Recent Decrees on Holiness – Part XXXIV

Ten more laypersons have been subjects of papal decrees on miracles & heroic virtue



Over twenty blog posts ago I noted that during the 40 years from 1978 to 2018, 1,419 individuals were canonized and 1,249 of these were martyrs. Of the remainder, about 15-20 were laypersons — some of which are special cases: those 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. Between November 2018 and February 2021, there have been only 13 people canonized. The last event was in October 2019, before the pandemic. Two of the 13 were lay: Marguerite Bays, Virgin, and Nunzio Sulprizio, who died young.

There have been a number of papal decrees on miracles and heroic virtues. I have addressed those from January 2017 through May 27, 2020. This update concerns 11 additional occasions of decrees promulgated: two I missed in December 2019 and February 2020, plus nine more between June 2020 and March 2021.

On these 11 occasions, there were decrees concerning 228 people, 158 of whom were martyrs. Of the 70 non-martyrs, 60 were bishops, priests, or religious (14 of them were founders of orders), and ten were lay people. Nine of the lay people never married. Of these nine, three died young, two had lifelong illnesses, another was a consecrated virgin, and two more never married. The tenth was Dr. Lejeune, married with five children, who was included in Part IX as among the laity “in the pipeline.”

With these we can revise the numbers upward: We now have 39, not 28, occasions on which decrees were made concerning a total of 599 people, 334 of whom were martyrs. Of the 265 non-martyrs, 217 were priests (or pope, cardinal, bishop) or religious men or women; 90 of them (or 41%) were founders or foundresses of religious orders. Forty were lay people. Only five of the 40 lay people were married, four of them with children.

Dec. 2019: Decrees concerning 26 people, 17 of them martyrs. The balance of nine were bishop, priest, or religious, two of whom were founders. No laity.

Feb. 22, 2020: 10 people, four of them martyrs. Four of the non-martyrs were priests or religious, two of whom were founders. The two members of the laity were Carlo Acutis (1991-2006), who was the subject of a previous decree and identified in Part XI, and Mario Hiriart Pulido (1931-1964), who never married.

June 19, 2020: 5 people, none of them martyrs. Four were a bishop, priest, or religious. The one layman was Jose Gregorio Hernández Cisneros (1864-1919), a medical doctor who never married.

July 10, 2020: 5 people, none of them martyrs. Three were religious (two of them founders) and two laity, both of whom died without marrying: Maria Antonia Samà (1875-1953), ill from the age of 11, and Angiolino Bonetta (1948-1963), who died at age 14 of bone cancer.

Sept. 28, 2020: 7 people, four of whom were martyrs. Of the three non-martyrs, two were religious. The layperson was Gaetan Tolomeo, also known as Nuccia (1936-1997), who was confined to bed due to paralysis.

Oct. 27, 2020: 9 people, four of whom were martyrs (and there was an unstated number of companions). Of the five priests and religious, four were founders. There were no laity.

Nov. 23, 2020: 134 people, 127 of whom were martyrs. The balance of seven were bishop, priests, or religious (no founders). There were no laity.

Dec. 21, 2020: 8 people, including one martyr. Of the remaining seven bishops, priests, religious, there were no founders. There were no laity. The martyr, who was a layman, was in a new category: a “martyr of justice.” Rosario Livatino (1952-1990) was an Italian magistrate (prosecutor) who was assassinated by the Mafia. Without a decree of martyrdom, he could have been regarded as living a life of heroic virtue. His story inspired a 1992 novel, Il giudice ragazzino (“The Boy Judge”), by Nando Dalla Chiesa, and a film by the same name which followed in 1994. Once again, Pope St. John Paul II demonstrated his readiness to recognize holiness among the laity by stating, after Judge Livatino’s death, that he was “a martyr of justice and faith.” He had not married.

Jan. 21, 2021: 9 people, including one martyr. There were three priests or religious (one of them was a founder) and one seminarian. There were three members of the laity: Dr. Jerome Lejeune (1926-1994; see blog Part IX), Giacomo Masarnau Fernandez (1805-1882), founder of the Spanish section of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, never married; and Adele Bonolis (1909-1980), founder of The Works of Assistance and Social Redemption, consecrated at age 32. She founded four homes for former prostitutes, former male prisoners, former female prisoners, and women suffering from mental illness.

Feb. 20, 2021: 8 people, none of whom were martyred. Seven were priests or religious (one of them a founder). The layperson was Elisa Giambelluca (1941-1986), a teacher of mathematics and physics in secondary schools; she never married.

March 17, 2021: 7 people, none of whom were martyred. The seven were a bishop, priests, and religious. One of them was a founder. There were no lay people.


***Editor’s Note: For Part XXXV 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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