Age is an interesting concept. What was once considered old, our modern experience now perceives as the prime of life. Likewise, what we currently qualify as middle-age, our ancestors might categorize as rather elderly.
Thus, when seeking to fully understand another’s life–including important figures within our Faith–it is key to understand how they perceived the world. This includes one’s understanding of ages and life-expectancy. This newfound awareness would surely affect our understanding of the Saints and perhaps allow us to connect with their lives in novel ways.
Saints Who Had Conversions Later in Life
The Catholic canon of Saints is full of young, vibrant Saints like Carlo Acutis, Chiara Badano, and Pier Giorgio Frassati. Their youthful brilliance, though inspiring, may leave those of us who found Jesus later in life feeling a bit like we wasted too much time. To combat those negative thoughts, I have pulled together a list of Saints who were unconcerned with God until later in life in the hopes that it qualms those unfavorable inner voices.
A Viking Queen, age 25-60
A viking princess married at 15 to Prince Igor of Kiev (an area covering parts of modern day Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia), Saint Olga was born sometime between 890 AD and 925 AD. When her husband was murdered by a neighboring tribe, Olga assumed the throne, acting as regent for their three-year-old son.
The first woman to ever occupy the throne in that area, her hand in marriage was sought by another prince– the ruler of the Drevlians, the very people who had killed Igor. Publicly, she accepted the proposal, but in reality she plotted revenge. Utilizing her keen warrior sensibilities, Olga devised a plan to protect her territory.
The first group of Devlians to arrive with the proposal were carried in their boat by her guards (a gesture they saw as an honor). Borne to her court, they were then thrown into a pit where Olga had them buried alive. Unaware of the fate of their tribesmen, the Devlians dispatched a second group whose task was to escort Olga to their prince. Olga had them burned alive in a bathhouse. After this, Olga and her people traveled to the Devlian territory where—at the funeral feast she had requested for her late husband—she had her severely intoxicated enemies slain.
Needless to say, this action fueled a year-long siege which ended only because of Olga’s cunningness. Ordering a tribute of three sparrows and three pigeons from each household, the viking widow instructed her warriors to attach sulfur wrapped in cloth to each of the birds. At nightfall, they were set aflame. The birds returned to their nests in the city, and in doing so, burned the whole place to ashes.
Over the following years, Olga accomplished amazing things as Queen of Kievan Rus. She was deeply respected by her subjects and truly feared by their enemies. In the 950s, Olga (who was somewhere between the ages of 25-60) traveled to Constantinople where she was exposed to Christian teaching. It was there that she was baptized and eventually brought Catholicism back to her kingdom. Her intensity never wavered. With the same fierce drive, she used her position and wealth to bring missionary efforts to her kingdom—a place quite resistant to the outsider’s religion.
Olga gave money to the poor, built and funded hospitals, and sprinkled Christian teaching into her public announcements.
Olga’s son never converted, and continued to rule Kievan Rus as a pagan nation. However, Olga’s efforts to bring peace and truth to her people never faltered. Because of her witness and instruction, her grandson Vladimir eventually converted. He inspired the conversion of the entire nation from the throne, and went on to become a Saint as well. Thus, in the Eastern Church, Olga is considered equal to the Apostles, as it was her efforts that brought Christianity to Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Not bad for an old lady.
A Scholar, age 44
Saint John Henry Newman was a man who believed in God from a young age. Naturally shy, good natured, and diligent, he endured many conversion experiences over the course of his life which helped him to deepen his Christian Faith.
Ordained an Angelican priest at the age of 24, he was highly intelligent, becoming one of the most well-known pastors at Oxford. So keen was his spiritual insight that people flocked to the pews in numerous throngs to hear his Sunday sermons. Eight volumes of his sermons were published, and one of his theological poems was even set to music by Sir Edward Elgar. Within the Anglican Church, Newman was a household name.
A lover of truth and knowledge, Newman became a member of the Oxford Movement, a research group with great appreciation for the Early Church Fathers. It was research as a part of this establishment that led to a pivotal realization. He recognized that the beliefs and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church were the most cohesive with those of the Early Church Fathers, and as such, the most cohesive with the Church established by Christ through His Apostles. A truly humble man, Newman could not ignore his conscience. At the age of 44, he converted to Catholicism, shocking all of Great Britain.
