The Church's New Saints

One of the more overlooked aspects of the pontificate of Pope Francis has been his strong emphasis on promoting the lives of the saints. In fact, it comes as a surprise to Catholics to learn that in fewer than three years, Francis has already established the record for proclaiming saints, eclipsing Pope St. John Paul II’s legacy of canonizations. In the span of only two and a half years, and with the canonization of Louis Martin and Marie-Zélie Guerin Martin on Oct. 18, Francis has canonized 838 saints. John Paul II in 27 years declared 482 saints. Pope Benedict XVI canonized 45 saints in almost eight years. In fairness, Francis canonized 813 saints in one day — the famed Martyrs of Otranto of 1480 — but he has made the lives and example of the saints a genuine part of his papal teachings.

Workers prepare a banner of Louis and Zélie Martin on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 16 in advance of their canonization. CNS photo by Paul Haring

Among those he has canonized or beatified have been three popes (Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII and Blessed Pope Paul VI), men and women religious from all over the world, martyrs for the Faith, great missionaries, several bishops, including Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, the successor to St. Josemaría Escrivá as the head of Opus Dei, and the Salvadoran martyr Bishop Oscar Romero, as well as the beloved Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Francis has also used the rare but perfectly legitimate form of equivalent canonization on an unusually large number of saints whose causes for canonization had seemed all but forgotten to history.

Taken together, the new saints and blesseds represent a poignant and eloquent statement of heroic virtue and love for Christ, but Francis also uses them as examples for living the Gospel in the day-to-day world. And he has considered the witness of several saints to be so important for us today that he has exercised his right to waive the traditional requirement for the validation of a second miracle to permit canonization. He has done this several times, most notably for St. Junípero Serra, whom he canonized Sept. 23 during his visit to the United States, and Pope St. John XXIII, who was canonized with Pope St. John Paul II on April 27, 2014.

But what is Francis actually telling us with all of these canonizations?

First, it is important to remember that the process of canonization is a lengthy and exacting one. A cause for canonization can take decades, even centuries to be completed. There are, for example, estimated to be some 4,000 causes of saints currently working through the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the Vatican office responsible for the cases). That means that many of these cases were in process even before Francis was elected pope in March 2013. Nevertheless, Francis has used the canonizations to teach what he sees as vital truths for today’s world. For example, in May 2015, the Holy Father canonized two Palestinian nuns, Maria Alfonsina Danil Ghattas (1843-1927) and Mariam Baouardy of Jesus Crucified (1846-1878) who both labored in the Holy Land.

In his homily, Francis observed: “From this eternal love between the Father and the Son, poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5), our mission and our fraternal communion draw strength; this love is the ever-flowing source of our joy in following the Lord along the path of his poverty, his virginity and his obedience; and this same love calls us to cultivate contemplative prayer. Sister Mariam Baouardy experienced this in an outstanding way. Poor and uneducated, she was able to counsel others and provide theological explanations with extreme clarity, the fruit of her constant converse with the Holy Spirit. Her docility to the Holy Spirit made her also a means of encounter and fellowship with the Muslim world. So too, Sister Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas came to understand clearly what it means to radiate the love of God in the apostolate, and to be a witness to meekness and unity. She shows us the importance of becoming responsible for one another, of living lives of service one to another.”

Every saint has a story to tell and a lesson to teach.

Likewise, Francis has placed himself squarely in the rich tradition of John Paul II in stressing that holiness is not some unobtainable ideal that belongs to the past, nor is it limited to the cultural setting of Europe. As the Second Vatican Council taught, there is a universal call to holiness, and saints in every age have responded. In particular, holiness is for today, just as Christ is yesterday, today and forever. Equally, holiness is found everywhere, in the great martyrs in the far-flung corners of the world to selfless witness to Christ in the parishes of Africa, Asia and the Americas.

For Francis, holiness is indeed for today and for everywhere. In his Angelus on the feast of All Saints in 2013, he declared, “Being holy is not a privilege for the few, as if someone had a large inheritance; in baptism we all have an inheritance to be able to become saints. Holiness is a vocation for everyone.”

In the same address, he added his own perspectives. First, saints are truly like each of us. “The saints,” Francis said, “are not supermen, nor were they born perfect. They are like us, like each one of us. They are people who, before reaching the glory of heaven, lived normal lives with joys and sorrows, struggles and hopes. What changed their lives? When they recognized God’s love, they followed it with all their heart without reserve or hypocrisy. They spent their lives serving others, they endured suffering and adversity without hatred and responded to evil with good, spreading joy and peace. This is the life of a saint.”

