This past autumn, my kids and I embarked on a semester long study of North American saints, ignited by a love of Saint Herman of Alaska. My goals for this project were: to read about the lives of these saints, locate where each saint passed away (for consistency sake) on our maps of Alaska and the United States, explore and learn about the many connections to these saints in relation to places and history we have visited or studied, and discuss ways we could emulate these saints in our daily lives as we continually strive to grow closer to God.
We learned about one saint per week during the months of September, October, November, and December. The starting point for this project was the activity book provided on the OCA’s religious education site on North American Saints. I shrunk the icons provided in the activity book to 4x6 on my home printer and printed them out. Each week, we would follow a basic framework for our study:
This unit study can be used in either a classroom or home setting
- Attend liturgy on the feast day of the saint
- Read the Akathist to the American saint you are studying during your family prayer time.
- Discuss Connections: Which of these states have we visited? Have we been to the cities where these saints lived and visited? Have we watched shows that reference some of the places that these saints lived and worked? What is a pilgrimage? Do people make modern day pilgrimages to the places where these saints died or are buried? Why?
- We are all called to be saints: Many of these saints are recent enough that there are photos of them available on the internet, if you do a search for them. This provided the opportunity to talk about iconography (in what ways the icons look similar to the actual people depicted and how they looks different – and why) as well as discussing ways we could emulate these saints in our own lives. The underlying point in all of these lives was their fervent desire to be with God. How did their actions reflect this desire? How can we do this in our own lives?
- Read about the life of the saint: A story in provided for each saint in the activity book. For Saint Herman, we also read several Orthodox children’s books written about him. Additionally, we read about some of the saints online.
- Write a summary of the saint’s life on an index card: My boys all worked together to compile the summary, I wrote it on the chalkboard, and then one of the them would write it on the index card which would be taped under the icon of the saint on our wall
- Locate on our maps on the wall where the saint passed away: Many of the saints were born in Russia. If I’m going to do a study of North American saints, then I’m going to focus on where they lived here. For the sake of consistency, we chose to mark the state where they passed away – although Saint Tikhon actually passed away in Russia so he was the exception to our rule.
Did You Know?
Saint Innocent helped build the church, Holy Ascension, on the island of Unalaska which is regularly shown on the show “Deadliest Catch”?