Last summer I set out on a camping trip to spend some time with a good friend who was going through a tough divorce. I might have felt like I was doing my saintly duty, sleeping in a tent meant for two or three individuals, but as there were four of us that made the trip, the cramped quarters were a little more than I bargained for. It tested my patience and I was a little bit cranky by the time the weekend was over (that’s one of many good reasons I’ll probably never be mistaken for a saint). As I pondered that on the trip home, it made me wonder if there were any individuals that had lived in the Americas that had been able to achieve the lofty heights of sainthood. As it turns out, there are quite a few. Here are 5 of the most famous North American saints, along with a brief description of how they got there.
St. Junipero Serra
The first name to make this list is the man that was the inspiration for this site – St. Junipero Serra. He was toiling away in Baja California, performing God’s work while the American Revolution was raging on the east coast of North America. While his endeavor may not have been as pivotal as the birth of the United States, he was largely responsible for laying the groundwork for the growth of the Catholic church in California. He founded 9 of the first 21 missions in California. It was these tireless efforts, along with several other factors,+ that eventually led to his being canonized in September, 2015.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini
Since America is a land that was developed by immigration, it only seems appropriate to include the patron saint of immigrants on this list. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini came from humble roots as the daughter of a cherry farmer from a small town outside of Milan, Italy. But she made her mark on the world through her missionary work in the United States. Over a period of more than 35 years, she was actively responsible for founding schools, hospitals, and orphanages, and doing a lot of great things for Italian immigrants in general. It’s not hard to see why the Catholic Church decided that she deserved to be raised to the level of saint.
St. Damien de Veuster
Most of us can’t imagine risking our own health and very lives for perfect strangers, but that’s exactly what St. Damien de Veuster did. He set out from a comfortable monastic life in Belgium, bound for the shores of Hawaii to work with those suffering in a leper colony on one of its many islands. He must have known he would probably eventually contract the disease himself, but his will to help others superseded thoughts of his own safety. There are few better reasons for the church to make someone a saint than tireless efforts such as those made by this man.
St. Katharine Drexel
Unlike the other worthy individuals we’ve looked at so far, St. Katharine Drexel was actually born in the United States. She was an heiress from the Philadelphia area who gave up a life of comfort and luxury to help Native North Americans by establishing schools and missions. She was active in the late 19th and early 20th century, when few people were paying much attention to such issues. This made her a pioneer in the true sense of the word, and she was also known for helping African-Americans as well as Natives. In a 2000 posthumous ceremony, Pope John Paul II canonized her for her kind deeds.
St. Isaac Jogues
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Americas were still largely unexplored by European settlers, and their incursions onto native lands weren’t always welcomed. While the legitimacy of European settlements may still be debated, the brave and noble actions of St. Isaac Jogues cannot. After spending a year enslaved and tortured by Mohawk tribes, he managed to escape back to his native France. Not satisfied with the state of affairs in the French North American colonies, he returned to Quebec to try to negotiate for peace with the indigenous population that had enslaved him. While he did not survive the encounter, his bravery was recognized in 1930 when he was made a saint.