When I was in sixth grade, Father Higuero, one of our parish priests, would come once a week to give our class a special catechism lesson. Father did not grade or test, but, on the first day of class in September, he gave one simple assignment: Prepare an oral report on the life of a saint and be ready to speak in front of the class whenever called upon. We students knew it would take the entire school year for each one of us to have a turn.
Now if I had been given a girl saint or perhaps a martyr, this would have been right up my alley, but instead of St. Bernadette, Joan of Arc, or valiant St. Laurence, there fell to my lot St. Thomas Aquinas — priest, philosopher, theologian, doctor of the Church. To say that he did not capture my imagination would be putting it mildly.
By the time Father Higuero returned for our second session, I had forgotten about St. Thomas — and the assignment itself for that matter. As he began scanning the rows of children to choose that week’s speakers, I ducked my head behind the girl in front of me, praying, “Dear St. Thomas Aquinas, please do not let him call on me.” To my great relief, two other children were chosen, and I resolved to be prepared the next time. Week after week this went on, with me always forgetting and my prayers to St. Thomas growing ever more fervent.
One morning late in the school year, Sister Kathy announced, “Father Higuero is coming for the last time today and will arrive in a few minutes. In the meanwhile, please read these magazines quietly to yourselves.” My heart sank to hear her words, for of course this meant there would be no more postponing the inevitable. Miserable, I said one last prayer, “Dear St. Thomas, I know I should have learned about your life and didn’t, but won’t you please help me?” The girl in front of me passed back the stack of religious magazines Sister had mentioned. Imagine my delight and wonder when I caught sight of the headline on the back cover: “The Life of St. Thomas Aquinas.” “Thank you, St. Thomas, thank you!” I whispered so low that none but the saint himself could hear and began reading with the greatest interest imaginable.
Half an hour later, Father Higuero nodded approvingly upon hearing a young girl’s enthusiastic account of the life of St. Thomas Aquinas. Although Father never would learn the truth about what a spur-of-the-moment effort it had been, my guess is that he would have been forgiving and perhaps even a bit pleased. After all, thanks to his priestly guidance and teaching, I had managed to learn something about the life of a great saint. Far more important than that, I came to believe for the rest of my life that St. Thomas Aquinas was my friend.
At this very moment, my eldest daughter is taking two SAT subject tests. When I realized today was the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, I smiled knowing she was in good hands.