Among several causes for sainthood that are open in the United States are people who were foreign-born and those who were American-born but did their saintly work in foreign lands.
But there are also American-born candidates who served in the United States. The first to be canonized would become the third American-born saint. Among this group are several priests named Servant of God. Whichever priest eventually becomes the first to be canonized from this group would then also become the first-ever American-born priest saint.Dominican Father Gabriel O’Donnell, vice postulator for the canonization cause of Father Michael McGivney, sees the proliferation of causes connected to the way the Church in the United States has matured greatly in the last 50 years.
We used to think of ourselves as the New World and that the Church was rooted in the Old World.
“But now it’s clear, especially from the pontificate of John Paul II, that we see ourselves as a source of life itself in the Church instead of borrowing it from the Old World,” says Father O’Donnell. “Part of our mission is not to just depend on the Old World, but to be a source of life ourselves in preaching the gospel of life in the Church.”
That is what John Paul II was hoping from the New Evangelization, says Father O’Donnell, who adds he doesn’t think any other industrialized country has young Catholics as interested in the faith as in the U.S. “Where do you go in the world,” he asks, “and see men going to church, and where are there huge groups of young Catholics fervent and interested in vocation?”
Some of the more recent causes for sainthood:
Father Nelson Baker. He founded Our Lady of Victory Homes and built Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, N.Y., and was named Servant of God in 1987.
After a short but successful career as a businessman after the Civil War, Nelson Baker became a priest, founded the Association of Our Lady of Victory, and by 1901 had two homes helping more than 600 orphan boys. He established a “City of Charity” caring for hundreds of infants, youths and adults, and in 1921, at the age of 79, he began building Our Lady of Victory Basilica for his patroness. It was completed with the finest material and workmanship in 1926, 100% debt-free.
Says Beth Donovan, director of public relations for the Our Lady of Victory Institutions, “His legacy continues today through a wide-ranging human services organization that helps troubled youth, the developmentally disabled, couples hoping to adopt, in addition to numerous other programs for children and adults in need.”
Father Baker’s cause opened in 1987. In March 1999, his remains were exhumed and reinterred in Our Lady of Victory Basilica at the recommendation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
“The Vatican suggested we make him more accessible so it would be easier for people to pray to him for his intercession,” says Donovan. After that, the number of visitors increased to 15,000 to 20,000 yearly.
Donovan says from the countless claims of miraculous answers to prayers they’ve been able to submit a miracle to the congregation in Rome for examination.
And Msgr. Paul Burkard, the postulator for the cause, has received recent communication from the Vatican that “we have all our I’s dotted and T’s crossed and we should feel confident things are moving forward,” according to Donovan. “We’re hoping to hear about the elevation to Venerable soon, and hoping beatification will follow.”
Father Michael McGivney. The cause of the founder of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest fraternal organization with more than 1.7 million members, moved ahead in March 2008 when Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree that recognized Father McGivney’s virtue and allows him to be called “Venerable Michael J. McGivney.”
This recognition is considered the next important phase along the road to canonization.
Father O’Donnell reports on progress in the cause. “We have presented to the Holy See a reported miracle attributed to the intercession of Venerable Father McGivney.”
He adds that they have already submitted supplemental information to the questions asked by Rome, and “we’re waiting for a response from the congregation.”
Dorothy Day. The move to recognize the cause for the beatification and canonization of the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement began in 2000 in the Archdiocese of New York. Opening her cause, Cardinal John O’Connor called her “a modern-day devoted daughter of the Church.”
She worked tirelessly for the poor, was a champion for peace and justice, lived works of mercy, and died among the poor she helped.
Sister Rose Hawthorne Lathrop. Daughter of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, she converted to Catholicism and cared for poor cancer patients in New York City and the surrounding area, founding St. Rose’s Free Home for Incurable Cancer on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
After her husband died, she became a nun, and as Mother Mary Alphonsa, she founded the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. From their motherhouse, Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y., north of New York City, her order continues caring for cancer patients free of charge, which was at the heart of her mission.
In 2003, Cardinal Edward Egan, now archbishop emeritus of New York, opened the cause of Servant of God Rose Hawthorne Lathrop.
Postulator for the cause is Father O’Donnell.
Father O’Donnell reports the diocesan process has progressed and, in fact, this diocesan phase is nearing completion.
“A canonization cause has two parts: the diocesan phase and Roman phase,” he explains. “The diocesan phase is in some ways the most important.” During it, the history, information and proofs of miracles are gathered.
In Hawthorne’s case, as in any Servant of God, “that it’s coming to a close is significant,” says Father O’Donnell, “and indicates progress has been made.”
Cardinal Terence James Cooke. Former archbishop of New York (1968-1983), he founded several nursing homes and as an outspoken opponent of abortion founded Birthright to give women alternatives to abortion.
In 1992 Cardinal Cooke was named a Servant of God, the first phase on the road to sainthood.
Father Isaac Hecker. A 19th-century native of New York City born of immigrant parents, he converted to Catholicism when he was 24, became a priest, and with the encouragement of Pius IX to establish a congregation of priests committed to evangelizing North America, he founded the Paulist Fathers. It was the first religious congregation of men founded in the United States.
Interestingly enough, newly beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote on hearing of Hecker’s death: “I have ever felt that there was a sort of unity in our lives, that we had both begun a work of the same kind, he in America and I in England.”
In January 2008 he became Servant of God Isaac Hecker when his cause was opened by Cardinal Egan in New York.
Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.