The Process of Becoming a Saint
by FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS for The Arlington Catholic Herald
The official process for declaring someone a saint is called canonization. Prior to the year 1234, the Church did not have a formal process as such. Usually martyrs and those recognized as holy were declared saints by the Church at the time of their deaths. Before the legalization of Christianity in the year 313 by Emperor Constantine, the tombs of martyrs, like St. Peter, were marked and kept as places for homage. The anniversaries of their deaths were remembered and placed on the local Church calendar. After legalization, oftentimes basilicas or shrines were built over these tombs.
As time went on, the Church saw the need to tighten the canonization process. Unfortunately, sometimes figures of legends were honored as saints. Or once, the local church in Sweden canonized an imbibing monk who was killed in a drunken brawl: hardly evidence of martyrdom. Therefore, in the year 1234, Pope Gregory IX established procedures to investigate the life of a candidate saint and any attributed miracles. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V entrusted the Congregation of Rites (later named the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints) to oversee the entire process. Beginning with Pope Urban VIII in 1634, various Popes have revised and improved the norms and procedures for canonization.
Today the process proceeds as follows: When a person dies who has "fame of sanctity" or "fame of martyrdom," the Bishop of the Diocese usually initiates the investigation. One element is whether any special favor or miracle has been granted through this candidate saint's intercession. The Church will also investigate the candidate's writings to see if they possess "purity of doctrine," essentially, nothing heretical or against the faith. All of this information is gathered, and then a transumptum, a faithful copy, duly authenticated and sealed, is submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The person may be declared a Servant of God.
"Servant of God" is the title given to a deceased person of the Catholic Church whose life and works are being investigated in consideration for official recognition by the Pope and the Catholic Church as a saint in Heaven.
Once the cause is accepted by the Congregation, further investigation is conducted. If the candidate was a martyr, the Congregation determines whether he died for the faith and truly offered his life in a sacrifice of love for Christ and the Church. In other cases, the congregation examines to see if the candidate was motivated by a profound charity towards his neighbor, and practiced the virtues in an exemplary manner and with heroism. Throughout this investigation the "general promoter of the faith," or devil's advocate, raises objections and doubts which must be resolved. Once a candidate is declared to have lived life with heroic virtue, he may be declared Venerable.
The next step is beatification. A martyr may be beatified and declared "Blessed" by virtue of martyrdom itself. Otherwise, the candidate must be credited with a miracle. In verifying the miracle, the Church looks at whether God truly performed a miracle and whether the miracle was in response to the intercession of the candidate saint. Once beatified, the candidate saint may be venerated but with restriction to a city, diocese, region, or religious family. Accordingly, the Pope would authorize a special prayer, Mass, or proper Divine Office honoring the Blessed. After beatification, another miracle is needed for canonization and the formal declaration of sainthood.
Most recently, we have witnessed this process in the canonization on October 11 of Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun who took the name "Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross." Just a few highlights of her life: She was born in Breslau, Germany, studied at both the University of Breslau and the University of Gottingen, served as a teaching assistant for the great philosopher Edmund Husserl, and received her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Freiburg in 1917. Wrestling with her Jewish faith and being drawn toward Catholicism, she was baptized and received into the Catholic Church on Jan. 1, 1922. She taught in various capacities, until the Nazi government prohibited all Jews from teaching in 1933. She entered the Carmelite monastery in Cologne, Germany in 1933, but transferred to the monastery in Echt, Holland in 1938 to protect the other sisters. Finally, on Aug. 2, 1942, she was arrested by the Gestapo for being a Catholic sister and of Jewish descent, transported to Auschwitz, and gassed on August 9, 1942.
Pope John Paul II beatified her on May 1, 1987, declaring her a martyr of the faith. Interestingly, when the sisters cleaned her cell at the monastery, they found a small picture with her handwriting on the back, which read, "I wish to offer my life as a sacrifice for the salvation of the Jews." Truly, she offered her life to the Lord.
The miracle due to her intercession involves a young girl, name Teresia Benedicta, who suffered in 1987 from a lethal dose of Tylenol which crippled her liver functions. The little girl's condition continued to worsen. (The daughter's father, a Melkite priest, sees two coincidences: First, he learned that his ordination date coincided with the date of Edith Stein's death. Second, after an intense study of her life and works, he and his wife named their newborn daughter Teresia Benedicta.) After invoking the intercession of St. Edith/Teresa Benedicta, the little girl miraculously recovered. In 1998, the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, after careful examination, determined that the cure defied any natural explanation and must be attributed to divine intervention through St. Edith/Teresa Benedicta. Since she was a martyr and now the intercessor for a miraculous cure, Pope John Paul II canonized her as a saint.
