Author Megan Gannon shares inspiring stories of nine saints with disabilities

Megan Gannon is the author of "Special Saints for Special People: Stories of Saints with Disabilities," recently published by Twenty-Third Publications. She is a member of St. Timothy Church in Chantilly, Virginia. (Zoey Maraist/courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald)

Reviewed by Father Luke Spannagel

If you have been following my book reviews, you may have noticed that I really enjoy stories. And people from the parishes where I have served know that I especially like saint stories.

I am always edified by the great faith of the saints and find myself inspired by how God’s grace is able to accomplish amazing things in the lives of those striving to serve Him. Something I often share on All Saints Day is a reminder that we can all find saints like us — those with similar family backgrounds, vocations, or life situations. In all different times and places, in various ministries and occupations, in the midst of diverse challenges, the saints teach us that we all can live holiness and that God can be at work in us.

In “Special Saints for Special People:  Stories of Saints with Disabilities,” author Megan Gannon presents nine of these amazing souls.

EVERYONE HAS GIFTS TO OFFER

The following is from the book’s back cover: “Growing up with cerebral palsy, Megan Gannon never imagined there were saints with disabilities! In this remarkable book, she introduces us to saints and holy people whose stories inspire us to remember that saints are human beings who experience many of the same joys and challenges that we face every day.”

As Gannon observes, people with disabilities are “usually on the receiving end of others’ works of mercy.” However, the stories of these nine holy people teach all of us that everyone has great gifts to offer, no matter what our life circumstances might be.

Each short chapter begins with a drawing of the person (by Lila Carnevale), along with who/what the person is a patron for. Next, Gannon gives a description of the person’s life, highlighting the challenges and the ways God’s grace helped overcome those difficulties. Concluding each chapter, there is a prayer highlighting the victory of Christ in that person and asking God to work that same victory in us.

FAMILIAR AND OBSCURE PATRONS

Some of the names will be familiar. Those who know the saints will recognize names like St. Joseph of Cupertino, who is patron of people with developmental disabilities; St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who is patron of people with facial deformities or visual impairments; or St. Bernadette Soubirous, patron of people with asthma (known for receiving the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes).

St. Joseph of Cupertino, for example, was forgetful and absentminded, which often led to trouble in community life. At one point, the community made him leave. “He never forgot that day and said it was the worst day of his life.” Eventually he was taken back, and others began to see his unique joy, and over time saw his being “often lost in thought” as “a special gift from God and not a defect.”

Others you may not be as familiar with include:  Blessed Margaret of Castello, patron of people who are blind, deformed, hunchbacked, or unwanted; St. Servulus, patron of people with cerebral palsy; Blessed Herman, patron of people with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or cleft palate (thought to have written the prayer “Hail Holy Queen”); St. René Goupil, patron of people with hearing impairments; St. Lidwina, patron of people with multiple sclerosis; and St. Paulina, patron of people with diabetes.

Did you know there was a patron saint for diabetics?

GOD AT WORK IN EVERY HEART

As a diabetic myself, I was very much intrigued by the story of St. Paulina. Being a diabetic most of her life, “she didn’t let diabetes stop her from doing what she knew God was calling her to do.” As Gannon says, “God often uses our own experiences and trials to shape how we look at others. Her own health probably helped her to be more compassionate.” I certainly hope I am learning to become more compassionate as well!

If you are looking for some inspiration from people overcoming obstacles, or if you find yourself facing challenges and wondering how God might be at work in you, I highly recommend this short but packed book.

Here is an example of the prayers that end each chapter:

“St. Paulina, help me to be as generous a person as you were. Like you, I need to take care of myself, but through your prayers, teach me how to go on with my life and how to help others. Help me to know that my experiences shape how I treat others, and therefore I should try to be grateful for the person God made me to be. Amen.”

If you are looking for some inspiration from people overcoming obstacles, or if you find yourself facing challenges and wondering how God might be at work in you, I highly recommend this short but packed book. Author Gannon reinforces what we know to be true — that God is at work in every heart open to His grace, and that work is a great gift to the people around us and to all of humanity.

As I’m finishing this review, I’m thankful for the reminder that factors such as health don’t need to be an obstacle for serving God faithfully. Just now I asked myself, “Is there room in the list of saints for another patron of diabetics?”  Stay tuned to find out what God has in mind and pray for a generous response!

Father Spannagel

FATHER LUKE SPANNAGEL is pastor of St. Mary and Sacred Heart parishes, both in Rock Island, and is a member of The Catholic Post’s six-member book review team.

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