Too often, I think, we associate saints with angels. Saints were not angels, and they were not perfect. Angels don’t have human needs like saints did. Angels don’t go to the bathroom like saints did.
Why am I bringing this up? Because we need to remember that what made the saints, well… saints was their response to God, through their humanity. The saints screwed up sometimes, the saints sinned sometimes, just like you and me. They fell down, but they got up again.
Below, I’ve assembled a list of some of the lesser known stories and quotes of saints. While some details are based on popular history and not public record, we must always be careful never to dismiss stories simply because they seem implausible. Never forget that all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37).
Some of these may strike you as pretty random, even fictional. There are thousands of more normal or less intriguing stories of our saintly brothers and sisters. It would be easy to focus just on those. The saints outlined here are no more or less important than others, and I hope we’ll keep in perspective that this list of funny or “odd” stories is meant for reading enjoyment, not to make any statement about saintly spirituality. I’ve done this in hopes of reminding us that humor and laughter are just as essential to holiness as patience and piety. I hope this list makes you smile and laugh a little bit.
Enjoy the lives of these saints… some might surprise you.
St. John Vianney
Ordained to the priesthood in 1815, St. John Vianney became a world-renowned priest (especially for his loving, simple and incredible demeanor in the Sacrament of Reconciliation). He was known for his very practical, “no-nonsense” attitude.
Once a visitor asked Father Vianney, “Father, why can we barely hear you when you pray, but when you preach, you practically shout?”
Father Vianney replied, “When I preach, I often am speaking to those who are deaf to the word, or those who have fallen asleep, but when I pray, I am speaking to God and I know that he’s not deaf.”
He was known to laugh, often, at himself, and his lack of talent in certain areas.
A professor once remarked (about St. John), “This fellow is a complete ass. What can he possibly accomplish?”
Father Vianney replied, “If Samson armed only with the jawbone of an ass, could kill one thousand Philistines, imagine what God can do with the complete ass!”
St. Mary Mazzarello
Born into a very poor family and not very well educated, St. Mary Mazzarello spent a good deal of time ministering to the youth, especially girls, and eventually founded the Salesian Sisters.
Facing death, at the young age of only 44, St Mary Mazzarello was calm and cool. Just before she died she apparently remarked to a priest, “Well, that’s the passport. I expect I can leave any time now.”
Pope St. Pius X
Ordained as a priest in 1858, Giuseppe Sarto was elected Pope in 1903. He was a brilliant student and worked a great deal with the illiterate, undereducated and the sick and underprivileged.
During a religion class of the future Pope, the teacher told the class that he would give them two apples if anyone could tell him “where God is.”
Giuseppe, later Pope Pius X, replied, “I’ll give you two apples to anyone who can tell me where He isn’t.”
Many people found him so holy and impressive that they often regarded him as a living saint, to which Pius X replied, “Don’t I already have enough to do? Now they want miracles, too?”
St. John of Beverly
St. John was born in England, and eventually became the Bishop of York. He later founded a monastery at Beverly (hence, the title).
As the story goes, St. John of Beverly took youth on retreat once, in which one of the participants was a mute young man, who also happened to be balding. St. John apparently made the sign of the cross on the youth’s tongue, who was then miraculously able to speak. Possibly just as incredible (to anyone who has lost their own hair) is that later the young man also grew back hair and was cured of his baldness… that is why St. John of Beverly is prayerfully invoked against baldness.
Wow, what a hairy situation, huh?
Agatha was a noblewoman and a virgin from Sicily. In 251 a Roman Senator, Quintianus, made a physical advance towards her, which she quickly and loudly rejected. Enraged, he publicly accused her of being a Christian (illegal at the time) and ordered that her breasts be cut off. Through the intercession of St. Peter while she was imprisoned, however, they were restored. This is the reason that St. Agatha is the patron saint invoked against breast diseases.
They tried to kill her in a couple different ways that never seemed to work out. They attempted to burn Agatha at the stake (but she was protected), and a volcano erupted, interrupting the attempted murder. Later, they cut off her head.
