On the 4th of July Americans can celebrate our freedom and independence and today we remember those men and women fought for it. With every great struggle our country has endured we have seen the rise of holy and honorable men and women. However, we don’t often hear of American saints partly because America is still so young compared to other places in the world. Here are 10 American-born saints who were born into this glorious freedom, worked tirelessly for the Kingdom, and have been born into eternal freedom.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in New York City to Episcopalian parents; her husband was also Episcopalian. It was her husband’s death in Italy from tuberculosis that his business partners who took her and her daughter in introduced her to Catholicism. Two years after her husband’s death, Elizabeth was received into the Catholic Church. She then established a system of Catholic schools, which marked the beginning of the parochial school system in the United States, and founded the religious community of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first congregation of religious sisters to be founded in the United States! Her daughter Catherine was the first American to join the Sisters of Charity. She died of tuberculosis in 1821 at the age fo 46 and is entombed at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
St. Katharine Drexel
St. Katharine was born in Philadelphia to a wealthy family. Her father left behind a $14 million fortune to be split between Katharine and her two sisters! But charity was never a far off virtue for this family, who weekly distributed food, clothes, and rent assistance to the needy. At an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she and her sisters asked for missionaries to staff Indian missions they had been financing, and, to her surprise, the Pope suggested Katharine become a missionary herself, so she did! She entered the Sisters of Mercy convent in Pittsburgh and then led thirteen other women in founding the congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and then ministered to the Native Americans and Afro-Americans in the west and southwest until her death in 1955. She is the only canonized saint to be born an American citizen!
St. Kateri Tekawitha
Kateri was an Algonquin-Mohawk laywoman who converted to Catholicism at the age of nineteen. She was born in a Mohawk village in present-day New York. Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was an Algonquin who had been captured and assimilated into the tribe, but she remained a Roman Catholic. Smallpox wiped out much of her tribe, including mother, father, and baby brother, and left her face scarred and her vision impaired. She was then taken in by her father’s sister and her husband who was chief of another tribe. After much pressure to marry, Kateri fled her village, was baptized, and took a perpetual vow of chastity. She is considered the “first virgin” among the Mohawks. Within hours of her death, there were reports that her smallpox scars had completely disappeared! St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be canonized and the fourth to be venerated.
Ven. Solanas Casey
Born Bernard Francis Casey, he grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. He left home at 17 to work odd jobs around Wisconsin and Minnesota, including being a lumberjack. A LUMBERJACK! Instant cool points. He struggled in seminary and was advised to join an order so he could be ordained a simplex priest. This meant he could offer Mass but would not have the faculties of public preaching or hearing confessions. With that advice he joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in Detroit and given the name Solanus. After he was ordained a priest, he served for 20 years before his death. He was the first United States-born man to be declared venerable. I think you’ll be hearing a lot more about him soon.
Ven. Fulton Sheen
Fulton Sheen is pretty much the bombdotcom as far as American Catholics go. Chances are, you’ve heard of him. Or if you’ve ever listed to even a little Catholic radio, you’ve heard his commanding voice. He was born in Illinois and was a diocesan priest and later archbishop. He wrote 73 books, had a very popular radio show during World War II, and later a television program. In 1953, he forcefully denounced the Soviet regime and gave an impassioned reading of the burial scene from Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, replacing the names of Ceasar, Cassius, Marc Antony, and Brutus with the names of prominent Soviet leaders, including Stalin. Stalin suffered a stroke a few days later and died within the week! Since November 2010, there has been a pause on his cause for canonization as there has been a deadlock with the Archdiocese of New York about returning his remains to the Diocese of Peoria but there has been an exciting new development on this front!
Servant of God, Vincent R. Capodanno
Vincent was born in Staten Island, New York. After being ordained a priest, he joined the Navy Chaplain Corps and was sent to Vietnam in 1966. There, during Operation Swift, Fr. Vincent went among the wounded and dying administering Last Rites, although he himself was injured in the face and hand. While trying to reach an injured corpsman only yards from an enemy machine gun, he was shot and killed. Fr. Vincent was awarded a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and the Medal of Honor. Read more about Fr. Vincent Capodanno (and Fr. Emil below!) and other American Catholic Priests here.
Servant of God, Emil Kapaun
Fr. Emil Kapaun was born on a farm in Kansas in 1916 and was ordained a priest in 1940. He became an Army chaplain in 1944 and was sent to the Burma theater the next year. He served again in the Korean War where he was captured and remained a POW until his death. While in the POW camp, he mediated disputes, gave away his food, and raised morale among the prisoners. He even led the prisoners in small acts of defiance against their captors and would steal coffee and tea for the prisoners. Among other honors, Fr. Emil was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Servant of God, Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn and became well-known after her conversion for her social activism. She initially led a very worldly lifestyle, jumping from different lovers, and even having an abortion. After she found herself to be pregnant and decided to keep the child (her daughter Tamar), her last lover left her shortly after Tamar’s birth. She would soon convert to the Catholic church. Dorothy supported herself and her daughter as a journalist and she later started the Catholic Worker Movement. Her cause for canonization was opened in 2000. More can be read about Dorothy Day on the Catholic Worker Movement site.
Servant of God, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (Mother Mary Alphonsa)
Mother Mary Alphonsa was born Rose Hawthorne, daughter of the great writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, in Massachusetts. In 1851, she married author George Parsons Lathrop. Hard times befell the Lathrops, though, when their son died at age five of diphtheria. Later, Rose and George permanently separated and he died from cirrhosis a few years later. Rose later served alongside the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, inspired by their motto : “I am for God and for the poor”. Rose trained as a nurse and then became a Dominican tertiary and from then on was known as Mother Mary Alphonsa. She founded an order now known as the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne and died peacefully in her sleep.
Servant of Gon, Augustus Tolton
Augustus was born in Missouri in 1854 to parents who were slaves. His mother had been raised Catholic, and had Augustus baptized. Their master’s wife stood as his godmother. Though there is debate on how it happened, Augustus and his whole family were eventually freed and moved to Illinois. While working in a factory, Augustus met a priest who encouraged his vocation and eventually backed his studies in Rome. Augustus was ordained a priest and is the first black Roman Catholic priest in the United States.
These holy men and woman, and many more, were great Americans who truly displayed the diversity of our great nation, as well as the vastness of our God. Let us look to our holy American brothers and sisters for inspiration as we continue to navigate the depths of freedom. May God bless America and all others in the world who seek liberty and freedom.