Two years later, Newman was ordained a Catholic priest and became arguably the most prominent English-speaking Theologian of the century. Unsurprisingly, he was elevated to the office of bishop and eventually cardinal.
As a Catholic, Newman wrote thousands of letters and forty books which heavily influenced the direction of the Church in her catechetical and evangelical efforts. They also had a major influence on the Second Vatican Council. As such, Saint John Henry Newman’s conversion and influence has had a major impact on all of our faith journeys today, even if we didn’t realize it!
A Runaway, age late 20s
Saint Margaret of Cortona had a stepmother that was so cruel that Margaret sought love and acceptance outside her family.
At the age of 17, she ran away from home and lived with the family of her lover, Arsenio. She desired marriage, but her beloved was in no rush to fulfill that which he had promised her. In the meantime, Margaret happily engaged in their sexual encounters and the two of them had a son.
One day, when Margaret was in her late twenties (considered middle-aged at the time), Arsenio’s dog returned home without him. Margaret went in search of her companion and was traumatized when she discovered his murdered body in the woods. His death served as a wake-up call to her own mortality.
When she returned to her family in repentance, she was rejected. She took her son to Cortona where she found love and support from the local Franciscan order. She became a Franciscan tertiary, serving the community in unending ways. Her son eventually became a monk.
A Soldier, age 30
Saint Ignatius of Loyola was born to a Spanish noble family in the late 1500s. The youngest of thirteen children, Ignatius was highly ambitious with lofty dreams of knighthood and becoming a courtier. His family sent him to the King’s court to serve as a page. In the frivolous environment, Ignatius’ pride and desire for greatness was inflamed, eventually leading to his career as a soldier.
Life in the military was full of action—both on and off the battlefield. Ignatius enjoyed the rivalry but had his life turned upside down during the Battle of Pamplona when a cannonball struck his leg and inflicted a career-ending injury. Throughout his recovery, laying in bed, there was nothing for him to do except read. The only books his caretakers had available were the Bible and a book about the Saints. This lack of literary diversity is what sparked Ignatius conversion at the age of thirty.
Ignatius went on to become a spiritual master—hitting a few roadblocks because of his age along the way.
His intense persistence and reliance on Christ lead to two incredible contributions to the Catholic Church: his founding of the Society of Jesus and his authorship of The Spiritual Exercises.
A Social Climber, age 37
Saint Angela of Foligno lost her father at a young age and had a mother who was inattentive and uninvolved. Beautiful, vivacious, and incredibly vain, Angela was unconcerned with spiritual matters though brought up in the Church.
Motivated greatly by a desire for wealth and social standing, she married young, choosing a prestigious local as her husband. Though she bore him several sons, Angela remained more concerned with mirth than her family. She spent the majority of her time scandalously within society—including dabbling in adultery.
In her early thirties, Angela’s secure and lively life was hit with great difficulty. Foligno was struck by a severe earthquake. Shortly afterwards a hurricane hit. And before the community had fully recovered from either disaster, her Tuscan town was further weakened by ongoing war with the neighboring territory of Perugia. This immeasurable discontent paired with the guilt of a particularly devastating sin led Angela to attend the Sacrament of Confession. She was 37 at the time, and the graces of that Sacrament changed her entire life.
Her new-found faith carried her through the next tragedy that struck—a plague which killed her mother, husband, and children. The only surviving member of her family, Angela sold all her possessions and at the age of 43 joined the order of Saint Francis of Assisi (a Saint who had appeared to her in a vision around the time of her conversion).
Let No One Despise Your Age
In a personal letter written to his beloved mentee, Saint Paul told Saint Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
The great Apostle knew that, when our efforts are united with God, age is never a limiting factor. In fact, God is precise in our stories, calling each person exactly when He means to.
Although this Scripture verse alludes to the value of youthful witness, these stories of “older” Saints elucidate the value God sees in those of us who have been around for a little while longer. No matter our age, God multiples the sincere gifts we bring before Him.
What other Saints who had conversions later in life do you love?!