Celebrating its 243rd birthday today, the United States of America’s history is brief compared to most other countries. In such a short amount of time, though, our country has been blessed by a handful of Saints. These men and women not only achieved sanctification through their holy lives, but were also instrumental in bringing Catholicism to America and spreading it throughout the country. It is because of these Saints, some born in America and some who immigrated, that we have many of the institutions Catholics in the United States are best known for today: parochial schools, hospitals, services to the poor, and so much more.
Praying for The United States with American Saints
In celebration of the Fourth of July, here is a look at five American Saints whose intercession we can ask for our country and our role in it.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first American-born Saint to be canonized. It’s one of a handful of “firsts” she is known for. Born in 1774, she was raised Episcopalian and enjoyed a life of privilege in New York society. She married a wealthy businessman and they had five children.
Their seemingly-charmed life began to collapse around them in 1798, when Elizabeth’s father-in-law passed away. Elizabeth’s father died three years later. Two years after that, her husband filed for bankruptcy and his health began to fail. Elizabeth accompanied him to Italy in the hopes of relieving his symptoms of chronic tuberculosis, but the disease took his life while abroad.
The sweet consolation of her time in Italy was that her eyes were opened to the beauty of the Catholic Faith by her husband’s Italian colleagues. She was especially drawn to Mary, having lost her own mother as a child, and to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Upon her return to America, she entered the Church. Then she opened a school for girls in order to support her family. The backlash from her community following her conversion was so severe that the school struggled greatly. She ultimately relocated her family to Emmitsburg, Maryland and founded another school, followed by a religious order, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, which was focused on caring for poor children.
Her organizations were the first Catholic parochial school in the country and the first congregation of religious sisters started in the United States. She served with both until her death at the age of 46.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron of Catholic schools, pray for the Catholic schools, religious education programs, and all parents who are striving to teach their children the Faith here in America. Pray that all educators may hold firmly to the teachings of our Faith and pass them on to our country’s children with care, expertise, and the utmost dedication to the Truth.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini began her adult life as a teacher in Italy. She dreamed of being a missionary but was continually rejected by religious communities due to her poor health. Her bishop, recognizing her holiness and zeal, encouraged her to start her own order. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and her work caught the attention of Pope Leo XIII.
It was he who encouraged Mother Cabrini to go “not to the East, but to the West” to further her mission work. She and six sisters traveled to New York City. Despite arriving without money or adequate lodgings, they began their work in high spirits.
They opened multiple orphanages and a hospital, all focused on serving the many Italian immigrants. They spread their efforts to Chicago, and eventually throughout the country and even into Nicaragua, establishing 67 institutions in her 67 years of life.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, help us to lovingly welcome and meet the needs of immigrants. Help us to see them as Christ does and to serve as a witness of God’s love for them. Intercede for all politicians and those who create laws and legislation surrounding immigration, that they may always put the dignity of the human person first.
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St. John Neumann
Born in the now-Czech Republic, St. John Neumann moved to New York in 1836 after completing seminary. He was ordained there and made pastor of the entire New York frontier, covering 100 square miles. One of only 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics, he threw himself headfirst into serving as many of them as he could. He spent the majority of his time traveling between the rural villages and towns, meeting with and serving the German and Irish immigrants. A gifted linguist, he spoke English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, and Gaelic so he could hear confessions in any of those languages.
Longing for deeper community, he joined the Redemptorists in 1842. This gave him the opportunity to minister to even more immigrants, particularly in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. In 1852, he was named bishop of Philadelphia.
A great focus of his ministry was education. He increased the number of schools in his diocese from two to nearly 100.
St. John Neumann, pray that we too may experience your tireless zeal for teaching and sharing the Gospel. Help us to remember that our greatest opportunities for mission work may be right here at home—within our own houses and communities.
St. Katharine Drexel
Born an heiress to a wealthy and influential family in Philadelphia, St. Katharine Drexel lacked for nothing during her childhood. By the grace of God, her family was not only privileged but incredibly holy and generous. Her father and stepmother modeled a dedication to prayer and a commitment to the works of mercy.
Blessed with the opportunity to travel, she accompanied her father West. There she saw firsthand the desperate hardships Native Americans faced. This had a lasting effect on her.
After their father’s death, Katharine and her sisters went to Europe together. There they had a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. She told him about her desire to live a contemplative life, as well as the plight of the Native Americans she had witnessed. Upon urging him to send missionaries to their aid, the pope responded, “But why not be a missionary yourself, my child?”
Katharine became a nun in 1891. She added a promise “to be the mother and servant of the Indian and Negro races” to her vows. Over the next 40 years, she used her inheritance to found and help maintain an astounding 145 missions, 50 schools for African Americans, and 12 schools for Native Americans through her order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Katharine Drexel, inspire us to always keep our eyes opened to the needs of the marginalized in our society. Pray for us to have the boldness and courage to reach out and meet the needs of those who are in need and to serve where no one else is serving.
St. Theodore Guerin
Born Anne-Therese Guerin, St. Theodore Guerin spent the first 25 years of her life with her family, first assisting her mother during her father’s many months at a time at sea. When tragedies took the lives of her father and two of her brothers, leaving her mother unable to cope, she then took over the maintenance of the household and the care of her younger sister. At age 25, Anne-Therese’s mother finally accepted her desire to enter religious life and gave her her blessing.
After nearly fifteen years of serving some of the most challenging missions in the area, the new Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana asked for a group of sisters to form a mission in the Indiana wilderness. While St. Theodore Guerin did not volunteer due to her health, her participation was personally requested by the sister in charge. So she boarded the ship for America in 1840. The sisters arrived to a single, crowded, broken-down home in the middle of the woods that was to serve as their temporary home. They got right to work, despite the difficult pioneer conditions and harsh winters that the French sisters were unaccustomed to.
Persevering through great hardships and persecution from within and outside of the Church, St. Theodore Guerin boldly led the founding of schools, orphanages, a free pharmacy, and a new motherhouse for the Sisters of Providence.
St. Theodore Guerin, pray for us, that we may always lovingly accept the tasks appointed to us by the Lord. May we, like you, have the strength to carry them out in service to others, remaining steadfast in faith despite the trials and sufferings that may arise.
Lord, Make Us Saints!
Thankfully, this list is nowhere near exhaustive. There are many other American Saints, Blesseds, Venerables, and Servants of God throughout our relatively short history.
Especially on this Independence Day, we thank God for the examples of these holy American men and women, and pray that we may someday be counted among them!
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Lisa Kirk is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She is a wife, mama, and writer in Raleigh, North Carolina. She loves city life, Sunday brunch, and the beauty she uncovers (almost) daily in her vocation. In between snuggling with her toddler and dating her handsome husband, she blogs about family, faith, and feminine style here.