How Illinois is the center of three canonization efforts

Illinois might not be considered a saintly place. Chicago was the home base for the organized crime leader Al Capone; two of its former governors are currently in jail, and “Chicago-style politics” is often used as a synonym for political corruption. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the state is playing a major role in the potential canonization of three well-known Catholic figures.

One is Cardinal John Henry Newman, the theologian and educator whose name adorns many university Catholic centers. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI declared Newman blessed after a miracle was attributed to him. Jack Sullivan, a deacon from Marshfield, Mass., was found to have recovered from a spinal cord disorder through Newman’s intercession.


Now a claim of the miraculous healing of an Illinois resident has been investigated by the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Our report was that there was validity to the claim,” Archbishop Blase Cupich said. “There were no physical causes that would have allowed us to determine [another] reason for the healing that took place.” The archbishop said he is not at liberty to disclose details of the possible miracle but that a report was submitted to the Vatican late last year.

The case for Newman’s canonization opened in 1958, and the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints proclaimed him venerable in 1991, based on his life as an evangelizer, educator and prolific writer of spiritual tracts. Archbishop Cupich said he would be “very pleased” if the congregation decides to advance Newman’s canonization. “I have a great affection for him having read his writings over the years. His book of sermons and meditations I use quite a bit.”

Cardinal Newman was a convert to Catholicism from the Church of England, and his writings were enormously influential. If canonized, he would be the first person of English descent named a saint since the 17th century. “There is so much that’s compelling in this man’s life, it’s clear to me that the church would be blessed to have him in the canon of saints,” Archbishop Cupich said.

The canonization is being closely watched by the gay community as well, which has adopted Cardinal Newman as an unofficial patron saint. While there is no evidence that Cardinal Newman was unfaithful to his priestly vows, he had a close 30-year friendship with Ambrose St. John. He wrote of his friend with great affection and requested that they be buried together.

The Chicago Archdiocese is also promoting the canonization of the Rev. Augustus Tolton, considered the first African-American priest. (The Rev. James Augustine Healy, who eventually became bishop of Portland, Me., was of mixed Irish and African ancestry and identified himself as Irish-American.) “Tolton’s name is held in precious memory by many people,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, who is spearheading the canonization effort. “He is certainly one of the stars of our heritage.”

The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago suggested opening the cause for Father Tolton during the 2010 Year for Priests. If the cause is successful, Father Tolton would be the first American-born priest to be canonized.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Peoria, in central Illinois, is pressing the case of Bishop Fulton Sheen, a former philosophy professor at Catholic University of America, best known as one of the earliest clergymen to use television as an evangelization tool with his popular weekly program, “Life Is Worth Living.”

Bishop Sheen was declared venerable in June 2012, and in March 2014 the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints approved a miracle attributed to his intercession. The miracle involved the birth of a child who appeared to be stillborn, even after doctors performed life-saving procedures. The child’s parents said they prayed for the bishop’s intervention and the infant revived.

The child remains in good health today. Bishop’s Sheen’s cause, however, has become mired in a dispute between the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York over his remains. Peoria had requested that the body be transferred there from its tomb in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for an official inspection and the taking of relics. The New York Archdiocese has so far declined to grant that request, and the Sheen cause remains stalled.

Perhaps a little Chicago-style political arm-twisting is in order.

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Frank Bergen
3 years 1 month ago
" If canonized, he would be the first person of English descent named a saint since the 17th century." I don't understand this statement on several levels. First, Newman was English born and bred and lived and died in England, not 'of English descent'. Second, in the 20th century a large number of English men and women were canonized, most prominent being Thomas More, sainted in 1925. Paul VI made 40 English martyrs of the counter-Reformation period saints. Perhaps Ms Valente intended to say that Newman would be the first English person who lived after the 17th century to be canonized. That may well be true.


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