Black Saints Matter
Last fall in the month of All Saints, I rode the Amtrak from Providence, Rhode Island to Baltimore, Maryland. I was heading to a celebration of the life of Mother Mary Lange. Who’s that, you ask? She’s one of the Six. And if you have to ask, “Who are the other five?” then you have to hear the story.
It started when I was asked to cowrite a book about U.S. saints. The publisher wanted to include all the American saints, plus the beatified (those one miracle short of sainthood).
It’s not as clear-cut as it sounds. The trouble is defining what’s meant by an “American” saint. We were to cover U.S. saints only, not Canadian, not Central or South American. But should that list include those who ministered on the soil of this country before 1776? And does “U.S. soil” include Guam and Puerto Rico before, or even after, they became part of our national story?
Finally, we agreed on 12 saints: missionaries Isaac Jogues, Jean de Lalande, and René Goupil as well as Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha. The five foundresses Elizabeth Ann Seton, Rose Philippine Duchesne, Theodore Guérin, Frances Xavier Cabrini, and Katharine Drexel. Philadelphia Bishop John Neumann and the healing presences of Father Damien De Veuster and Mother Marianne Cope. In addition, we admitted three who’d attained the title of Blessed: Franciscan Junípero Serra (since canonized and once more controversial), Redemptorist Francis Xavier Seelos, and Puerto Rican layman Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago. Alas, Blessed Charlie, as the last fellow is popularly called, was sacrificed to the limitations of page count. Sadly too, as his is an illuminating chapter of U.S. Catholic history.