Saints from the United States

call to holiness

The Second Vatican Council reminds us that all women and men are called to be holy (Lumen Gentium, 39-42). This universal call to holiness is depicted in a beautiful way in the sacred art of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In the Great Upper Church, a marble bas relief above the entryway shows people from many different backgrounds being guided by the Holy Spirit. That was the path undertaken by Father Junípero Serra, who will be canonized in an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on the East Portico of the Basilica on September 23. With his canonization, this great 18th century Franciscan missionary will join the growing number of declared saints from what is now the United States.

Included in this multitude is Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-80), whose feast day we celebrate today. Known popularly as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” she is portrayed in a sculpture in the Hall of American Saints outside the Crypt Church of the Basilica. She was the first Native American from this area to be canonized in 2012. In addition to being a patron saint of Native Americans and ecology, she is a role model for those trying to live their faith in a sometimes hostile culture.

Nearby is a statue of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), the founder of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph. A mother herself, she can be regarded as the mother of the nation’s Catholic school system after founding schools in Maryland in the first decade of the 1800s. Canonized in 1975, she is the first native-born saint of the United States, and her feast day is January 4.

A sculpture of Saint Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) shows her holding the hand of a young African-American boy, with her other arm around a Native American schoolgirl. The foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Saint Katharine was a Philadelphia heiress who gave up her fortune to devote her life to providing educational opportunities for Black and Indian children. In addition to founding schools in 13 states, her order also established Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university for African-Americans. She was canonized in 2000, and her feast day is March 3.

The Hall also has a statue of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917). She was an Italian immigrant and Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart who came to the United States and founded orphanages, hospitals and schools for immigrants. Now regarded as a patron saint for immigrants, she was canonized in 1946 and her feast day is November 13.

A statue of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852) is included as well. A native of France and Religious of the Sacred Heart, she volunteered to serve as a missionary in the United States. Working near Saint Louis, she established the first Catholic girls’ school west of the Mississippi River, and she later founded the first Catholic school for Native American children. Saint Rose was canonized in 1988, and her feast day is November 18.

Our Lady of Holy Hostyn Chapel on the lower level includes a bronze statue of Saint John Neumann (1811-1860), a native of Bohemia and missionary priest who later served as the bishop of Philadelphia between 1852-60 and founded the first diocesan school system in the United States. He was canonized in 1977 and his feast day is January 5.

A statue of Saint Mother Théodore Guérin (1798-1856) stands next to the Mary’s Garden outside the Basilica. She immigrated to the United States from France in 1840 and co-founded the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The next year, Mother Theodore established the first Catholic women’s liberal arts college in the United States, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana. The founder of schools throughout that state and neighboring Illinois, she was canonized in 2006 and her feast day is October 3.

A tympanum on the Basica’s West Porch depicts Saint Damien de Veuster (1840-89), a native of Belgium famous for giving his life to the suffering people who had been banished to the “leper colony” of Molokai. Father Damien, as a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, brought love and hope to those who had known only rejection and despair. He was canonized in 2009 and his feast day is May 10.

Saint Marianne Cope (1838-1918), a member of the Sisters of Saint Francis, volunteered to also serve in Molokai. Arriving a few months before the death of Saint Damien, Mother Marianne succeeded him in leading the outreach to leprosy patients there, providing them with educational and health care services and hope for a better future. She was canonized in 2012, and her feast day is January 23.

A niche in the Basilica West Facade includes a sculpture of Saint Isaac Jogues (1607-46), a French Jesuit priest and a missionary to the Native Americans. He was among three Jesuit missionaries tortured and killed in what is now New York, while five others were slain in Canada. Saint Isaac Jogues and the other North American martyrs are recognized by the Church as the first martyrs of this land, and they were canonized in 1930. Their feast day is October 19.

Beyond the Basilica, many of these saints are depicted in sacred art at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, where Pope Francis will meet and pray with the nation’s bishops, and also at Saint Patrick Church in Washington, where our Holy Father will minister to a few of our sisters and brothers in need.

We too can be pilgrims to these holy places in Washington. Looking upon these images of the canonized saints of the United States who show us the way to heaven, we can also vow to answer the call to holiness here on earth.