St. Teresa of Avila
Teresa grew up in a rich Spanish household, but became handicapped at a young age. After praying to St. Joseph, she was cured and went on to become a Carmelite nun with a strong devotion to Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Later in life she had confirmed visions, was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church and became a mystical writer, dying in 1582.
Teresa found herself in several disastrous situations. Once after falling and injuring her leg, she looked up to Heaven and asked, “Lord, you couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen…haven’t I had enough problems?”
She said that the Lord replied, “Don’t you realize that this is how I treat my friends?” St. Teresa of Avila retorted, “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you don’t have very many.”
St. Teresa was once recorded as saying, “A sad nun is a bad nun… I am more afraid of one unhappy sister than a crowd of evil spirits. What would happen if we hid what little sense of humor we had? Let each of us humbly use this to cheer others.”
Mark, one of the gospel writers, was a convert to Christianity. Though many mistakenly believe him to be one of the original twelve apostles, he was not. It was in his mother’s home, that the early apostles met when in Jerusalem. He was later a traveling companion of Peter’s, and most believe the young man who was present in the garden (and ran away naked) at the time of Jesus’ arrest at Gethsemane.
It is said that once St. Mark was aroused by a beautiful woman who kissed his hand. He cut it off, only to have it restored later by the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Venice claims St. Mark as there own because he once sought refuge within its lagoons during a storm. An angel apparently appeared to the future saint telling him that “on this site a great city will arise in your honor.” Years later, workmen were constructing St. Mark’s Basilica near that same site. A workman accidentally fell from the steeple, yelling St. Mark’s name on the way down. Miraculously, the falling worker was saved, when a tree branch appeared (out of the blue, and in front of witnesses) to support him before he hit the ground.
St. Christina the Astonishing
As a young girl, Christina suffered a “fit” (probably an epileptic seizure of an intense degree), which lead to a life of “paranormal” experiences for the holy young woman. Many of the weird occurrences were publicly and literally recorded by one of her contemporaries. She is the patron saint of psychiatrists.
It’s historical record that at age 22, Christina died following a seizure. During her funeral Mass (in a crowded church) she sat up in her coffin in front of the entire congregation, and then flew up into the rafters of the church. The church emptied, leaving only her sister and the priest inside. After the priest convinced her to come down out of the rafters, she said that she was “repelled” by the smell of all of the sinners in attendance at her funeral. Later in life, she taught about how she had truly died and had even “seen” hell, and was depressed, seeing many of her friends there. She apparently also had a vision of purgatory, where she also saw friends, but was given the option of returning to earth. She opted to return in order to pray for those friends.
She grew old and was very well-renowned for her holiness and wisdom.
Ignatius of Loyola
Founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius began as a soldier in the Spanish army, but was later converted and made it his mission to spread Christianity around the globe.
During the Inquisition, Ignatius was imprisoned for “teaching new ideas.” He replied to his captors, “I didn’t know that it was a new idea to teach Christians about Christ.”
As the story goes, St. Ignatius was an avid pool player and quite good. One time a theologian bet him on a match. The wager was: if Ignatius lost than he would be the theologian’s servant for a month, but if Ignatius won, than the theologian “would have to do one thing that would be to (his) advantage.” St. Ignatius won, and the theologian spent the next month on retreat, performing St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.
Blessed Pope John XXIII
Pope John XXIII was born in Italy in 1881, and is known best for being the Pontiff who called the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). He was ordained in 1904 at the age of 23, and was very well known for his incredible humility and sense of humor.
One time a new building was being built on Vatican grounds, and the architects sent the plans over to Pope John XXIII for his final approval. The Holy Father wrote the phrase, “non sumus angeli” atop the plans and sent them back. The only problem was that none of the architects spoke Latin. At once they had it translated, but were still puzzled as to what the Holy Father meant by His seemingly strange comment. Later, they discovered that the Pope had realized something that the architects had not…the plans did not include bathrooms.
Another time, as the story goes, a reporter asked the Pope, “How many people work in the Vatican?” Pope John XXIII replied, “About half.”
Happy All Saints Day! Like our saintly brothers and sisters who have gone before us into the Heavenly Kingdom…