Saints with Disabilities
Saints intercede to bring about miraculous cures for people with disabilities — they don’t have disabilities themselves. Right?
“It’s not like people with disabilities are usually known for feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, or spreading the Good News. More often than not, we are usually on the receiving end of others’ works of mercy.” So writes Megan C. Gannon, a software engineer with cerebral palsy, in a book that I have recently read — a book that I wish had been available to me when I was a child.
For how many years did I labor emotionally and intellectually with the Christian view of miracles? When my own prayer for a miraculous cure went unanswered, I didn’t believe the Christian rhetoric that I had to grow stronger in faith, prayer, and goodness in order to walk. Neither did I believe that God created me in order to suffer, as seemed to be taught in the Catholic faith. And I certainly knew that I wasn’t the little Saint that people in church continually thought me to be simply because I could smile in a wheelchair. I felt, as I came of age, that Christian beliefs were in contradiction to my own thoughts and beliefs, to what I knew to be true.
If I had known about Blessed Margaret or Blessed Herman when I was a child, perhaps I wouldn’t have so easily traveled the road of doubt that ultimately led to my denial of God’s very existence.
Thankfully, children today have easy access to these two holy people, as well as nine canonized Saints, in Gannon’s book, Special Saints for Special People: Stories of Saints with Disabilities, published by Twenty Third Publications. Written for younger readers but appropriate for all ages, the storybook-like telling carried me through the lives of men and women who, like me, were obviously different and found severe challenges in everyday tasks of survival. It has not been, and will not become, my habit to review or recommend books on this blog. But this particular publication feels very necessary to me and underscores what I wrote in my own book:
“There is nothing about being chronically or terminally ill, about being blind, deaf, or mute, or about having impairments in cognition or mobility that disable us from receiving God’s love and loving to the best of our abilities. This love is the joyful fulfillment of being human.”It’s Good to Be Here
Disabilities Don’t Disable Joy
Deafness, blindness, intellectual disability, deformity, chronic illness, the inability to walk — the people profiled in Gannon’s book suffered greatly, but learned that their truest joy and fulfillment was not so much in suffering well as in living well through their suffering. St. René Goupil performed life-saving surgery among the Iroquois (and was also deaf), and St. Paulina cofounded the first religious order originating in Brazil (and lived with diabetes). Blessed Herman of Reichenau was a vital historian, renowned scholar, crafter of musical instruments, poet, and composer who is widely credited for writing the Salve Regina, the “Hail, Holy Queen.” He was also known in his time as Herman the Cripple, because he had cerebral palsy, a cleft palette, and spina bifida.
My personal favorite that is profiled in this book is the woman about whom I have written before, Blessed Margaret of Castello, whose story is both appalling and amazing. Her ability to joyfully love even her horribly unloving parents, is a true inspiration for us all. And I was very glad to get to know St. Joseph of Cupertino, a simple man and unlikely priest, who had an intellectual disability that irritated and exasperated many people. I found his story, both humorous and heartwarming as written in Special Saints, to be deeply thought-provoking and inexplicably beautiful.
People often want someone like me, someone diseased and disabled, to be cured, to seek cures far and wide. They believe that I should pray a certain prayer, go to the healing service of a particular priest, or travel to a place known for miracles, like Lourdes in France. But Bernadette Soubirous — the young, holy girl to whom Our Lady appeared and revealed the spring at Lourdes, which has been credited with dozens of confirmed miracles — labored with chronic asthma and never received a miraculous cure herself.
Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
Anyone who knows me or who has read It’s Good to Be Here knows that I balk at being called “special.” So, yes, I did cringe a little bit at the title of Special Saints for Special People. But I’m glad that I didn’t judge the book by its cover! Perhaps you will make the mistake of thinking that this book is only helpful for people with illness or impairment, or that the people profiled in Special Saints won’t strike a chord of understanding and inspiration in healthy people. Please don’t suffer from this prejudice. We are all more alike than unalike. My hope is that Catholic schools will adopt this book as part of their curriculum — not for the sake of students with special needs, but for all of their students. Every human being faces challenges and has to live with turmoil or suffering of some kind.
We can all learn from each other.
If you’ve ever considered reading about Saints but feel intimidated to do so, then give this little book a go. You will recognize something of yourself in at least one of the holy men and women profiled. Ever felt tired? Ever felt rejected? Ridiculed? Ever felt like a disappointment? Ever felt misunderstood? You are not alone.
I plan on giving this book to every child with special needs that I know, so that each one can see that the Catholic Church recognizes and greatly appreciates the contributions of every holy person. May that child come to understand that he or she does not need to be strong physically or intellectually in order to be active in Christian ministry, and that there is much good that can be done, not despite his or her disability, but with it. The personal, very human prayers that Gannon offers after each person’s story touched me in a very simple but profound way. I can see them being of great benefit to others growing up in the Faith — as well as to every human being who is open to the deep stirrings of the heart.
© 2020 Christina Chase
To purchase Special Saints for Special People from Amazon, click HERE.
To read an article written about Megan Gannon, click HERE.
Feature Photo by Rita Vicari on Unsplash
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
Thank you for this, Christina. I glanced at the date and was suddenly aware that it’s 40 years since we were planning for 1981, UN Year of the Disabled (the word ‘people, as I recall, was not part of the title.). Things have got better in your lifetime, but the picture you once shared of the Quebecois church up the huge flight of steps is a good symbol of the attitudes that prevailed and persist in some people. it’s not fun when people suggest you just need to pray harder to get cured.
We can be healed without being cured, as you make clear.
God bless you all and keep you safe,
We have come a long way, but, as with most things, there’s always much room for improvement. One thing that I didn’t mention in this post, but which I believe is worth sharing, is that the publisher of Special Saints has chosen not to make the book available in e-book or Kindle form. Ironically, many of the people for whom this book was written cannot even read it! My father had to take pictures of the pages so that I could read it on my computer. (Thankfully, it’s a little book!)
May you also keep safe with God’s blessings!
Just wanted to follow up on the possibility of a Kindle version of the book. Recently, after urging my publisher, they notified me that they do plan to add a Kindle addition. They didn’t provide me with timetable, but hope springs eternal. 🙂 Everyone is more than welcome to click the “I would like to read this book on Kindle” link on Amazon to try to help promote it with the publisher.
I’m so glad that the publisher is considering making the book into a Kindle! I am one of the people who clicked that button on Amazon. 🙂 Although I personally love “real” books and am very glad to own yours in paperback, having an e-book version will open up your available audience. There are many, many children (and adults) who need this book!
Thank you for your important work, Megan!
I am a year+ late to the discussion but wanted to let you know that I followed the link to Amazon to check out this amazing book, and it is indeed available in Kindle format. Thank you so much for a wonderful work on important Saints, Megan, and for your inspiring blog post, Christina !
Thank you very much for the update! I’m very glad to hear that this wonderful book will be accessible to more people. I greatly appreciate your visit to my blog! Peace and blessings,
Pax Christi 🙂