Monday, August 4, 2014

Encyclopedia of Saints (Our Sunday Visitor)

I'm a sucker for a good reference book. If you recall, I once had ambitions to read through the entire encyclopedia. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), this never happened. With the advent of Wikipedia and religious websites like New Advent and OrthodoxWiki, hardcover encyclopedias are becoming a thing of the past. Luckily, there are still publishers like Our Sunday Visitor who are in the business of printing these hardcover texts!

Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Saints is the second edition of this massive tome. The first edition was published in 1998, so it was overdue for another edition, especially since Pope John Paul II canonized many saints during his reign as pope. The editors for this book are Matthew and Margaret Bunson. You might recognize these names as they were also the editors for the Encyclopedia of U.S. Catholic History. The book's tagline says, "From Aaron to Zygmunt and 10,000 in between - her are the 'holy ones' of the Church!" This tagline made me immediately turn to the end to read about St. Zygmunt. He was a "Ukrainian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph." He was beatified by Pope John Paul II and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI with his feast day on January 1st. How blessed for him to share a feast day with Mary, Mother of God.

Disclaimer: I did not read all 1,000+ pages of this encyclopedia. I read up on my favorite saints, did a lot of browsing/letting the book fall open and reading about a random saint. As this is a reference book, there is no right or wrong way to read it. I will tell you about some of my observations, though. Most saints received a few lines in the book. Some received a few paragraphs. Fewer received full pages. Those who received full pages would be considered "superstar" saints. As an example, Saint Pope John Paul II received slightly more than a full page. Early saints like St. Joseph or St. Mark the Evangelist received two paragraphs. I understand that space in this issue is at a premium; that more is known about recent saints than early saints; and that people tend to gravitate to the "superstar" saints. However, it would have been nice to see important saints get more words than they did or mentioned at all. For example, St. Augustine of Hippo received just over two pages of material. This was equal to the total space (pictures excluded) of the three Cappadocian Fathers (Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa).

Overall, this was a solid work. I was pleased that included both Saints and Blesseds in it. I also found the twelve (yes twelve) appendices extremely helpful. Just a few of the appendices are a glossary, list of U.S. martyrs, list of patron saints, and a list of Doctors of the Church. There was also a helpful introduction/history on the process of canonization. Was this book perfect? No, but it never will be. For starters, there will always be people, like myself, nitpicking entries and saying that they wish St. X had received more information and St. Y had received less information. However, if there was as much information printed as available, we'd need a 26 volume Encyclopedia of Saints! Also, there are new saints added every year. This book did include two of our newest saints, Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, but we could have new Saints and Blesseds next year that would then be missing from this book. You must do what I did, though, and appreciate the book for what it is. This is a well-researched, jam-packed tome for learning more about the saints in general and specific saints. Use this as a starting point for learning the basics about a particular saint, then dive deeper in your studies with primary sources and works written by them or about them to learn even more. This is a must-have book for every religion teacher, homeschooling mom, or lover of the saints!

This book was provided to me for free by Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!