Blessed John Paul II is sometimes remembered as a “saint maker” who canonized 482 men and women during his 27-year pontificate. Pope Francis, however, is an even more prodigious “saint maker” who has canonized more saints than have all the popes of the past three centuries combined.
During the eighteenth century, 29 saints were canonized; between 1800 and 1903, 80 saints were canonized; and between 1903 and 1978, when Blessed John Paul II assumed the papacy, another 168 saints were canonized. Pope Benedict XVI canonized 45 saints during his eight-year pontificate. Thus 804 saints were canonized between 1700, when Clement IX assumed the papacy, and the election of Pope Francis in March 2013.
If Blessed John Paul was a “saint maker,” it was largely because of his canonizations of large groups of martyrs: 402 of the 482 saints he canonized were martyrs. And so it is with Pope Francis, who has canonized 817 saints, 813 of them martyrs.
St. Antonio Primaldo and his 812 companions were martyred by beheading in 1480 in the southeastern Italian city of Otranto, then a town of 6,000.
Two weeks before their martyrdom, 15,000 Ottoman Turks attacked the town in 140 ships; when the Spanish troops guarding the city retreated to Tuscany, the Turks began their siege. Following heroic resistance by the inhabitants, the invaders captured and plundered Otranto and killed the archbishop, priests, canons, and many lay faithful who had gathered in the cathedral. The surviving women and children were enslaved; males of age 15 or older were told they would live if they converted to Islam. A humble tailor or cobbler, St. Antonio Primaldo, spoke on behalf of them all: he said that they “confessed Jesus Christ as Son of God” and “would wish to die a thousand times rather than renounce Him and become Turks.”
“They refused to deny their faith and died professing the Risen Christ,” Pope Francis preached during the Mass of canonization. “Where did they find the strength to stay faithful? In the faith itself, which enables us to see beyond the limits of our human sight, beyond the boundaries of earthly life.”
St. Laura Montoya (1874-1949), also known as St. Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena, is the first Colombian-born canonized saint. When she was two, her father died in battle, and she grew up in poverty. She became an elementary school teacher and initially felt attracted to the life of the Carmelites, but at the age of 39, with the permission of the bishop, founded the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena in order to become “an Indian with the Indians” and evangelize Colombia’s indigenous peoples. By the time of her death, her community had 467 sisters in three nations; it has since spread to 19 countries.
St. Laura Montoya “was an instrument of evangelization, first as a teacher and later as a spiritual mother of the indigenous in whom she instilled hope, welcoming them with this love that she had learned from God and bringing them to him with an effective pedagogy that respected their culture and was not in opposition to it,” Pope Francis preached. He added that she
teaches us to be generous to God and not to live our faith in solitude — as if it were possible to live the faith alone! — but to communicate it and to make the joy of the Gospel shine out in our words and in the witness of our life wherever we meet others …
She teaches us to see Jesus’ face reflected in others and to get the better of the indifference and individualism that corrode Christian communities and eat away our heart itself. She also teaches us to accept everyone without prejudice, without discrimination and without reticence, but rather with sincere love, giving them the very best of ourselves and, especially, sharing with them our most worthwhile possession; this is not one of our institutions or organizations, no. The most worthwhile thing we possess is Christ and His Gospel.
St. María Guadalupe García Zavala (1878-1963), colloquially known as Madre Lupita, was born in Zapopan, a west-central Mexican city with a famed Marian shrine. The daughter of shopkeeper whose store sold religious goods, Madre Lupita broke off an engagement at the age of 23 to found the Handmaids of St Margaret Mary and the Poor, a religious institute whose members minister to the sick. She sought to be “poor with the poor,” and during the persecution of the Church in Mexico, she hid the local archbishop and other clergy in her hospital.
“By renouncing a comfortable life — what great harm an easy life and well-being cause, the adoption of a bourgeois heart paralyzes us — by renouncing an easy life in order to follow Jesus’ call she taught people how to love poverty, how to feel greater love for the poor and for the sick,” Pope Francis preached. “Madre Lupita would kneel on the hospital floor, before the sick, before the abandoned, in order to serve them with tenderness and compassion.”
