Patron Saints
by Mary McCarthy

Even though at six
I could do a Mary Heartline
perfect split, I knew
no TV star could trump
the power of the saints
whose names I wore,
their patronage like
a celestial umbrella
I could depend on
in any kind of rain.
Born on one of Mary’s holy days
I had to have her name,
and then my Grandma’s
given for the middle —
so I carried both
Mary the Mother
Queen of heaven,
and Catherine,
Scholar and martyr
with her book and wheel.
Saints’ names layered on me
like the winter clothes
mama layered on my small
body — sweater, coat,
and leggings,
until I cried in frustration
wrapped so thick
I could barely move
and certainly not run
wild at recess
with my less protected friends.
Like those hated leggings,
those names, those saints,
and their protection only
made me restless,
made me itch,
to get somewhere
beyond the reach
of my assigned position
under the weight
of expectations
buttoned up so tight
in holy names.

IMAGES: (Left) the author in first grade, age six; (right) Our Lady of Guadalupe by Jose antonio Robles. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Thinking about the personal significance in the names we might share with some public or eminent figure, I realized that it was the saints I was named for who held the most power in my imagination. As a young girl taught by nuns in Catholic schools, I knew far more about the saints and their stories than about any modern or historical “celebrities.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary McCarthy has always been a writer, but spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse, far from the literary and writing communities. She has had work published in many print and online journals, and was a Pushcart nominee, Although the daily news remains grim, she harbors great hopes for the future.