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Holy People 'Walk the Talk'
By Carol Ann Morrow
According to the new United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, holy men and women who lived in this hemisphere can teach us much about our beliefs, sacramental practices , moral decisions and prayer.


Holy People Who Seem Like Neighbors
The Creed: The Faith Professed
The Sacraments: The Faith Celebrated
Christian Morality: The Faith Lived
Prayer: The Faith Prayed
How Will This Catechism Impact Your Life?
U.S. Catholic Catechism: Beyond the Stories
'The Rest of the Story'


“WHY DID GOD MAKE YOU?” This opening query from the Baltimore Catechism (first published in 1885) prompted the answer many of us memorized in grade school: “God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in heaven.”

After Vatican II (1962-1965), the Church expanded the context for understanding the answer to this and many other catechism questions. The didactic Q & A approach fell out of favor as new understanding of the ways people learn influenced teaching methods in all subject areas.

In the mid-1980s, Pope John Paul II saw the need to develop a new catechism for a new era in the Church’s life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, meant to capture and codify the wisdom of Vatican II and its understanding of the faith, was issued in 1994 and updated in 1997.

That text stated that other catechisms are needed “to provide the adaptation of doctrinal presentations and catechetical methods required by the differences of culture, age, spiritual maturity, and social and ecclesial condition among all those to whom it is addressed” (#24). An adult primer of faith must respect and engage its readers by recognizing and respecting this God-given variety.

The bishops of the United States responded to the challenge and last July issued the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. True educators draw from life, connect to truth and point toward contemporary circumstance and culture. In religious education, the work of meditation and prayer completes the circle of engagement. That is the model of this 637-page volume, meant to be used as a reference, a resource and a refresher for all Catholics, but which is oriented toward those who might never have studied the faith in a systematic manner.

Holy People Who Seem Like Neighbors

Thirty-four of the Catechism’s 36 chapters begin with the story of a holy person. Some are biblical figures (Moses, Job) and others lived on other continents (Augustine, Thomas More, Pope John XXIII). This article will concentrate on the 28 people whose stories of living their Catholic faith in this hemisphere can inspire us.

The Catechism introduces us to laymen and laywomen, religious, priests, bishops and a cardinal. Native American, white, black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic persons are all represented. A few of these women and men have been canonized or beatified, but most have yet to be formally recognized by the Church for their holiness.

Some are well-known to many Catholics, others less so. The closer the examples are to grassroots America, the more edifying is their effect. Each two-page story has a logical link to the chapter that it introduces. Meet this “host of witnesses,” grouped according to the section of the U.S. Catechism in which they appear.


The Creed: The Faith Professed

The Apostles’ Creed, “the oldest Roman catechism,” and the Nicene Creed, and their roots in Scripture form the first firm pillar of catechetical teaching. These believers have been included to inspire us.

John Carroll (1735-1815), the first Catholic bishop in the United States, is praised in the Preface as a “teacher, bishop and shepherd” who worked hard to establish the Church and its institutions in this nation. Since the Preface is from the bishops of our day, Bishop Carroll’s pastoral example is most appropriate.

Elizabeth Bayley Seton (1774-1821), a wife, mother, convert, woman of wealth, vowed religious and founder of the American Sisters of Charity, introduces Chapter 1 as a woman longing to know God.

Isaac Thomas Hecker (1819-1888), a priest and founder of the Congregation of St. Paul, opens Chapter 4 about the response of faith. Hecker is described as a man knowledgeable about the faith and sharing it with others as a preacher and writer.

Orestes Brownson (1803-1876), a journalist and author, begins Chapter 5 (I Believe in God), the first of the chapters directly addressing the tenets of the Creed. He wrestled with these beliefs before becoming a Catholic as an adult.

Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (1851-1926), the youngest child of celebrated author Nathaniel Hawthorne, introduces Chapter 6 on our creation in the image of God. She saw that clearly as a wife, mother, widow, author and co-founder of the Dominican Congregation of St. Rose of Lima. Her community was begun to serve poor people suffering from cancer.

Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), born a slave in Haiti and later freed in New York City, is recalled in Chapter 7 on Jesus Christ because, as the Catechism says, he was such a “true and heroic disciple of Jesus Christ.” He married and lived a quiet life of generous kindness. The Church has declared him Venerable.

Thea Bowman (1937-1990), a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, powerfully opens Chapter 8 on the death and resurrection of Jesus. She championed black culture within the Catholic tradition. A few months before she died of bone cancer, she spoke from a wheelchair to the U.S. bishops, challenging them to make education of the poor a priority.

Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), the first U.S. Native American to be declared Blessed, is cited in Chapter 9 (Receive the Holy Spirit). She exhibited the gifts of the Holy Spirit during her short life, particularly fortitude in facing opposition from others in her village and piety in her devotion to both private and communal prayer.

Junipero Serra (1713-1784), the Franciscan who founded eight of the 21 California missions, introduces Chapter 11 on the four marks of the Church, because he demonstrated a vivid understanding of them in his missionary work, both in Mexico and in the U.S. He was beatified in 1988.

