More Lay Saints Please

The other day I browsed through Bert Ghezzi’s great book Voices of the Saints looking for saints who would inspire kids aged about 10-12–the so-called “tweeners.”   I needed some good ones for a project I’m working on.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had a tweener in my household, but I remember what they’re like, so I looked for saints that looked like people they know.  Young saints.  Lay saints.  Married saints.

It was hard to find them.  Ghezzi writes about 365 saints.  His book is the most comprehensive one you’ll find this side of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, but the saints I wanted are in short supply.  He lists 17 “twentysomething saints,” but most of them belonged to religious orders.  There are married saints, but many of them are women married to heathen husbands (some entered convents after the guys died). The canon of the saints tilts strongly toward priests, bishops, and religious.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Where would we be without the example of saintly clergy and religious?  But still.  Most Catholics are lay people.  So are most of the saints in heaven.  I wish more of them had been elevated to canonized status so they could be our friends.

There are reasons for the dearth of lay saints.  Fr. Jim Martin of My Life with the Saints fame explains them in a recent blog post.  One reason seems especially cogent: almost by definition, the sanctity of lay people is hidden.  Family, friends, and fellow parishioners might know about a woman’s devotion to the poor or a father’s sacrifices to provide for his disabled child.  But few other people will know.  God knows of course.  I wish there was a way for the rest of us to know.

Image by Laura4Smith under Creative Commons License.
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Jim Manney
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is What Matters Most and Why. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  1. Our philosophy teacher, Father C., many years ago touched on the subject of the dearth of canonized lay people. He pointed out that it took enormous amounts of CASH to bring up a cause and to pursue it through to canonization. Religious orders had both assets and know-how. At the time, we thought this quite humorous, but actually it makes great sense.

  2. May God bless your project, Jim. Teens and tweens need inspiration for the struggles they face. I think teens are looking for heroes that understand their point of view. Sometimes it could be just an element of a person’s life that will attract their attention. For example, I was just reading about Blessed Miguel Pro (a priest) who wore disguises to bring sacraments to people in Mexico during the religious persecution there. I can imagine a teen saying “I would totally do that!” First, it involved great risk and secondly disguises are cool.

  3. …even myself i dont know what Rome is doing, i read a journal from Tanzania about this man, ‘NYERERE’ but i dont know wheather they will beeatify this black! i dont mean Rome is segreggating blacks but it is nearly forgeting lay saints like him! i wish if i could see the lists of saints in heaven and see,

  4. Perhaps we can start, for them and ourselves, with those people who are saints for us. Not those who might live a large scale, heroic life, but those from whose lives there is perhaps one thing that has spoken of us of God. For me, it’s:
    – the elderly Jewish woman, who with huge generosity and openhandedness, helped me when I was asked to make a tallit for a young man. In a remarkable way, she is my standard for generosity.
    -the spiritual director who models for me such deference to God in all things
    -the executive, who, when I stopped in his office unannounced, made it seem like he’d been sitting around waiting for me to show up instead of reacting as though my visit was an intrusion – I was humbled by his hospitality.
    Instead of looking for big, we can recognize the small moments of ‘sanctity’ and call them out for ourselves and our kids.

  5. Yeah…more lay saints, more sexy married couple saints, more Black saints, more Native/aboriginal saints, more Asian saints, more young women saints who had something more than Eucharist for dinner, more saints in their 50’s, more Mom and Dad saints, more saints who use wheelchairs, more blind saints (Fanny Crosby, famous Protestant writer of some 6,000 hymns like “Blessed assurance”, “Praise Him!Praise HIm”, and “”I Am Thine, O Lord” was once asked if she ever regretted being blinded as a baby by a quack doctor. She preferred remaining as she was, because “I want the first person I see when I get to Heaven to be Jesus”. ) for my part, I do not have an St. in front of my name, nor do I have an S.J behind my name. But I do know I am a cmpanion of Jesus. Saints preserve us!

  6. This is so true and interesting because this has been on mind recently as well.
    My first “Tweener”, not the last, has the need to concentrate more on what God wants from her, rather than what society expects of her.
    This is something that really does need addressing. Thanks for the article.

  7. True words. It’s obviously easier to document the heroic sancticy of a priest or nun whereas a parent walking the floors every night with a sick child is known but to God.
    It would be nice if Rome concentrated more on this because young people need “heroes, i.e., saints” they can relate to, as do we.


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