About two hours west of where I grew up in Wisconsin, there is a state park called Devil’s Lake. Every October, my Girl Scout troop would go there for a weekend of hiking on the bluffs. Though I haven’t been there in years, I can still remember it: the view of the lake from the top of the bluff, the trees turning yellow and orange, Balanced Rock looking like you could knock it over with a good punch. The Potholes Trail with its knee-high steps. The slope of fallen rocks, with the trail barely marked through it. The apple tree we found on an outer loop trail. Ghost stories, practical jokes, the Eeyore stuffed animal we once found in our fire pit.
In the campground area, Devil’s Lake is busy. After all, it’s Wisconsin’s most popular state park. However, up on the bluffs, it’s quiet. You can see for miles, walk for ages without seeing anyone but your hiking partners on the trail.
There is something about nature that moves us. Looking out at the natural world from the top of a bluff can make us feel the same way as when we’re gazing at the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. That beauty, that deep connection, leads us so often to associate nature with the presence of God.
And yet, isn’t God in everything? After all, he created everything. So, when we’re hiking in the woods, God is not just present in the beauty of nature around us; he is also present in the hike itself. He is there in everything we do, whether hiking on a bluff, designing a website, or even singing along with the radio. We can be present with God not just in church and in our work, but also in our relaxation and hobbies.
I think we often forget this, but it isn’t a new idea. Since the beginning of the church, saints from around the world have been artists, athletes, even—with the canonization of Blessed Carlo Acutis—computer geeks.
The saints were people just like us, with the same hobbies as us. We know Saint Francis’ love of animals, Saint Patrick’s journey to Ireland, and Saint Thérèse’s Little Way. But how many people know that Saint Thérèse went on fishing trips with her father, Saint Louis Martin? Or that Blessed Miguel Pro played practical jokes? What about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati’s love of wine and cigars?
Yes, the saints were people just like us, with the same interests. So let’s take a look at what the saints did in their free time. Maybe you’ll discover that you have more in common with them than you think.
Venerable Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli. Painting from Dominican Province of Saint Joseph, Public Domain.
Saint Louis Martin. Photo by unidentified photographer, Public Domain.
Blessed Jarogniew Wojciechowski. Photo by Marian Orłoń, "Wierni do końca", Pub. Salezjańskie, Łódź, 1984, Public Domain.
Saint John Paul II, who was pope from 1978 until his death in 2005, was well known for his love of the outdoors. He would often go canoeing, skiing, hiking, and fishing. He even had a swimming pool installed at Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a lay Dominican from Italy, would go mountain climbing and skiing with friends. He even occasionally got in fistfights against the 1920s rise of fascism.
Then there was Saint Philip Evans. A Welsh-born Jesuit priest ordained in France, Saint Philip served in Wales during the persecution of Catholics in the late 1670s. Although his real ‘crime’ was being a Catholic priest, he was arrested for treason and sentenced to death by hanging. The day before his execution, he was playing a game of tennis. When informed that his execution would happen the next day, he asked if he could finish his match first. This request was denied, but you can’t help but admire his dedication!
Another tennis-loving saint was Venerable Teresita Quevedo. As a child in 1930s and 40s Madrid, Teresita was nicknamed ‘Venenito,’ or ‘little poison,’ because of her short temper. She devoted herself to Mary, but was still an ordinary teenager: getting in trouble at home, passing notes during study hall, even playing tricks on the Sisters at her school. She was also an athlete. Teresita was the captain of her basketball team and a talented tennis player. Then, when she was seventeen, she joined the Carmelite order.
In more recent times, there was Servant of God Guido Schäffer, a Brazilian seminarian who loved surfing. He described surfing a tube—riding inside the curve of a breaking wave—as “the perfect experience because it was like being embraced by God.” After he died in 2009, he was nicknamed the Surfing Angel.
Art is a massive part of the church, from the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel to the hymns we sing at Mass. Many saints were musicians, such as Venerable Felix Varela, who helped found the first Cuban Philharmonic Society. Another was Saint Rafael Guízar y Valencia. During his time at the seminary in Mexico, he formed a band called Los Gallos Místicos, or The Mystical Roosters. Blessed Solanus Casey, a Capuchin Franciscan who served in Detroit, loved the violin. He was, apparently, not very good, but that didn’t stop him from playing! Blessed Carlo Acutis, known for his website documenting Eucharistic miracles, also played the saxophone.
