What is a patron saint?

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St. Monica

Depending on the name we received at baptism, each of us has a special intercessor or protector in the heavenly communion known as our patron saint. The saint can also, technically, be an angel. But either way, having help on the celestial end of Christian reality is a distinct advantage.

The practice of selecting a patron has early roots in Christianity, as the catacombs make clear. When the mostly-adult converts of the Roman Empire were received into the church through baptism, they often took the names of apostles or early martyrs. The history of a particular patron might figure into the identification one felt with him or her: by manner of occupation, personal suffering shared, or desirable virtue to be emulated.

In time, the patronage of saints was extended to entire nations, professions, illnesses, or other special needs. Also, individual parishes and whole dioceses are given into the patronage of particular saints. In light of these layers of patrons, each of us probably has quite a few celestial personalities to call upon in time of need. 

If you're a United States citizen, you have the patronage of Mary under her title Immaculate Conception. If your home is in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, you have a link to Francis of Assisi as well. Your parish may be St. Gabriel's, so add an angel to your spiritual Rolodex. If you're a lawyer, you can call upon Thomas Moore. If you're a lawyer in San Quentin, you have the attention of Dismas, the "good thief" at Golgotha and patron of prisoners. Trouble with your eyes? Call on St. Lucy. Lose something? St. Anthony is your guy. Have a headache? Teresa of Avila can help. In desperate situations, keep St. Jude Thaddeus especially close. And if you ever get to go fishing again, Andrew the Apostle is at your service. Your baptismal name, or a variant of it, will tell you who your number one patron is.

Some of us have distinctly modern names that don't evoke our Christian ancestry. Families in recent times have unevenly considered the celestial partnership between the communion of saints in this world and the next. Yet in each generation, names tells us we belong somewhere: to this clan, that nationality or society. Some are named for no other purpose than fashion, or to engage a veneer of second-hand celebrity. If you don't seem to have a natural patron, by all means choose one. There are plenty standing by and at your service.


Scripture: significance of naming: Gen 2:19; 3:20; 17:5, 15-16; Exod 3:13-15; Matt 1:23; 16:17-18; Luke 1:59-66

Books: Dictionary of Patron Saints' Names - Thomas Sheehan (Huntingdon, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001)

This Saint Will Change Your Life - Thomas Craughwell (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2011)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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