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We Need to Name More Married Saints

Q U I C K S C A N

Recent Record
Evolving Models of Holiness
Correcting the Imbalance


The Church recognizes saints and blesseds not to give them bragging rights in heaven but to offer us models of holiness for our earthly pilgrimage. One of the Sacramentary's opening prayers for the Feast of All Saints begins, "God our Father, source of all holiness, the work of your hands is manifest in your saints, the beauty of your truth is reflected in their faith."

Are the "work" of God's hands and the "beauty" of God's truth fully reflected in the small number of married saints and blesseds whom the Church recognizes officially? Doesn't that number suggest that marriage hinders holiness rather than encourages it? The Church's prayers at weddings recognize marriage's potential—even demand—to foster the holiness of each spouse. In fact, weren't most of the saints whom we honor on November 1 married?

Most of the Church's canonized married saints were martyrs (for example, St. Thomas More, martyrs in various countries) or were previously married but lost their spouse and later founded religious communities (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and many others).

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Recent Record

In almost 27 years, Pope John Paul II canonized 482 people and beatified 1,338 men and women, many of them the first canonized saints or blesseds in their countries. All 482 of those saints were martyrs, clerics or members of religious communities when they died—except Gianna Beretta Molla (married) and Giuseppe Moscati (single).

Of the 1,338 people whom Pope John Paul II beatified, all were martyrs, clerics or members of religious communities when they died—except for 14 single people and the married Frederic Ozanam, Lazlo Batthyany-Strattmenn, Charles of Austria, Giuseppe Tovini, Gianna Beretta Molla and Luigi Beltrame Quattorcchi and Maria Corsini (husband and wife). The latter were also parents of two priests, one nun and another daughter.

By October 12, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI will have canonized 28 people— but no one who was married when he or she died. By mid-August 2009, Pope Benedict XVI had approved the beatifications of 191 women and men—all reflecting the categories mentioned above except for Eurosia Fabris (Mamma Rosa) and Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin (parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and four other nuns).

These numbers and the biographies of new saints and blesseds can be checked at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints section of www.vatican.va.

Don't these numbers unintentionally cast doubt on whether the call to holiness is as universal as Chapter Five of Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church says it is?

For the Church's first 300 years, most of the saints whom it recognized were martyrs—with exceptions such as the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.

Later, the Church began recognizing hermits (Anthony of Egypt), virgins (Macrina the Younger, who died in 379), monks (Benedict of Nursia), bishops (Martin of Tours), founders of religious communities (Scholastica and Francis of Assisi, for example) and missionaries (Francis Xavier). People who were married when they died have been overlooked for centuries!

John Fink's 1999 book Married Saints (Alba House) concentrates mostly on 23 married saints in the worldwide liturgical calendar. Except for four married couples (Mary/Joseph, Elizabeth/ Zachary, Ann/Joachim and Isidore/ Maria de la Cabeza), only five of these 23 saints were married when they died.

Fink's 2009 book Future American Saints? Men and Women Whose Causes Are Being Considered (Alba House, and reviewed here) describes 51 people with a U.S. connection who have completed the diocesan level of review and are one miracle away from being beatified.

All were clerics or members of religious communities when they died, except Pierre Toussaint, Virginia Merrick, Dorothy Day and Catherine de Hueck Doherty. Only Toussaint was married when he died.

Does our list of saints recognized by name reflect the fact that raising children and being grandparents are part of the holiness of most of the saints whom we honor as a group every November 1? Are there no saintly childless couples to be recognized?

Aren't there saintly parents dealing with challenges raised by their teenagers? Aren't there saintly couples who volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters or other works of mercy? Saintly parents raising special-needs children?

I propose that for the next 10 years the Holy See approve for beatification only married couples. Recognizing more married saints will follow. The current imbalance is in our records—not in God's!

Martyrs, clerics, members of religious communities and single people "in the world" can patiently wait another 10 years for official recognition. All of them, in fact, were helped and inspired by saintly married people.

The Holy See's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints initiates no causes but rather handles those that dioceses have recommended for further action. Change needs to begin at the diocesan level.

Because holy women and men offer us inspiration and strength along our pilgrimage of faith, we need to recognize officially more married saints and blesseds!--P.M.


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