Although the United States is a relatively young country compared to the rest of the world, woven within her history are rich and vibrant Catholic figures who shaped the American Church into what it is today. Many of these individuals have been open causes for canonization whom many Catholics have flocked to for intercession and counsel. Here is a list of these holy individuals who bear witness to the power of Christ.
May 8, 1895 – December 9, 1979
Fulton J. Sheen was an archbishop and television personality who brought the Catholic faith to the new medium. He hosted show Life is Worth Living, which won an Emmy award in 1952 and was scheduled during the primetime slot, rivaling Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra’s programs. The program attracted over 30 million viewers. He wrote 73 books including Life of Christ, which St. Teresa of Calcutta cherished and instructed her sisters to read during Lent. Ven. Sheen’s canonization has met many obstacles, especially due to legal disputes over his body between the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Peoria, and Ven. Sheen’s living relatives.
ca. 1833-48 – June 7, 1918
Julia Greeley was born into slavery and freed after the Civil War. As a child, she lost her eye when she was accidentally whipped by a slave driver who was beating her mother. When she grew up, she moved to Colorado and converted to Catholicism. Despite her being poor, illiterate, and (according to some) unattractive during a time deep racism and prejudice in American history, she began ministering to the poor earning the name “Angel of Charity.” She visited poor families in the middle of the night, anonymously leaving food and clothing. Her cause for canonization was opened in December 2016 by Samuel Aquilla, Archbishop of Denver.
March 27, 1935 – July 28, 1981
Father Stanley Rother was a priest for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City who was assigned as a missionary priest to Guatemala during a time of political upheaval. The culture in the country was especially hostile towards Catholics. He was a kind priest who ministered to his parishioners and his evangelization efforts led to many conversions. He was murdered in his parish rectory in Guatemala. On December 2, 2016, Pope Francis recognized Father Rother as a martyr for the faith. He was beatified in September 2017, getting him one step closer to sainthood.
November 25, 1870 – July 31, 1957
Father Solanus Casey was a Capuchin Franciscan Priest who was well known as a healer and spiritual adviser. During his formation to become a priest, he struggled with his studies and his advisors declared his knowledge of the faith to be weak. Despite this, he was ordained a priest but was not permitted to hear confessions or preach. He spent many years as a porter and sacristan and offered people blessings and spiritual consultations. Many people reported miraculous healings as a result of his blessings. He was beatified on November 18, 2017.
July 9, 1904 – March 30, 1957
Cora Evans was raised Mormon and converted to Catholicism in 1935. She was a housewife and a mother who led hundreds of other Mormons to the Catholic faith. Cora was a mystic, receiving private revelations from the Blessed Mother and Christ, who instructed her to write what she saw during her mystical experiences. Like many saints, including St. Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio, she received the stigmata. Her cause was opened by the Diocese of Monterey, California in 2012.
August 12, 1852 – August 14, 1890
Father Michael James McGivney was a parish priest in Connecticut who saw a need in the church to organize a lay organization for Catholic fraternal benefits society. The Knights of Columbus were born and is still active today with over 150,000 members around the world. His cause for canonization was opened in 1996 by the Archdiocese of Hartford.
1559 – 1706
The 86 Martyrs of La Florida include 17 priests and religious, 7 Spanish lay men and women, and over 60 Native Americans who were brutally murdered by the British military whose presence was growing in what would become the 13 original colonies of the United States. These courageous men and women refused to let their faith waver, costing them their lives, but allowing them to gain heaven. Their cause for canonization opened in 2015.
April 1, 1854 – July 9, 1897
Father Augustus Tolton was the first publicly known African American man to be ordained in the United States. He was born into slavery and when he was nine years old, his mother and his siblings escaped to the free state of Illinois during the outbreak of the Civil War. He served as an altar boy and realized the Lord was calling him to become a priest. He was rejected by every American seminary he applied to but was eventually able to secure admission into the College of the Propaganda Fide in Rome to become a missionary in Africa. After he was ordained, he the Propaganda Fide instead decided to send him back to the United States and he met challenges by white Catholics and predominantly Protestant African Americans. However, he proved to be a gifted homilist people began attending the parish and seeking his spiritual advice. His parishioners affectionately called him “Father Gus.” His cause for canonization opened in 2010.
