ROME – If there’s one thing the new crop of saints who will be canonized this weekend would appear to have to say about holiness, it’s that being virtuous is not just for heroic, celebrity-like personalities such as Oscar Romero or Pope Paul VI, but something that everyone, religious and lay alike, can attain.
Widely known for their contributions to the global Catholic Church, Romero and Paul VI are easily the most popular and prominent figures who will be declared saints Oct. 14, when Pope Francis will canonize them alongside five less well-known, though no less significant, individuals.
Taking place in the in the middle of the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment, the new saints are being touted as key examples for youth in terms of discerning God’s will, accepting it, and then acting on it.
Experts say these five new saints are prime examples of what the synod is all about: living what the Church says is a universal call to holiness, at every state and stage in life.
Looking to the laity
Since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has made it a point to bring forward sainthood causes for more young people and laity, and individuals in both categories are increasingly seen on the list of causes the pope is advancing.
In this round of canonizations, Nunzio Sulprizio, who died from bone cancer at the age of 19, is the token layman and is also the only young person to be recognized for his saintly life.
Born in Pescara, Italy, in 1817, Sulprizio suffered several tragic losses as a child, the first of which was the death of his father when he was just three years old. A few months after his father’s death, Sulprizio’s younger sister also passed away.
Struggling financially to keep the household together, Sulprizio’s mother remarried in 1822, only to die just a year after her second marriage. Sulprizio, who had been treated harshly by his stepfather, was then sent to live with his grandmother, who was illiterate but devout, and instilled in him a deep sensitivity to the spiritual life.
While in her care, Sulprizio attended a school for poor children run by a priest. His education was short-lived, as his grandmother died in 1826, leaving him an orphan at the age of nine.
He was then taken out of school and sent to work as an apprentice at his uncle’s blacksmith shop, but his uncle also mistreated him, withholding food if he thought Sulprizio misbehaved, or beating him if he did not perform strenuous tasks to his uncle’s liking.
The strain of the work eventually took its toll when Sulprizio contracted gangrene in one of his legs. He was admitted to a hospital for incurable diseases in Naples, where he spent months in bed, offering his suffering to God.
When he was well enough to walk around, Sulprizio immediately dedicated himself to caring for other patients, and had contemplated joining a religious order, prompting him to deepen his spiritual life and to receive the sacraments more frequently.
However, his condition continued to get worse, and in 1835 doctors amputated his leg. He asked that a crucifix be brought to his room so he could contemplate Christ’s suffering, and died from bone cancer in 1836 at the age of 19.
Sulprizio was beatified by Paul VI, who will be canonized with him this Sunday, in 1963. In his homily, Paul VI said Sulprizio was an example for young people of how “the period of youth should not be considered the age of free passions, of inevitable falls, of invincible crises, of decadent pessimism, of harmful selfishness. Rather, he will tell you how being young is a grace.”
Responding as a religious
The four other new saints are: Francesco Spinelli, a diocesan priest and founder of the Institute of the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament; Vincenzo Romano, a diocesan priest from Torre de Greco in Italy; Maria Caterina Kasper, a German nun and founder of the Institute of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ; and Nazaria Ignacia of Saint Theresa of Jesus, a Spanish founder of the Congregation of the Missionary Crusaders of the Church.
Ignacia, who was born in Madrid in 1889, first felt a call to religious life when she was nine, but her parents resisted, at times forbidding her from receiving the sacraments. Later, after seeing that their daughter’s interest did not die down, but only increased, they relaxed their position.
When Ignacia’s family began to struggle financially, they were forced to move to Mexico, and it was there that she fulfilled her life-long goal of pursuing a consecrated vocation, joining the Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly in 1908.
Within a few months Ignacia was sent to care for the sick and elderly in Bolivia, where she was assigned for some 12 years. Eventually she felt the call to establish a new religious order, and in 1908 founded the congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Papal Crusade.
Considered a pioneer in defending workers’ rights and the rights of women in Latin America, she died in 1943, and was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1992.
Kasper, who hails from Germany, also helped to establish a new religious order. Born in Dernbach in 1820, she had a pious childhood and would often visit a popular Marian shrine near her village with friends, singing church hymns on the way.
At the age of 21, her father died, and they were forced to leave their home. Kasper and her mother then rented space in the home of another family, where she worked the farmland and gained a reputation for helping others.
It was not until after her mother had died that Kasper joined ranks with four other women in founding the Institute of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. She died in 1898, and, like many of the others who will be canonized this week, in 1978 was beatified by Paul VI.
Spinelli, who suffered from serious spinal problems in his youth, was born in Milan in 1853. His mother, who was devout, would often bring him with her to visit the poor and sick, instilling in him a spirit of service from a young age.
He eventually entered the seminary and was ordained in 1875. Shortly after, he went to Rome for the Jubilee year inaugurated by Pope Pius IX. It was there that Spinelli, during a visit to Rome’s basilica of Saint Mary Major, felt a call to establish a new religious order while praying in front of relics of what is believed to be the crib Christ slept in as an infant.
Dedication to Eucharistic Adoration, when a consecrated host is exposed for veneration, was a key aspect of the community he felt called to form, and in 1882, he co-founded the Sacramentine Sisters in Bergamo.
The first convent he established failed in part due to financial troubles, leaving Spinelli penniless, so he left the city and relocated to the Italian town of Rivolta d’Adda, where in 1892 he founded a new community, the Sisters Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament order in 1892. He died in 1913 and was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1992.
For his part, Romano was born into a life of poverty in Torre del Greco in 1751, and from a young age developed a strong devotion to the Eucharist.
Romano first felt called to the priesthood at the age of 14, and even though they had their own plans for his future, his parents consented to his desire to enter the seminary. He was ordained a priest for Naples in 1775, and quickly gained a reputation for his simplicity and austerity.
He was also known for his charitable work with orphans and seminarians, and for the strong emphasis he placed on allowing children the opportunity for a good education. His health began to decline in 1825 after a fall that left him with a broken femur.
Romano finally passed away after a long illness in 1831, and was beatified in 1963 by Paul VI.