Seeds of faith are planted at baptism, the foundational sacrament of ministry that enables us to participate in the threefold office of Christ as prophets, priests, and kings (and queens). By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to holiness. It is not easy but also not impossible. In the spirit of St. Teresa of Avila holiness is a matter of bringing our wills into union with God's will. We can all be saints.
All souls in heaven are saints, however, our Church recognizes some exemplary individuals of holiness and goodness. These people were not perfect but chose to live the Golden Rule, giving everything for the love of God, and for their brothers and sisters. They cooperated with the promptings of the Holy Spirit despite being persecuted, jailed, and killed. By their lives, they show us how to serve God and our brothers and sisters, and to aspire to sainthood during our lifetime. Some were spiritually gifted individuals who sometimes possessed abilities beyond the normal. In our faith tradition, there are people who have been gifted with the stigmata (bearing the wounds of Jesus), others have had visions of Jesus and of the Blessed Mother. It has been postulated that these people have a divine connection made through intense prayer, consistent reception of the sacraments, especially Penance and Eucharist, and continued scripture study.
Although we are still awaiting the canonization of the first African-American saint, there are a few on the road to sainthood.
Venerable Father Augustus Tolton is the first publicly known African American to have been ordained for the Church in the United States. Fr. Tolton was not permitted to enter the seminary in the United States and studied in Rome. He was ordained to the Diaconate on November 8, 1885, and to the Holy Priesthood on Holy Saturday 1886. He celebrated his first mass at St. Peter's Basilica on Easter Sunday- April 25, 1886. Pope Francis declared him Venerable on June 11, 2019.
Venerable Mother Henriette Delille, the "Servant of Slaves” was the foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans and died in 1862. She was a free woman living in New Orleans and wanted to enter religious life. However, slavery and the Civil War prevented the local communities from accepting her. Therefore, she and two other free women sought to form their own community. The Church gave them permission to form a pious society that took no vows and whose members were free to withdraw as they wished. They cared for the poor, the sick, the elderly and helpless, the lonely, and the uninstructed. Many more women followed them in consecrating themselves to God's service as Sisters of the Holy Family.
Servant of God Mother Marie Elizabeth Clarisse Lange was born in Haiti and fled to Cuba with her parents at a very young age. She came to Baltimore as a well-educated woman and felt prompted by the Spirit to open a school for poor black children and to form a religious community of black sisters. She struggled to achieve this goal and constantly relied on divine Providence. She was devoted to the Catholic church, had zeal for the Gospel, strong will, and discipline. Mother Mary Lange started her order in St. Mary's Court. The Oblates were the first US-based religious order of women of color. The school she founded continues to exist.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint was brought to the states as a slave from Haiti in 1787 and apprenticed to a New York City hairdresser. His master died shortly after their arrival. Pierre Toussaint began to service some of New York City’s elite and over a 20 year period he financially supported his slave master’s family. Pierre Toussaint, who was a devout catholic, attended daily mass. He was freed before his slave master’s wife’s death and became well-to-do. He bought the freedom of hundreds of black slaves, paid for their education, founded a home for children without families, helped priests and seminarians; and took care of the sick. He is regarded as the founding father of Catholic Charities. He generously supported the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore.
Servant of God Julia Greeley was born into slavery, in Missouri sometime between 1833 and 1848. While she was still a young child, a cruel slave master, in the course of beating her mother, caught Julia’s right eye with his whip and she lost sight in that eye. In 1865 she became a free woman and worked for white families in Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico but most of her employ was in the Denver area. She spent her free time helping needy poor families in her neighborhood sometimes begging for food, fuel, and clothing for others. She has been dubbed a “one-person St. Vincent de Paul Society.” A convert to Catholicism in 1880 and she became an outstanding supporter of all that her Jesuit parish had to offer. She was considered the most enthusiastic promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She visited monthly on foot every fire station in Denver and delivered literature of the Sacred Heart League to the firemen, Catholics, and non-Catholics alike. She was far ahead of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Ms. Greeley attended daily mass and developed rich devotions to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Mother. She joined the Secular Franciscan Order in 1901 and remained active till her death in 1918.
Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman was born in Mississippi in 1937, the granddaughter of a slave. Although a Methodist, she attended a school run by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She fell in love with Catholicism and was received in the church. She joined the order at the age of 15 and took the name, Thea, meaning "of God." She would later earn a doctorate in English at The Catholic University of America. She was instrumental in the creation of "Lead Me, Guide Me," co-founded the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, and helped found the National Black Sisters Conference in 1966. She gave a historic address to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1989. while confined in a wheelchair. She continued to inspire others with her love and joy even in the midst of her suffering. Her fellow sisters wrote about her: "Thea lived a full life. She fought evil, especially prejudice, suspicion, hatred, and things that drive people apart. She fought for God and God's people until her death in 1990."
We must take the time to learn more about the lives of the Saints as our Church encourages the modeling of our lives to that of the saints. Our faith is a light before the world and a tribute to Jesus Christ who is the way and the truth. We are all commissioned to be saints, heralds, and witnesses of Christ and have the responsibility of proclaiming the Good News to all we meet. The road to holiness demands that we have frequent communication with God through prayer; study scripture; spend time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament; cultivate devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Rosary; regularly receive the Eucharist, and serve others.
The greatest miracle, for us Catholics, takes place at every mass. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior. The early Church in Acts 2 drew its strength from their fellowshipping and breaking of bread. We, like the canonized saints, need to also draw our strength from the Eucharist. The Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ reinforce, affirm, challenge, and nurture our faith.
We need to be attentive to the voice of God as it has been spoken in the lives of the saints. In this section, we learn a little about some saints whose wisdom can help us develop a roadmap for the way we need to live.