Second, Francis wants us to know that saints show us how to have absolute trust in God. “They tell us: trust in the Lord because the Lord does not disappoint! He never disappoints, he is a good friend always at our side. Through their witness the Saints encourage us to not be afraid of going against the tide or of being misunderstood and mocked when we speak about him and the Gospel; by their life they show us that he who stays faithful to God and to his Word experiences the comfort of his love on this earth and then a ‘hundredfold’ in eternity.”

Matthew Bunson is OSV’s senior correspondent.

syro malabar saints
Cutouts of Sts. Euphrasia Eluvathingal and Kuriakose Elias Chavara, both of the Syro-Malabar Church, are held before their Nov. 23, 2014, canonization Mass. CNS photo

The Martyrs of Otranto (d. 1480)
Canonized: May 12, 2013
Feast day: Aug. 14

Also known as Antonio Primaldo and Companions, these were the first canonized saints of the new pontificate, 800 citizens of the Italian city of Otranto who were put to death by an invading army of the Ottoman Turks after a bloody siege. The city resisted the siege for 15 days, despite the absence of any trained forces, and fell on Aug. 12. The next day, more than 800 men, mostly fishermen, farmers, artisans and shepherds, were massacred. One of the executioners was so moved by the heroism of the martyrs that he converted on the spot and was slain.

Laura Montoya Upegui (1874-1949)
Canonized: May 12, 2013
Feast day: Oct. 21

A Colombian nun and foundress in 1914 of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena, she lost her father when she was 2 when he was killed in the Colombian Civil War and her family was left in poverty. She became a teacher at the age of 16 and was moved especially to teach the native people of South America. In 1914, with four other young women, she began working with the native tribes and so began the missionaries of her order.

María Guadalupe García Zavala (1878–1963)

A woman (top) holds a basket with a statue of the Christ child and an image of St. Maria Guadalupe García Zavala. CNS photo

Canonized: May 12, 2013
Feast day: June 24

A Mexican nun and foundress of the Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary and the Poor, she was the daughter of a man who owned a store selling religious goods. Originally expected to marry, she instead chose to pursue a vocation to the religious life, and in 1901 founded the Handmaids to care for the sick in the hospitals. The community embraced strict poverty, to be “poor with the poor.” During the severe persecution of the Church by the secularist government, she hid priests in her hospital.

Pope John Paul II (r. 1978-2005)
Canonized: April 27, 2014
Feast day: Oct. 22

Born Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II was honored as “the Great” and ranked as one of the towering pontiffs in the history of the Church. He was ordained a priest in 1946, named a bishop in 1958, archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and a cardinal in 1967. By the time of his passing, he had helped bring down the Soviet Empire, steered the Church toward the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, left a vast corpus of teachings on the human person and issued both the catechism and the new Code of Canon Law. He was canonized with Pope St. John XXIII.

Pope John 23
Pope St. John XXIII CNS photo

Pope John XXIII (r. 1958-1963)
Canonized: April 27, 2014
Feast day: Oct. 11

Pope St. John XXIII is best known for convoking the Second Vatican Council and his great pastoral leadership. Born into a poor family in northern Italy, he was ordained a priest in 1904 and went on to serve as a gifted papal ambassador and patriarch of Venice and cardinal in 1953. His brief pontificate included the council as well as famed encyclicals such as Pacem in Terris on peace and Mater et Magistra on social progress.

Giovanni Antonio Farina (1803-1888)
Canonized: Nov. 23, 2014
Feast day: March 4

An Italian bishop and educator, he was ordained a priest in 1827 and started the first school for poor girls in Vicenza in 1831. Five years later, he began the Institute of the Sisters Teachers of Saint Dorothy, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts to teach in the school and to care for the elderly and sick.

Euphrasia Eluvathingal (1877-1952)
Canonized Nov. 23, 2014
Feast day: Aug. 29

An Indian Carmelite nun of the Syro-Malabar Church, she was born Rosa Eluvathingal into a Syro-Malabar Catholic family in Kerala, India, and received an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary when she was 9. Overcoming the opposition of her father, she entered the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel in the Syro-Malabar Church, co-founded by St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara. She served the order as its novice mistress and then Mother Superior. Her tomb became a pilgrimage site immediately after her death.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871)
Canonized: Nov. 23, 2014
Feast day: Jan. 3

The second canonized saint of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India and a famed social reformer, he was a native of Kerala, India and was raised in the community of Thomas Christians. Ordained a priest in 1829 for the Syro-Malabar Church, he was a co-founder of the Servants of Mary Immaculate, the first congregation for men in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. He was also the co-founder of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel for women.

