To St. Apollonia, On My 26th Birthday

St. Apollonia

St. Apollonia

by Johanna Hatch

I have always been fascinated by saints.  When I was in kindergarten, my mother began buying the St. Joseph’s Press books of saints.  I remember the pictures, soft colors and pious faces staring up to heaven.  I loved the stories of their lives, the bravery of the martyrs, the kindness the monks and nuns, and the wisdom of the saintly rulers.  Most of all, I was drawn to the larger than life women who inhabited the pages of these storybooks.  Joan of Arc dressed in her armor, St. Agnes refusing to give away her virginity and choosing to stay faithful to Jesus instead.  These women were my first heroes (before I discovered the suffragists).  They gave me an image of something I could aspire to in the Church – I was painfully aware at an early age that boys could become priests, but I couldn’t.  Even if I couldn’t become a priest, I could be a saint.
Soon after, I became hooked on feast days.  I loved the idea that, as my mom said, almost every day of the year could be a holiday because there were so many saints to remember.  I was also very into my birthday, people who shared my birthday, and events in history that had occurred on my birthday.  So of course, there had to be a saint for my birthday.
I was proud to report then, as I am now, that February 9 is not just a day to celebrate Johanna, but it is also the feast day of a lesser known woman saint whose heroics were worthy of the St. Joseph’s Press Book of Saints: St. Apollonia.  Apollonia was a deaconess (that much missed office of the church) living in Alexandria in 249 CE.  When a mob invaded the city looking for Christians, they found Apollonia, beat her so severely her teeth were knocked out (irony of Catholic ironies – she is the patron saint of dentists), and she was threatened with death on a pyre if she did not renounce her God.  Apollonia asked for a moment to consider their proposal, and then threw herself on the fire.

As I reflect on the story of Apollonia’s martyrdom, I find myself feeling a bit disturbed that I got my hands on such gory stuff at an impressionable age.  One can easily question the wisdom of putting such ideas as martyrdom in the head of a child, or the mental health of saints such as Apollonia and other women martyrs and mystics.  But for me, even in her final act, I see in Apollonia someone worth looking up to.  Apollonia was a leader in her faith community, and she knew who she was as a child of God.  She knew what she stood for, and what of herself she was not willing to sacrifice in order to make things easier.  These are qualities that I, on the verge of my 26th year, hope to carry with me.
Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and amateur hagiographer living in Wisconsin. One of her favorite things about being Catholic is that everyday is a holiday.  She currently resides in Wisconsin with her spouse Evan.


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