Saints of the Americas, North and South, remind us that not all saints are European. For this presentation I have chosen women who represent the different Catholic populations of the United States: Native Americans, white immigrants, converts and “cradle” Catholics as well as Black Americans. The first Roman Catholic saint from the United States was an immigrant: Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), canonized by Pius XII in 1946. She was an Italian nun who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1909 after living and working among immigrants in this country for several decades. Until recently, Catholicism was a religion of immigrants in this country. Thirty years later, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (1774-1821) became the first U.S. native-born citizen canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Elizabeth’s conversion to Catholicism made her suspect to friends and neighbors. By then, she was an impoverished widow with five children. She moved from New York to Maryland, where she established the the first free Catholic school in the United States. Seton also founded the first American religious congregation. The second U.S. born canonized woman, Katharine Drexel, was born in 1858 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Drexels were one of the richest families in Philadelphia. Katharine and her sisters were raised as young heiresses. Although she would have preferred to be a contemplative nun, she eventually decided to create a new congregation for the purpose of helping Native Americans and African-Americans. Catherine or Kateri Tekakwitha was an Algonquin. She was born in 1656 in what today is the State of New York. She died in 1680 near Montreal. Immediately after her death, several biographies of Tekakwitha were published by Jesuits and a devotion to her developed particularly in Canada. But her canonization was delayed several centuries. She was beatified by John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Benedict XVI in 2012.
Henriette Delille (1812-1862) is the first U.S. born African American whose cause for canonization was opened by the Church. She was the daughter of a white man and a mixed-race woman who lived in a common-law relationship, since blacks and whites could not legally marry at the time. Mary Elizabeth Lange (ca. 1794-1882), was the daughter of Haitian parents who fled their native Haiti and settled in Santiago de Cuba. She founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore to serve the large population of French Caribbean immigrants. The orders Delille and Lange founded made it possible for Black women to have a means by which to enter religious life. Julia Greely was born a slave in Hannibal, Missouri between 1833 and 1848. She was freed in 1863. She earned her living serving families doing cooking, cleaning and caring for children. She pulled through the streets of Denver a red wagon that was filled with items she bought, found or begged for to give to poor families. She died in 1918 between 70-85 years of age. She had no idea when exactly she had been born. Sister Thea Bowman (1937-1990) earned her doctorate at The Catholic University of America. These women represent diverse ways of sainthood, which are actually a reflection of U.S. Society: an immigrant, a convert from Protestantism, a white woman, a Native-American and some Black women.
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