Lay Holiness – Part XXIX

Retail workers, architects, prisoners, scientists -- all can be holy



We continue to consider how holiness has been manifested in lay people of various occupations.

Hospitality & Retail Workers

At least two members of religious orders transformed the task of “doorkeeper” — porter or meet-and-greeter — to a holy life. One is Br. André Bessette, C.S.C. (1845-1937, canonized 2010), about whom I wrote in an earlier post. The other is Fr. Solanus Casey, O.F.M. Cap. (1870-1957), from St. Bonaventure Monastery, Detroit, who was beatified in November 2017. Again, these were members of religious orders.

Consider the laypeople who earn their livings as hotel maids, waitstaff, airline stewards, ticket agents, tour guides, doormen, hotel and airport porters, cabdrivers, retail clerks, call center personnel. These people interact with other people during their entire workday. They are the face of their businesses. If the Church is a “field hospital,” as Pope Francis has often said, then these people are on the front lines. Pope Pius XII said, “Lay believers are in the front line of Church life,” and they “ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church…They are the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 899). Yes, they are the face of the Church. They are the face of its Head, Our Lord Jesus. Christ, the Head, looks through their eyes, extends His hands through theirs, with humankind, one encounter at a time. Moments of grace occur to people on both sides of these encounters.

Prisoners & Prison Guards

A man whom we call “Saint Dismas” (or “The Good Thief”) was a common criminal. He was not persecuted for his religion. He recognized and comforted Christ during His crucifixion (cf. Luke 23:39-43). So, indeed, common criminals in prison can be saintly. So too can be the guards. Recall the instance where St. Paul and Silas were in jail in Philippi, singing hymns at midnight “while the [fellow] prisoners listened,” when an earthquake caused the doors to open and chains to loosen, and the guard contemplated suicide when he thought all his prisoners had escaped. Instead, he became a believer (cf. Acts 16:26-34).


The two architects I have in mind are not typical architects because both have strong connections to church design. One is Spaniard Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), best known for his Basilica of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) in Barcelona. He was declared a Servant of God in 2003 (see Elise Harris, “Pope Francis Wants the Great Mystic Gaudi to Become a Saint,” Catholic News Agency, Dec. 18, 2015).

Can a building, a painting, a poem, or music draw people to Christ? See Pope St. John Paul II’s 1999 Letter to Artists ( A Japanese architect, Kenji Imai, reportedly converted to Catholicism upon visiting Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia. A sculptor, Etsuro Sotoo, moved to Barcelona to work on the basilica and converted from Shintoism to Catholicism (see Alissa Walker, “Can Architecture Perform Miracles? The Quest to Make Gaudi a Saint,” Gizmodo, July 29, 2014). Yes, even working on the building of churches can lead to conversion (see Thunder, “Building Leads to Conversion,” letter to editor, Sacred Architecture Journal, May 2006).

The other architect I have in mind is Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852), the famed Gothic Revivalist, who designed Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament – and six cathedrals and dozens of churches (Catholic and Anglican), convents, and monasteries. He converted to Catholicism during his second marriage. He was married three times (his first two wives predeceased him) and had eight children (see my “Pugin: A Godly Man?” True Principles, vol. 2, no. 4 (summer 2002) and vol. 2, no. 5 (summer 2003); and Thunder, “Pugin and the Future of Land Use Development: Love of God and Love of Neighbor,” Spero Forum, Sept. 19, 2013).


Wikipedia has a long list of lay Catholic scientists, inventors, and mathematicians. Among them are Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), John Eccles (1903-1997; Nobel Prize in Medicine), Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), and Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Were they holy?


***Editor’s Note: For Part XXX 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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