A Sacrilege? Heavens, No-Sisters Lorraine Hale and Kathy Hollywood Are Keeping the Saints Alive on T-Shirts

updated 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Call it a revelation.

While researching her doctoral thesis on Catholic schools last year, Sister Lorraine Hale, together with fellow Sister Kathy Hollywood, asked parochial-school teachers this question: Whom did they recommend as role models to their pupils? The instructors named Jesus and the saints—"the usual," says Hollywood. "But when we asked the kids whom they wanted to be like," adds Hale, "it was a sports person, or a rock or film star."

That's when the two had an epiphany, of sorts. "We wanted to find a way to make the stories of the saints appealing to kids today," Hollywood explains. So they selected the 25 worthiest ("the oldies but goodies," jokes Hollywood) and splashed their images on crisp white T-shirts, complete with saintly slogans: JOAN OF ARC-FREEDOM FIGHTER Or SAINT FRANCIS-CHAMPION OF THE POOR. But really—could the Madonna compete with, well, the Madonna?

Have faith. The sisters founded the New York City-based Allegiance Advantage Inc. less than a year ago, and they expect orders for the T-shirts (at $10 to $15 each), as well as other saintly souvenirs, to exceed 250,000 by the end of the company's first year. (Their share of the proceeds will go to Barry University in Miami, a Catholic school where both women teach, and they plan to establish a scholarship fund for underprivileged children.) "We're getting calls and letters from all over the country," says Hollywood. "Firemen have called about the patron saint of firemen, dentists call about the patron saint of dentists." (Sorry. Neither Saint Florian nor Saint Apollonia has made it onto the shirts yet.) Marvels Hale: "The reception we've gotten has been miraculous."

While some complain that the good saints might find this commercial appeal unseemly, the sisters remain devout disciples. "Kids need down-to-earth role models," says Hale. "We can't all be superstars like Michael Jordan." Better they look for inspiration to more ordinary heroes, says Hollywood—such as the Virgin Mary: "She was really a teenage mother." Or Saint Francis, a "homeless" man whose father threw him out of the house after young Francis gave all the family money to the poor. "Kids have always heard about Saint Francis," she says, "but it's neat for them to hear that he did that."

Neat, yes. But, kids, don't try this at home.

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