10 Catholic Saints and their Significance to the Faith
One of my favorite aspects of being Catholic is knowing that I am a part of a vast community of both living Catholics around the world and the millions of faithful people who have gone before us: the communion of saints.
The communion of saints is comprised of all people who were disciples of Jesus while they walked on the earth — people who loved God, followed the path of Christ, and let the Holy Spirit move through their words and actions — some of whom you likely knew personally!
Included in the group is a special kind of Saint (often differentiated as a “capital ’S’ saint”), a person who has been formally recognized by the church for their exemplary life of virtue, devotion to Jesus, and service to God and neighbors.
This formal recognition is called “canonization,” and it’s the process through which the Pope, acting on behalf of the entire Church, “declares a Catholic to be united with God in heaven, an intercessory to God on behalf of the living, and worthy of public and universal veneration” (The United States Council of Catholic Bishops).
There are thousands of canonized Saints within our tradition, each carrying a unique story, each acting as an example of faith, and each waiting to act on our behalf, to intercede for us through our prayers. Here are ten of my favorites:
Considering that Pope Francis named 2021 “The Year of St. Joseph,” and that his feast day is quickly approaching (April 30th!), there’s no better place to begin this list of significant Catholic saints than with St. Joseph. The earthly father of Jesus, St. Joseph models for all of us a life of humble, quiet service.
Little is formally known about Joseph — despite the significant role that he likely played in Jesus’ life, he’s only mentioned a few times in the Gospels — but that doesn’t negate the tremendous role that he played in the history of the church.
By acting loving towards Mary under seemingly dubious circumstances (his betrothed was found pregnant…and not by him!) and then saying yes to God (and Mary) after an angel visited him in a dream, Joseph made life possible for Mary and the Son of God. It’s no wonder that he’s been named the patron saint of the universal church.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux is beloved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike (the popular author and podcaster Gretchen Rubin has what she refers to as a “mini-obsession” with St. Thérèse and writes about her frequently), and it’s easy to see why. St. Thérèse is so relatable. In her own “Little Way,” she sought to live a life of holiness in the ordinary moments of the everyday. Her way-of-being is worth knowing about and replicating to the best of our abilities.
St. Francis of Assisi is perhaps best known for his love and care for animals and the natural environment, but his tender heart and gentle ways did not stop with four-legged friends. St. Francis cared for the poor and sick and praised all creatures as children of God. What’s more, he founded the religious order of the Franciscans (and fun fact: today there are hundreds of types of Franciscans!). St. Francis of Assisi has certainly left his mark on the church.
Like many of her sister and brother saints, Joan of Arc became a hero for her church and country as a teenager. During the Hundred Years War, Joan led French troops into battle against the English. In the early 1400’s she was captured by the English, put on trial for witchcraft and heresy, and eventually burned at the stake.
Though her story includes legend as well as historical facts, her courage, love of the sacraments and mystical connection to God have inspired and encouraged countless men and women in the centuries since she lived. At moments when I, personally, need courage the most, I whisper words of Joan’s: “I am not afraid, for God is with me. I was born to do this.”
It would be difficult to overstate the impact that St. Augustine — the bishop of Hippo, or modern day north Africa, at the turn of the 4th-5th centuries — had on Catholicism, in particular, and Christianity as a whole. Along with St. Peter, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Paul and the evangelists, St. Augustine profoundly influenced the church as we know it today through his preaching and his writing.
Augustine shaped the doctrine of the church (including our understanding of concepts like original sin and grace) and he has influenced countless seekers over the years through his spiritual classic The Confessions.
St. Teresa of Avila was a real powerhouse of a woman. Like St. Augustine, her spiritual writings are classics still widely read today, and along with St. Catherine of Siena, she is one of the first two women to be named a doctor of the church. Something that I admire about St. Teresa was her ability to work hard and love fully despite limitations.
She reformed her Carmelite order and wrote numerous books even as she suffered from debilitating headaches and other health problems. May I remember that next time I need the strength to persevere in my work and parenting while sick!
Reading through the list of things for which St. Martin de Porres is the patron saint, I get the distinct feeling that his intercession is especially needed this year. Born in Peru to a Spanish nobleman and a woman of indigenous or African descent, Martin de Porres is the patron saint of racial harmony, those of mixed race, social justice, and public health workers.
Though St. Martin was ridiculed as a young man for being mixed race, and initially rejected from joining the Dominicans (at the time there was a law preventing people of mixed race from joining religious orders), he remained steady in his commitment to love God, care for the sick and poor, and keep a peaceful and forgiving heart. St. Martin de Porres is the first black saint of the Americas.
St. Catherine of Siena
Despite never receiving a formal education, St. Catherine of Siena served as an advisor to religious and political leaders (popes, emperors and kings!), was named a doctor of the church, and is the patron saint of Europe. She wasn’t afraid to use her voice and her gifts as a leader to advocate for church reform, and she reminds us all that submissive martyrdom is not the only path to sanctity.
A list of significant Catholic saints isn’t complete without mention of one of the three archangels. Although St. Michael isn’t technically a saint (he’s an angel, and was never formally canonized), he is celebrated within the church as a protector against evil and danger. He’s mentioned throughout Scripture (the Old Testament and the New Testament) and the prayer to St. Michael is beloved by many Catholics:
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray. O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world for ruin of souls. Amen.
She’s the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of the Church, a perfect example of virtue, love, and saying “yes” to God. Enough said!