In all, we must not lose sight that this thorough process exists because of how important the saints are as examples for us, the faithful who strive to live in the Kingdom of God now and see its fulfillment in Heaven. Vatican II declared, "God shows to men, in a vivid way, His presence and His face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed in the image of Christ. He speaks to us in them and offers us a sign of this kingdom to which we are powerfully attracted, so great a cloud of witnesses is there given and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel. It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek rather that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened" ("Lumen Gentium," No. 50).
Saunders, Rev. William. "The Process of Becoming a Saint." Arlington Catholic Herald. This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald., http://www.catholicherald.com/.
The Author: Father William Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope parish in Potomac Falls, Virginia. He is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns, and Straight Answers II.
Archbishop Philip M. Hannan began the canonization process for Henriette DeLille in 1988. A special commission in Rome gave approval in 1988 after a review process. In 2004 a biography of her life, written by Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB, was published.
The Canonization process is comprised of four phases: Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed and Saint. As of this time, an alleged miracle attributed to Henriette is being tried in a Catholic Tribunal, and the decree of judicial validity was issued in the investigation of her life, virtues, and reputation of sanctity. Henriette was bestowed with the title of Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
Servant of God, Fr. Augustus Tolton
The Youth Track at Congress XII featured a scavenger hunt for influential Black Catholics and Black Saints. A series of 28 posters provided information about 28 different Black Catholics who were important in the history of the Catholic Church. These posters are available for download by clicking on the button below:
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Henriette Delille, was born in 1812 in New Orleans, Louisiana, as a free woman of color. At 24 years of age, Henriette experienced a religious conversion, and proclaimed: "I believe in God. I hope in God. I love. I want to live and die for God."
Henriette eventually founded the Society of the Holy Family, responding to the need for treatment of the enslaved, elderly and sick, and care and education for the poor.
Henriette received tribute for her life's work in these words from her obituary, “ . . . (Henriette) devoted herself untiringly for many years, without reserve, to the religious instruction of the people of New Orleans, principally of slaves. . . .” The last line of her obituary reads, ". . . for the love of Jesus Christ she had become the humble and devout servant of the slaves.”
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Augustus was born to two slaves, Peter Paul Tolton and his wife Martha Jane, on April 1, 1854. With the outbreak of the War between the States, Peter Paul hoped to gain freedom for his family and escaped to the North where he served in the Union Army, and was one of the 180,000 blacks who were killed in the war. His widow decided that she would see her husband’s quest for freedom realized in his children. After managing a crossing of the Mississippi River she made her way to Illinois and settled in the small town of Quincy. When her children attempted to attend Catholic school, parents of the other school children were not happy, so to avoid a messy situation, the School Sisters of Notre Dame decided to tutor the Tolton children privately.
As Augustus grew older he began displaying an interest in the priesthood. His parish priests, Fathers McGuirr and Richardt, encouraged the young man in this aspiration and tried without
She was born Elizabeth Lange in around 1794 in Santiago de Cuba, where she lived in a primarily French speaking community. She received an excellent education and in the early 1800s Elizabeth left Cuba and settled in the United States. Elizabeth came to Baltimore as a courageous, loving, and deeply spiritual woman. There was no free public education for African American children in Maryland until 1868, so she responded to that need by opening a school in her home in the Fells Point area of the city for the children.
Providence intervened through the person of Reverend James Hector Joubert, SS, who was encouraged by James Whitfield, Archbishop of Baltimore, and presented Elizabeth Lange with the idea to found a religious congregation for the education of African American girls. Father Joubert would provide direction, solicit financial assistance, and encourage other "women of colour" to become members of this, the first congregation of African American
Venerable Henriette Delille
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A daily communicant, Julia had a rich devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin and continued her prayers while working and moving about. She joined the Secular Franciscan Order in 1901 and was active in it till her death in 1918.
To the present day many people have been asking that her cause be considered for canonization, a request which was finally granted in the Fall of 2016. As part of the Cause for Canonization, Julia’s mortal remain were transferred to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on
June 7, 2017.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint
Pierre was born in Haiti and brought to New York City as a slave, where he died a free man.
Bérard, the plantation owner and Pierre's master, allowed Pierre's grandmother to teach her grandson how to read and write. In his early 20s, Pierre, his younger sister, his aunt, and two other house slaves accompanied their master’s son to New York City because of political unrest at home. Apprenticed to a local hairdresser, Pierre learned the trade quickly and eventually worked in the homes of rich women in New York City.