There are dozens of others. Saint Andrew Kaggwa was King Mwanga’s bandmaster-general in late-1800s Uganda. Venerable Satoko Kitahara, the first Japanese Servant of God, was a pianist. Saint Peter Claver formed a choir. Saint Irmã Dulce Pontes, a Franciscan nun from Brazil, played the accordion. Blessed Jarogniew Wojciechowski, a young musician from Poland, hoped to become a composer before being martyred at Dresden in World War II.
Many saints also practiced other kinds of art. One of the most well-known is Saint John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Carmelite priest who is considered one of the great Spanish poets. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux also wrote poetry. She also produced many plays, most of which she starred in herself. Additionally, Saint Tuotilo, a monk from the Early Middle Ages, was multi-talented: a boxer, poet, musician, painter, sculptor, and academic.
Another multi-talented saint was Venerable Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli. He was a Dominican priest from Milan, who went to the United States as a missionary to the native people of the Great Lakes region. For years, he was the only Catholic missionary in the Great Lakes. He was a musician, painter, and architect, and he published the first printed items in Wisconsin: a Winnebago prayer book in 1833 and a Chippewa-language liturgical almanac in 1834.
Listed below are thirty-two saints and what they did in their free time. Are there any not on this list? Let us know!
|Blessed Alberto Marvelli||b. 1918, Ferrara, Italy||d. 1946, Rimini, Italy||Played several sports: swimming, soccer (striker position), volleyball, cycling.||Fun Fact: He used his bike in Catholic Action charity work during World War II.|
|Saint Andrew Kaggwa||b. 1856, Bugangaizi, Uganda||d. 1886, Munyonyo, Kampala, Uganda||Drummer.||Fun Fact: He was King Mwanga's bandmaster-general in Uganda.|
|Blessed Bartolo Longo||b. 1841, Latiano, Italy||d. 1926, Torre Annunziata, Italy||A lay Dominican who played violin, flute, and piano. He was also a band director.|
|Blessed Benedict Daswa||b. 1946, Limpopo, South Africa||d. 1990, Limpopo, South Africa||A teacher who trained other teachers to coach soccer, volleyball, and hockey.|
|Blessed Carlo Acutis||b. 1991, London, UK||d. 2006, Monza, Italy||Played video games. He was a computer programmer and web designer, and played the saxophone.|
|Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago||b. 1918, Caguas, Puerto Rico||d. 1963, Río Piedras, Puerto Rico||Organist.||Fun Fact: He was the first Caribbean-born layperson to be beatified.|
|Saint Charles Lwanga||b. 1860, Buganda, Uganda||d. 1886, Namungongo, Kampala, Uganda||Wrestler.|
|Blessed Chiara Badano||b. 1971, Sassello, Italy||d. 1990, Sassello, Italy||Enjoyed skiing, swimming, tennis, singing, dancing, and going out with her friends.|
|Saint Irmã Dulce Pontes||b. 1914, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil||d. 1992, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil||A Franciscan nun who played soccer and the accordion.||Fun Fact: She went to Ypiranga soccer games every Sunday with her father.|
|Venerable Felix Varela||b. 1788, Havana, Cuba||d. 1853, St. Augustine, FL, USA||Violinist.||Fun Fact: He helped found the first Cuban philharmonic society|
|Saint Godric of Finchale||b. 1070, Walpole, UK||d. 1170, Durham, UK||A merchant, possibly a pirate, who became a hermit. He wrote songs that he is said to have received in visions.|
|Servant of God Guido Schäffer||b. 1974, Volta Redonda, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||d. 2009, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||A seminarian who enjoyed surfing.|
|Blessed Jarogniew Wojciechowski||b. 1922, Poznań, Poland||d. 1942, Dresden, Germany||Was in a choir and played the piano.|
|Saint John of the Cross||b. 1542, Fontiveros, Spain||d. 1591, Úbeda, Spain||A Carmelite priest, considered one of the great Spanish poets.|