“This new Mexican saint invites us to love as Jesus loved us,” he added. “This does not entail withdrawal into ourselves, into our own problems, into our own ideas, into our own interests, into this small world that is so harmful to us; but rather to come out of ourselves and care for those who are in need of attention, understanding and help, to bring them the warm closeness of God’s love through tangible actions of sensitivity, of sincere affection and of love.”
Pope Francis canonized St. Laura Montoya and Madre Lupita, along with St. Antonio Primaldo and his companions, during Mass at St. Peter’s Square on May 12. He canonized St. Angela of Feligno (1248-1309) on October 9 and St. Peter Faber (1506-46) on December 17 by extending their liturgical cult to the universal Church and inscribing them in the catalog of saints. In this process, known as equivalent or equipollent canonization, a pope exercises his authority to canonize saints while bypassing the typical judicial means. Pope Benedict XVI canonized St. Hildegard of Bingen by equivalent canonization in 2012; other saints canonized this way through the centuries include St. Albert the Great, St. Bruno, St. Ephrem, St. Norbert, St. Stephen of Hungary, and St. Wenceslaus.
In a 2010 general audience devoted to St. Angela, Pope Benedict said that the life of this young wife and mother was at first “certainly not that of a fervent disciple of the Lord.” At the age of 37, after seeking the intercession of St. Francis, she made a good confession; three years later, her husband and children died. She spent the last 18 years of her life as a member of the Third Order of St. Francis and was favored with mystical experiences. St. Angela, said Pope Benedict, was generous in “penance and suffering, from beginning to end, desiring to die with all the sorrows suffered by the God-man crucified in order to be totally transformed in Him.” She was beatified in 1701.
St. Peter Faber (Pierre Favre), beatified in 1872 and the subject of a biography published by Ignatius Press, shared living quarters at the University of Paris with St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. In 1534, Faber was ordained to the priesthood and became one of the first seven members of the Society of Jesus.
During the last dozen years of his life, St. Peter Faber combined tireless apostolic activity with a deep life of prayer, as Father Adolfo NicolÁs, the Jesuit superior general, discussed in a December 17 letter. Father Simão Rodrigues (Simon Rodriguez), another of the first seven Jesuits, recalled that Faber “had the most charming gentleness and grace that I ever saw in my life for dealing and conversing with people … With his modesty and charm he won for God the hearts of those he dealt with.” In his article in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, Jesuit Father Pierre Suau wrote that “Faber was startled by the ruin which Protestantism had caused in Germany, and by the state of decadence presented by Catholicism; and he saw that the remedy did not lie in discussions with the heretics, but in the reform of the faithful — above all, of the clergy.”
A 2005 curial document noted that “canonization is the supreme glorification by the Church of a Servant of God raised to the honors of the altar with a decree declared definitive and preceptive for the whole Church, involving the solemn Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff.” On the other hand, beatification “consists in the concession of a public cult in the form of an indult and limited to a Servant of God whose virtues to a heroic degree, or martyrdom, have been duly recognized.” The liturgical cult of blessed, according to the formula of beatification, is limited in locis ac modis iure statutis (“in places and modes established by law”).
In 2013, 540 servants of God, 529 of them martyrs, were raised to the altars in 18 beatification ceremonies, all of which took place after Pope Francis’s election. (During his 27-year pontificate, Blessed John Paul II beatified 1,338 servants of God, 1,032 of them martyrs, in 147 beatification ceremonies.) In most cases, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, served as Pope Francis’s representative at the beatifications.
Father Cristóbal López de Valladolid Orea (1638-90) grew up as one of four children in a poor farming family in Mérida, Spain, and was distinguished by a love for penance. Ordained to the priesthood in 1663, he served as a military chaplain, spent years as a hermit, and became a Franciscan tertiary in Córdoba, where he founded the Hospitaller Brothers and Hospitaller Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth to care for the sick; the latter community still survives. Padre Cristóbal, as he is still known, was beatified in Córdoba on April 7, his relics venerated in a public procession.
