A Jesuit and two others with Jesuit connections will be among the newest Catholic saints canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, 2012. Among those being elevated are: Blessed Jesuit Father Jacques Berthieu, a French Jesuit missionary; Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who will become the first Native American saint; and Blessed Peter Calungsod, a lay Catholic from the Philippines.
“The Society rejoices that the church canonizes a new saint from among us, proposes him as a model to all the faithful, and invites them to seek his intercession,” writes Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás in a letter to all Jesuits published in America magazine.
Fr. Berthieu, martyred in Madagascar in 1896, was a diocesan priest for nine years before deciding to enter the Society of Jesus at age 35. A highly successful missionary, he was appointed to the Madagascar mission where he nearly tripled the number of mission stations on the island’s northern end.
While accompanying refugees who were attempting to escape a violent rebellion, Fr. Berthieu was attacked and brought to the attackers’ village, where their chief lived. Fr. Berthieu refused to accept the chief’s offer to become a counselor to his tribe. The chief promised to spare Fr. Berthieu’s life if he would renounce his faith, but Fr. Berthieu replied that he would rather die than abandon his religion. Fr. Berthieu was then attacked and killed by several men with clubs, and his body was dumped into a river.
Reflecting on the new Jesuit saint, Father General Nicolás, writes: “May the Holy Spirit help us put into practice the choices of Jacques Berthieu: his passion for a challenging mission that led him to another country, another language, and another culture; his personal attachment to the Lord expressed in prayer; his pastoral zeal, which was simultaneously a fraternal love of the faithful entrusted to his care, and a commitment to lead them higher on the Christian way; and finally, a life lived as gift, a choice lived out every day until the death which definitively configured him to Christ.”
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in Ossernenon (now Auriesville) in upstate New York. Her father was a Mohawk chief, and her Catholic mother was a member of the Algonquin nation. At age 4, she survived a smallpox epidemic that killed most of her village and her family, and she suffered from poor eyesight and health for the remainder of her life due to the illness.
Blessed Kateri, deeply moved by the preaching of the Jesuits who traveled among the villages, was baptized by the Jesuits at age 20. She then dedicated her life to prayer, penance, caring for the sick and infirm and adoration of the Eucharist. In 1677, she began a 200-mile trek to a Jesuit mission in Canada where she could more openly practice her faith. Her health continued to deteriorate, and she died on April 17, 1680, at age 24.
Blessed Kateri also has a special connection to the Jesuits’ Fordham University in New York. While it was not the official miracle that paved the way to her sainthood, she is attributed with saving the life of Fordham football player John Szymanski over 80 years ago. When Szymanski suffered a severe head injury during a 1931 Fordham football game, his surgeon announced there was no hope for his recovery, and Szymanski received last rites. But Fordham students began praying a novena and asked God to heal their classmate through the intercession of Blessed Kateri. Szymanski made a full recovery.
Blessed Peter Calungsod, or Pedro, as he is known, was a lay Catholic from Cebu, Philippines. He accompanied Jesuit missionaries to Guam as a catechist and was martyred there in 1672. As a young boy, Calungsod studied in the Jesuit town of Loboc in Bohol. He was chosen at age 14 to accompany the Jesuits in their mission to the Marianas Islands. At 17 he and Blessed Jesuit Father Diego Luis de San Vitores were martyred in Guam for their missionary work.
For more on these new saints, visit the following: EWTN News, Fordham Magazine, Manila Bulletin and Catholic News Service. The New York Province Jesuits also have several podcasts about Blessed Kateri on their website, including one with Jesuit Father Peter Schineller, province archivist, on the canonization process and the meaning of her life for us today.