Donna Freitas is an assistant professor of religion at Boston University, earned a solemn doctorate in religious studies from the Catholic University of America and wrote a dark tome, Killing the Imposter God. Then she started researching Sex and the Soul, a serious study of college students attitudes toward sex and religion. But mornings, shed wake up early and the words would pour out -- light, burbling, joyful words about a 15-year-old named Antonia Lucia Labella, who works in the family pasta market, yearns for her first kiss and makes a crazy plan to become the worlds first living saint. Released this August as a Farrar, Straus & Giroux young-adult novel, Possibilities of Sainthood even has its own trailer on youtube.com.
Sounds like the book practically wrote itself.
I teach about the medieval women mystics, and now I joke that I hear voices
Any idea why this story seized you?
My mother had died suddenly, and I was spending a lot of time thinking about what she had left me. Like cooking -- I was conscripted into the kitchen as a kid. And she and my grandmother prayed to the saints all the time; we had statues all over the place.
Antonia thinks shes the only girl in high school whos never been kissed. What was your first kiss like?
Er ... I was a late bloomer like my protagonist. But I ended up having a pretty wonderful kiss.
Im not kissing and telling. When I wrote the kissing parts in the book, I was beet red and had one hand over my eyes. I couldnt believe I was writing a kissing scene. But I finally realized she was going to have her first kiss, and I was going to have to write it.
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So how autobiographical is the novel?
I, too, used to see the Communion line as a parade of potential boyfriends. But being a saint, that never crossed my mind.
Who was your favorite saint?
The Italian favorite, St. Anthony, finder of lost things. We talked to him all the time in my house. Put on a pot of tea, call on St. Anthony, because Grandmas lost her purse and weve got to go.
Antonia comes up with a few suggestions, like a patron saint of secrets. Are you sure there isnt one already?
I checked. There is, however, a patron saint of spelunking, and I learned all about St. Expeditus, patron saint of hurrying things up.
You relished this subject, didnt you?
In some ways, the saints are wonderfully kitschy, comedy-in-waiting. I dont mean that disrespectfully. People focus, and for good reason, on the darker side of Catholicism, but theres this wonderful lighthearted side thats filled with life.
What difference do you think the saints make?
Oh, it gives you a place to go with your little needs -- actually not always little needs, but those daily things you worry about. One of the things thats so hilarious is how specific they are; you literally have this army of men and women you can turn to. If youre having trouble in gym class, St. Sebastians your man -- who else is going to care?
National Catholic Reporter October 31, 2008