A Huge Imbalance – Part XIII

Did the faithful served by priests and nuns over hundreds of years become holy too?



Let’s recap: During the 40 years from 1978 to October 2018, fifteen to twenty laypersons were canonized, including a few to whom Our Lady appeared, two who took vows of chastity, and a stigmatist, leaving only a handful of men and women who married and had children. Pope Francis has moved holy persons along the “pipeline” to canonization on 28 occasions between January 2017 and May 2020, and thirty of these were laypeople. As best as I can determine, only four of the 30 were married and three of those four had children.

I find the huge imbalance between venerated religious on the one hand, and venerated laity on the other, is unseemly. It demonstrates either that priests and nuns have failed to develop holiness among the laity they serve — which is not likely — or they are blind to the holiness of the people they serve. Consider: The Dominicans’ charism is preaching (O.P. means Order of Preachers), but did the people to whom they preached over these 800 years become holy? The charism of the Jesuits (S.J. means Society of Jesus) is teaching, but did the people whom they have taught over these 500 years become holy? To partially answer the question, let’s look at St. Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680). She was instructed by the Jesuits and was a consecrated virgin. Nicholas Black Elk (ca. 1863-1950), a Lakota, a convert and catechist, worked with Jesuits in bringing 400 souls to Christ (“Catholic Man of the Month,” Columbia Magazine (Knights of Columbus), vol. 99, no. 8 (Sept. 2019), p. 5; Peter Jesserer Smith, “Cause Opens for Nicholas Black Elk, Holy Man of the Lakota,” National Catholic Register, Oct. 23, 2017).

To continue this line of questioning: The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (D.C.) have operated hospitals for 400 years. Have their medical personnel and patients become holy? The Irish Christian Brothers (founded by Jean-Baptiste de la Salle; not the Order founded by Edmund Rice) have taught for 300 years. Have their students or lay faculty become holy? The Religious Sisters of Mercy (R.S.M.) have taught in schools and operated hospitals for nearly 200 years. Have the people they served become holy? The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) have evangelized peoples around the world for 200 years. They have brought many into the Church, but have those people become holy? The Little Sisters of the Poor were founded in 1839. Have they helped bring the elderly under their care to holiness?

I don’t doubt that the Dominicans, Jesuits, Daughters of Charity, Irish Christian Brothers, Religious Sisters of Mercy, the Oblates, and the Little Sisters of the Poor have helped bring many people to holiness, to sainthood, to life with God. As Little Sister of the Poor Constance Veit recently wrote, “The annals of our congregation are filled with stories of elderly individuals who were converted or led back to the practice of their Catholic faith through the quiet but heroic charity of generations of Little Sisters” (Sr. Constance Veit, “The Language of Love and Service,” Arlington Catholic Herald, Oct. 12-25, 2018, p. 20). But we don’t know their names. The Dominicans, Jesuits, Daughters of Charity, Irish Christian Brothers, Religious Sisters of Mercy, the Oblates, and the Little Sisters of the Poor have not identified them and brought them to our attention. Nor has anyone else, including the pastors of their parishes or the bishops of their dioceses. We might assume that lay people, too, have not identified them and brought them to our attention or the attention of their bishops. We don’t know their stories. We, bishops, priests, religious, laity, don’t know what the holiness of non-martyred laypeople looks like because there are only a handful of examples from twenty centuries of Christian life. (I hasten to add that Opus Dei was founded last century to sanctify the laity, and they have a number of laypeople in the pipeline for canonization, as noted in my list of papal actions between January 2017 and October 2018.)

As previously mentioned, the Redemptorists promoted the cause of Maria de la Concepción (Conchita) Barrecheguren y García (1905-1927) and her father, who became a Redemptorist priest after his wife’s death. And the Salesians of Don Bosco have sponsored a layman who was close to the Order: Jan Tyranowski (1901-1947), who was made Venerable in January 2017. Also, a Vincentian priest wrote about layman Frédéric Ozanam with the express purpose of helping his fellow vowed Vincentians appreciate the Vincentian charism in the lay Ozanam. And the cause for sainthood of Dr. Jerome Lejeune is being postulated by the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Wandrille in Normandy, France.

One member of the hierarchy, whom we have been blessed to know during our lifetimes, readily recognized holiness in the laypeople he knew personally: Pope St. John Paul II. My next blog post will discuss this in detail.


***Editor’s Note: For Part XIV in this series, click here


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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