Today the Church commemorates St. Polycarp (c. 69-155), a disciple of St. John the Evangelist and a significant figure in the early Church.
When my friends and I started having children, we considered naming them after great saints whose names seemed a little strange to modern ears. And typically Polycarp was on the short list of such saints–in fact, one friend would refer to his unborn child as “Polycarp.”
Yet in most instances we eventually came up with a saint’s name that was a little more mainstream. After all, what poor kid wants to go through grade school as Polycarp?
Choosing a Confirmation name is a different deal, though. For one thing, the person is a little older and can choose the name himself or herself. In addition, while one can and should have a special devotion to his or her Confirmation saint, the fact of the matter is that no one goes by their Confirmation name. So it seems to me the door is opened a little wider when it comes to choosing a Confirmation saint.
And so, now that Lent has begun and Easter season is just around the corner, I’d like to propose ten saint names that may be a little off the beaten path. I’ve limited the list to saints whose annual feast is celebrated by the Church worldwide. Here it is:
Second-century bishop and thus an early witness to apostolic succession. The edifying account of his martyrdom is available here. Shortly before his death, he is reported to have said, in essence, “I’ve served Christ for 86 years, I’m not about to deny Him now.” This guy was tough as nails–the nails of the Cross.
Fourth-century Bishop of Poitiers and doctor of the Church. (Yes, Hilary is a boy’s name.) He is known as the “Doctor of the Divinity of Christ” because of his outstanding defense of the faith in opposition to the Arian heresy. And while Hilary Clinton may be a negative factor in choosing the name (hey, let’s reclaim the name for the forces of good!), Hilaire (form of Hilary) Belloc was one of the greatest Catholic intellectuals of the past century.
No, she’s not the patroness of toupe-makers. She was a duchess, wife and mother of seven, widow, and ended her life in Cistercian convent where she had taken religious vows. She’s not well-known in this country, and she suffers from “St. Blaise Syndrome” (see number six, below), in that her feast day gets overshadowed by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. But Hedwig is a biggie, and she is deeply loved and revered in Eastern Europe.
Bishop of Lyons around the year 200 A.D., and another important early witness to the apostolic faith. Wrote some great stuff (e.g., “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God”). He wrote at length in opposition to the Gnostic heresy. That may not seem all that relevant today, except when we consider that Gnosticsm is the engine that drove the wildly popular Da Vinci Code series just a decade ago.
Thirteenth-century saint known as “the Great.” She was a Benedictine mystic and visionary who helped to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart. St. Teresa of Avila, among others, have had a strong devotion to her.
Ninth-century archbishop and missionary who did much to spread the faith in Scandanavia, and for that reason is called the “Apostle of the North.” Unfortunately, the Church double-booked his feast day, such that February 3rd is the feast of both St. Ansgar and St. Blaise. And since it’s cold season and people want their throats blessed, 999 times out of 1,000 the priest will opt to celebrate the feast of St. Blaise instead of poor St. Ansgar. But especially for those with Scandanavian roots (or a fondness for the Winter Olympics!), Ansgar is a most worthy patron saint.
There are actually two St. Isidores on the Church’s calendar. There is the feast of St. Isidore the farmer and also that of St. Isidore of Seville, a seventh-century bishop and doctor of the Church. Some have suggested that the latter should be the patron saint of the Internet. (On that score, I’m willing to wait for the canonization of former Chiefs’ offensive tackle Damian McIntosh!)
Especially during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it seems appropriate to choose as a patron saint St. Benedict’s beloved sister Scholastica, who has the distinction of being the first Benedictine nun. (No wonder she got to be abbess!)
Tremendously heroic fourth-century bishop and doctor of the Church. I would put him higher, except I already know several people who, despite the name’s length, have named their sons Athanasius because of his staunch defense of the true faith, which led to his being known for all time as the “Father of Orthodoxy.”
Another two-fer. Many probably think of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits who developed the immensely helpful “spiritual exercises” as a means of spiritual growth. But there’s also St. Ignatius of Antioch, who succeeded St. Peter as Bishop of Antioch and then was famously martyred in 107 during the reign of Emperor Trajan. Click here for more on St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of my favorite saints.
Well, I hope this partial, lighthearted list is helpful to you and/or any confirmandi in your charge this coming Confirmation season. Our hope is in Christ alone, but we do benefit from developing devotions to saints who inspire us to grow in holiness.