For 2 New Saints, Paths to Canonization Follow Very Different Routes
Titus Brandsma and Charles de Foucauld both joined the communion of saints yesterday, though their journeys to canonization were just as different as their lives.
The two biggest names among the 10 new saints canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, May 15, came to God through seemingly opposite trajectories.
Titus Brandsma’s story began on a small dairy farm in the northern Netherlands before he entered the novitiate of the Carmelite friars in 1898. Despite joining a monastic order and spending years as an academic, he later stepped into the center of the public sphere as a journalist, contributing to and coordinating the country’s nearly 30 Catholic newspapers. It was that role that led to his martyrdom in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau after he refused to allow Catholic editors to publish Nazi propaganda.
Charles de Foucauld, on the other hand, initially lived a worldly life. After receiving a large inheritance following his grandfather’s death, his youth was marked by luxury and debauchery. He did two stints in the French army before discovering his faith and eventually renounced his wealth to live a semi-secluded life in the Algerian desert among the local communities. He was killed there in 1916 and immediately declared a martyr.
Just as different as their lives were, their paths to Sunday’s canonization were also distinct.
Because both saints were martyrs, their canonization only required the confirmation of one miracle attributed to their intercession, not the typical two. But the circumstances surrounding each saint’s respective canonization-confirming miracle could not be more different.
A Carmelite Connection
For St. Titus Brandsma, the miracle that confirmed his sainthood was the fruit of a fellow Carmelite priest’s decades-long devotion. While in formation for the priesthood at the Carmelite Minor Seminary in Middletown, New York, Carmelite Father Michael Driscoll repeatedly heard the story of Brandsma’s heroic life from one of his professors, a Dutch Carmelite who had personally known the martyred journalist before he was arrested in 1942 by the Gestapo.
“All during my high-school days and first year of college, he kind of instilled in us to pray for the canonization of Titus; that’s how it all started,” Father Driscoll told the Register.
Those prayers only became stronger after Father Driscoll traveled to Rome to attend Brandsma’s beatification as a martyr in 1985. Yet it wasn’t until nearly 20 years later, in 2004, when he was diagnosed with advanced skin cancer on his head that the Carmelite priest recognized he “needed Titus,” he said, while miming air quotes.
“All the oncologists said, ‘You have a very, very, very serious cancer,’ so that puts the fear and trembling into you.”
In the weeks leading up to the 11-hour surgery that would remove his cancer, a prayer asking for Brandsma’s intercession for Father Driscoll was circulated through Florida’s Catholic newspapers, a providential link to the martyred journalist.
“They didn’t pray to any other saints. The prayer read, ‘Intercede with God, Titus, for a cure.’ So I said, ‘It must be Titus.’”
Doctors assured him that after surgery the cancer would return and most likely claim his life, but Father Driscoll kept on praying, and the doctors kept on waiting. Eventually, his healing was declared definitive — and a miracle.
A Graced Coincidence
But the story of the miracle attributed to St. Charles de Foucauld shows that the relationship between the recipient of a miracle and the saint who interceded for him can also come about in other, often very unexpected, ways.
In fact, the 21-year-old who received the miracle that confirmed Charles de Foucauld’s cause for canonization is not a Catholic. And at the time of the miracle, he did not even know the identity of the man that the Church now declares interceded with God to save his life.
In 2016, on the eve of the centenary of de Foucauld’s death and in the small French town of Saumur, where de Foucauld once lived, a construction worker fell more than 50 feet from the roof of a chapel that was undergoing construction. Although he should have died on impact, the young man got up and went to find help. After only two months, he had totally recovered from his injuries and had no lasting physical or psychological consequences. His name was Charle, an alternate spelling of Charles in French.
As the Register previously reported, the CEO of the renovation company, a practicing Catholic, was advised by a local priest to pray for de Foucauld’s intercession for Charle. In a few hours, a diocesan-wide prayer chain was underway.
“The case was unusual, since about 80% of the miracles that lead to canonization are miraculous healings,” said Father Bernard Ardura, the postulator for de Foucauld’s cause for sainthood and the president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences. “This one, however, was an evasion of danger.”
Father Ardura told the Register that “with the coincidence — of the timing, the place, and this young man, who is named Charles and is not baptized — we recognized that this grace, this miracle, was from God through the intercession of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who with this is proclaimed a saint.”
Thus, although de Foucauld’s example inspired the founding of more than 20 religious communities with thousands of members throughout the world, the miracle confirmed his status as a saint was received by someone totally unaware of his incredible story.
Different Paths, One Destination
The different natures of how these miracles came to be confirmed demonstrate that there is no formula for invoking the intercession of a future saint. While a long-standing devotion might help move a cause for sainthood along quickly, even for figures with widespread notoriety such as de Foucauld, a miracle can come in the least expected of ways.
Be it through a personal connection or an astounding set of seemingly coincidental circumstances, these two miracle stories show that the path to canonization of each saint is just as extraordinary as the lives they led here on earth.
Justin McLellan is a journalist based in Rome. He holds a degree in philosophy and theology from the University of Notre Dame.