If there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that they can be remarkably single-minded. From an hour-long tantrum inspired by tyrannical authorities switching off an electronic device to the uncanny ability to make every conversation about Spiderman, once they fixate, they may be stuck for years.
Which is why we need to get them focused on the right things. Superheroes and construction vehicles are all well and good, but we who are blessed to be part of a 2000-year-old Church have much more to offer our children than Doc McStuffins and Paw Patrol.
What if your kids loved the Saints as much as they love fictional characters? What if they wanted to dress like Isaac Jogues and Catherine of Siena instead of (or in addition to) Batman and Elsa? I’ve been doing my part to share these stories, but it occurred to me that it would help if you used the obsessions they already have to draw them into the lives of the Saints. And since Disney princesses aren’t so very different from Princess Saints, I thought we’d start there. Scroll through to find your (or your child’s) favorite Disney Princess/Lady-who’s-cool-enough-to-be-a-princess and check out the Saint who might be your new bestie.
Cinderella: St. Germaine
I honestly wonder if St. Germaine wasn’t the inspiration for Cinderella. After her mother died when she was a baby, Germaine’s father remarried, a horrid woman named Hortense who deserved her name. She was terribly abusive to her stepdaughter, refusing to feed her, pouring boiling water on her, and laughing when her children put ashes in Germaine’s food. Like Cinderella, Germaine was sweet as can be imagined, sharing what little she had with beggars and even finding it in herself to forgive her stepmother. Like Cinderella, she was rescued from her life of suffering servitude to be wed to a prince, though her happily ever after came through her death at 22, when she was married to the King of Kings; 40 years later, her body was exhumed and discovered to be incorrupt.
Rapunzel: St. Barbara
Like Rapunzel, the beautiful St. Barbara was locked in a tower for years to protect her from her many expected suitors. What her pagan father didn’t expect was that her long hours staring out the window at creation would turn her mind to the creator of all things, convincing her (through the use of her senses and reason) that pagan idols are worthless. She devoted her life to the pursuit of wisdom, refusing all the suitors her father had finally allowed to come calling. Realizing that he’d messed her up, he let her out of the tower to try to make her normal again and was more than a little dismayed when she met several Christians and decided to be baptized. When she began to witness to her father, he rushed upon her with a sword. Despite miraculously avoiding him several times, she was eventually captured, tortured, and martyred by her own father. (Don’t worry, he was struck by lightning shortly afterward.)
Pocahontas: St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Okay, so you probably don’t need help to make this connection; it’s basically just their ethnicity. But while Kateri wasn’t as hot as Pocahontas or as loved by raccoons, she’s more of a true heroine than Pocahontas could ever be–even if you read the real story and not the Disney rom-com. Kateri was born to a Christian mother and a pagan father who both died when she was four. The same smallpox epidemic that killed them left her disfigured and nearly blind, in the care of an uncle who despised Christians. She suffered throughout her life for her faith as people spread rumors about her, ridiculed her, and refused her food on Sundays when she was unwilling to work. Finally, she escaped to a Christian village, walking 200 miles so that she could live with the Sacraments, embracing a vow of virginity and a life of prayer. When she died at 24, her pockmarked face was cleared and those who looked at her dead body saw her as radiantly beautiful.
Belle: St. Catherine of Alexandria
Every girl I’ve ever known who loved Belle loved her because of books. And nobody loved books like Catherine of Alexandria, a pagan princess in Egypt who refused to marry because she was too busy reading. As suitors sought to win her and remained unable to distract her from reading, a hermit came by and promised her a man who knew more than was contained in all her books. Catherine was interested in this and allowed the hermit to tell her about Jesus. Entranced, Catherine offered her life and her hand in marriage to the king of kings. When the Roman emperor heard this, he tried to convince her of the error of her ways by sending 150 of the world’s greatest philosophers to debate her; Catherine convinced every one (and the emperor’s wife) of the truth of the Gospel and was eventually martyred herself.
Jasmine: St. Casilda
The Moors didn’t dress like Jasmine, but neither did whatever culture she’s supposed to be from. In any event, both Jasmine and Casilda are from Muslim countries, so we’ll call it good. The Muslim daughter of a Moorish king, Casilda knew nothing about Christianity until she met Christians imprisoned for their faith and heard the joy they had found in the love of Christ. She longed to become a Christian but her father threatened her with imprisonment, so it seemed there was nothing she could do. Her longing for Christ was so strong that she began to waste away, consumed by an illness no medicine could cure. Finally, her father consented to send her to a healing spring in a Christian country, where Casilda was healed and then baptized. Unable to return home, she became a hermit and lived to be 100.
