Here Are 10 Americans Whose Canonization Causes You Need to Know About
The call to holiness extends to every Christian on earth, from Christ’s very lips: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, iterated that “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (#40). Holiness is not only our call, but an expectation of all Christians. The Church gives us particular examples of holiness in those venerated as saints. Here are ten among the many causes for canonization of Americans, all in the stages of Venerable (decreed that the person lived a life of heroic virtue) or Servant of God (investigated by the diocesan bishop and approved to begin the canonization process).
Venerable Bishop Frederic Irenaeus Baraga (1797 – 1868)
Ven. Frederic was the first bishop of the Diocese of Sault Sainte Marie, now the Diocese of Marquette (Michigan). Born in 1797 into a wealthy family in Slovenia, Frederic was inspired to be a missionary. He arrived in Michigan in 1830 and ministered to the Chippewa and Ottawa tribes, among others. Like all missionaries of his day, he traveled everywhere on foot; earning the nickname of the “Snowshoe Priest.” And imagine that in a Michigan winter! Frederic was an accomplished linguist, speaking multiple languages to serve the diverse population in his diocese: including German, English, French, Italian, Chippewa, and Ottawa. He published a catechism in Ottawa and a dictionary of the Chippewa language.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint (1766 – 1853)
This native Haitian was a house slave in the home of a wealthy plantation owner. When political tensions in Haiti rose, he was taken by his master’s son to New York City. He became a hairdresser, and quite a successful one—after the death of his master, Pierre supported his master’s widow and the other house slaves. The widow freed him just before passing away in 1807. Pierre later married, and then adopted his niece. His success as a hairdresser to many of New York’s elite gave him much wealth. He was as much known as a man who lived a life of charity as he was known as a hairdresser.
Venerable Sister Mary Magdalen Bentivoglio (1834 – 1905)
Ven. Mary Magdalen had a great love for the Lord that was matched by her stubbornness, even from an early age. She lost both of her parents as a young woman and entered the Poor Clares, a cloistered, contemplative order. She sailed to New York in 1875 with her blood and religious sister, intending to go to Minnesota. The priest accompanying them then told them not to continue onto Minnesota yet. As Ven. Mary Magdalen sought to find a place to establish a community of Poor Clares, she was rejected by bishop after bishop when they wouldn’t give up their contemplative life. They finally found a home on Omaha. Ven. Mary’s crosses were not over: a sister in her community made grave (and unsubstantiated) accusations that resulted in a Vatican investigation. Ven. Mary’s remains were exhumed in 1907 and 1932, and found incorrupt.
Venerable Bishop Alphonse Gallegos, O.A.R. (1931 – 1991)
Ven. Alphonso was born in New Mexico. He was afflicted with poor eyesight from a young age. As a member of the Augustinian Recollect Friars, his schoolwork suffered as a result of his poor vision. Even so, his superiors recognized his holiness and humility and ordained him a priest in 1958. In 1972, he was assigned to the parish he grew up in, in Watts, an immigrant suburb of Los Angeles. “Father Al” spent his Friday and Saturday nights visiting youth and befriending street gangs. His work in Watts caught the attention of Rome, and he was made an auxiliary bishop of Sacramento in 1981. He worked tirelessly for the unborn, and in Sacramento there is still a home for unwed mothers named after him.
Servant of God Bishop Simon-Guillaume-Gabriel Bruté de Rémur (1779 – 1839)
Simon came from a respectable family in France and was born in time to witness the French Revolution. The horrifying things and executions he saw spurred him to charity. He visited the prisons, befriended the guards, and thus was able to serve as a messenger to incarcerated clergy. Simon even carried the Blessed Sacrament to the clergy in prison. He studied medicine for seven years, but upon graduating, entered the seminary for the Society of Saint-Sulpice. In 1810, he sailed across the Atlantic and to teach at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, PA. Simon also assisted at nearby parishes, serving as spiritual director to the future St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. In 1834, he was consecrated bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes (now Indianapolis), where he served until his death.
Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton (1854 – 1897)
Fr. Gus has the distinction of being the first African American priest in the United States. He grew up as a slave on a Missouri farm to Catholic parents. The Civil War became an opportunity for slaves to escape; his father escaped to join the Union army, and the rest of his family escaped across the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois. His mother enrolled Augustus in the parish school, only to have that met with a broadside of racist rage by the community. His lessons had to be after school. His schooling and his seminary education were constantly interrupted before finally commencing his seminary studies in Rome in 1880. He was ordained a priest in 1886 and was sent back to Illinois. After three years in Quincy, Fr. Gus was transferred to the Archdiocese of Chicago to serve the African American community. In his time, he fought against both racial prejudice and anti-Catholic bias—and only returned the love of Christ.
Servant of God Mary Grace Bellotti (1882 – 1927)
Mary was born in Italy and came to the United States with her husband in 1903. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and her husband’s drinking and gambling destroyed their lives. After he threatened her life in a drunken rage, she fled her home with her four-year-old daughter. Mary Grace had the gift of several visions of Our Blessed Mother and Our Lord throughout her life. One of those was Our Lord asking her to establish a lay ministry. She served the sick and also served as a midwife. She had a special devotion to St. Gerard Majella and built a chapel in his honor in Newark, NJ. When she wasn’t serving those in need, she could often be found deep in prayer. Mary Grace led an austere life of penance—joyfully so, in honor of Our Lord, whom she loved so dearly.
Servant of God Father Emil Joseph Kapaun (1916 – 1951)
Fr. Kapaun was the son of Czech immigrants, and farmers in Kansas. He enlisted the U.S. Army as a chaplain, and served toward the end of World War II. He then served in the Korean War, and was noted for his near-reckless bravery in ministering to injured soldiers on the battlefield. At the Battle of Unsan in 1950, Fr. Kapaun chose to stay behind with the wounded and be captured instead of escaping. His bravery and heroic charity to his fellow soldiers was awarded posthumously with the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2013.
Servant of God Father Vincent Robert Capodanno (1929 – 1967)
Fr. Capodanno was born in 1929 in New York in a large, Italian family. He was ordained a priest in 1958 for the Maryknoll Fathers, and served in different missions in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 1966, he joined the Navy Chaplain Corps in order to minister to the Marines in Vietnam. He lived, marched, ate, and slept with the men he served. On September 4, 1967, his unit was ambushed. After hours of heavy fighting, Fr. Capodanno saw a wounded Marine pinned down by enemy fire. Already shot himself, Fr. Capodanno ran to the Marine to minister to him. He was killed performing his priestly duty.
Servant of God Gwen Cecilia Coniker (1939 – 2002)
Gwen was a married laywoman whose life was changed by Our Blessed Mother. While she had been a practicing Catholic her whole life, Gwen and her husband made St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary in 1971. That spurred them to devote themselves full time to ministry: two years later, they started the Apostolate for Family Consecration. One of the efforts of the apostolate was the establishment of Catholic Familyland in Bloomingdale, OH in 1990. They host summer camps for families, retreats, and getaway weekends. The apostolate seeks to give parents the encouragement and resources they need to pass on the Catholic faith to their children.
Didn't find who you were looking for on this list? Check out the blog post, “7 Inspiring Americans Waiting to be Canonized.”