Out-of-Reach Lay Saints – Part VIII

Most canonized laypersons lived unusual lives, except for two



The funds and perseverance required to promote the causes of holy ones are commonly supplied by religious Orders, who promote their own members, especially their founders and foundresses. But what about married people? Two theologians at the University of Notre Dame gave their opinion on the occasion of the 2001 beatification of a married couple: “Married people don’t have the institutional wherewithal to have their cases put forward,” said Notre Dame theologian Fr. Richard McBrien. Professor Lawrence Cunningham stated, “I know dozens, hundreds, thousands of good married people, but their lives are not such that they would fit into the process for canonization. Who would write the biography for such people?” Further, “In the case of the Quattrocchis, the original postulator for their cause was one son, a priest. When he became too old, the work passed on to a Capuchin in Rome named Fr. Paola Rossi” (preceding quotes are from 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).

Of the 170 persons canonized in the 40 years before October 2018 who were not martyrs, only 15 were laypersons. Almost all, 13, of these canonized laypeople are not like the rest of us and we cannot, or would not, aspire to be like them – any more than we would aspire to martyrdom:

  • Three of them saw appearances of the Blessed Mother: Juan Diego and the two children of Fatima, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, both of whom died young.
  • Two of them were parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Louis, 1823-1894; Marie-Azélie, 1831-1877). Their religious director needed to tell them, after ten months of marriage, to consummate their marriage. All five of their children who survived to adulthood (all of them women) took vows of chastity and became nuns. Two girls had died at ages six and a few months. Two boys died before their first birthdays. When the mother died at age 45, the girls were 17, 16, 14, 8 and 4.
  • Giuseppe Moscati (1880-1927) was a medical doctor, researcher, and professor. He took a vow of chastity.
  • Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) was a consecrated virgin.
  • Anna Schäffer (1882-1925) received visions and the stigmata.
  • Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán (1832-1869) was a seamstress and had an active life of charity but in her early twenties gave that up for a life of prayer. She never married.
  • Hedwig (or Jadwiga) was queen of Poland (1373/4-1399). She was married and had a child; both mother and child died within a month of the child’s delivery.
  • Peter de Betancurt (1626-1667) was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. Despite his lay status, he was the founder of the Bethlemite Brothers and the Bethlemite Sisters.
  • Angela Foligno (1248-1309) became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis after her husband and children died. She is known for her mystical writings. Despite her lay status, she founded a religious Order.
  • Nunzio Sulprizio (1817-1836) died at age 19 before he could enter a religious Order.

The laypersons canonized in the 40 years before October 2018 who would better serve as models for other lay people are just two:

  • Zdislava of Lemberk (1220-1252), who married and had four children. She was a Third Order Dominican.
  • Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962). She was the tenth of thirteen children. Eight of the children survived to adulthood. One became a priest and one a religious sister. She became a medical doctor in 1949 and began to practice pediatrics. She married an engineer in 1955 and gave birth to four children. In choosing to proceed with her fourth pregnancy, she risked her death for the sake of her child’s life.


***Editor’s Note: For Part IX 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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