Pope Benedict’s Saints

During his pontificate of nearly three years, he has canonized 14. Here is a look at them.


  By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.” These words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church were written during the 27-year pontificate of Pope John Paul II, who canonized a record 483 saints, prompting criticisms that he had made the Vatican a “saintmaking factory.”

Apart from five large groups of martyrs— 381 clergy, religious, and laity slain in Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, and China—Pope John Paul II proclaimed 102 saints, or fewer than four per year, a figure in line with the increase in canonizations that has taken place under recent popes. While Popes Leo XIII (17 canonizations in 25 years), St. Pius X (four in 11 years), and Benedict XV (three in eight years) allcanonized, on average, fewer than one saint per year, more recent popes have canonized saints with greater frequency. Pope Pius XI canonized 34 in 17 years; Pius XII, 34 in 19 years, Bl. John XXIII, 10 in five years; and Paul VI, 83 in 15 years (including 62 martyred in Uganda, England, and Wales).

During his pontificate of nearly three years, Pope Benedict XVI has canonized 14 new saints. Two of these saints were associated with Pope John Paul’s Krakow archdiocese; three were Franciscans, one was a Passionist, and one was a Jesuit. Half of the new saints founded or led religious communities. One may have inspired the five luminous mysteries of the Rosary. Half lived during the 20th century; none died a martyr.

Woven through the saints’ varied backgrounds in the Holy See’s official profiles is a common theme: an ardent desire, anchored in the love of God, to serve one’s neighbor through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.


Only one saint canonized by Pope Benedict lived before the rise of Protestantism: St. Simon of Lipnica (1435 or 1440-1482), a Franciscan priest from southwestern Poland. In 1454, Simon entered the same Jagiellonian University that Pope John Paul II would enter as an 18-year-old almost 500 years later. There Simon encountered the Friars Minor and entered the order. Particularly devoted to the Holy Name of Jesus, Simon gained renown for his sermons at Wawel Cathedral and became known as praedicator ferventissimus, or “most fervent preacher.” The saint died of the plague he had contracted from ministering to the sick.

At the age of seven, a daughter of a medical doctor in the central Italian city of Viterbo consecrated her life to God. St. Rosa Venerini (1656-1728) entered a Dominican convent at the age of 20 to discern what that consecration might entail, but soon left after her father’s death. Inviting women neighbors to join her in praying the Rosary, she became troubled by their “cultural, moral, and spiritual poverty” (in the words of the Vatican biography) and at 29 founded the first Italian public school for girls. The religious community she founded to educate these schoolgirls— the Maestre Pie Venerini (Venerini Religious Teachers)—now numbers 425.

At 20, St. Rosa entered a convent; at 20, St. Felix of Nicosia (1715-87) sought admission to the Capuchin Franciscan order as a lay brother but was refused. For seven consecutive years, the illiterate Sicilian’s requests to join were refused; after he met with the provincial, however, he was permitted to enter the friary in his hometown. Learning by heart the Scripture passages he heard and living a life of penance, he spent his days begging for alms for the poor.

“This humble Capuchin Friar, illustrious son of the land of Sicily, austere and penitent, faithful to the most genuine expressions of the Franciscan tradition, was gradually shaped and transformed by God’s love, lived and carried out in love of neighbor,” Pope Benedict recalled in his canonization homily. “Brother Felix helps us to discover the value of the little things that make our lives more precious, and teaches us to understand the meaning of family and of service to our brothers and sisters, showing us that true and lasting joy, for which every human heart yearns, is the fruit of love.”


During his 2007 apostolic journey to Brazil, which has more Catholics (155.6 million) than any other country, Pope Benedict canonized the nation’s first saint, St. Anthony of Saint Anne Galvão (1739-1822), a Franciscan Friar Minor. Born in southeastern Brazil, he held leadership positions in his order and headed a women’s religious institute, the Recollects of St Teresa. In a homily preached in São Paulo before an estimated 800,000, Pope Benedict observed that “the Franciscan charism, lived out in the spirit of the Gospel, has borne significant fruits through his witness as an ardent adorer of the Eucharist, as a prudent and wise guide of the souls who sought his counsel, and as a man with a great devotion to the Immaculate Conception of Mary, whose ‘son and perpetual servant’ he considered himself to be.”

“The significance of Frei [Friar] Galvão’s example,” the Holy Father continued, “lies in his willingness to be of service to the people whenever he was asked. He was renowned as a counselor, he was a bringer of peace to souls and families, and a dispenser of charity especially towards the poor and the sick.” 

