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Saint picking party is a heavenly celebration

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The welcome map laid it all out: the Guacamole and Guadalupe counter in the living room offered Mexican food, and the spot in the kitchen labeled “Women at the Well Water” had the hydration station. Macarons were in the Lourdes and Leisure area and even more sweets adorned the Dessert Fathers table. On the twinkly light-strewn patio was the Land of Milk and Honey, the place for all things Middle Eastern. Pictures of St. Philomena and Padre Pio were placed between a loaf of bread and salami at the Italian Piazza. Framed saint quotes could be found throughout the house and even on the outdoor bar. The All Saints’ Day Pickin’ Party was in full swing the evening of Nov. 2, albeit a day after the titular feast.

Host Danielle Lussier, a teacher at Siena Academy in Great Falls, has always loved the saints. Years ago, she heard about the tradition of picking a patron for the year on New Year’s Day and decided to do it on All Saints’ Day instead. She started by holding a yearly saint picking with friends. Then eight years ago, she hosted a party at the Oakton home she shares with four other Catholic and Protestant women. It’s morphed into a beloved, more than 100 person extravaganza. 

For weeks leading up to the party, Lussier prays it will be a success in every way. “It’s so easy to go to a party and it’s fruitless. You go home and the next day you feel terrible. I want it to be a party that bears fruit, that you are filled more because of it,” she said.

The pinnacle of the event is the saint picking held outside by the bonfire. In addition to planning the food, drinks and saintly décor with her housemates, Lussier compiles a list of about 130 saints, after praying to the Holy Spirit for guidance. “Whatever saints come to mind, I write them on a list. I try to put saints in (that have) some information about them that (the guests) can find. Usually, the saint has a patronage that they can look up,” she said. Lussier asks the partygoers to research and pray to their saint throughout the year.

Cheese and crackers await guests in the Lourdes and Leisure room of the All Saints’ Day Pickin’ Party in Oakton Nov. 2. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

LR SSP Lussier and one of her housemates, Moira Delaney, who works at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores, shared stories of how the saints had made themselves known in partygoers’ lives. Though some people are gunning to grab their favorite saint, Lussier firmly believes the saint picks the person and wants to be known by them. In past years, guests have picked a certain saint and forgot about them, only to pick them again the next year. One woman found out her baby was due on the feast day of her saint, St. Therese. Once, a husband and wife independently picked St. Zelie and St. Louis, a married couple. “I really think heaven loves this,” said Lussier. 

A friend told Delaney that he heard about the party for years but initially thought it was weird. When he finally went, he had a wonderful time. “He left the party feeling (as if he’d) partied with the saints, that he gained more friends than were even present,” said Delaney.

Guest Brian Lohmann’s most memorable saint pick was Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. “I had never heard of (her) prior to Pope Francis’ devotion to her. (But) how poignant that was to my life at that point,” he said. Lohmann felt Mary telling him that she was going to help him through his problems and be his loving mother.  

At first, Lohmann, a parishioner of Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in McLean, thought the idea of a saint picking party was a little hokey. But after going, he sees the roommates’ hospitality as a beautiful model for evangelization. He believes the party is a way to humanize the saints. “We sometimes forget that we’re celebrating people just like ourselves,” he said. “That’s our calling — to encourage one another in becoming good Christians and becoming good humans. It’s awesome to celebrate that and to do it joyfully.”

A few hours into the festivities, the partygoers donned their coats and headed into the cool fall air. Lussier stood on a chair, lit by the light of the bonfire, and read the guests’ “rights and regulations.”

“You have the right to choose one saint and one saint only, whose primary patronage will take effect immediately and will last the duration of 364 days, upon which you will receive a new saint. This patronage will take precedent over the former but will not obliterate the former as saint picks are cumulative,” she said. “Due to the cumulative nature of saint selection, your saint will remain your patron until you yourself become one.”

Guests pass around an urn full of saints names at the All Saints’ Day Pickin’ Party in Oakton Nov. 2. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

LRSSP1Once she finished the rules, a reflection and a prayer, Lussier passed around a heavy marble urn with the saints of the year. After everyone had picked, they prayed a litany. Guests shouted out their saint and the crowd responded with, “Pray for us.” The darkness was filled with the glow of people’s cellphones as they Googled their saints, and was then replaced with the light of celebratory sparklers. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019