SAINTS FOR ALL SEASONS
EPISODE 1 – SAINT ANN
By Cliff Garvey
Think about your mother, your grandmother, or that special woman who has touched your heart. Mary Mesko Garvey was my paternal grandmother. In our family, we called her Mom or Mommom. Our family revolved around her. She was our true north and our guiding light. She brought love and joy, strength and stability, discipline and unity to our family. No one ever questioned her. No one ever need to. We loved her. We trusted her. We adored her. And when she left us, our family was never the same.
My grandmother was not a churchgoer, but she was a believer. I brought a bible to our last visit and asked her to inscribe it. She wrote: “To my grandson, best wishes for good reading. The bible is all that you can go by. Your loving Mommom.” The bible is all that you can go by. It’s good advice; unless you want to know about Saint Ann.
Saint Ann is Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Ann is grandmother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Ann is grandmother to the world. But she is never mentioned, not even once, in the canonical books of the New Testament. Veneration of Saint Ann dates back to a fifth century church in Jerusalem; to the sixth century in the Eastern Church; and to the eighth century in the Roman Catholic Church.
Much of what we believe about Saint Ann comes from The Golden Legend, a collection of stories about the saints that was assembled during the 13th century. The story goes like this: Ann and her husband, Joachim, were scorned by their neighbors because they had no children. Years of longing and disappointment did not weaken their trust in God, but grief eventually drove Joachim into the desert to fast and pray. Ann remained at home, dressed as if someone had died; and she wept because she had no children.
A young girl saw Ann’s sorrow and told her to place all of her trust in God. So Ann washed, dressed in her bridal clothes, and entered her garden to plead with God for a child. During this time of prayer, angels appeared to Ann in the garden and to Joachim in the desert. The angels promised that despite their advanced ages, they would conceive a child who would be known throughout the world. Upon hearing this news, Ann and Joachim rushed to greet each other at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate. They kissed and rejoiced in the new life that God had promised them. Their child, of course, would be born the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Church, and Mother of All Peoples.
The Golden Legend explains what happened, but it still does not tell us much about Saint Ann. In Hebrew, her name means favor or grace. She is a woman of faith. She is a wife. She is a mother. She is a grandmother. We know nothing about her appearance. We know nothing about her personality. And yet, somehow we know her. Deep in our hearts, we know her.
We know Saint Ann because she lives in every child who is loved, in every grandchild who is cherished. We know Saint Ann because she lives in every family that is led by a matriarch — a mother or grandmother whose love, fierce discipline, and relentless hard work holds the family together by faith and force of personality. We know Saint Ann because she lives in the memory of anyone who loved their mother, misses their grandmother, cherishes their godmother, or reveres any woman who embodies the virtues of motherhood. Perhaps Saint Ann lives in you or in the person you called Nona or Vavo or Mommom. Perhaps Saint Ann lives in every family that needs love and courage, direction and patience, and a guide to all that is good and true in this uncertain world.
Think back on the legend of Saint Ann. When all seems lost, she perseveres. She prays. She keeps the faith. She trusts in God. Because of this, we trust in her. We trust in her prayers. Saint Ann is grandmother of all people everywhere. Saint Ann is grandmother to the whole world!
Tradition holds that the remains of Saint Ann were evacuated from the Holy Land to save them from the Romans who would have destroyed them. The relics were brought to what is now the City of Apt in France, where they were discovered by Charlemagne with the help of a teenager who could not see, speak, or hear. The boy led the famous king deep into the crypt below the high altar of the local cathedral. Suddenly, the boy was healed of his disabilities and cried out in a clear voice: “The body of Saint Ann, Mother of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is located over there in that alcove!”
This is the first and perhaps most celebrated miracle attributed to Saint Ann. But it is not the last. Over the centuries, the relics of Saint Ann have been venerated by pilgrims around the world. Among the most famous shrines is Saint Ann de Beaupre in Quebec, where more than one million visitors every year come to venerate relics of the Lord’s grandmother and to pray for miracles.
In 1658, a first miracle occurs. A construction worker, who is helping to build the chapel that would one day become the great shrine, injures his back, prays to the saint, and is healed. Since then, Saint Ann has answered the prayers of pilgrims traveling from every continent to a little village in Quebec. By her prayers, paralytics are made to walk; the blind are made to see; the sick are made well; and children are conceived. The pillars of the shrine are decorated with the discarded braces, canes, crutches, and walkers of all those who have been healed.
Like all good mothers and grandmothers, Saint Ann listens with an open heart. Like all good mothers and grandmothers, Saint Ann is devoted to her children. And like all good mothers and grandmothers, Saint Ann is a miracle maker and a wonder worker.
In the 16th century, Abbot John Trithemius, a German Benedictine, offered these words about the grandmother of Jesus: “To Saint Ann, God has given the power to assist us with every need, because Jesus, her Divine Grandchild, will not refuse her prayers and petitions; and Mary, her Glorious Daughter, supports all of her requests. Those who venerate Good Saint Ann will want for nothing either in this life or the next. If you love and venerate Saint Ann, you will experience how highly God esteems her. He grants everything that she asks. It is impossible to count the graces that she obtains for her loving children.” And so, in this spirit, we pray for the intercession of Saint Ann, grandmother to the world:
Good Saint Ann,
Mother of Mary
and Grandmother of Jesus,
you look with compassion
on those who ask for your prayers.
Burdened by life’s challenges,
we come to you now
and beg you to help us
with the needs and intentions
that we hold in our hearts.
Good Saint Ann,
God chose you
to bring into the world
the Mother of Christ Jesus,
our Blessed Mother Mary.
By your prayers,
obtain for us the grace
of one day seeing our Lord
face to face,
with you and Mary,
and all the angels and saints,
praising God for all eternity.
Good Saint Ann, pray for us,
that we may be made worthy
of the promises of Christ.
Glory to the Father,
to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Saint Ann, pray for us!
Saint Joachim, pray for us!
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
Saints for All Seasons
Episode 1 – Saint Ann: Grandmother to the World
Episode 2 – Saint Mary Magdalene: Apostle for the Rest of Us
Episode 3 – Saint Clare of Assisi: Consumed by Love
Episode 4 – Saint Rose of Viterbo: Living Witness
Episode 5 – Our Lady of Sorrows: Model of Faith
Episode 6 – Our Lady of the Angels: Lean In
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Saint Ann: Grandmother to the World. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. Copyright 2022. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Art Credit: Detail of Saint Ann (9th century) | National Museum Warsaw, Poland
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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