As St. Anthony ministered in Brazil, a teenage girl on the northwestern coast of France loved to spend hours in prayer and solitude by the sea. After her father was murdered when she was 15, the future St. Théodore Guérin (1798-1856) cared for her mother and sister before entering the Sisters of Providence at 24. In 1840, she and five other sisters traveled to the United States to establish the Sisters of Providence in Indiana. Despite many trials, Mother Guérin was able to found schools throughout Indiana and Illinois.

Pope Benedict called this saint “a beautiful spiritual figure and a model of the Christian life. She was always open for the missions the Church entrusted to her, and she found the strength and the boldness to put them [the missions] into practice in the Eucharist, in prayer, and in an infinite trust in Divine Providence. Her inner strength moved her to address particular attention to the poor, and above all to children.”

“Those who know her or come to know her,” observed Sister Denise Wilkinson, the current general superior of the Sisters of Divine Providence, “are particularly attracted to her unshakeable confidence in God’s Providence. She believed in the deepest part of her that God would never fail her or desert her. She saw signs of God’s love and care all around her.” Sister Wilkinson told CWR that the canonization “has revitalized us in many ways. We are more committed to following in her footsteps of trusting Providence and risking all for the sake of the Gospel. It has certainly brought more visitors to our motherhouse grounds and our coventual church where her remains rest.”


St. Marie Eugenie of Jesus (1817-98) is the only newly canonized saint who did not grow up in a practicing Catholic family. Born to wealthy, essentially nonbelieving parents, Anna Marie Eugenie Milleret had a mystical encounter with Christ during her First Communion but attended Mass infrequent infrequently thereafter. After her father’s banks failed, her parents separated, and at the age of 15 she watched her mother die suddenly of cholera. Converted at 19 by the preaching of Jean-Baptiste Lacordaire at Notre Dame in Paris, she founded a religious order at 22 under the guidance of her confessor. Two years later, the Religious of the Assumption opened their first school, and today, the order’s 1,263 members minister in 34 nations. 

This saint, says Pope Benedict, “reminds us first of all of the importance of the Eucharist in the Christian life and in spiritual growth. In fact, as she herself emphasizes, her First Holy Communion was an important moment, even if she was unaware of it at the time. Christ, present in the depths of her heart, was working within her, giving her time to follow her own pace and to pursue her inner quest, which was to lead her to the point of giving herself totally to the Lord in the religious life in response to the needs of her time.”

Born in southern Holland, St. Marie Eugenie’s contemporary John Andrew Houben—the future St. Charles of St. Andrew (1821-93)—was admitted to the Passionist Order in 1845 by Bl. Dominic Barberi less than four weeks after Barberi had received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church. Ordained in Belgium, he ministered in England and Ireland and was venerated as a miracle worker and saint during his lifetime. In St. Charles, observed Pope Benedict, “we see how [God’s] love overflowed in a life totally dedicated to the care of souls. During his many years of priestly ministry in England and Ireland, the people flocked to him to seek out his wise counsel, his compassionate care, and his healing touch.”


The majority of Ukraine’s 4.6 million Catholics belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Some 850,000, however, are Roman Catholics, a reminder of an era when Ukraine was under Polish and Lithuanian rule.

Pope Benedict canonized two Roman Catholic Ukrainians who lived through the fall of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires and the rise of Bolshevism. A devoted parish priest of the Archdiocese of Lviv, St. Zygmunt Gorazdowski (1845-1920) founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In his canonization homily, Pope Benedict recounted that the saint, who was born in what is now southeastern Poland, “became famous for his devotion founded on the celebration and adoration of the Eucharist. Living Christ’s offering urged him toward the sick, the poor and the needy…In founding the Association of Priests, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and many other charitable institutions, Zygmunt Gorazdowski always allowed himself to be guided by the spirit of communion, fully revealed in the Eucharist.”

A native of southern Poland, St. Joseph Bilczewski (1860-1923) was a diocesan priest in Krakow who in a short time became dean of theology and rector of Lviv University. At the suggestion of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Pope Leo XIII named Bilczweski archbishop of Lviv in 1900. A model pastor of souls, the saint, in the words of Pope Benedict, “was a man of prayer. The Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, meditation, the Rosary and other pious practices formed part of his daily life. A particularly long time was dedicated to Eucharistic adoration…The deep knowledge of theology, faith, and Eucharistic devotion of Jozef Bilczewski made him an example for priests and a witness for all the faithful.”

While these two saints were ministering in Ukraine, St. Filippo Smaldone (1848-1923), a priest from Naples, was devoting his life to ministering to deafmutes in southern Italy. A diocesan priest, he was superior of the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales and founder of the Salesian Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the Eucharistic League of Priest Adorers, and Women Adorers. Pope Benedict described the saint as “a priest with a great heart nourished continuously on prayer and Eucharistic adoration [and] above all a witness and servant of charity, which he manifested in an eminent way through service to the poor, in particular to deafmutes, to whom he dedicated himself entirely … St. Filippo Smaldone saw the image of God reflected in deaf-mutes, and he used to repeat that, just as we prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament, so we should kneel before a deafmute.”