Born to a noble family in the northern Italian city of Bergamo, Father Luca Passi (1789-1866) was ordained to the priesthood in 1813 and soon joined the “Apostolic College,” a group of diocesan priests known for their intense spirituality and missionary zeal. Named an apostolic missionary by Pope Gregory XVI, he preached missions in Italian parishes and founded the lay Pious Work of St. Dorothy and the Institute of the Teaching Sisters of St. Dorothy to educate girls. “He was a great witness to God’s love for the young and the poor,” Cardinal Amato preached during the April 13 beatification Mass in Venice. “He was a great example of the Christian education of the young generation and also a great evangelizer.”
Father Nicolò Rusca (1563-1618) was ordained to the priesthood in 1587 and ministered in Sondrio, a northern Italian city on the Swiss border, for the last 27 years of his life. Known for his holiness, zeal for souls, and defense of Catholic doctrine in an increasingly Calvinist region, Father Rusca was kidnapped by dozens of armed men led by a Protestant pastor, and then tortured and martyred, as the Diocese of Como notes in a brief biography on its web site. His April 21 beatification in Sondrio caused offense to some Swiss Protestants, who denounced it as a “provocation.”
Francisca de Paula de Jesus Isabel (1810-95), a Brazilian laywoman also known as NhÁ Chica, was beatified on May 4 in Baependi, Brazil. The illiterate daughter of a freed slave, she developed a deep bond with the Blessed Mother when she was orphaned at age ten. Spurning marriage proposals in order to devote herself entirely to God, she led a quiet life of prayer and service as a laywoman. In time, others sought her prayers and counsel. “Her simple life was totally dedicated to God and to charity, so much so that she was called ‘mother of the poor,’” Pope Francis said in a Regina Caeli address after her beatification.
Msgr. Luigi Novarese (1904-84), beatified in Rome on May 11, became severely ill from tuberculosis at the age of eight and spent time in various hospitals under he was miraculously healed at 17. After a brief period of medical studies, he entered the seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1938. He obtained a degree in canon law and worked for the Vatican Secretariat of State (1941-70) and the Italian episcopal conference (1970-77). Emphasizing Christian teaching on the value of suffering, the priest became known as an apostle of the sick and founded various associations for the spiritual and bodily care of the sick and disabled, including the International Confederation of the Volunteers of Suffering Centers and of the Silent Workers of the Cross.
Father Giuseppe (Pino) Puglisi (1937-93) was beatified as a martyr in Palermo, Sicily, on May 25. Ordained to the priesthood in 1960, he held various assignments including parish priest, seminary vice rector, diocesan vocation director, and school teacher. In 1990, he was appointed parish priest in the neighborhood of Brancaccio; after denouncing the mafia, he was murdered. In 1998, four hitmen and two mafia bosses were sentenced in slaying.
“His heart was on fire with authentic pastoral charity; in his zealous ministry he made a lot of room for the education of children and young people and at the same time strove to ensure that every Christian family might live its fundamental vocation as the first teacher of the faith to children,” Pope Benedict XVI preached during his 2010 apostolic journey to Palermo. “The same people entrusted to his pastoral care were able to quench their thirst with the spiritual riches of this good pastor, the cause of whose beatification is underway. I urge you to keep alive the memory of his fruitful priestly witness, following his heroic example.”
“In teaching boys in accordance with the Gospel, he saved them from the criminal underworld and thus the latter sought to get the better of him by killing him,” Pope Francis said the day after the beatification. “However, in fact it is he who won, with the Risen Christ … Let us pray that these members of the Mafia be converted to God and let us praise God for the luminous witness borne by Father Giuseppe Puglisi.”
Sister Zofia Czeska Maciejowska (1584-1650) and Sister Margherita Lucia Szewczyk (1828-1905) were beatified on June 9 in Kraków, Poland. Sister Czeska, who married at 16, had no children of her own but cared for orphaned and poor girls after she was widowed at age 22. Deeply devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady, she in time founded the Congregation of the Virgins of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Sister Szewczyk was born into the Polish nobility during a time of czarist persecution of Catholicism. Orphaned at the age of nine and raised by a stepsister, she became a Franciscan tertiary. At 42, she made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and remained for three years serving other pilgrims. On her trip home, so severe a storm arose that the boat’s passengers threw all the animals and goods overboard. She promised Our Lady of Częstochowa that she would spend her life serving the poor if the lives of those on board were spared. The storm subsided, and upon her return to Poland, she founded what became the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sorrowful Mother of God (Seraphic Sisters) to serve the poor and orphans.
