Here’s a saint study about St. Isidore, complete with lesson ideas and activities.
By Kate Daneluk
The life of St. Isidore offers us and our student two very important lessons: First, there is dignity and holiness in a life of simple labor. Second, it is valuable and holy to connect to nature.
About St. Isidore
Born in Medieval Spain, in Madrid in the 11th or 12th century, St. Isidore was not a nobleman or a prince or a pope or priest. Based on his station in life, he was a very ordinary man. He was poor by our standards, a working-class farm laborer for another man’s property. He married a good woman, Blessed Maria Torribia. He was a father to one son, who died at a young age. On paper, from our first world perspective, his life did not seem particularly good or blessed.
Despite his modest means, Isidore was grateful for a fit body and employment by which to support his family. He started working as a farm hand for a wealthy landowner at a young age. Despite meager means, he was continuously generous with the poor, always feeding any hungry soul he could find. He would deprive his hard-working 6.5 foot body of his lunch, offering it to others or sharing with another. His wife kept a large pot of stew on the fire every day to prepare for feeding the needy he would bring home each day. One day, when it seemed the pot would empty before all were served, Isidore reassured his wife to check the pot again, and it was full.
He was likewise generous with animals. Isidore felt compassion for all living things. He was a voice for the compassionate treatment of farm animals within his community. He is said to have emptied half a bag of valuable grain to feed hungry pigeons, only to deliver a full bag to its destination.
Besides being compassionate and generous, Isidore was famed for his deep and faithful prayer life. As a medieval farm laborer, time was not a luxury, but Isidore found time for daily morning Mass and a regular personal prayer life. Neither work nor emergency would distract him from prayer. He always gave his devotion to God primacy in his life. When he was warned that his donkey was being stalked by a wolf at church door, he reassured the intruders that he was with God and God would take care of it. When he came out, his healthy donkey stood next to a wolf corpse.
He would linger after Mass in prayer and thanksgiving, arriving late in the fields but always getting the work done. Although he was a large and strong man, diligent and conscientious, God would make up for time lost in prayer. It was said that angels would be seen plowing alongside him leading white oxen. No worry could ever distract him from prayer, a testament to his deep and powerful trust in God.
Because of the time period, we don’t know a lot of detail about St. Isidore and mostly rely on the legends and stories that have been passed down over the years. It is said that he died peacefully at a good age. He was revered by the local community for his holiness and as the miracles attributed to his intercession accrued, he was ultimately canonized in 1622.
Fun facts about St. Isidore
- day laborers
- Madrid and other various cities throughout Spain, Latin America and the Philippines
- United States National Rural Life Conference
The Miraculous Experiences of St. Isidore:
- Son miraculously saved from drowning in a well.
- Pots of food for the poor and even for animals that never empty.
- Angels helping him complete his farm work.
- Incorruptible body after death.
- Healings after his death attributed to his intercession.
- Donkey saved from a wolf attack.
- Hundreds of years after his death, he appeared to King and helped him in the defense of the lands from the Moors.
- Striking the ground to bring forth a spring.
St. Isidore’s Titles (so as not to be confused with his patron saint, Isidore of Seville):
- St. Isidore the Laborer
- St. Isidore the Farmer
- Isidro de Merlo y Quintana
St. Isidore in your classroom:
Reach into the life of St. Isidore the Farmer to help provide a Catholic perspective with several topics across the curriculum:
- History/Social Studies – Medieval Europe/Spain, Battle for Spain between the Christians and Moors, the feudal system, animal cruelty laws throughout history, introduction of agricultural crops to Europe from Asia and the Americas.
- Geography – Spain, Europe, Madrid
- Literature – topics of agriculture, poverty, generosity with food, manual labor
- Science – botany, agricultural science
- Religion – almsgiving, generosity, piety, prayer, dedication to the Mass, Mary/Marth
Here are some activities you can use in your classroom relating to St. Isidore:
- Reading and discussion (grades 3 and up): Either read aloud or have the class read an age-appropriate biography of St. Isidore the Farmer. Follow up with discussion questions (Adapt as needed for comprehension and vocabulary. These questions are designed for older students.):
- St. Isidore and his wife, Maria, always saw it as their own work to care for the poor and hungry even though there were more wealthy people of great means in Madrid who could have easily met this need. What do you think of that? How does that apply to our world today?
- St. Martin always put prayer and attending Mass first in life, even before his job? What do you think would happen if you were late for work or school because of prayer? God helped Martin to finish his work. Would you trust God that if you put prayer first, He would help you take care of the rest?
- Why do you think St. Isadore cared so much about the humane treatment of animals?
- St. Isidore was very satisfied with his life as a laborer and always worked hard? What does he teach us about the value of work? What does he teach us about manual labor?
- How does living a rural life help promote holiness? How could it be challenging to holiness?
- Creative Writing (grades 5 and up) – Challenge the students to write a short story about a man or woman who embodies the spirit of St. Isidore in modern times.
- Storytime/Drama (grades K – 3) – Read the children the story of St. Isidore and the Pigeons and the story of the Pot of Stew. Explain the lesson that if we follow God’s command to be generous, we can trust God to help us fulfill this mission. Have the children act out the different stories and talk about the parallels. Then, create a modern story or play that teaches the same lesson. This makes a good event for a young class to use for an assembly or parent event.
- St. Isidore Sciency Mother’s Day project (grades pre K-6) – have students paint the planter of your choice (terra cotta pots, utensil caddy, small metal pails, large yogurt or sour cream containers) Make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom of each. Give children an image of St. Isidore to decoupage onto the planter and include short prayers like, “Good St. Isidore bless our crop.” as well as a personal Mother’s Day message. Students can plant herb seeds and care for them at the classroom window and bring the planters home for Mother’s Day.
- Germination Station – Be sure to include a prayer to St. Isidore and have the students create or color an image of the saint when you do seed or other botany based science experiment such as germinating seeds, rooting potatoes or avocado seeds, etc. If you have a school garden, consider dedicating a part of it to St. Isidore, singing or saying the Litany in honor of St. Isidore the Farmer in the garden and perhaps including a statue or image.
- World Geography (grades 5 and up) – St. Isidore is the patron saint of many cities around the world. Have each student write a one page paper about the city explaining why St. Isidore is an appropriate patron for this city.
Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.