Children find these Heavenly heroes fascinating.
Children are keenly aware of their smallness and dependence on others. Their days are organized by adults, but they have an interior life all their own that is filled with wonder about the world around them. They are naturally attracted to goodness, courage, and adventure. As they navigate through childhood, they encounter different people—in real life and through stories—whose attitudes and experiences help them develop a sense of their own identity. That’s why, beginning at a young age, it’s important to give children the opportunity to be inspired by the extraordinary lives of the Saints.
Who are the Saints? They are children of God who made it to Heaven.
The sincerity and innocence of young children enable them to understand Heaven in a simple, yet profound, way. They accept Heaven as the ultimate goal of life and the only one that really matters in the end. This makes the Saints the greatest heroes of all time—and it makes their stories both instructive and fascinating.
Here are seven Saints young children find especially captivating. The pictures link to favorite children's books and an audio CD.
1. Little Nellie of Holy God
When kindergartners, who are usually five or six years old, learn that Nellie Organ was only four years old when she died—and that she exhibited extraordinary piety at a young age—it gets their attention.
Nellie Organ was born in Ireland to devout Catholic parents. Her mother died when she was three and a half years old, causing her father to entrust her care to the loving nuns of Good Shepherd Sisters. Nellie suffered terrible pain from a twisted spine, tuberculous, and a rotting disease of her gums and jaws, but she was joyful because she loved God, whom she called “Holy God,” so very much. The nuns who cared for her were amazed by her deep love for Holy God. So was the Bishop, which is why he gave Little Nellie the greatest gift of all by permitting her to receive Holy Communion when she was only four years old. Little Nellie radiated pure joy when she received Jesus in the Eucharist.
Little Nellie was very sick during her short life. As she suffered, she would say, “Look at Holy God on the Cross, He suffered more than this for me. Oh, I am longing to go to Holy God.”
She died February 2, 1908. Two years later, when Pope Pius X heard about how lovingly Little Nellie had received Jesus in the Eucharist, he said, “This is the sign for which I’ve been waiting!” He asked Little Nellie’s Bishop for a relic of her and on August 15, 1910, he lowered the age so more young children could lovingly receive the Most Blessed Sacrament.
2. Padre Pio
Few historical figures are capable of stirring the imaginations of young children more than St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the 20th century Franciscan friar who was the recipient of remarkable supernatural spiritual gifts.
On September 20, 1918, the crucified Jesus appeared to Padre Pio and lamented the ingratitude of men and especially those consecrated to Him and favored by Him. He invited Padre Pio to be united with His Passion and concern himself with the salvation of others. Padre Pio accepted. For 50 years thereafter, Padre Pio bore the stigmata, the divine wounds of Christ’s passion, on his hands, feet, and side. Doctors and scientists cannot explain how the wounds never closed or became infected.
Many people over the course of decades shared encounters with Padre Pio that cannot be explained by the laws of nature. One of the most unusual involved his ability to bilocate, which means he appeared in two places at one time, often on different continents. Another involved his ability to read hearts and minds—a gift that Padre Pio often revealed in the confessional. Sometimes, he denied absolution to poor souls seeking the grace of the sacrament without contrition and a sincere intent to stop sinning.
Padre Pio urged prayer, especially prayer of the Rosary, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and reception of the sacraments. He said of the Mass: “Every Holy Mass, heard with devotion, produces in our souls marvelous effects, abundant spiritual and material graces which we ourselves, do not know.”
Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968 and was canonized on June 16, 2002. His last words were, “Jesus, Mary, Jesus, Mary.”
3. St. Therese of the Child Jesus
St. Therese of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church and one of the most beloved Saints of all time, was a sensitive child who threw temper tantrums. Her mother, St. Zelie, wrote:
“[She] gets into frightful tantrums when she can’t have her own way. She rolls in the floor in despair believing all is lost. Sometimes she is so overcome she almost chokes. She is a very highly-strung child.”
Through the grace of God, Therese developed a way of coping with her sensitive nature that also drew her closer to her Savior. “I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way,” she said.
Therese’s “little way” was to do all things, every day, lovingly for God. “Miss no opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love,” she wrote. This is how Therese lived her short life—smiling at others even when she didn’t feel happy, doing chores pleasantly, and bearing annoyances without complaining (even eating all food given to her without complaining).
St. Therese promised, “I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens; I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.” She has kept her promise. She died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. To this day, she sends roses as a sign when she intercedes for people all over the world who pray for her help.
4. Blessed Carlo Acutis
Carlo Acutis is perhaps the most relatable Saint for modern children—because he was a modern child who united his will to God’s will amidst modern temptations.
Carlo was born in London in 1991 and lived in Milan, Italy, where he developed as a normal child and teenager. He liked to play video games and soccer and hang out with his friends. He also had a sweet tooth and loved Nutella and ice cream. But he loved God above all else and so he limited activities that deepened his attachments to the world. For example, he only allowed himself to play one hour of video games a week, even though he wanted to play much more, and he learned not to overindulge on his favorite foods. He understood the virtue of temperance would help him draw closer to God. He tracked his progress in a diary, where he wrote, “Sadness is looking at oneself, happiness is looking at God. Conversion is nothing but a movement of the eyes.”
As a young child, Carlo loved visiting churches and praying the rosary. He made his First Holy Communion when he was seven and, afterwards, went to confession weekly and received Jesus in the Eucharist every day when possible. He believed, “the more often we receive the Eucharist, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of heaven.”
When he was still in primary school, Carlos taught himself how to code and build websites. When he was 11, he decided to use what he learned about computers to cultivate a greater loved for the Eucharist in the world. He created a website cataloguing Eucharistic miracles throughout history.
Carlo died on October 12, 2006, at the age of 15, one week after being diagnosed with leukemia. Pope Francis announced his beatification following the miraculous healing of a seven-year-old child in 2019.
5-7. The Children of Fatima
In 1917, when the Mother of God had an important message to deliver to the world—urging prayer and devotion to her Immaculate Heart, and warning that Russia would spread its “errors” throughout the world—she did not appear to powerful adults, but to simple children.
Jacinta Marto was 7 years old, her brother, Francisco, was 8 years old, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, was 10 years old, when Our Lady first appeared to them in a field in Fatima, Portugal.
“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” Our Lady asked.
Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta desperately wanted to console the heart of Jesus and save souls from eternal damnation; this was especially important to the children after Our Lady showed them a vision of Hell. They agreed to offer themselves to God and to suffer. They prayed and fasted. They sought out opportunities to sacrifice, often giving their lunches away to needy children. They prayed the rosary with conviction, reciting the new prayer Our Lady taught them to say at the end of every decade: “O my Jesus! Forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of thy mercy.”
On October 13, 1917, as many as 75,000 people witnessed what is now known as the Miracle of the Sun. The sun spun, changed color, and nearly crashed to the ground—an inexplicable event that converted or deepened the faith of many people around the world.
Jacinta died in 1920 at 9 years old and Francisco died in 1919 at 10 years old. They became the youngest non-martyr Saints to be canonized. Lucia lived a long life, attending her cousins’ beatification in 2000, and dying at 97 years old in 2005. She has been declared to be a Servant of God, the first major step towards her canonization.
Additional Resources: Kindergarten is an ideal time to introduce the lives of the Saints to children through books, projects, and prayer. See TAN Books, Ignatius Press, and Holy Heroes for additional resources for your home or classroom library.
Kimberly Begg is director of programs and general counsel of the Ortner Family Foundation and editor of Catholic School Playbook.