When his master died, Pierre supported his master’s widow and the other slaves himself, and was freed shortly before the widow’s death in 1807. Four years later, he married Marie Rose Juliette, whose freedom he had purchased. They later adopted Euphémie, his orphaned niece. Both preceded him in death.
Within the Catholic community, even during his lifetime, Toussaint enjoyed the reputation of an exceptionally devout and charitable person. Every day he attended the 6:00 a.m. Mass in St. Peter's Church, where he was a pewholder for many years. He also raised funds to build the original St. Patrick's Cathedral and St. Vincent de Paul Church.
Pierre donated to various charities, generously assisting blacks and whites in need. He and his wife opened their home to orphans and educated them. The couple also nursed abandoned people who were suffering from yellow fever. Perhaps his favorite charity was St. Patrick's Orphan Asylum, an institution that he often visited. Urged to retire and enjoy the wealth he had accumulated, Pierre responded, “I have enough for myself, but if I stop working I have not enough for others.”
In recognition of Pierre Toussaint's virtuous life, the late Cardinal Terence Cooke introduced Pierre's cause for canonization at the Vatican in 1968. In December 1989, the late Cardinal O'Connor had the remains of Pierre Toussaint transferred from Lower Manhattan to St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown Manhattan where he is buried as the only lay person, alongside the former Cardinal-Archbishops of New York City. On December 17, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared Pierre Toussaint, Venerable, thus placing him firmly on the road to becoming North America's first black saint.
The Process of Canonization
Servant of God, Mother Mary Lange
women religious in the history of the Catholic Church. Elizabeth joyfully accepted Father Joubert's idea. On July 2, 1829 Elizabeth and three other women professed their vows and became the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Elizabeth, foundress and first superior general of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, took the religious name of Mary.
William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, opened a formal investigation into Mother Lange's life and works of charity in 1991. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine for the Causes of Saints approved the cause of her sainthood in 2004, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore celebrated a canonical celebration at the transfer and blessing of Mother Lange’s remains. The faithful venerated the relics before they were sealed in a reliquary and sarcophagus in the chapel’s oratory. The sarcophagus cannot be reopened without Vatican permission. Also present at the celebration were Bishop John H. Ricard, bishop emeritus of Pensacola-Tallahassee, and Xaverian Brother Reginald Cruz, vice postulator for Mother Lange’s cause for sainthood.
If the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints approves the positio being written by Brother Cruz, Mother Lange, currently considered a “Servant of God,” would be given the title “Venerable.” A confirmed miracle attributed to her intercession would then be necessary for her beatification, and a second miracle would be necessary for her canonization.
Denver's Angel of Charity was born into slavery, at Hannibal, Missouri, between 1833 and 1848. As a young child, Julia's right eye was destroyed by a cruel slavemaster's whip.
Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Julia subsequently earned her keep by serving white families in Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico—though mostly in the Denver area. Whatever she could spare, Julia spent assisting poor families in her neighborhood. When her resources were inadequate, she begged for food, fuel and clothing for the needy. To avoid embarrassing the people she helped, Julia did most of her charitable work under cover of night through dark alleys.
Julia entered the Catholic Church at Sacred Heart Parish in Denver in 1880. The Jesuits who ran the parish considered her the most enthusiastic promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus they had ever seen. Every month she visited on foot every fire station in Denver and delivered literature of
success, to enroll him in several diocesan seminaries. If the seminaries would not have him, they would begin Augustus’ education in theology themselves. Finally, in 1878, the Franciscan College in Quincy accepted him, and two years later he was enrolled at the college of the Propaganda Fidei in Rome. After completing his courses there, Augustus Tolton was ordained on April 24, 1886. His first assignment was Saint Joseph’s church in his home town of Quincy, where he served for two years and gained enormous respect from many of the German and Irish parishioners. He was later given a parish on the south side of the city, Saint Augustine’s church, which would later become Saint Monica’s. This would be Father Tolton’s parish for life, and it also became the center from which he ministered to all the Black Catholics of Chicago. He addressed the First Catholic Colored Congress in Washington DC in 1889.
In 2015, the Cause for Canonization of Fr. Augustus Tolton, begun in 2010, received affirmation of the juridicial validity of the Archdiocesan inquiry into his life and virtues by the Congregation for Causes of Saints, and Fr. Tolton received the distinction of Servant of God.