American Saints

Any American Saints?

Readers of “Saints Alive” will have noticed that the saints and blesseds treated are mostly from every country except the United States. How come? The basic reason why we don’t have more canonized saints is that not enough of us Americans have tried to become saints. Think about that.

On the other hand, don’t think that we haven’t had some people in this country capable of being declared “blessed” or “saints.” They usually aren’t people who would make the headlines. You’ve got to dig them out precisely because they have avoided the spotlight. But once they are brought to our attention, we can see that the Holy Spirit has not been bypassing American Catholics.

Once a deceased saintly person is known and becomes an object of devotion among the faithful, there is a series of official proceedings that has to be conducted in this country and in Rome before the pope can decide whether a beatification or canonization is justified. Sometimes that process takes years and years. Sometimes its results are negative.

Actually, we Americans are doing pretty well. In 1930 we got our first canonized martyrs, the “North American Jesuit Martyrs.” Three of these French missionaries died in Canada; the other three in New York State. The three “New Yorkers” were SS. Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and Jean Lalande. Their shrine is at Auriesville, N.Y.

In 1946, we were given our first sainted non-martyr. She was St. Frances Cabrini (1850-1917). Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, this Italian-born nun became noted for her tireless work among the American immigrants. She was naturalized an American citizen in 1909 and died in Chicago. Her shrine is in New York City.

St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the next to be canonized. Mother Seton (1774-1821) was the daughter of an aristocratic Episcopalian / New York family. She became a convert to Catholicism in 1805 and in 1809 was designated foundress of the American Sisters of Charity. In that role she was the inaugurator of the American Catholic elementary school system.

St. Elizabeth Ann was canonized during the Holy Year of 1975. Two years later we received our first bishop-saint. St. John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860) was a native of Bohemia. He first served as a pioneer diocesan priest in the Rochester and Buffalo area. Subsequently, he joined the Redemptorist Fathers and rose into quiet distinction in that order. Then, in 1852, he became fourth bishop of Philadelphia. Unobtrusive and gentle, he was a prayerful and zealous missionary.

We have, therefore, six American saints, of varied backgrounds. We also have two “blesseds”. One is Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852), beatified in 1940. She was French-born foundress of the Religious of the Sacred Heart in this country. The other is Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), an Iroquois virgin born in New York State, converted by the early Jesuit missionaries, beatified in 1980.

One stage below the rank of “blessed” is “venerable”. That title is accorded by the popes to one who has been accepted by the Holy See as of proven heroic virtue. American Catholics can lay claim to two “venerables”. Damien DeVeuster (1840-1889), the “leper priest” of the Hawaiian Islands, was declared Venerable in 1977. The other is the founder of the California Spanish missions, the Franciscan Junipero Serra (1713-1784). Pope John Paul II proclaimed Serra as “venerable” on May 9, 1985.

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Update: 2005

The causes of some of the above have moved forward, and more saintly Americans are being presented for sainthood. To name a few:

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne was canonized in 1988; St. Katharine Drexel was canonized in 2000. Blessed Junipero Serra was beatified in 1988. Blessed Damien DeVeuster (1840-1889) was beatified in 1995, Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, IN was beatified in 1998, and Francis Xavier Seelos was declared Blessed in 2000. Mother Marianne Cope (1838-1918) of Syracuse NY was declared Blessed on May 14, 2005. Father Solanus Casey, OFM Cap., was declared Venerable in 1995, and Haitian slave Pierre Toussaint (1766-1807) was declared Venerable in 1996. Msgr. Nelson H. Baker, V.G. (1841-1936) of Buffalo, NY, known as “the Padre of the Poor,” was named “Servant of God” in 1987.

Update: 2006

Mother Theodore Guerin was canonized on October 15, 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Update: 2010

St. Damien DeVuester was canonized on October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Update: 2012

Kateri Tekakwitha and Mother Marianne Cope were canonized on October 21, 2012.