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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Saints Come From All Nations

Are There Any Black Saints?

Q: Where can I find a list of black saints for a study in which I am participating?

A: Go to and click on “Black Saints.” You will find a partial list, including Saints Monica and Augustine, patrons of many African-American parishes in the United States.

St. Benedict the Black (d. 1589), a Franciscan brother in Italy, was canonized in 1807. St. Martin de Porres (d. 1639), a Dominican brother in Lima, was canonized in 1962. This son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave was known for his compassion. Josephine Bakhita (c.1868-1947), a former Sudanese slave who joined the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Italy, was canonized last October. In 1964, 22 Ugandan martyrs were beatified.

The first black follower of Jesus may have been the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip (Acts 8:26-40). For more information on black saints, see the “African Roots” section of The History of Black Catholics in the United States, by Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. (Crossroad, 1992).

Who Was St. Joseph?

Q: Where can I find the following information about St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus: the date of his birth, the date, place and circumstances of his death, plus when he was canonized?

A: Sorry, I cannot provide any of these details. Since the Gospels do not mention Joseph during Jesus’ public ministry, most Christians have presumed that Joseph died before that ministry began around 27 A.D. Since Joseph was still alive when Jesus was 12 years old, Joseph probably died between 7 A.D. and 27 A.D. in Nazareth.

Because there was no formal canonization process in the first century A.D., Christians in Nazareth recognized Joseph as a holy and “righteous” man (Matthew 1:19), who generously cooperated with God’s grace. Other followers of Jesus accepted the local judgment that Joseph was a saint.

We know nothing definite about the year of Joseph’s birth—perhaps before 25 B.C. Joseph’s father is listed in Matthew 1:16 as Jacob and in Luke 3:23 as Heli. The Gospels do not give the name of Joseph’s mother.

The first Christians must have wanted more to imitate Joseph’s virtues than to record biographical details about him.

Can a Person Who Committed Suicide Have a Funeral Mass?

Q: My daughter has a friend whose brother committed suicide. Although he went for therapy, he returned to abusing drugs. After he totaled his parents’ car, he thought he was a failure. He left a note with a list of pallbearers.

Did he go to hell? Can he have a funeral Mass? What does the Church teach about this?

A: Only God knows the human heart well enough to make the awesome judgment about a person’s salvation or damnation. The Church cannot preempt God’s judgment in these matters.

I think most priests would regard a funeral Mass as both appropriate and desirable if the family requests one. One of the largest funeral Masses I have ever attended was for someone who had committed suicide.

It is true that the Church once forbade a funeral Mass in these circumstances. The reasoning was that allowing such a Mass might be interpreted as condoning suicide.

Other believers have argued that, because funeral Masses are for the sake of the living as well as for the deceased, not allowing a Mass for those who have committed suicide simply increases the survivors’ already heavy burden.

Wisely, the Church in one of its eucharistic prayers addresses God, “...and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (#2280).

The Catechism later teaches, “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (#2282-2283).

The 1983 Code of Canon Law offers a very narrow list of people who might be refused a funeral Mass—and then only if celebrating one might cause grave public scandal. The local bishop can decide any doubtful situations.

As always, final judgment belongs to God alone.

Was St. Patrick Canonized?

Q: Is it true that the Catholic Church never officially canonized St. Patrick and that he is no longer celebrated as a saint? I think he was canonized but that in the 1990s his feast was dropped from the revised liturgical calendar.

A: St. Patrick died around 461 A.D. The first saint formally canonized by the pope—for which we have a record, anyway—was St. Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg, Germany, in the year 993.

For most of Christianity’s first 1,000 years, canonizations were done on the diocesan or regional level. Relatively soon after very holy people died, the local Church affirmed that they could be liturgically celebrated as saints.

That was the case with St. Patrick, whose feast has not been dropped from the Church’s universal calendar. Because it usually falls on a weekday during Lent, the opening prayer at Mass can be for St. Patrick, but everything else comes from the Lenten weekday prayers.

If St. Patrick is the patron of a diocese or a parish, the feast can be celebrated with greater solemnity. If March 17 falls on a Sunday, the feast is not observed liturgically that year. Patrick’s admirers find many other ways to celebrate!

New Internet Feature Helps Adult Faith Formation, Web site of St. Anthony Messenger Press, is unveiling its fifth-anniversary, redesigned home page this month. “Update Your Faith,” a new adult-education section, focuses on eight topics about which Catholics frequently ask questions. This new feature uses materials originally published in this column, as well as texts from Catholic Update, Youth Update, Scripture From Scratch and Millennium Monthly.

Each topic presents questions and answers. The first mouse click provides a short answer; the second click makes the full article available.

Those unable to find what they seek at “Update Your Faith” can use our “St. Anthony Search Engine” to find more information. There is also a link to the online “Ask a Franciscan.”

Reaching Out to Inactive Catholics

This Ash Wednesday (February 28), St. Anthony Messenger Press begins, a Web site designed for people who no longer practice their Catholic faith. Each year, some of them return to the practice of their faith, especially during Lent.

This Web site enables people to do the following: address eight issues often linked with alienation from the Catholic faith, find in our online library of St. Anthony Messenger Press materials on subjects likely to interest them, receive a welcome message for that week, locate the nearest parish, make contact with nearby “Come Home” programs and receive a daily inspirational message.

Two Internet “companions” for each of the site’s eight topics will facilitate the online discussion about that issue, editing material submitted and responding to the issues raised. All of these companions are experienced pastoral ministers. Users of can also submit questions for private e-mail answers.

On learning about this site, Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati wrote to our publisher: “I was delighted to hear about St. Anthony Messenger Press’s decision to launch a Web site geared to alienated Catholics....Something in me says that the Spirit will use this to help people return to the practice of their faith.”

If you know people possibly open to taking a second look at the faith in which they were baptized, why not recommend this Web site?

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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