During his 26-year-long pontificate, Blessed John Paul II created 432 new saints and 1,338 new blesseds. The numbers are impressive, and unprecedented, but Benedict XVI in his eight years has come close — at least in terms of blesseds. He has made 44 new saints and 840 new blesseds (most of them large groups of martyrs from the persecutions in Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries and the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s).
Pope John Paul liked to beatify or canonize local saints when he visited a particular country or region of the world. By and large, Pope Benedict has not followed this example. The one significant exception occurred during his 2010 visit to England and Scotland: At a Mass in Coventry, the pope beatified the renowned convert, scholar, author and poet Cardinal John Henry Newman.
As was the case during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul, the list of Pope Benedict’s saints and blessed reflect the global character of the Church. Yes, Europeans are well represented, but the pope also added to the calendar holy men and women from India, Chile, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Lebanon, Cuba, Japan and Australia.
Undoubtedly the most significant beatification of Pope Benedict’s reign occurred in May 2011, when he declared Pope John Paul II “blessed.”
The pope will be remembered with special affection and gratitude in the United States — he gave us four saints: St. Mother Theodore Guerin, St. Damien de Veuster, St. Marianne Cope and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
It’s impossible to speak of St. Damien without mentioning St. Marianne in the same breath. Damien was a priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, who traveled from his home in Belgium to serve as an itinerant missionary in Hawaii. After 10 years in the mission field, his superiors assigned him as chaplain to the island of Molokai, to Kalawao, a settlement where those who suffered from leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, were left to die. When he arrived on the island, he found most of his congregation living in huts or lean-tos. More than a few had succumbed to despair and were living degraded lives.
For the next 16 years, Father Damien labored heroically to restore his congregation’s self-respect and revive their faith.
In 1884, Mother Marianne arrived from Syracuse, N.Y., to nurse the lepers. She discovered that one of her patients would be Father Damien, who had contracted Hansen’s disease. With two fellow sisters, Mother Marianne ran the Kalawao hospital until her death in 1918.
In 1839, in response to an appeal from the bishop of Vincennes (whose diocese covered Indiana, eastern Illinois, and Chicago), Mother Theodore and four Sisters of Providence sailed from their convent in France for the United States. In October 1840, they arrived at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., where they were to open a school. There was no school yet, no church, and their “convent” was an attic in a log cabin. Yet within a matter of months, the sisters opened an academy for girls. Mother Theodore went on to found nine more schools and two orphanages. She was one of the pioneers of Catholic education in the United States.
Lily of the Mohawks
St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be canonized. Her father was Mohawk, her mother was Algonquin. She was born in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon, modern-day Auriesville, N.Y. In 1675 Jesuit Father Jacques de Lambertville came to Ossernenon. He made only one convert — Tekakwitha, who at her baptism took the name Kateri, Mohawk for Catherine.
Her conversion to Christianity enraged Kateri’s relatives and fellow villagers. Father de Lambertville suggested that Kateri leave her home and take refuge in the Christian Indian village of Kahnawake in Canada. Once she arrived there, she was safe and happy. Every day she attended two Masses in the morning and vespers in the afternoon. She received more instruction in the Catholic faith and began to dream of becoming a nun. After four years in Kahnawake, Kateri fell ill during Lent 1680; she died during Holy Week. Convinced of her holiness, the Jesuits of Kahnawake began collecting the documentation necessary for her canonization. The process came to fruition in October 2012.
Among other saints canonized by Pope Benedict are St. Andre Bessette, the Holy Cross brother whose devotion to St. Joseph led to the construction of the Oratory of St. Joseph atop a hill overlooking Montreal; St. Hildegarde von Bingen, the 11th-century German abbess, mystic and composer; and St. Pedro Calungsod, an 18-year-old Filipino catechist who was martyred while trying to save the life of a missionary priest.
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of “Patron Saints” (OSV, $14.95).