April 20, 1916 – May 23, 1951
Father Emil Kapaun was a priest and a captain of the United States Army during World War II and the Korean War who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea. He is the most decorated chaplain in U.S. history. On November 2, 1950, during the Battle of Usan, he rejected several chances to pull back with the rest of the troops, volunteering to stay behind and care for the wounded. He was captured and taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers. While in captivity, he served his fellow POWs by giving them his food, stole food for the hungry, and nursed the dying. On Easter Morning 1951, he offered a sunrise mass for his fellow POWs. He finally succumbed to death due to a blood clot in his leg and pneumonia. His cause for canonization opened in 1993.
November 8, 1897 – November 29, 1980
Dorothy Day, a Catholic convert, most famously co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement and fought for social justice in the United States. Her younger years were tumultuous, she experienced failed love affairs, a marriage, attempted suicide, and had an abortion. She was on a quest for truth and had a deep desire to serve the poor and the unemployed. This quest led her to the Catholic Church and the Catholic Worker Movement. She created houses of hospitality where the movement ministered to people living in poverty and she wrote articles calling for nonviolence and justice for the poor. Her work directly impacted those who suffered in the midst of the Great Depression. She was declared a “Servant of God” in 2000.
January 4, 1946 – September 15, 2006
Father Bill Atkinson was the first quadriplegic man to be ordained a priest. He was born in Upper Darby, Pa. and entered seminary after high school. During his novitiate year, he got into a toboggan accident that left him with no movement below his shoulders. Determined to become a priest he petitioned to Pope Paul VI who granted him special dispensation to become a priest. He spent 30 years at Msgr. Bonner High School in Drexel Hill as a theology teacher and assistant school chaplain. He mentored hundreds of students, bearing witness to the power of God in the midst of suffering. His cause for canonization was opened by Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2017.
December 22, 1770 – May 6, 1840
Father Demetrius Gallitzin was a Catholic priest born into Russian nobility. He left Russia to travel to America and was impressed by the needs of the American church and Bishop John Carroll’s efforts to fill them. He was among the first students to enter entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, the first seminary founded in the United States. He was the first to receive in the limits of the original thirteen of the United States all the orders from tonsure to priesthood. He traveled the traveled the Allegheny Mountains, preaching, teaching, serving, praying and administering the sacraments. He became known as the “Apostle of the Alleghenies.” Gallitzin eventually founded the town of Loreto, Pennsylvania, and was the pastor there until his death. His cause for canonization was opened in 2005.
1845 – September 28, 1878
Father Patrick Ryan was a priest in the Diocese of Knoxville who died ministering to the sick during the Yellow Fever Epidemic. He was born in Ireland and when he was a child, he emigrated to the United States with his family. He was ordained in 1869 and was assigned to be a parish priest in Chattanooga, TN. When the Yellow Fever broke out in the city, people fled, but Fr. Ryan stayed behind, determined to nurse the sick and administer rites if necessary. Father Ryan is described by an eyewitness as “going from house to house in the worst-infected section of the city to find what he could do for the sick and needy,” until he contracted the disease himself. He died within 48 hours but maintained a cheery disposition as he suffered. His cause for canonization began in 2015.
February 22, 1888 – July 7, 1948
Rhoda Wise was a wife, mother, convert, and mystic who is well known for her friendship with Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN. She saw visions of Christ and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux who advised her and inspired her writings. She was also given the stigmata and the crown of thorns. Her cause for canonization was opened in 2016.
February 20, 1931 – October 6, 1991
Alphonse Gallegos was an auxiliary bishop in Sacramento who earned the nickname “Bishop of Barrios.” He had a close devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and was very passionate about the pro-life movement. Pope John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop in 1981 and he adopted “Love One Another” as his motto. He died very suddenly in car accident in 1991. His cause for canonization was opened in 2005.