From the earliest days of the Church’s arrival in the New World, God has raised up saints as models of the faith to inspire others and to bring others to Christ. Eleven of these men and women have been declared saints for their work in what is now the United States.
A number of causes for canonization of possible American saints remain underway.
Holy lives brought the light of Christ and his Mother Mary to untold millions who tuned in to their popular radio and TV programs. Some priests gave their lives helping soldiers spiritually and physically on the battlefield or in prison. Some were parish priests or laity serving families and youth, establishing homes and schools for orphans and handicapped children, helping the needy, or founding the earliest U.S. parishes for African-Americans.
Some were even major miracle workers during their lifetimes.
But first, they must be declared a “Servant of God,” “Venerable” and then “Blessed.” The process of canonization for some was opened decades ago, while others’ causes are more recent, including the cause of Boys Town founder Father Edward J. Flanagan.
Here are some of the most notable American candidates for sainthood. Who are these potential homegrown saints, how did they serve as models of Catholic American sanctity, and will they soon be canonized?
Beatifications in America
Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich (1901-1927), the young Sister of Charity born and raised in New Jersey, is the first American beatified on American soil. The momentous event took place at the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey, in October 2014.
In 2016, Blessed Miriam Teresa’s remains as well as relics were transferred to a new shrine her congregation, the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, built in the chapel proper at their motherhouse in Convent Station, New Jersey. Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Patterson, New Jersey, blessed the new shrine.
As the Register previously reported, in whatever Sister Miriam Teresa did, Bishop Serratelli explained — from tasks like teaching children to scrubbing floors and writing, published in a booklet after her death called Greater Perfection — “she was careful never to offend God and to serve him by knowing and doing his will.”
The first parish to honor her — Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich parish — was established last year in Bayonne, New Jersey. Currently, another space in the motherhouse chapel is being renovated into a shrine depicting Blessed Miriam Teresa’s life (SCNJ.org), which focused on holiness amid daily life.
“We’re keeping busy trying to do the things to spread the devotion to her,” reported Sister Mary Canavan, vice postulator of the cause. She said the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth are awaiting the second miracle that will lead to her canonization.
“It’s beautiful many people have come to visit Blessed Miriam Teresa at her shrine and are asking for favors. We’re keeping her pretty busy,” Sister Mary said.
Two more canonization candidates will be beatified this year.
Venerable Stanley Rother (1935-1981) will be the first U.S.-born martyr beatified on American soil (RotherGuild.org). He was martyred while doing missionary work in Guatemala. The event will take place Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will celebrate the beatification Mass, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City will concelebrate. The Vatican recognized his martyrdom in 2016, which opened the door for his beatification.
Later this year, on Nov. 18, Venerable Capuchin Father Solanus Casey (1870-1957) of Detroit (SolanusCasey.org) will be beatified in Michigan. In this year that also marks the 60th anniversary of the saintly friar’s death, Pope Francis approved the miracle that led to his beatification (see related story).
Slow, Sure Progress
The step of beatification remains in the wings for Venerable Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979). The cause (ArchbishopSheenCause.org) of this prolific evangelizer and communicator of the faith remains in a holding pattern at the moment, until a court hearing in September.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named him “Venerable.” In 2014, both the medical and theological commissions at the Vatican confirmed the miracle necessary for his beatification as “genuine and supernatural.” With the approval of Pope Francis, the beatification could have taken place.
But the Archdiocese of New York would not release his body for transferal to Peoria, Illinois, the bishop’s birth diocese, which for many years has been carrying on the cause. Joan Sheen Cunningham, Archbishop Sheen’s niece and oldest living relative, petitioned the courts to have her uncle’s body transferred to St. Mary Cathedral in Peoria.
In November 2016, the Supreme Court of New York ruled in favor of Cunningham, but the New York Archdiocese appealed that decision.
With the cause awaiting the September court date, Msgr. James Kruse, vicar general of the Peoria Diocese, said, “We are confident the appeal court will uphold the lower court’s decision and grant Joan Sheen Cunningham’s petition to transfer the body of her late uncle Sheen to Peoria.”
The cause of Servant of God Father Vincent Capodanno (1929-1967), a Maryknoll priest and military chaplain who died on the battlefield while tending to the wounded and dying during the Vietnam War, has taken a major step forward.
“The diocesan phase has ended,” said Mary Preece, vice postulator for Father Capodanno’s cause, now that all the paperwork and testimonies have been compiled, after nearly four years of inquiry. On May 21, at the end of the 23rd annual memorial Mass of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Archbishop Timothy Broglio officially announced that the diocesan phase of the cause was closed.
Sealed by the archbishop, the box of documentation has been sent to the Vatican, which will examine the evidence and rule on the continuation of the cause for Medal of Honor recipient Father Capodanno.
“We will now be hoping we hear from the Vatican so that we can move on to the beatification cause,” Preece said. She added that the Father Capodanno Guild (CapodannoGuild.org) is looking forward to the annual memorial Mass for Father Capodanno on Sept. 5 at the basilica in Washington “because this year marks the 50th anniversary of Father Capodanno’s death on the battlefield.”
