You Don't Have to Be a Pope to Be a Saint

Posted: 5/9/2014

Pat McEntee, Glenmary's associate vocation directorI can still remember the death of St. John Paul II in 2005. I was teaching high school religion at the time and found the experience of his death, the funeral, the mourning period, and the process of selecting his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, completely fascinating. It was an important teaching opportunity, as well as a first-time, enlightening experience for me, since I was about four years old when Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I died.

One of the things I remember most vividly about Pope John Paul II's death and funeral were all the signs in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican that demanded "Santo Subito!" ("Sainthood Now!"). The Church has traditionally had a five-year waiting period before considering an individual's cause for sainthood. In this instance, the waiting period was waived by Pope Benedict XVI, yet it still took nine years for John Paul II to be canonized.

St. John Paul II started a trend during his papacy from 1978-2005: he canonized 480 people. Some thought it was too many. After all, he canonized more saints than all previous popes combined since the current canonization process began in 1588. His response to this criticism was to point to the Second Vatican Council, which reminded us that the Church is holy. He wanted to have more people to promote as examples of how to serve God and live a holy life and to serve as inspirational models for Christians, especially at the local level. Now that Pope Francis has canonized him, St. John Paul II is also one to whom others can look for inspiration.

Despite the increasing number of canonized saints of the Church (somewhere in the 10,000-20,000 range), there are many more saints known only to God. The fact that none of the canonized saints comes from Glenmary or a Glenmary mission does not mean that there have been no saints. Every day, in every Glenmary mission, Glenmarians, coworkers and parishioners carry out acts of heroic virtue.

The very action that each priest and brother has taken in joining Glenmary is a sign of heroic virtue. After all, how many people are willing to profess the oaths of poverty, chastity, obedience and prayer to God for the sake of the people in the mission regions of the United States?

One interesting feature about the process of canonization is that it must always be initiated at the local level. An individual's local bishop is the one who must approve the cause for sainthood for it to proceed. Therefore, canonization is a grass-roots movement. When the local Church focuses on a person who possessed saintly qualities, this recognition can engender particular pride among the people in that locale and provide them with an example to admire and emulate. Canonization only takes that recognition to a higher scale. Just because the Church has not recognized any Glenmarians as saints does not mean that God has not.

The canonization process is a lengthy and, unfortunately, often costly one, so we may never see the day when a Glenmarian is canonized by the Church. However, it is clear that many of these men, their coworkers and Glenmary mission members have lived lives of holiness over the years and should be held up as examples for those who remain.

Could you—or someone you know—be the next person to strive for holiness and heroic virtue by serving as a Glenmary Home Missioner and bringing the gifts of the Catholic Church to rural home mission areas of the United States? Anyone interested is invited to join us on one of our upcoming Come & See mission trips or contact us today!