Odoardo Focherini (1907-44), an insurance agent, journalist, and father of seven, was beatified in the northern Italian city of Carpi on June 15. Active in diocesan Catholic organizations, he assisted persecuted Jews. With the support of Cardinal Pietro Boetto of Genoa and the consent of his wife, he established a rescue network that transported over 100 Jews to safety in Switzerland. Following his arrest, he was martyred in a concentration camp in Hersbruck, Germany.
Focherini’s last words, The Jerusalem Post reported, were “I declare I am dying in the purest apostolic Roman Catholic faith and in full submission to the will of God, offering my life as holocaust for my diocese, for Catholic Action, for the pope, and for the return of peace to this world.” Because he was cremated, no relics of his body were available for veneration; instead, his wedding ring, which his grandson had set in a cross surrounded by barbed wire, was venerated at the beatification. Focherini is recognized as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial.
Msgr. Vladimir Ghika (1873-1954), also a martyr, was beatified in Bucharest on August 31. Born into Romanian nobility and the son of a diplomat, Ghika, who was Romanian Orthodox, spent much of his childhood in France. At the age of 29, seeking to become “more orthodox,” he was received into the Catholic Church and earned a doctorate in theology from the Angelicum. Pope St. Pius X advised him not to become a priest; instead, he devoted himself to works of works of mercy, founding the first free hospital in Romania.
He returned to France, and in 1923, Cardinal Louis-Ernest Dubois of Paris ordained him to the priesthood; with Pope Pius XI’s approval, he became the first biritual Romanian priest. After ministering in Paris until 1939, he returned to Romania, refusing an opportunity to leave as the Communists came to power. Arrested in 1952, he died in 1954 from wounds caused by torture.
Bishop Antonio Franco (1585-1626) was beatified on September 2 in the Sicilian city of Messina. Born into a noble Neapolitan family, he earned a doctorate in civil and canon law at the age of 16; following further ecclesiastical studies, he was ordained in 1610. The following year, he became chaplain of the Spanish royal court, and in 1616, King Philip III appointed him major chaplain of the Kingdom of Sicily. In 1617, he was appointed head of the Territorial Prelature of Santa Lucia del Mela, Sicily.
As he fulfilled his duties, he led a life of remarkable penance, living on bread and water, sleeping on the floor with a stone as his pillow, and wearing instruments of mortification; over the centuries, severely ill people have reportedly been healed when these instruments are brought into their presence. His body worn out by penance, Bishop Franco died before his forty-first birthday.
Maria Bolognesi (1924-80), a laywoman, was beatified in the northern Italian city of Rovigo on September 7. According to a Vatican Radio report, she grew up in an extremely poor family; her stepfather was abusive, her mother was blasphemous, and other children did not want to play with her. She had to leave primary school after just two years because she needed to work in the fields. Favored with mystical experiences, she endured demonic harassment.
“She devoted her entire life to serving others, especially the poor and the sick, bearing immense suffering in profound union with the Passion of Christ,” Pope Francis said “Let us give thanks to God for this Gospel witness!”
Father José Gabriel Brochero (1840-1914), the “gaucho priest,” was beatifiedin the north-central Argentine city of Córdoba on September 14. Ordained to the diocesan priesthood in 1866, he ministered to cholera victims and served as prefect of studies in the seminary before taking over an impoverished rural parish.
He rode “on the back of his mule with the white mane, crossing the broad, dry and desolate roads of his 200-square-kilometer parish,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter to the president of the Argentine bishops’ conference. “He would go from house to house, seeking out your great-grandparents and your great-great-grandparents to ask them whether they needed anything and invite them to do the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He knew his parish inside out. He did not stay in the sacristy.”
