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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

How the Saints Shaped History

Updated: Jan 18

by Randall Petrides

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism



This is a great book for those of us who didn’t pay attention to our history lessons. The author, Randall Petrides, JD, sets the book up in historic periods so that all those from the Reformation are in the same section. It is brilliant and so useful to all of us who majored in mathematics. Because this book is based on history, Petrides’ presentation

of the saints is a bit different from other “lives of the saints.” Often, he points out, such books are arranged either alphabetically, or by feast day or patronage. Because they are not presented within the flow of history, we can often miss the circumstances that shaped these men and women as they responded to the grace of God in their times.


Consequently, what the reader will find in the initial pages of this book is a particularly well-done timeline of secular and sacred history, within which the various saints’ lives occur. Petrides is so thorough in including a section on “The Muslim Threat” in which he points out that “Holding off the Muslim Turks was certainly crucial for Christian Europe but a much more serious crisis was about to break out in the waning days of ‘Christendom’. The Church was about to be split asunder.”


I want to point to the layout and graphics of these pages in particular, as they are inviting and easy to read – something that can be referred to time and time again. This is a book you want to keep because of the layout as well as the pictures, the notes, and the recommendations of the books that would support the different periods of history. I have this book as a well-researched reference on the first shelf of my books.


Because we meet more than 180 saints in roughly 340 pages of text, none of them is explored in exhaustive detail. For that, Petrides has included a recommended reading list at the end of the book that allows readers to dive more deeply into the lives of individuals if they wish. However, the reader is nonetheless treated to a comprehensive look at not only the history of humankind since the birth of Jesus but also at the intervention of God in that history by way of those we call saints. Such an undertaking could be overwhelming, but another positive feature of Petrides’ work is the length of his chapters. Each is about five to five and a half pages, just enough to cover the material at hand without being too much to take in at once. His background as an attorney is evident in the clarity of his prose. When giving his opinions – particularly concerning the situations facing the modern Church – he gives reasons for what he states. Whether or not one agrees with his assessments, they are well argued.


Another interesting feature is that he includes questions for reflection and discussion at the end of the book. This is definitely intended to be a work that is not merely read and put on the shelf, but one that will engender meaningful conversations between both Catholics and those who observe the Catholic Church. At the end of the book, Petrides emphasizes that the story of the saints does not end with those who have been formally canonized; it is a state to which we too are called.


“We all share in the making of history,” he concludes. “No soul, no event is too small for the kingdom of God – even if our lives remain unknown to posterity. God gives us our own place, our own role, in salvation history. Like all the saints, we are called to holiness.” Anyone who admires and follows the Catholic Church would be enticed to delve deeply into what interested him/her with a copy of this book.

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