Of Many Things

The saints in glory, whether they have been formally canonized or not, are immune to irritation. Were that not the case, those canonized saints who were married men might have been chagrined to find their existence denied in a letter to the editor in the May 6 issue of The New Yorker.

Thomas A. DiMaggio of York, Pa., wishing perhaps to contribute his two cents to the current discussions of priestly celibacy, roundly assured the magazine: There is no better proof of how the Catholic Church’s view of sexuality is distorted than the fact that it has never canonized a married man.


Pope John Paul II contradicted the assumption in the first half of that sentence in a series of talks on marriage that he gave at his audiences some years ago. The church’s liturgical calendar, called the Roman General Calendar, which includes the days of the year on which the commemoration of a saint is prescribed, or at least optional, contradicts the assertion in the sentence’s second half.

If the feasts, or saints’ days, that honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, are placed in a category of their own, then there are about 100 other men and women who appear on that general calendar. There are also a few days that commemorate entire groups of saintsthe martyrs of Japan, Uganda, Korea and Vietnam. More than a half-dozen of this whole company were married mennot a great number, but at least some.

That Roman calendar is highly selectivea sort of heavenly social register that lists only those saints whose feasts are kept by the whole church.

That number is only a tiny fraction of those gathered together in the 12-volume collection known as Butler’s Lives of the Saints. This is a compendium that first appeared in London in the 18th century. A thorough revision finished in 1958 contains entries for more than 2,565 saints and blessed. That total has been considerably enlarged since then, especially by John Paul II, who has so far canonized 461 saints and beatified more than 1,200 others, some of whom were married men.

Many saints, however, were not canonized by a pope. Throughout the first Christian millennium, saints were usually proclaimed to be such when a bishop ratified local devotion to a martyr or to someone who had, as hagiographers used to say, died in the odor of sanctity.

In 1234, Pope Gregory IX, a strong-minded canon lawyer, ruled that henceforth only papal canonizations were to be considered legitimate. Now perhaps Mr. DiMaggio wants to count only married men who were not widowers entering a religious congregation after their wives died, were papally canonized and have a perch in the general calendar.

That would mean, to cite just one case, ignoring St. Basil the Elder, a fourth-century citizen of Cappadocia, a Roman province in what is today part of Turkey. Basil was the head of a family that would have made the Waltons look like a band of delinquents. Both he and his wife Emmelia were saints, and so was his mother and four of his 10 children.

In the general calendar, however, there are at least six saints who were married men. Three lived in the apostolic age or earlier: St. Joachim, the father of Mary, the great St. Joseph and St. Peter the Apostle.

Three others were formally canonized: the German emperor St. Henry II (973-1024); St. Louis IX (1214-1270), king of France and father of 11 children, and the martyr St. Thomas More (1478-1535), who was twice married. When his first wife died, More married a goodhearted widow who helped him raise his four young children.

Of course, Mr. DiMaggio has a point. Not many married men have been canonized, partly because there have been no lobbies to promote their causes. All the same, instead of saying never, he should have said hardly ever.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
11 years 6 months ago
As the author of the book Married Saints (Alba House, 1999), I read the Of Many Things column by John W. Donohue, S.J., (7/1) with particular interest. He wrote about canonized married men. When I told my local pastor about my book, he said, “That’s a very thin book, isn’t it?” Yes, I guess it is, because, as Father Donohue pointed out in his column, married men (and women) have no lobbies to promote their causes. Nevertheless, most saints, even if not canonized, were married.

Father Donohue mentioned many of the married men included in the liturgical calendar. But he missed Sts. Stephen of Hungary, Edward the Confessor, and Zachary (Zechariah), the father of John the Baptist.

11 years 6 months ago
Thank God and America’s editors for printing “God in the Tangled Sheets” (7/1) by a lay person, first of all; second, by a woman; third, by a married woman; fourth, by a sexually active married woman; and fifth, about fun sex in married life; finally, about married sex as a good for God, the church, the world, the human race, the family, the grandparents and society.

Pope John Paul II had a political agenda. When he canonized the married Quattrocchis, he wanted the world to know that no longer having sex in marriage is saintly, and here is the proof: all four of their children chose chastity for their vocation. God so loved... those who did not have sex. That is not Jn.3:16; that is the pope’s agenda.

Therefore John W. Donohue, S.J., (Of Many Things, 7/1) should understand something and write about it. When he says that “not many married men have been canonized, partly because there have been no lobbyists to promote their causes,” he really means that nobody has put up the money to get them canonized. Of course, if the pope wanted to canonize a married, sexually active couple he would find the money. It is simply not his political agenda. He emphasizes transcendental values to the harm of incarnational ones. (And almost all his money comes from married people! I smell disrespect.)

There was another item in the same issue about vocations by James VanOosting. His thinking is schizophrenic—not the paranoid kind, but simply romantic. One example: Mary had a vocation as mother of God; but professional thinking is needed for economic success, while vocational thinking brings personal fulfillment—so VanOosting distinguishes. He is blind to the fact that mother Mary received economic success first of all by marrying; second, by marrying a carpenter. She was fulfilled by being a mother and a wife.

Our church is clerical and patriarchal. Clericalism is imbedded in America. Thank God the editors printed one article with a normal attitude toward sex.


The latest from america

“There’s so many people looking,” said a girl in a backwards baseball cap, “but there’s no one to see.”
Brandon SanchezAugust 21, 2018
Using an abuse and accountability scandal to scapegoat Catholic queerness is not O.K.
Nathan SchneiderAugust 21, 2018
If things are this bad within the church, how bad is it in our homes and neighborhoods?
Matt Malone, S.J.August 21, 2018
You don’t get to claim Christ’s body without assuming the punishment it suffered.
Jordan Daniel WoodAugust 21, 2018