Ludovico da Casoria (1814-1885)
Canonized: Nov. 23, 2014
Feast day: March 29

Ida Iadevaia, believed to be cured by St. Ludovico of Casoria kisses his reliquary Nov. 23, 2014. CNS photo

An Italian Franciscan and founder of the Grey Friars of Charity and the Grey Sisters of Saint Elizabeth, he entered the Franciscans in 1832, was ordained a priest and taught novices for years in Naples. Deeply concerned about the needs of the poor and especially orphans, he founded a school in 1852, in particular for African boys and girls rescued from slavery. To expand his labors, he started the two congregations in 1859 and 1862 for men and women.

Nicola da Longobardi (1650-1709)
Canonized: Nov. 23, 2014
Feast day: Feb. 2

An Italian member of the Order of Minims, he earned lasting fame as one of the great catechists in Lombardy and then in Rome. He also progressed significantly in the spiritual life, most so after a pilgrimage in 1683 to Loreto where he prayed to Our Lord, through the intercession of Mary, for the liberation of Vienna which was then under siege by the Ottoman Turks.

Amato Ronconi CNS photo

Amato Ronconi (1225-c.1292)
Canonized: Nov. 23, 2014
Feast day: May 8

An Italian Secular Franciscan, he was born into a wealthy family but was orphaned in his childhood. Raised by an older brother and drawn to a life of prayer, poverty and asceticism, he took a variety of pilgrimages, including to Rimini and Santiago de Compostela. During his pilgrimages, he reputedly performed miracles. To embrace fully a life of poverty, he entered the Secular Franciscan Order, and after spending time as a hermit, he departed to care for the poor and pilgrims and built a variety of churches.

Joseph Vaz (1651-1711)
Canonized: Jan. 14, 2015
Feast day: Jan. 16

An Indian-born Oratorian priest and missionary to Sri Lanka, Vaz is called the Apostle of Ceylon. Born in Benaulim, in Portuguese-controlled India, he was ordained in 1676, cared especially for the poor and was renowned as a preacher and confessor. After several years of missionary work in India, he went to Sri Lanka in 1687. Under constant threat from the Dutch Calvinists then in control of the region, he promoted the Faith and was responsible for rebuilding the Church in the country.

Maria Cristina dell’Immacolata (1856-1906)
Canonized: May 17, 2015
Feast day: Jan. 20

An Italian nun and the founder of the Oblation Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she grew up in Naples and, overcoming her father’s opposition, entered the Poor Clare monastery at Fiorentine. Owing to illnesses, she was forced to leave the convent but eventually became a member of the Sacramentine Nuns in 1876. Two years later, she founded the Oblation Sisters and received papal approval in 1903. She was famous for her love of the Eucharist.

Maria Alfonsina
A banner showing St. Maria Alfonsina hangs from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica on May 17, 2015. CNS photo

Maria Alfonsina Danil Ghattas (1843-1927)
Canonized: May 17, 2015
Feast day: March 25

A Palestinian Christian nun, Maria was founder of the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem (the Rosary Sisters), the first Palestinian congregation. Born Soultaneh Maria Ghattas to a Palestinian family in Jerusalem, at the age of 14 she joined the Congregation of St. Joseph of the Apparition on Golgotha in Jerusalem and became a beloved figure as a catechist and as a great promoter of the Rosary. While serving in Bethlehem, she received several apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that impelled her to start the Sisters of the Rosary, and she died on the Feast of the Annunciation.

Mariam of Jesus Crucified (1846-1878)
Canonized: May 17, 2015
Feast day: Aug. 26

A Palestinian Discalced Carmelite nun of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Mariam Baouardy was born in Galilee. She was drawn to the religious life and miraculously survived having her throat cut in 1858 by a Muslim servant in her family’s house in Alexandria after she refused to convert. The family took her to Marseilles, France, and there she entered the Carmelites at Pau, France. In 1870, she was sent as part of a small group to establish the first Carmelite Monastery in India, in Mangalore. Owing to her mystical experiences, she returned to France, but in 1875, she founded a Carmel order in the Holy Land with a small group of nuns. There she worked tirelessly to establish the new community until her death at the age of 32.

Jeanne-Émilie de Villeneuve (1811-1854)
Canonized: May 17, 2015
Feast day: Oct. 3

A French nun and the founder of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, she was born in Toulouse, France, and long had a desire to enter the religious life. Ultimately she founded, with two companions, the Congregation whose members became known as the “Blue sisters of Castres” because of the color of their habits, to care for the poor, especially the sick and forgotten, including prostitutes.

