounds?
Something that's been on my heart is that many often have a limited understanding of holiness, of the goodness of people different from us. I wanted to combat a certain Eurocentric experience. Most American churches, especially if they were built in the nineteenth century, show only European saints on their stained glass, and that makes sense. But when you sit in the pews, you realize how global the Church is.
You talk a lot about "Saints who failed." Why is this important?
It’s probably my favorite category! So often we read narratives where people fail, and fail, and fail, and then there is a happy ending. It's profound, though, to think about people who didn't define themselves through temporal success, but still felt God's love and grace. St. Mark Tianxiang tried unsuccessfully to quit opium for years and was denied the sacraments by his priest who didn't understand that addiction was a disease. Yet he was willing to live and die for his beliefs during China's Boxer Rebellion when Christians were asked to reject the Church.
In your introduction, you convey that there are many different ways to be holy. What do you mean?
Lots of people think that to be a saint means that you're always sweet, pleasant, and mild, but I wasn't like that, and I was happy to learn that there were saints who were saucy or bold, like Blessed Catharine Jarrige who saved Catholics during the French Revolution, or St. Jerome who was constantly humbled despite his anger. We often force ourselves into molds—women in particular—and social media exacerbates that. There's this idea that religious Catholics today all wear tweed, smoke pipes, and read Chesterton, and if that's how you find holiness, that's great! But you don't have to force yourself into that.
What do you hope readers get out of Pray for Us?
I want everybody to be a saint, is that too much to ask? I want people to know how deeply, tenderly, and completely they're loved by God, without shame or fear, and that the saints show us that there are many ways to be holy.