Fellow chaplain Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun (1916-1951) died during the Korean War, and his cause has also been progressing well recently. While imprisoned in a POW camp, he selflessly ministered to his fellow prisoners amid horrific conditions.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints received the positio (position paper required for canonization causes detailing the holiness of the person’s life) in November 2015, and by June of 2016, it passed the first step, after being reviewed by the congregation’s historical committee.
“Now it is going through the theological committee,” said Father John Hotze, episcopal delegate of the cause for canonization (FatherKapaun.org). “And we have paperwork for the alleged miracle over there. They are reviewing that also.” Father Hotze added, “We’re in a wait-and-see situation. Things are progressing quicker than I thought through the historical committee. Things are looking good.”
Meanwhile, devotion to Father Kapaun continues to grow. “Father Kapaun Day” is held every year on the first weekend of June. Father Hotze reported that, for this year’s June 4 Mass, the “church was full for the celebration.” As part of the memorial event, scores of pilgrims participate in the “Father Kapaun Walk,” a four-day, three-night walking pilgrimage with Mass and confession along the way. It covers 60 miles, from Wichita to Pilsen, Kansas, and concludes at the annual Mass.
Answers to prayers are common. “We get a number of reports on favors granted,” Father Hotze said. These range from healings to people returning to the Church.
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared Father Michael J. McGivney (1852-1890), founder of the Knights of Columbus, as “Venerable.” Since then, his cause has continued to build momentum.
“We have enough possible miracles reported so that we are always in the investigation stage,” said Brian Caulfield, vice postulator for the cause and a member of the Knights of Columbus, which Father McGivney founded in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882. The ordinary concerns faced by parish priests and that Father McGivney had here on earth are the basis of many of the favors constantly reported by devotees to the Father McGivney Guild (FatherMcGivney.org).
While these many favors fall short of conditions the Vatican would look for in a miracle for the canonization process, they are nevertheless great events in peoples’ lives that they attribute to the intercession of Father McGivney. According to the guild, these reported favors normally fall into five basic categories — help with financial issues, finding jobs, problems with drugs or alcohol abuse, family reconciliations, and family members coming back to the Church. During his lifetime, Father McGivney devoted himself to helping anyone suffering in these situations still so prevalent in our time.
The cause of Venerable Nelson Baker (1842-1936) opened Oct. 7, 1987. He was an indefatigable Catholic priest and social worker who founded Our Lady of Victory Basilica (OurLadyofVictory.org) and various Our Lady of Victory institutions in Buffalo, New York, to serve orphans, children with various handicaps, unwed mothers and countless suffering people. In 2011, Benedict XVI declared Father Baker “Venerable.” Before that, in 1999, when his body was transferred to the basilica, it was discovered his blood and body fluids — which had been removed and put into vials, as was the custom of the time — were still in “pristine condition.” They gave no sign of drying up or deterioration.
The progress of the cause continues. “We have a miracle in front of the Congregation [for the Causes of Saints] at the present time,” said Msgr. Paul Burkard, the vice postulator for the cause. The congregation is continuing to examine “the miracle and following up on any medical records they need to have. This particular miracle, if approved, will lead to Father Baker’s beatification.”
Presently, he reports that devotion to Father Baker continues to grow. Every year, 40,000-50,000 pilgrims come to the basilica. Msgr. Burkard said, “The vast majority come to pray to Father Baker, asking for a favor through his intercession.”
Msgr. Burkard recalled, “He never saw a problem that he couldn’t work to resolve. He had the energy of about a dozen people to resolve them and continued till he was 94 years old, active until he died.”
The cause for Servant of God Father Edward J. Flanagan (1886-1948), founder of the famed Boys Town for orphaned youth, opened in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, in 2012. “Our cause continues to move along at what should be considered a brisk pace,” vice postulator Stephen Wolf told the Register.
Now that the cause recently received a decree of judicial validity from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a relator will begin preparing the positio detailing the priest’s heroic virtue. If approved, Father Flanagan will be declared “Venerable.” Wolf also reports that, to date, 19 alleged miracles have been reported, and thus far two have been investigated. The cause continues “to seek more intercessional prayers from the faithful.”
“We are seeing the devotion definitely growing,” Wolf said.
One of the ways this is evident is “the frequency and size of the pilgrimages coming to his tomb and the Father Flanagan League sponsoring pilgrimages walking in his footsteps.” The cause website and social media show that there are “definitely more people getting involved with us from around the world,” as does the correspondence that comes to the league (FatherFlanagan.org).
When people make a pilgrimage to the original Boys Town, which Father Flanagan founded 100 years ago in 1917, the guild shows them where he preached and walked on the campus. There is a stop at his tomb, and the pilgrimage begins or concludes with Mass. Wolf said 4,000 people now come each year, double the attendance numbers of five years ago.
Editor’s Note: Part 2 of will be posted tomorrow.