Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

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When our former assistant pastor Father Peter was in the seminary, he was placed at our school for a semester to see what it would be like to serve in a church that also had a thriving school community. The students loved him immediately, and I discovered another person who seemed to love the saints as much as I did. One of the books he left for my classroom, (in addition to Peter Kreeft, who is clearly above most middle school reading levels) was Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints.

This book tells the stories of 8 beatified or canonized young people, some I was very familiar with, and some that were completely new stories for me. The saints are: Bl. Chiara Luce (Fr. Peter’s favorite), St. Maria Goretti, St. Teresa of the Andes, St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Alphonsa from India, St. Dominic Savio, St. Kizito, and Bl. Pedro from the Philippines. While I sometimes didn’t love the story telling style, I could see that it would definitely be appropriate for my students. Each chapter has reflection questions, and there are spaces for students to take notes. In places there are even movie suggestions.

By the end of the book, I loved the new saints I had learned about. I plan to read more about Blessed Chiara and Teresa of the Andes in particular. For my students, I would love for them to be able to reflect on the ways that these two normal teenage girls became saints. Chiara’s live changed on a retreat, when she decided she wanted to pursue her relationship with God above all else. But she was also completely average- she loved sports, and hanging out with friends. When it was clear that her cancer was terminal, she planned her own funeral as a wedding for when she would get to spend the rest of her life with Christ. I also love that she was alive for a short part of my own lifetime. With Teresa, I loved that she heard her call from God and pursued it, despite the fact that those closest to her couldn’t understand it at all.

I can see how this book could work well in a middle school or early high school classroom. Because there are 8 saints, I could see getting enough for small groups to use and highlighting one saint each month of the school year. You could also jump around the book and match the various saints to other teaching goals- the book does connect each saint to a virtue or character trait. It would also work well as a read aloud, maybe leading up to All Saints Day.

Popcorn factor: 5. I read the entire book in two days. It would definitely work for 2 to 3 days of class time if you broke it down by saint.
Stars: 3. I do want to note that I am not the intended audience for the book. For classroom use I would give it 4 stars, for adult spirituality it was light.

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