Tiana: Ven. Henriette Delille
Like Tiana, Henriette Delille was a New Orleans-born woman of color (though we wouldn’t know it to look at her) who worked to earn her place in the world. The great-great-granddaughter of a slave, Henriette belonged to an elite class of African-Americans whose daughters were expected to become mistresses to white men. Refusing to submit to such an ungodly arrangement, Henriette founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious community made up of other educated, intelligent women of color. She spent the rest of her life working with the sick and poor, particularly in the African-American community.
Mulan: St. Joan of Arc
If you’re drawn to Mulan because she’s Asian, you’ve got a whole host of Saints to choose from. But if it’s the strong femininity/leading men in battle thing, look no further than St. Joan of Arc. (Actually, feel free to look further to the book of Judith. She’s a boss.) It seems silly even to summarize her story, as I’m sure you know that she was a French peasant girl to whom the voices of St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine of Alexandria (see above) spoke. She was told to lead France to victory in the Hundred Years War. Unlike Mulan, Joan was not seeking to impersonate a man–her strength lay in her ability to serve the Lord as a woman, even though he called her to an unusual role. As with Mulan, her story ends gloriously in fire, though Joan didn’t walk away from her fire. Always a hero to France, it took 500 years before she was canonized by the universal church.
Merida: St. Margaret of Scotland
A queen of Scotland is the obvious choice for Merida, but it helps that St. Margaret also had rather a strong personality. She entered Scotland a shipwrecked princess and proceeded to refuse marriage for several years before consenting to marry King Malcom. As queen, she managed to introduce courtly manners to the less-than-couth Scottish nobles. She also brought the Church in Scotland out of a near schism, washed the feet of beggars every day in Advent and Lent, prayed like a nun, and raised eight children, one of whom went on to become a Saint himself. But mostly it’s the Scottish thing.
Jane: St. Helena
Though not exactly a princess, Jane (of Tarzan fame) is quite the compelling character. She’s intelligent, brave, and adventurous, just like St. Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine. Having witnessed the degradation of Christianity at the hands of the Roman nobility, Helena traveled to the Holy Land at an advanced age to search for the True Cross. That makes her an empress, an adventurer, and an archaeologist–no dainty, decorative princess here.
Megara: St. Pulcheria
Meg’s always been a favorite of mine, and it’s not just the name. She’s sassy, cynical, and single, just like me! Take out the selling-your-soul-to-the-devil thing, and we’re a perfect match. But it’s her intelligence that has me pairing her with St. Pulcheria, a woman who reigned as empress in Constantinople not because of her marriage but because of her brilliance. She ruled along with her brother the emperor until his death, at which point they asked her to continue in her position. A consecrated virgin, Pulcheria always made prayer her top priority, even in the midst of important affairs of state. This prayerfulness gave her such wisdom in divine things that Pope St. Leo the Great asked her to speak before the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in order to help the bishops better understand the nature of Christ. A woman like that could outsmart the devil himself.
Esmeralda: Bl. Catherine Jarrige
Unfortunately, the only gypsy on the path to canonization is a man (Bl. Ceferino), but a woman who loved to dance when she was young and spent her adulthood deceiving corrupt agents of the state sounds like a good match for Esmeralda. Bl. Catherine served the poor as a third order Dominican (kind of a lay nun) but is best known for her work to protect priests during the anti-clerical French Revolution. She would sometimes pretend to be a drunken vagrant to distract the authorities and is said to have saved thousands of priests from the guillotine through her quick wit and acting ability. (Click the link–she’s fantastic.)
As for the others, I’m at a loss. There are obviously no mermaid Saints, no Saints who slept for 100 years, no Saints who lived with seven dwarves, and no ice-magic-working Saints (though St. Catherine of Sweden was at least a Nordic queen). For Ana and Elsa, you could try Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, since at least they come in a pair? But a very different pair. Sleeping Beauty could be Jairus’ daughter from Mark chapter 5.1 I bet there are some good medieval legends that could supply us with some alternatives, but for now we’ll just have to steer our girls away from Ariel (because she’s the worst) to better princesses and marvelous Saints.
So there you have it, friends What other suggestions would you make?
Copyright 2016 Meg Hunter-Kilmer. This article was originally posted at PiercedHands.com and is shared here with the kind permission of the author.
About the author: Meg Hunter-Kilmer is a hobo missionary. After 2 theology degrees from Notre Dame and 5 years as a high school religion teacher, she quit her job in 2012 to live out of her car and preach the Gospel to anyone who would listen. 50 states and 18 countries later, this seems to have been a less ridiculous decision than it initially seemed. She blogs at www.piercedhands.com about hobo life and all things Catholic.