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New book series celebrates diversity of the saints

Nancy Bandzuch

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 05/10/21

The 'Saints Like Me' board book series shows all kids that they are called to holiness, whatever their ethnicity or race.

A chance encounter with a little girl inspired Nancy Bandzuch to create the Saints Like Me books celebrating the wonderful diversity of Catholics around the world. The series includes Great Black Catholics, Great Latino Catholics, Great Asian Catholics, and Great American Catholics (not yet published). These books fill an often unmet need for many Catholic children.

Bandzuch is a leader in family faith formation. Along with her husband Bill, she created Catholic Sprouts, a daily podcast for Catholic kids, and the Domestic Church Project, a program and app that equip parents to teach the faith at home. The project was a winner in last year’s OSV Innovation Challenge. 

In the 2½ years since the podcast began, it’s become incredibly popular. It’s been downloaded over 3 million times and has listeners all over the world. 

All of these inspired projects were born from Bandzuch’s efforts to share her faith with her own five young children. 

“I started Catholic Sprouts because I was having a really hard time finding time to catechize my own young kids,” she said. “I recorded just tidbits, little ‘seeds of faith,’ for my own family to listen to over breakfast, and then we shared that on a podcast.”

It was these efforts in her home that indirectly led to the creation of the Saints Like Me series.

A heartbreaking comment

One day, Bandzuch had some family friends over to learn about the saints and make a craft when a child’s innocent comment blindsided her.

“We had my dear friends over and I was sitting down with the second grader who is Black, and we were making St. Josephine Bakhita out of perler beads,” she explained. Bandzuch has made saint patterns that can be used for cross stitch or perler beads. 

“I walked away for a moment and she started filling in St. Josephine’s face a cream color,” Bandzuch recalled. 

I came back and I said, “You realize that she had black skin, that she was black like you, so you should make her skin that color.” And she said to me, “But she’s a saint.” And through that she meant, “No saints have skin like I do, no saints look like me.” 

Even though the little girl went to a Catholic school and parish, Bandzuch said, she didn’t realize that saints could be Black. “That little second kind of broke my heart.”

All called to be saints

Realizing what her friend’s daughter had assumed lit a fire in Bandzuch’s heart to help all children realize that they are called to holiness.

We don’t realize that when children are in spaces where all of the statues are not only white but European looking that they are making these sort of private assumptions … Representation matters. We do need to make this more obvious to all children, that Heaven is a beautifully diverse cloud of witnesses, that God calls each person no matter what they look like or where they live or their culture or their language.

Bandzuch embarked on a mission to inspire every child to realize that God is calling him or her to be a saint, and just as importantly, to realize that God is calling every person a child might encounter to be a saint.

An unexpected and moving result of the Saints Like Me series is the way it reveals God’s personal love for people of every culture. “God acknowledges not only our individual uniqueness, but also the unique qualities of our family, our culture, our country, our time,” Bandzuch said. For example, the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe began a long and glorious history of Catholicism in Mexico.

Focusing on representation

Bandzuch said she has received some criticism for making separate books representing distinct cultures instead of one big book with all of the saints. “We wanted to see how God came into this specific group of people, and watch his beautiful plan specifically for them,” Bandzuch said. 

On top of that, there is such a great need for representation of Black saints that a book dedicated to them made the most sense. “I think it’s a very important tool in many homes to have this whole collection here. It’s not just one token Black saint among many European saints. This is a whole collection of Black saints,” Bandzuch said.

It’s a beautiful thing that the many children who read this book series will see holy people who look like them. We hope and pray that this representation inspires them to pursue holiness themselves, blessing the Church and the world with great saints in the next generation.

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