|Saint John Paul II||b. 1920, Wadowice, Poland||d. 2005, Vatican City||Went canoeing, skiing, hiking, fishing, and swimming.||Fun Fact: He had a pool installed at the pope's summer residence.|
|Saint John Wang Rui||b. 1885, Xinli, Wenshui Xian, Shanxi Province, China||d. 1900 Taiyüan, Shanxi Province, China||A Franciscan seminarian and singer.||Fun Fact: He is one of the companions of Saint Augustine Zhao Rong.|
|Saint Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe||b. 1860, Mpigi, Uganda||d. 1885, Buganda, Uganda||A wrestler and runner, head of the Catholic church in Buganda, and King Mwanga of Buganda's majordomo.||Fun Fact: Balikuddembe means 'they are at liberty.'|
|Saint Louis Martin||b. 1823, Bordeaux, France||d. 1894, Lisieux, France||Went fishing with his daughter, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.||Fun Fact: Not only are he and his daughter saints, but his wife is also. He was married to Saint Zélie Guérin.|
|Venerable Maria Orsola Bussone||b. 1954, Vallo Torinese, Italy||d. 1970, Cavallino-Treporti, Italy||Enjoyed roller skating, skiing, swimming, cycling, playing guitar, and singing.||Fun Fact: She died when she was electrocuted while blow-drying her hair when she was fifteen.|
|Venerable Matteo Farina||b. 1990, Avellino, Italy||d. 2009, Brindisi, Italy||Played several sports: karate, basketball, gymnastics, soccer, tennis, and volleyball. Also played guitar and was in a band. He liked chemistry and dates with his girlfriend.|
|Blessed Miguel Pro||b. 1891, Guadalupe, Mexico||d. 1927, Mexico City, Mexico||A Jesuit priest who played guitar and mandolin, and liked playing practical jokes.|
|Saint Peter Claver||b. 1580, Verdú, Spain||d. 1654, Cartagena, Colombia||A Jesuit priest who formed a choir.||Fun Fact: There is a church named for Saint Peter Claver in our diocese: Saint Peter Claver Catholic Church in Macon.|
|Saint Philip Evans||b. 1645, Monmouth, UK||d. 1679, Cardiff, UK||A Jesuit who played tennis and the harp.|
|Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati||b. 1901, Turin, Italy||d. 1925, Turin, Italy||A lay Dominican who went mountain climbing, skiing, and horseback riding, and sometimes got in fistfights against fascism. He enjoyed wine and parties with his friends, as well as theater and cigars.||Fun Fact: He would sneak out of the house to go to daily Mass.|
|Blessed Rafał (Rafael) Chyliński (Melchor Chyliński)||b. 1694, Wysoczka, Poland||d. 1741, Łódź, Poland||A Franciscan priest who played the harp, lute, and mandolin.|
|Saint Rafael Guízar y Valencia||b. 1878, Cotija de la Paz, Mexico||d. 1938, Mexico City, Mexico||The Bishop of Jalapa. He played harp, lute, and mandolin.||Fun Fact: He had a band in the seminary called Los Gallos Místicos, or The Mystical Roosters.|
|Venerable Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli||b. 1806, Milan, Italy||d. 1864, Benton, WI, USA||A Dominican priest and missionary who was a musician, painter, and architect.||Fun Fact: He published the first printed items in Wisconsin: a Winnebago prayer book in 1833 and a Chippewa-language liturgical almanac in 1834.|
|Venerable Satoko Kitahara||b. 1929, Japan||d. 1958, Tokyo, Japan||Pianist.||Fun Fact: She was the first Japanese Servant of God.|
|Blessed Solanus Casey||b. 1870, Oak Grove, WI, USA||d. 1957, Detroit, MI, USA||A Capuchin Franciscan priest who played the violin.|
|Venerable Teresita Quevedo||b. 1930, Madrid, Spain||d. 1950, Spain||A Carmelite nun who was captain of her high school basketball team, played tennis, enjoyed dancing, and watched bullfighting.||Fun Fact: She was elected best dressed in her class.|
|Saint Thérèse of Lisieux||b. 1873, Alençon, France||d. 1897, Lisieux, France||A Carmelite nun who went fishing with her father, Saint Louis Martin. She also wrote poetry and plays, most of which she produced and starred in.|
|Saint Tutilo of Saint Gall (Tuotilo)||b. 850||d. 915, St. Gallen, Switzerland||A monk who was a boxer, poet, composer, painter, sculptor, trumpet player, harpist, singer, and academic.|