Over the past year, my five-year-old son and I developed a little reading routine each night before his bedtime. It began naturally as my son tried to extend his waking hours with the plea of “one more book!” I welcome the peace it brings after a full day of playing Star Wars and LEGOs.
Our newfound routine starts with a chapter book: currently, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. The second book we read is a Lives of the Saints book that shares one saint each day of the year. We end our reading time together with a Rosary mystery pamphlet that my son, Peter, chooses a prayer from.
Not to slight C.S. Lewis, but the second book is more interesting. It has challenged me in many ways. The courage we learn from the saints begs us to imitate them, but simply reading about their lives to my young son—the descriptions of brutal martyrdoms—has made me pause and ask myself, “Do I want to share this with a child?”
And I realize, I do. So I read on. And what I find each evening are tales of virtuous heroes—stories so true and beautiful that even King Peter and Queen Lucy would be left inspired.
These aren’t just stories of men and women wounded, dying, rejected, and suffering; these are stories of victory, resurrection, and good news. The lives of the saints we read about are the stories that are forming my son’s heart and will—that are instilling in him virtue and courage, and give the promise of a reward so great that one desires to lay down their life for it.
This book has also inspired me to research the “unknown” saints, the uncommon ones. The evenings when I struggle to pronounce the saint’s name, I realize how many saints there are, and how few I know about. I am reminded of Bishop Barron’s invitation each Lent to choose a saint with whom we don’t share many commonalities and ask for his or her intercession. The great paradox, we soon realize, is that we have the most important thing in common: the love of Christ, and therefore, we share much at our cores.
As I prepare to teach my son kindergarten this autumn, I’ve begun to research some of those “unknown” saints to turn to as I embark on this new endeavor. I found some beautiful new heavenly friends—a mix of both students and teachers—to call upon throughout the next few months, and who I hope to meet someday in heaven. I decided to take Bishop Barron’s advice and ask one particular saint to be the patron of our school year. As an oncology-nurse-turned-homeschool-mom, I was immediately drawn to St. Mutien-Marie Wiaux, who struggled at teaching. Son of a blacksmith and café owner, St. Mutien was born in 1841 in Mellet, Belgium. Deciding not to follow his father’s trade, St. Mutien entered the Congregation of the Brothers of the Christian Schools at age fifteen.
Brother Mutien struggled as a student, and when he became a teacher, he struggled even more. His teaching career began at an elementary school, and afterwards, he was sent to teach at a boarding school. The students were aggressive and misbehaved as he sought to teach and supervise them. Mutien persevered through these frustrations with the calm and joy only Christ can give.
St. Mutien was asked to become the drawing and art teacher, and with that invitation, he found his calling-within-a-calling, his true passion. Soon, even his most difficult students became docile and appreciative in his classes. St. Mutien went on to teach for fifty-eight years.
Throughout his life, St. Mutien found his strength in the Eucharist and in the recitation of the Rosary. St. Mutien’s parents had prayed the Rosary each night during his childhood, and he carried on that tradition as a teacher, where he was lovingly referred to as “the Praying Brother.” Mutien died in 1917, and his feast is celebrated on January 30.
St. Mutien-Marie Wiaux is a saint both students and teachers can turn to when struggling to learn and teach this school year. Mutien reveals the honest rawness of the saints—namely, that many saints did not excel in every arena. It is beautiful when we discover our talents—like Mutien’s gift of art—and can cultivate that skill within ourselves and in our students.
Like St. Mutien, let us draw our strength each day from the Eucharist and prayer during this school year, whether we are teaching from home, sending our young students off to school, or watching them deal with the challenges of “virtual” learning. The Eucharist, coupled with prayer, will allow us to remain peaceful amidst the joys and the trials of lessons, the pick-up and the drop-off lines, the new routines and the inconveniences that sometimes come with them. If (or should I say, when) we are faced with a difficulties this school year, let us think of the humility of this little Belgian saint, who chose to persevere and was greatly rewarded.
Pray for us, St. Mutien! Pray for our teachers, students, and school year!