We never really outgrow the desire for a bedtime story. It just takes different forms when we’re older: Netflix, the evening news, Instagram Stories.
But the original cannot be improved upon, the bare-bones version told in the dark. When it doesn’t come with special effects, it flips on more lights in the listener’s imagination.
Claire Ellendson understood this, in a fundamental way, when she was serving on NET Ministries, an evangelization team for Catholic young adults. After an exhausting, exhilarating day of talking to teens about Jesus, she and a teammate would collapse in the house of a kind stranger — a spare couch in the basement, parallel twin beds in a corner bedroom. Her teammate would ask a simple question, a Catholic twist on that universal childhood request: “Tell me a story about a saint.”
She knew there was a deep reservoir of saint stories in Claire, a cradle Catholic from Faribault, Minnesota, and the third of 10 children.
“We are naturally drawn to a good story,” said Claire, now 25, who belongs to St. Mark Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and works as a nanny. “The power of storytelling is a gift from God, and it’s innately human.”
Claire’s bedtime stories gave rise to late-night conversations about zeal for the Gospel and love of Christ and holding on to truth in the midst of trial. Eventually, they turned into a weekly podcast she titled “Dead Friend,” which is how Claire sees the saints: like older sisters and wiser friends in heaven.
Each podcast features one saint and results from considerable research and prayer. Claire records the podcast in her pajamas nestled in her apartment in the Minneapolis neighborhood Uptown.
“Maybe it’s to get into the spirit of bedtime stories,” she said, laughing. “I’m chilling.”
The goal was to fill an unmet niche: conversational podcasts — not academic — that highlight the humanity of the saints. Her voice is unpretentious. She’s both eloquent and unafraid to use young-adult speak, describing when a saint “wasn’t down with” something or didn’t “vibe” with someone.
It appears to be working. Since her inaugural episode last August, she’s garnered more than 10,000 downloads — some from far-flung cities across the globe.
Claire marked the podcast’s one-year anniversary by bringing on a special guest: her local bishop, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who discussed his love for St. Joseph.
The list of saints she’s covered is lengthy: St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Jane de Chantal, Blessed Chiara Badano, St. Lidwina of Schiedam, St. Gemma Galgani, Venerable Emilie Engel and so on. But she’s got countless to go, and she now fields requests.
“To share the podcast has been so great because it’s simply: ‘Wow, this is how the Lord worked in their lives!’ And that builds up my faith so much. It gives me a weekly reminder of all the heavy lifting the Lord has done.”
In the process of studying these saints, she’s felt a shift. The saints are not there simply to inspire her, but to accompany her.
As All Saints Day nears, she urges Catholics to pick a saint to study. “See if they can be a new dead friend of yours!”
Claire tries to live simply like St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi and purges her closet every three months. Soon she’ll be selling her furniture, preparing to leave her apartment and live in a friend’s home to attend a program for radiation therapy.
“I’m going to downsize my life,” she said. “I’m craving simplicity.”
The saints help her trust in God as she makes her next step. “God will use everything! He wants to make us a more vivid version of ourselves.”
Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.