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The Story of a New Name

On taking a weird saint's name.

My Final Profession of religious vows caused great inconvenience for the sister who makes the liturgy booklets for our community, for she had to find an image of my name-saint to put on the front cover in which he was not depicted murdering someone. A lesser sister would have resorted to finding something entirely different: a nice painting of Our Lady giving Saint Dominic the Rosary, perhaps, or a Fra Angelico. But as far as the sister in question was concerned, our community’s long-standing tradition of how we illustrate our Final Profession booklets would not be changed simply because Blessed Carino of Balsamo is almost invariably represented in the artistic tradition of the Church as grimacing wildly and covered in Saint Peter of Verona’s blood.

Eventually she found a painting in which Carino, although undeniably mid-murder, was looking appropriately troubled by the whole thing—what the Youth Minister in your parish would describe as the “openness and seeking” stage of pre-discipleship—and the booklets were printed, and I made my Final Profession.

The whole incident reminded me of a time many years earlier, just before I became a novice, when the community lector took me to one side in the refectory and told me she wanted to ask a serious question about my future. I was nonplussed by this—after nearly a year in the convent, I was up to my ears in serious questions about my future—and told her to go ahead. She asked, “Are you sure you are prepared to have a weird saint’s name for the rest of your life?”

I laughed. “No, listen to me,” she said, with the intense world-weariness and hard-won wisdom which only a woman named after Hyacinth of Poland can possess, “are you sure you are prepared to have a weird saint’s name for the rest of your life? Because it’s actually more difficult than you’d expect.”

In retrospect, this is some of the best advice I have ever received in religious life. Over the past seven years, Blessed Carino has caused me problems far beyond the realm of liturgy booklets. Few can spell it; few can pronounce it. “Did you say Carina?” I am asked, in every parish I visit. Autocorrect cannot cope with it. “Never heard of him,” I am told, by people who go on to congratulate the sisters named for Catherine of Siena, or Lucy of Narni, or some other better-known Dominican saint. “And you know it means ‘cute’ in Italian, don’t you?” asked a priest friend innocently, three hours before my clothing in the habit. I nearly screamed.

Things get more complicated when my interlocutor, having come to terms with the spelling and pronunciation of my name—“are you sure it’s not got an ‘a’ at the end?”—then invites me to tell the story of Blessed Carino. England is a land of understatement and euphemism, and I have not yet found an understated and euphemistic way to explain that Blessed Carino started out as a hired heretic assassin who attacked Saint Peter of Verona with a sword—or an ax, or a scythe, depending on whom you ask—and then witnessed that same man, as his dying act, dip his finger in the wound and write bloodily in the ground the word credo: I believe. I am quick to add that Carino consequently repented of the murder, was received into the Church, and lived the rest of his days quietly as a Dominican friar in the convent in Forli. But I am not helped by the fact that no artist or iconographer in the history of the Church, as far as I can tell, has bothered to depict this next—and, I would argue, quite crucial—stage of Blessed Carino’s life story.

Was I prepared, as the lector once portentously asked me, to have a weird saint’s name for the rest of my life? By no means, though I have never regretted it. Was she right that it is more difficult than I might expect? Often it has been, but I am increasingly aware that having an unusual name is far more of a help than a hindrance in religious life. Being repeatedly asked to explain the story behind my name means that conversations are turned effortlessly and immediately to the topic of repentance and conversion, of God’s grace and the human capacity to be transformed by it—meeting, all at once, both the questioner’s need for the Gospel and my own need to be drawn out of myself. And in return for all that Blessed Carino—and specifically his name—has done for me, I like to think I’ve paid him back by doing what I can to make his story of repentance a little better-known. Next, I suppose, I just need to learn how to paint.