The relics of Junipero Serra are placed beside the altar on Sept. 23. CNS photo

Junípero Serra (1713-1784)
Canonized: Sept. 23, 2015
Feast day: July 1

One of the greatest Spanish Franciscan friars and missionaries, Father Serra was responsible founding the first nine of the 21 Spanish missions in California that stretched from San Diego to San Francisco, the el Camino Real. Serra gave his life to the missions and caring for the native peoples of the region. He also is honored as a founding father of California.

Azélie-Marie “Zélie” (1831-1877) and Louis Martin (1823-1894)
Canonized: Oct. 18, 2015
Feast day: July 12

The Martins are a French married couple and the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Dedicated laypeople, the Martins were married in 1858 and had nine children; five survived infancy (all girls) and all entered the religious life. The canonization of the Martins on Oct. 18 during the synod on the family marked the first time in Church history that a couple was canonized together.

Vincenzo Grossi (1845–1917)
Canonized: Oct. 18, 2015
Feast day: Nov. 7

An Italian priest and the founder of the Daughters of the Oratory, he was ordained a priest in 1869 was known for his love of the poor. He founded the Daughters in 1885 to care for youth. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

María de la Purísima Salvat Romero (1926–1998)
Canonized: Oct. 18, 2015
Feast day: Oct. 31

A Spanish member of the Sisters of the Company of the Cross, she grew up in Spain but fled to Portugal in 1936 because of the violence of the Spanish Civil War. She entered the convent in 1944, made her final vows in 1952 and became Superior General in 1977.

Equivalent Canonizations

Aside from the public proclamation of new saints, Pope Francis has also used “equivalent canonizations” (or equipollent canonization). In an equivalent canonization, the pope grants permission for the universal Church to observe the veneration of a servant of God or blessed who has not yet been canonized. First used in 1632 by Pope Urban VIII, such a declaration does not mean that the pope is bypassing the process of canonization or introducing some new cause for canonization. The Holy Father instead acts in recognition of a cause that is long-standing of someone who is already held in great esteem by the faithful and enjoys fame for miraculous intercessions. For whatever reason, the cause of canonization was never completed. No formal canonization is needed, and the pope only needs to sign a decree to make it official.

equivalent canonizations
From left: Sts. Francis Xavier, Ignatius of Loyola and Peter Faber. CNS photo

Pope Benedict XVI used an equivalent canonization for Hildegard of Bingen in 2012, and Pope Francis has used it for five different saints:

Peter Faber (1506-1546): One of St. Ignatius Loyola’s companions in the founding of the Society of Jesus and the first to be ordained. He labored until his early death to reform the Church in Germany, Spain and Portugal and to resist the spread of Protestantism. Pope Francis canonized him on Dec. 17, 2013.

Angela de Foligno (1248-1309): A Christian mystic, honored as Mistress of Theologians, and a Franciscan tertiary. Beatified in 1701, she was canonized on Oct. 9, 2013.

José de Anchieta (1534-1597): A famed Jesuit originally from the Canary Islands. He sailed to the New World and helped to found the cities of Sâo Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was also a poet and is considered the first Brazilian author. He was canonized on April 3, 2014.

Blessed Marie
Blessed Marie of the Incarnation CNS photo

Marie of the Incarnation (1566-1618): Born Marie Guyard in Tours, France, she joined the Ursulines after the death of her husband and was sent to Canada in 1639. She founded the first Ursuline convent in Quebec, compiled dictionaries in Algonquin and Iroquois and received profound mystical experiences. She was canonized April 3, 2014.

Francis-Xavier de Montmorency-Laval (1623-1708): The first bishop of Québec. Originally from a noble family, he was ordained a priest in 1647 and was named bishop in Québec in 1658. He gave the rest of his life to the Church in French Canada by starting parishes and the Séminaire de Québec to train new priests. Both the city of Laval and Université Laval were named in his honor. He was canonized April 3, 2014.

Notable Beatifications
In addition to his numerous canonizations, Pope Francis’ pontificate has included the beatifications of 755 blesseds. By way of comparison, there were 843 beati under Pope Benedict XVI and 1,342 blesseds under Pope St. John Paul II. Notably, 522 of Francis’ blesseds were beatified in one ceremony, honoring the martyrs of Spain in the 20th century. Pope Francis, though, has also approved the beatifications of a number of remarkable men and women, including:

Teresa Demjanovich, Pope Paul VI, and Oscar Romero CNS photos