For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest….

Growing up Lutheran in South Dakota, I woke every morning to the early bells of St. Mary’s, a Catholic church, lower school, and convent.  Lots of my neighborhood friends went to school there, and their families worshipped there, many of their moms attending mass daily.  I envied their uniforms (which to me released them from the indecision of what to wear to school, but I know they had a different perspective!), if not some of their other requirements—the Wednesday-long forehead marking with ashes and fish every day instead of just Fridays in Lent, church functions on a different schedule from those of my family. There was little discussion of religion in that place in those days, and I wasn’t aware of any Protestant-Catholic tension—my parents knew and respected the local priests and their parishioners.  

Still, their many saints have remained an enduring mystery to me, one I am penetrating at long last through Lenten Madness. My ecumenically-minded mother instructed me that the small-s saints included all those who lived and died believing in and seeking to serve Christ. But the Catholic Saints were clearly saints of another order.

I’m gratified that Lenten Madness 2021 includes a greater number of women saints than I might have expected from perhaps the most patriarchal of all institutions, as well as relatively modern and geographically far-flung contestants. Early on, Catherine Booth, the Victorian English Methodist co-founder of the Salvation Army, beat out Joan of Arc!  Last week, Marianne Cope, a German-American immigrant who ministered to lepers in Hawaii, beat out Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish enslaver in modern day Haiti/DR whose change of heart toward indigenous peoples, and later enslaved Africans, made him an early advocate for human rights frequently referenced in discussions of the development of ideas on race. Friday, Benedict the Moor, Sicilian son of enslaved Africans, made it through his bracket. 

It’s not too late to join the fun at and learn more about who will follow Harriet Tubman, 2020’s Golden Halo winner.

Mary Peckham