Born in west central Mexico, St. Rafael Guízar Valencia (1878-1938) become a seminary spiritual director after his ordination to the priesthood. As the persecution of the Church by the Mexican government increased, the saint founded a short-lived Catholic newspaper in 1911, which made him a marked man for the rest of his life. Ministering in disguise until 1915, he then preached in the southern United States, Guatemala, and Cuba until he was appointed bishop of the east Mexican Diocese of Veracruz-Jalapa in 1919. Spending nine years of his episcopate on the run, he directed Mexico’s only clandestine seminary for 15 years. A dozen years after his death, his body was discovered to be incorrupt.

“Imitating the poor Christ,” Pope Benedict preached, the saint “renounced his goods and never accepted the gifts of the powerful, or rather, he gave them back immediately… His charity, lived to a heroic degree, earned him the name ‘bishop of the poor’…Since the formation of priests was one of his priorities, he reopened the seminary, which he considered ‘the apple of his eye,’ and therefore he would often say: ‘A bishop can do without the mitre, the crosier, and even without the cathedral, but he cannot do without the seminary, since the future of his diocese depends on it.’“

St. Rafael is the seventh member (and first bishop-member) of the Knights of Columbus to be canonized; the other six were also Mexican priests. Andrew T. Walther, the Knights’ director of media relations, told CWR that the saint was also “the first bishop canonized who was born on the American continent, and that speaks to the maturity of the Church in the ‘New World’…His life is a great example of keeping one’s faith in spite of the adversity of society, as a priest.”

A year after St. Rafael’s birth, St. Gaetano Catanoso (1879-1963) was born in southern Italy. A model parish priest (see My Cousin the Saint, page 22), the saint, in the words of Pope Benedict, “was a lover and apostle of the Holy Face of Jesus…With joyful intuition he joined this devotion to Eucharistic piety…Daily Mass and frequent adoration of the Sacrament of the Altar were the soul of his priesthood: with ardent and untiring pastoral charity he dedicated himself to preaching, catechesis, the ministry of confession, and to the poor, the sick, and the care of priestly vocations. To the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Veronica, Missionaries of the Holy Face, which he founded, he transmitted the spirit of charity, humility and sacrifice which enlivened his entire life.”

Though St. Paul was shipwrecked on Malta in the first century, the nation had to wait nearly 2,000 years for the canonization of its first saint. Known as the Second Apostle of Malta, St. George Preca (1880-1962) founded the Society of Christian Doctrine, or M.U.S.E.U.M., an organization of laity devoted to prayer and catechesis. In 1957, he compiled a list of five mysteries of light for private Rosary devotions; the list is almost identical to the five luminous mysteries Pope John Paul added to the Rosary in 2002.

Emphasizing that she was offering her personal perspective and not speaking on behalf of her organization, Colette Grech of the Maltese government’s tourism authority commented to CWR, “I believe without fear of exaggeration that there is not a single Maltese person who does know who he is…St. George Preca’s memory and spirit are kept alive in the various parishes through the efforts of the people who dedicate their lives to the M.U.S.E.U.M. and what this Society stands for. Most children get their first taste of religion through M.U.S.E.U.M., with some eventually growing up to follow the example of their mentors to dedicate their lives to the Society.”

St. Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga (1901- 52), the only newly canonized saint who lived entirely in the 20th century, was born on the coast of central Chile. After his father died when he was four, he lived with various relatives. As a university student in Santiago, he studied law, worked in the afternoons and evenings to support his mother and brother, and made weekly visits to the poorest neighborhoods. Becoming a Jesuit at 23, he received a doctorate from Louvain and returned to Chile in 1936. The last 16 years of his life were years of remarkable intensity. He taught religion at a university and pedagogy at a college, helped direct the youth movement of Catholic Action nationwide, gave retreats, founded the Chilean Trade Union Association, wrote several books (the most famous being Is Chile Still a Catholic Country?), and founded El Hogar de Christo, which offered a homelike environment to the homeless.

The twofold commandment of love “was the program of life of St. Alberto Hurtado, who wished to identify himself with the Lord and to love the poor with this same love,” said Pope Benedict. “The formation received in the Society of Jesus, strengthened by prayer and adoration of the Eucharist, allowed him to be won over by Christ, being a true contemplative in action. In love and in the total gift of self to God’s will, he found strength for the apostolate.”


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About J. J. Ziegler 55 Articles
J. J. Ziegler writes from North Carolina.