Juan Diego (1474-1548), to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531, opens Chapter 12 on Mary, since it is he who bore witness to his visions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas. He worked for years as a catechist and was canonized in 2002.

Katharine Drexel (1858-1955), the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia banker, begins Chapter 13 on the last things: death, judgment and eternity. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who serve the U.S. black and Native American peoples. After a severe heart attack, St. Katharine lived for 20 years in prayerful retirement.

The Sacraments: The Faith Celebrated

The seven sacraments are the second pillar of catechesis. This nine-chapter section begins with a chapter on liturgy and ends with a chapter on sacramentals. The U.S. Catechism treats each sacrament in a separate chapter, fully acknowledging and cross-referencing how each sacrament relates to the others. These holy people tapped sacramental graces in abundance.

Martin Hellriegel (1890-1981), a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, is remembered at the start of Chapter 14 (The Celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ). He was a pioneer of the liturgical movement who dedicated himself to ensuring that his parishioners understood the words and actions of the Mass and were enabled to participate fully.

John Boyle O’Reilly (1844-1890), lay editor of the Boston Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, opens Chapter 15 on Baptism. This Irish Catholic immigrant vigorously defended all minorities in this country, living out his baptismal commitment with fervor.

Frances Cabrini (1850-1917), founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, is recalled in Chapter 16 on Confirmation. The first U.S. citizen to be canonized (1946), she wanted to live out her Confirmation as a missionary in China, but Pope Leo XIII encouraged her to assist immigrants in this country.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez (1918-1963), who encouraged devotion to the Eucharist at the University of Puerto Rico, introduces Chapter 17 on the Eucharist. Rodriguez organized days of prayer on campus, using his own funds, and also began a magazine called Liturgy and Christian Culture. He was beatified in 2001.

Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996), cardinal-archbishop of Chicago, begins Chapter 19 (Anointing the Sick and the Dying). He is remembered for a significant number of achievements, but the Catechism calls the manner in which he faced his forthcoming death “one of his most memorable gifts.”

John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860) and Francis Xavier Seelos (1819-1867), Redemptorist pastors, are cited in Chapter 20 (Holy Orders). John, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, was a preacher, writer, confessor and faithful minister to the sick. He was canonized in 1977. Francis Xavier Seelos was an assistant pastor to John Neumann and followed his example of ministry to the sick. He himself died of yellow fever and was beatified in 2000. The Catechism describes them as “outstanding shepherds of God’s people.”

Patrick Peyton (1909-1992), a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, opens Chapter 22 (Sacramentals and Popular Devotions). His life’s work was encouraging family prayer, especially the Rosary.

Christian Morality: The Faith Lived

Christian morality, the third pillar of Catholic faith, is taught through a study of the Ten Commandments. Social justice, the precepts of the Church and formation of conscience are treated under this heading. These holy people were exemplary in observing the positive challenges the commandments pose.

César Chavèz (1927-1993), founder of the United Farm Workers, is recalled in Chapter 24 (Principles of the Christian Moral Life). His actions were rooted in his conviction (and that of his Church) that all workers are to be treated with dignity. He began a boycott of non-union grapes in 1968.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), who began Friendship House in New York City, begins Chapter 25 on the First Commandment. A Russian countess who emigrated to Canada and the United States after World War I, she later founded Madonna House in Canada. She influenced many Americans through writings and talks that demonstrated God’s primacy in her life.

Demetrius Gallitzin (1770-1840), called the “Apostle to the Alleghenies,” and James Fitton (1805-1881), called the “Apostle to New England,” open Chapter 27 (The Third Commandment: Love the Lord’s Day). These priests worked hard to see that Catholics could celebrate the Lord’s Day with Mass.

Dorothy Day (1897-1980), cofounder of the Catholic Worker movement, is remembered in Chapter 29 (The Fifth Commandment: Promote the Culture of Life). She deeply repented an earlier abortion and became a Catholic after the birth of her daughter. She defended life at all its stages.

Mother Joseph (1823-1902), born Esther Pariseau, was a missionary from Canada. She opens Chapter 31 (The Seventh Commandment: Do Not Steal—Act Justly). Mother Joseph began hospitals, orphanages, schools, homes for the aged and shelters for the mentally ill throughout the U.S. Northwest. She believed that “whatever concerns the poor” should be her primary concern. Her statue represents the state of Washington in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.

John Francis Noll (1875-1956), bishop of Fort Wayne, Indiana, is cited in Chapter 32 (The Eighth Commandment: Tell the Truth). Founder of the Our Sunday Visitor newspaper, he promoted evangelization through honest journalism during a time of great religious bigotry.

Henriette Delille (1813-1862), who lived in New Orleans, opens Chapter 34 (The Tenth Commandment: Embrace Poverty of Spirit). She founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, one of two U.S. religious congregations for African-American women. Born into prosperity and freedom, she reached out to those who were poor and still in slavery.

