Having been around for over 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has venerated and recognized many, many saints during its existence. So can you just imagine how many Catholic saints are there? If so, then here’s the answer.
The Catholic Church recognized more than 10,000 saints by the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, which was in 2013. But due to some mass canonizations and recognitions in the following decade, this number is likely around 11,000 already. The exact number, however, will always be open to debate.
Now, you’re probably wondering why is the number of Catholic saints debatable and whether or not there’s an official list that you can turn to. Well, let’s answer all these questions below. We’ll also discuss the 1st Catholic saint and how one – even you – can become one.
Is There a List of Catholic Saints?
There is no official and complete list of all the Catholic saints. This is because the names, history, and stories of some of the holy persons recognized by the Catholic Church throughout its 2,000-year existence have been lost to time. Some names don’t even exist.
For instance, on May 12, 2013, the Catholic Church recognized 802 saints, including the 800 residents of Otranto, Italy who were killed for refusing to convert to Islam in 1480. While their sacrifice was acknowledged, only one name was recorded in history and it was Antonio Primaldo. The names of the rest, however, are all unknown. They’re only known collectively as the “Martyrs of Otranto”.
Early Christians also used to venerate hundreds of people whose stories and identities can’t be proven by any historical evidence. St. Christopher, for example, is one of the most popular Catholic saints. However, the Church is not certain if he even existed and cannot determine his status. So while he is still recognized as a saint, St. Christopher was removed from the universal liturgical calendar in 1969.
Some saints are just plain questionable, too. St. Guinefort, for instance, was venerated as the “Protector of Infants” after saving his master’s baby from a snake. He was a dog. It should be noted, however, that the Catholic Church says that he isn’t a saint at all.
See, in ancient times, people, folk heroes, and even dogs can become saints through popular demand. Then in the first centuries, all that was needed was permission from a bishop. So safe to say, there were numerous saints venerated at that time – and with no formal process in place, coming up with a precise count of each of them and an extensive list of their names and history is impossible.
How Can One Become a Saint?
The process of becoming a saint has come a long way. From a sort of popularity contest to only needing the permission of a bishop, it has now developed into an organized, strict, and step-by-step process called canonization. And such a process goes as follows:
Step 1: Wait
Normally, the process of making people a saint cannot begin until at least 5 years after their death. This is to make sure that all the emotions after their passing have died down, which helps ensure that their case is looked upon objectively. However, this can be cut short only if approved by the Pope.
For instance, Pope Benedict XVI waived the waiting period for Pope John Paul II in 2005, which allowed him to be canonized in 2014. Pope John Paul II also did the same for Mother Teresa, which started the process of her canonization in 1999. This was only less than two years after her passing. She then became a saint in 2016.
Now, the waiting period may seem long. But compared to Saint Bede, who died in 735 and was canonized only in 1899, the process of becoming a saint for both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa is record time.
Step 2: Become a Servant of God
After waiting 5 years or if granted a waiver by the Pope, the bishop of the diocese or eparchy where a potential saint died will act as a petitioner and ask the bishop to start the process. This can also be a religious group or association in the diocese.
During this period, there will be an investigation into the life of an individual to see if he/she lived with the virtue and holiness required to be considered a saint. To do that, the Church will gather evidence of one’s works and deeds, including testimonies from eyewitnesses.
Once there’s sufficient evidence, the bishop will then ask the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to open the case. If accepted for consideration, the person will be called a “Servant of God”.
Step 3: Become a Venerable
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will then study and review all the evidence submitted. They will also have to find out whether or not the individual has helped others through their example. Once approved, the case will then be forwarded to the Pope.
If the Pope sees that the individual lived a virtuous life, he/she will then be called a “Venerable”. For martyred individuals, they will be called “Blessed”.
Step 4: Beatification
For a Venerable to proceed to the next step, which is beatification, a miracle must be attributed to prayers made to him/her. See, when prayers are granted, this is seen as proof that the person is already in heaven and thus, can intercede on others’ behalf to God.
These miracles have to be verified through canonical investigation. Once proven, the individual will go through beatification and receive the title “Blessed”. For martyrs, however, there’s no need for a miracle.
Step 5: Canonization
To finally be declared a saint, another miracle attributed to prayers made to the individual after beatification is required. Martyrs only need one verified miracle to reach this final step. Once canonized, the Blessed then becomes a saint.
Who Was the 1st Catholic Saint?
So now, let’s proceed to the very first saint recognized by the Catholic Church: St Ulrich of Augsburg. Died in 973, Ulrich, the bishop of Augsburg, was the first saint formally canonized by a Pope (John XV) in 993.
With his courage and leadership, Ulrich organized the resistance and fortified Augsburg. This allowed the city to withstand the siege by the Magyars (Hungarians) and hold on until Emperor Otto arrived and defeated them at the Battle of Lechfeld on August 10, 955.
The feast day of Saint Ulrich is on July 4. According to legend, pregnant women who drank from Saint Ulrich’s chalice had easy deliveries, which is why he has a following of pregnant women hoping for easy births. He is also the patron saint of Augsburg and the patron saint of pilgrims, weavers, and the dying. He is also prayed to for many illnesses and invoked against rat and mouse plagues.