Never would I have imagined how much the choosing of my confirmation saint would have impacted my life. Being a typical stubborn, Italian-Irish girl, my choice of St. Nonna was not one of deep thought and reflection; instead it was one of snarky short temperedness.
My dad, who was the head of our confirmation formation class —say that 10 times fast—, kept asking me who I had decided on. Not having given it much thought and being rather annoyed that he was even asking, I simply snipped back that I chose St. Nonna.
To be honest I didn’t even know if she existed, but it sounded good. My nonna (grandmother in Italian) was not only my godmother, but was soon to be my confirmation sponsor, so who better than St. Nonna. My dad quickly said she didn’t exist and to get serious — I was serious, sort of. I decided she had to exist and I was going to prove it! Little did I know — she did in fact exist, and she is one of the greats!
St. Nonna the mother of St. Gregory the Theologian (Doctor of the Church), grew up in a very pious Christian family, but when it was time to marry, she fell in love with a man who worshipped a pagan god. This caused lots of pain for Nonna. She loved her husband dearly, but loved her faith and her God even more. St. Gregory once wrote that she — “… could not bear this, being half united to God, because he who was part of her remained apart from God. She wanted a spiritual union in addition to the bodily union. Day and night she turned to God with fasting and many tears, entreating Him to grant salvation to her husband.”
After many years of prayer Gregory, her husband, (now St. Gregory the Elder) had a vision in a dream that caused such a change of heart that it lead to his conversion. He went on to become a great bishop and Saint in the Church. Her prayers were answered!
St. Nonna is often attributed to having one of the most saintly families, as all three of her children became Saints — St. Gregory the Theologian being the most well known. No big right? Just the mother of one of the greatest Saints and Doctors of the Church.
Fast forward in my own life — growing up in my own devout Catholic family, I had always said I would marry a great Catholic man, with a deep faith. Did it happen, of course not. God clearly had greater plans. Falling for an atheist who at the time had many issues with organized religion in general, let alone his lack of belief in God. Nonetheless, I knew this was the man for me. It then hit me like a ton of bricks — St. Nonna!
My choice of St. Nonna all those years ago was not a mere combative moment with my father, but God telling me who to pick. He knew how important her example and intercession would be in my life. I have turned to her as an example of steadfast love and prayer for a man that had vastly different beliefs than her own. Beliefs that caused her great pain.
I know along with Mama Mary, St. Nonna has been a huge intercessor in our marriage. She has helped me to remember that through constant prayer, hope and faith, all is possible! I now have a man who not only supports me fully in my faith, but helps me in raising our kids in that very faith he doesn’t believe in. We attend Sunday mass as a family, and say novenas together for our various intentions — even if he simply sits there silently. That silence is a great support. He carries a rosary and wears a scapular. Typical behavior for an atheist — I think not. I have St. Nonna and her great example to thank.
This was a woman who loved her faith and loved her husband. She never once allowed the love for her husband to pull her away from her faith, only to strengthen it.
St. Nonna is far better known in the Orthodox church as the patron of women’s organizations, and the patron of the death of children, in the Roman Church. However, I say (and clearly my word is very authoritative) that she should be the patron of the conversion of husbands. She never gave up hope that one day her husband would join her in the fullness of the faith — and boy did he!