“The visit of Brochero the gaucho priest brought Jesus Himself to every family,” Pope Francis added. “He would take with him an image of Our Lady, a prayer book with the word of God and his kit to celebrate daily Mass … One can count by the thousands the men and women who, thanks to Brochero’s priestly ministry, gave up their vices and quarrels … He was faithful to the end: he continued praying and celebrating Mass even when he was blind and ill with leprosy.”
Brother Tommaso da Olera (1563-1631), a Capuchin Franciscan friar, was beatifiedin the northern Italian city of Bergamo on September 21. As a child, he tended his family’s sheep; he did not learn to read and write until after he entered the order at age of 17. Fulfilling the humble duties of a Franciscan brother, he became an advisor to royalty and prelates in Austria, even as he continued to visit the sick and poor and live an austere life of prayer, fasting, and mortification. A posthumous collection of his writings was one of Blessed John XXIII’s favorite works.
Father Miroslav Bulešić (1920-47) was beatified in Pula, Croatia, on September 28. He entered the minor seminary at the age of ten and continued his seminary studies in Rome. Ordained in 1943, he was quickly appointed a pastor. When Communists assumed power and pressured the faithful not to attend Mass, the young priest attracted larger crowds than ever as he preached the importance of frequent Holy Communion, frequent Confession, the common recitation of the Rosary, and devotion to the Sacred Heart. He soon became a seminary professor, and he prepared himself spiritually for martyrdom.
Martyrdom arrived when Communists stormed a parish in an attempt to desecrate it and prevent Confirmation from taking place. Father Bulešić stood in front of the tabernacle and said, “Here you go over my dead body”; the Communists departed, and Confirmation proceeded as planned. The following day, they broke into the rectory and stabbed him in the throat. As he died, the priest prayed, “Jesus, receive my soul.”
Rolando Rivi (1931-45), a seminarian, was also martyred by Communists; he was beatified in the northern Italian city of Modena on October 10. Deeply attached to his cassock, he was studying in the forest one day and was easily identified by Communist partisans who wanted to kill a future priest. He was kidnapped, tortured, and killed three days later; he died praying for his father and mother.
During the 1930s, thousands of priests, religious, and laity lost their lives as a storm of anti-Catholic violence swept over Spain. Ten were canonized as martyrs in 1999; 1,001 were beatified between 1987 and 2011 in 14 ceremonies. An additional 522 martyrs were beatified amid protestsin the northeastern Spanish city of Tarragona on October 13. The new martyrs include three bishops, 82 diocesan priests, 412 religious from twenty-four different orders, 15 members of the Brotherhood of Diocesan Priest Workers, three seminarians, five laymen, and two laywomen. They hailed from 19 dioceses.
“Who are the martyrs?” Pope Francis asked in a message for the beatification. “They are Christians won by Christ, disciples who have understood well the meaning of that ‘love to the end’ that led Jesus to the cross … Let us implore the intercession of the martyrs to be concrete Christians, Christians with works and not words, not to be mediocre Christians.”
Brother IstvÁn SÁndor (1914-53) was beatified in Budapest on October 19. At the age of 22, he entered the Salesian order and trained to become a printer. In time, he became a master printer, but after the Communist takeover of Hungary, his print shop was shut down. He continued to engage in secret catechetical work with youth, but was eventually captured, beaten, and executed. Pope Francis called him a “model of service to youth in the oratory and in his profession.”
On November 10, Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel (1830-1905), foundress of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, was beatified in Paderborn, Germany. Following the death of her father, her mother wished her to marry, but the future foundress was determined to enter religious life. The sisters were founded with the twofold mission of perpetual Eucharistic adoration and the care of orphans; in time, they also engaged in works of education. The persecution of the order in Germany under Otto von Bismarck led to the spread of the order to Indiana, where it maintains a significant presence. At her death, there were 1,500 sisters worldwide.
“The saints are not supermen, nor were they born perfect,” Pope Francis said in his November 1 Angelus address. “They are like us, like each one of us. They are people who, before reaching the glory of heaven, lived normal lives with joys and sorrows, struggles and hopes. What changed their lives? When they recognized God’s love, they followed it with all their heart without reserve or hypocrisy. They spent their lives serving others, they endured suffering and adversity without hatred and responded to evil with good, spreading joy and peace. This is the life of a saint.”