By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, S.M. | Published May 25, 2023 | En Español
Not too long ago, Bishop Shlesinger wrote in his column about Mother Mary Alphonsa, a founder of the Hawthorne Dominicans, the Sisters who oversee Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home in Atlanta. He mentioned that the process for making her a saint has begun and asked for prayers to that end.
The petition for verifying a saintly life is called the cause for canonization. Although the Catholic Church now keeps detailed records on the individuals who have been officially recognized as belonging to the Communion of Saints, record-keeping regarding saints was less precise before the Middle Ages. Also, groups of martyrs have been admitted from different periods of time making it increasingly difficult to know the exact number who have been identified as saints. It is certain that more than 10,000 have been declared to belong to the Communion of Saints.
The process for declaring an individual to have saintly virtue begins when a diocese in which the would-be saint died files a formal request to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, one of 20 or so offices that conduct the official activities we refer to sometimes as simply “the Vatican.” An individual proposed for sainthood is known in the first stage as Servant of God. At this phase, an investigation takes place to determine if the proposed individual lived a life of heroic virtue. If yes, a recommendation is sent to the Holy Father to declare the individual to be Venerable.
The founder of the Society of Mary, to which I belong, Father Jean-Claude Colin, has been declared to be Venerable, for instance. Others who are Venerable are Pope Pius XII, Pierre Toussaint, Father Nelson Baker, Mother Catherine McAuley, and Father Augustus Tolton.
The next hurdle that must be cleared for a candidate for sainthood is the verifying of a miracle attributed to the would-be saint’s intercession on behalf of someone in need. These usually involve a medical event, one that is deemed to be outside any natural explanation. Such a miracle would attest to the candidate’s union with God and intercessory power, but the prayers for healing must have been directed only through the candidate in question. Substantiating such a miracle would allow the Holy Father to advance the candidate to the status of Blessed. These are said to have been ‘beatified.’
Among those presently determined to be Blessed are Carlo Acutis, Father Stanley Rother, Sister Elena Aiello, the painter Fra Angelico, Father Miguel Pro, Father Michael McGivney, Pope Pius XI, and Sister Sara Salkahazi.
Someone who is Blessed may be venerated in some circumstances along with the saints, such as Blessed Carlo Acutis is presently. Archbishop Hartmayer has obtained a relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis. It then becomes the task of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints to verify a second miracle attributable to the individual, in the same manner as was used to verify the first miracle. If the Holy Father agrees that the person has demonstrated actions deemed to be saintly, he may then declare the candidate to be a saint, meaning that she or he is with God and may be publicly venerated as one of the saints of the church. A local or universal celebration of the saint in the church’s calendar may be added.
Recently canonized saints include St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Calcutta, Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto, St. José Sanchez del Río, St. Junipero Serra, and St. John Henry Newman.
In our prayers for any need, especially those that appear to require a miraculous intercession, we are invited to direct our prayers to one of the individuals on the path to sainthood, thereby enlisting the aid of a recognized holy helper and aiding that individual’s cause for canonization.