Prayer: The Faith Prayed

The fourth pillar on which the faith rests is prayer. Although this section looks rather small, it brings together what the sections on the sacraments, the liturgy and the creeds of faith have said about prayer. While Chapter 36 begins with New Testament excerpts about prayer, the preceding chapter (35) is introduced by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979), a bishop and head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for most of his adult life, was originally a professor at the Catholic University of America. This popular preacher, radio and TV evangelist promoted prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament.

How Will This Catechism Impact Your Life?

The U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults is exactly that: Catholic and for adults. It can be used confidently as a resource for every Catholic. It could be a reference for the family, but it is clearly meant to be more than that.

In addition to the stories, cultural segments and the prayerful conclusion to each chapter, the interested reader will find questions and answers, key doctrinal statements for easy perusal and discussion questions that could engage any Catholic seeking to grow in his or her faith.

So this Catechism will surely become a staple of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, both for its teaching teams and for inquirers. It will be a stimulating resource for parish study groups, who may choose to focus on the discussion questions. It could become a powerful Lenten project, with a chapter a day nearly covering that holy season.

Chapter 8, “The Saving Death and Resurrection of Christ,” poses these questions, “How would you help people come to faith in the Resurrection of Christ? Why is it so central to your faith?” You’ll find the answer to this and many other questions about the Catholic faith in the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults.

Parts of this text have been adapted from Catholic Update (C1206), “A Quick Look at the New U.S. Catechism,” available by calling 1-800-488-0488 or through the online catalog at Of related interest, St. Anthony Messenger Press publishes a 12-issue newsletter, Catechism for US: Breaking Open the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, for $13.00 (bulk rates available) and an unabridged audio edition of the Catechism (A16816) on 16 CDs for $59.95.

U.S. Catholic Catechism: Beyond the Stories

Format: Like the Baltimore Catechism and the 904-page Catechism of the Catholic Church, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults uses the creed, sacraments, commandments and prayer as its structural and thematic pillars.

Unique Features: In addition to its thumbnail biographies, the text includes other engaging features. Two are highlighted here:

Doctrine Applied to Cultural Challenges: The themes of human dignity, fairness, respect, solidarity and justice are among those treated. While identifying positive aspects of our culture, the Catechism also addresses subjectivism, relativism and moral dilemmas. Crises of faith are spawned and fostered within a culture. It takes glasses made for that cultural perspective to see them clearly for what they are.

Prayer: The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment” (#2697). The U.S. Catechism ends each chapter with an appropriate meditation, prayer and Scripture citation and includes an Appendix of Traditional Catholic Prayers.

Relationship to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Both books are foundational. The constant references to the Vatican text within the U.S. Catechism demonstrate that these are partner volumes. The newer book seeks to awaken for U.S. Catholics a hunger to know more about their faith.

Intended Audience: This book is written for adults—especially young adult Catholics—within this country’s Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic Churches.

“Hot-button” Issues: Compared to the universal Catechism, the U.S. version has more material on New Age spirituality and abortion. The Index also lists abuse, charismatic renewal, civil disobedience, computers (including the Internet and software piracy), copyright violations and fertility, to name a few new topics.

Web Helps: More information about the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults is available at

'The Rest of the Story'

By Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

ALL THE PEOPLE CITED in the Catechism powerfully illustrate the chapters that they introduce. What the text does not say, for reasons of space or perhaps to avoid creating problems, is that several of these people were very controversial among U.S. Catholics while they were alive.

For example, Dorothy Day publicly criticized Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York City for using seminarians to dig graves in archdiocesan cemeteries when his cemetery workers wanted to unionize. Day’s pacifism during World War II alienated many Catholics. When someone called her a saint, she snapped back, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

The heresy condemned by Pope Leo XIII in 1899 as “Americanism” was occasioned by a Preface to the French translation of Isaac Hecker’s biography. In fact, he never held any of the positions identified as heretical.

Orestes Brownson was a very controversial writer who tangled with many Catholic leaders during the 19th century. Bishop John Hughes of New York once said of Brownson, “I would suffer no man in my diocese whom I could not control.”

Pierre Toussaint was accused of being too deferential to whites, and Junipero Serra allegedly mistreated Native Americans. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was publicly criticized by three U.S. cardinals for beginning the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. The name of César Chavèz was once anathema to many Catholics who sympathized with the grape growers.

No human being is above criticism, but I don’t think any of the criticisms mentioned here were fair descriptions of those people.

We all have blind spots on certain issues. In fact, holy people become even more holy as they struggle to explain or clarify their vision. They may need to purify their motives. They live the Good News, as Jesus said, “with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind...” (Luke 10:27). That’s a consoling thought for fellow pilgrims in faith.

Assistant Editor Carol Ann Morrow has studied the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults very carefully. She helped produce the audio edition available from St. Anthony Messenger Press. Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., collaborated extensively on this article.


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