Money & Perseverance – Part VII

Reasons why most non-martyred canonized saints are members of religious Orders



As stated in Part VI of this blog series, during the 40 years from 1978 to October 2018, there have been 1,419 individuals canonized. Of these, 170 were non-martyrs. For anyone who thinks there are large numbers of people being canonized, and indeed the numbers are exponentially greater than before John Paul II’s papacy, the number of non-martyrs averages only four per year over 40 years.

Of the 170 canonized persons who were not martyrs, 149 were priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, or religious men or women. Sixty percent, or 88, of these 149 were founders or foundresses of religious Orders. (Two more, although lay, were members of a Third Order and were, interestingly, also founders of a religious Order.) No doubt religious Orders use the canonization of their founders as a recruitment tool. If you were considering joining a religious Order, would you rather join an Order whose founder is a saint or is not a saint?

There are two very practical reasons why most non-martyred canonized saints are members of religious Orders: money and perseverance.

With respect to money: According to a report by Cindy Wooden, the canonization process can cost $250,000 per saint. (“The Cost of Sainthood: Cardinal Announces Plans to Contain Fees,” Catholic News Service, Jan. 15, 2014.) A 2015 book says the cost is 750,000 euros per saint (Tom Kington, “Vatican’s Bill for Sainthood,” The [London] Times, Nov. 4, 2015). Money is required to gather documents such as writings, letters, statements of witnesses (pro and con), to commission a biography, to publicize the individual’s holiness, and to preserve relics. By the way, on March 10, 2016, the Vatican issued a document on the funding, and accounting for the funding, of promoting candidates for canonization. Link:

Long-time religion journalist Kenneth Woodward has said, “It is incorrect to assume canonization [of laypeople] is cost prohibitive. There are religious orders eager to find saints and willing to absorb the fees for cash-strapped families” (Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, “Models of Holiness and Married Life: Couple’s Beatification Spotlights Marital Sanctity – Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi,” National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 28, 2001).

In addition to money, perseverance is needed in promoting the cause of sainthood, over generations or even hundreds of years. One type of institution has this kind of staying power: religious Orders. (They must also be Orders that have survived.)

Two organizations which are not religious Orders, but with similar money and staying power, have been active in promoting the causes of some holy ones. One is the Knights of Columbus, which promotes the cause of its founder, recently beatified Father Michael J. McGivney (see Douglas Brinkley and Julie M. Fenster, Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism, 2006). Another is Xavier University of Louisiana, which announced on July 31, 2018, the creation of a resource center devoted to promoting the canonization of African-Americans. All five of the initial individuals on the list are Servants of God or Venerables. Three were religious, of which two were founders. The two laypeople are Julia Greeley and Pierre Toussaint (see Perry West, “New Resource Center to Promote African-American Sainthood Causes, National Catholic Register, Aug. 2, 2018).

These practical reasons, money and perseverance, are the stock explanation for the Church’s failure to canonize more laypeople. Yet, I must add that the canonization of diocesan priests is equally rare, since it is reputed (in the parish bulletin of St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield, Wisconsin, July 24, 2016) that St. John Vianney’s canonization in 1925 was the first ever of a diocesan priest, and surely dioceses have money and staying power. Not a single diocesan priest has been canonized during the 40 years before October 2018, unless he was a founder of a religious Order. There were six of those. (Bishops, too, are not being canonized unless they belonged to a religious Order, with the exception of Archbishop Laval of Quebec and recent popes.) It may be that the Vatican, bishops, priests, and laity view the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience found among members of religious Orders more favorably than those same virtues lived, without vows, by diocesan priests. Or maybe bishops do not want to appear to be favoring some deceased priests over others. Or maybe bishops and diocesan priests are unable to recognize holiness among their peers.


***Editor’s Note: For Part VIII 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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