Although saints and versions of sainthoods exist in many religions, the ideas that most people hold about saints, and in particular Patron Saints, are those of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church has over 10,000 saints, officially declared and approved by the competent authority of the Church.

Prior to the year 1234, the Church did not have a formal process as such. Usually martyrs and those recognized as holy were declared saints by the Church at the time of their deaths. Before the legalization of Christianity in the year 313 by Emperor Constantine, the tombs of martyrs, like St. Peter, were marked and kept as places for homage. The anniversaries of their deaths were remembered and placed on the local Church calendar. After legalization, oftentimes basilicas or shrines were built over these tombs.
Saints were once chosen by the democratic method of public acclaim, however, the people being chosen by this method were often elevated by legend and in some cases there are doubts they even existed. To tackle this problem the Vatican, and the Pope, took over choosing and naming Saints via a process called canonization; which is conducted by the congregation for the course of canonization.

In the year 1234, Pope Gregory IX established procedures to investigate the life of a candidate to sainthood and any attributed miracles. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V entrusted the Congregation of Rites (later named the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints) to oversee the entire process. Beginning with Pope Urban VIII in 1634, various Popes have revised and improved the norms and procedures for canonization until 1983 by Pope John Paul II. And now it follows three main stages.

To oversimplify the process it is a case of “saints should always be judged guilty until they are proven innocent”. Once a person becomes a saint their name is added to the catalogue of saints, they are invoked in public prayers, churches can be dedicated to their memory, Mass can be offered in their honor, feast days celebrate their memory, images of them may have a halo and their remains become holy relics which are publicly honored.

Why Saints?

Once a person is in heaven, enjoying the vision of God, nothing can add to his or her eternal glory. The Church canonizes holy people, therefore, not for their sakes, but to present them to the faithful as models of Christian life and as powerful intercessors.
For this reason the Church studies the life and works of those who are being proposed for canonization for evidence of holiness and of heroism in the practice of virtue. They look for evidence of the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity; of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit; humility and prudence and prayerfulness. The Church also wants evidence that after their deaths the memory of those persons continued to inspire the faithful to pursue holiness and to seek their intercession, so reports of favors requested and received must be kept. Extraordinary healings must have medical records, doctor’s assessments and proof that the healing is attributable to the person being proposed for Canonization.

Today the process proceeds as follows: When a person dies who has fame of sanctity or fame of martyrdom, a promoter group from the diocese, parish, religious or congregation asks the Diocesan Bishop for an opening of an investigation five years after the death of the candidate. One element is whether any special favor or miracle has been granted through this candidate saint’s intercession. The Church will also investigate the candidate’s writings to see if they possess purity of doctrine, essentially, nothing heretical or against the faith. All of this information is gathered, and then a transumptum, a faithful copy, duly authenticated and sealed, is submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Once the cause is accepted by the Congregation a “nihil obstat” is granted for the candidate to be called, “Servant of God”, further investigation is conducted.

  • Diocesan tribunal hears witnesses and testimony on heroic Christian virtues. Meanwhile members of the Theological Commission and Historical Commission are officially appointed. Theological Commission studies the candidate’s writings, published and unpublished to ascertain faithfulness to teachings of the Catholic Church while the Historical Commission collects and examines all the documents of the candidate. The Postulator (official secretary) presents acts and documentation (Positio) to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. After favorable judgment and Papal approval, the candidate is declared “Venerable” by the Pope, meaning that they are heroic in nature and have reached the first level of being sacred. The person can be acclaimed as exemplary in matters of faith and witness. If the candidate was a martyr, the Congregation determines whether he died for the faith and truly offered his life in a sacrifice of love for Christ and the Church. In other cases, the congregation examines to see if the candidate was motivated by a profound charity towards his neighbor, and practiced the virtues in an exemplary manner and with heroism. Throughout this investigation the “general promoter of the faith,” or devil’s advocate, raises objections and doubts which must be resolved. Once a candidate is declared to have lived life with heroic virtue, he may be declared Venerable.

  • The second stage is called “beatification” and is a stage necessary for non-martyrs only. A martyr in this sense of the word is someone who has been murdered or put to death in the name of their Christian faith. For this stage evidence is needed of one miracle which has happened after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific request to them. This is seen as proof that they can intercede for those on earth and act as their voice in heaven. The candidate will then be proclaimed by the Pope as “beatified” and so can be venerated by a region or group for whom the candidate’s life holds special significance. Accordingly, the Pope would authorize a special prayer, Mass, or proper Divine Office honoring the Blessed.
  • Stage 3 After beatification another miracle is needed for canonization and the formal declaration of sainthood. After a second miracle is attributed to the intercession of the “Blessed” This third and final stage is for both martyrs and non-martyrs alike. The candidate is then canonized and officially named as a saint by the Pope. Since 1886 to 1964 we have witnessed this process in the canonization of Uganda Martyrs and in the near future we may be blessed to witness the entire process about Michael Cardinal Maurice Otunga of good memories.

    In all, we must not lose sight that this thorough process exists because of how important the saints are as examples for us; the faithful who strive to live in the Kingdom of God now and see its fulfillment in Heaven. Vatican II declared, “God shows to men, in a vivid way, His presence and His face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed in the image of Christ. He speaks to us in them and offers us a sign of this kingdom to which we are powerfully attracted, so great a cloud of witnesses is there given and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel. It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek rather that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened”

  • (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 50).
    Saints, broadly speaking, are those who follow Jesus Christ and live their lives according to his teaching. They are those holy men and women who, through extraordinary lives of virtue, have already entered Heaven.

    Servant of God

  • Servant of God is a title used as a description of a person believed to be pious in his or her faith tradition.

  • Servant of God is the title given to a deceased person of the Roman Catholic Church whose life and works are being investigated in consideration for official recognition by the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church as a saint in heaven.


  • In the Catholic Church’s Latin rite, venerable is the title of a person who has been posthumously declared “heroic in virtue” during the investigation and process leading to canonization as a saint. Before one is considered venerable, he or she must be declared as such by a proclamation approved by the pope of having lived a life that was “heroic in virtue” – the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.


  • Beatification (from Latin beatus, blessed, via Greek μακάριος, makarios) is a recognition accorded by the Catholic church of a dead person’s accession to Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. A person who is beatified is given the title “Blessed.”


  • Saint to refer to a particularly holy person, recognized by fellow believers as someone who lived a divine life and who is in the Divine presence after death.


  • In the Roman Catholic tradition, a person who is seen as exceptionally holy can be declared a saint by a formal process, called canonization. This particular form of recognition formally allows the person so canonized to be listed in the official Litany of the Saints during Mass. Formal canonization is a lengthy process often taking many years, even centuries. At a minimum, two important miracles are required to be formally declared a saint. The Church, however, places special weight on those miracles or instances of intercession that happened after the individual died and which are seen to demonstrate the saint’s continued special relationship with God after death. Finally, when all of this is done the Pope canonizes the person to be saint.