In 1940, Blessed Cecilia Butsi Wongwai carried a letter to the police saying the Christians of Songkhon in Thailand would never give up their faith. She knew she would be killed, but rather than trembling with fear, she skipped her way to her martyrdom, exulting to her friends, “I’m on my way to heaven!” I bet you didn’t know that. St. Dulce Pontes, a Brazilian religious sister, rescued a dozen people by pulling them out of a crashed bus before it burst into flames. She was also nominated for a Nobel Prize because of her devotion to the poor—and this may be the first you’re hearing of it. That’s what Meg Hunter-Kilmer does: she introduces us to the saints, including so many we have never heard of before.
You’re going to be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows and loves the saints as much as Meg Hunter-Kilmer. To the Catholic speaker and author, the Catholic saints are friends in heaven—friends she wants to introduce you to. Hunter-Kilmer’s passion is discovering the stories of the saints—especially the unfamiliar ones—and sharing them with others. For years, she has brought the lives of the saints to life for children on her podcast, emphasizing to her young listeners that they, too, can become saints.
Her new children’s book, Saints Around the World, brings together Hunter-Kilmer’s vibrant storytelling and illustrator Lindsey Sanders’ beautiful depictions of these holy men and women. The text is compelling and accessible to children, but it isn’t dumbed down or sentimentalized. The full-page watercolors for each of the one hundred featured saints accurately depict religious habits and the ethnic garb of the saints with meticulous attention to the details of the stories and captions explaining each choice. But not only is the content brilliantly well-researched, it’s unlike any book I’ve ever seen about the saints. These are not the familiar stories of a handful of beloved saints. Saints Around the World introduces children to saints you’ve never heard of: St. Agatha Kim A-gi, St. Alphonsa Muttathupadathu, Bl. Ghébrē-Michael, Bl. Daudi Okelo, Bl. Jildo Irwa, and dozens more. Most of my fellow American Catholics can rattle off a few saints from Europe, but what about some from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, and Suriname? Saints Around the World reminds us that the Catholic faith is truly universal and that God calls saints from every corner of the globe.
I was recently visiting a friend out of town, and it happened to be on the day that her son’s copy of Saints Around the World arrived. This elementary school student devoured the sizable hardback in one day—all 211 pages. When I asked him if he discovered a favorite new saint, he told me about St. Lorenzo Ruiz, explaining, “He’s half-Filipino, like me!” We all need stories of holy men and women who share things in common with us because they remind us that we, too, are called to be saints. If there are saints that look like me, speak my language, share my vocation, have similar hobbies, and battle the same sins, their stories are deeply relatable and inspire my spiritual life. At the same time, saints with completely different experiences, languages, cultures, vocations, temperaments, and countries remind me that there isn’t only one kind of saint. A children’s book like Saints Around the World—which looks beyond Europe and dives into the treasury of stories of saints from every corner of the globe and every skin color—is a godsend.
With so many stories featured (one hundred saints!), the indexes in the back of the book are extremely helpful for finding saints in a particular part of the world according to feast day, topic (such as “humor,” “scientist,” “athlete,” “difficulty learning,” “abuse,” or “loneliness”), or the era in which the saint lived. By highlighting a variety of faithful Catholics, Saints Around the World shows that God delights in the beautiful uniqueness of the saints. As C.S. Lewis noted, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.”