To become a Catholic saint today, it takes money, a medical miracle, and a compelling vita.

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
June 3 2010 9:43 AM

The Vatican Loves a Good Story

It takes money, a medical miracle, and a compelling vita to make it as a saint today.

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Saint-making requires a great deal of funding. Woodward estimates that Drexel's cause ended up costing about $1 million. Molinari and the other laity and clergy involved are not paid by the Vatican for the time they spend on Toussaint's case, nor are the expensive consulting doctors who review the thaumaturgic events—the, er, scientific term for a miracle—attributed to him. Thousands of pages of materials must be copied and sent to Rome.

As for the miracles: In 2000, Lisa Peacock, a teacher in Silver Spring, Md., read about Toussaint in the Washington Post and was struck by him. She cut out the photograph of his portrait and gave it to her 5-year-old son, Joey, who suffered from scoliosis. Joey pleaded for Toussaint's intercession. Two days later, the Peacocks went to John Hopkins Medical Center, where they learned that Joey's scoliosis had, apparently, disappeared.

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Lisa contacted the New York Archdiocese. Joey's X-rays and records were sent to Rome, where they were inspected by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints' medical review board. It wanted to wait for full bone development. According to Lisa, Joey, 15, now stands 6'3" and plays basketball and lacrosse. His latest X-rays, which show he no longer requires monitoring for the condition, have been sent to the congregation. It's due to render a ruling soon, Molinari says.

At that point the hunt will begin for a second miracle, and Molinari will plead Toussaint's case anew. This is easier than it once was. The canonization process used to resemble litigation, with the postulator and his allies pleading the would-be saint's case and a promoter general of the faith, or devil's advocate ( whence the term), arguing against it, citing evidence of misdeeds. The latter position was done away with in 1983.

Not that the Peacocks' and Toussaint's other fans necessarily need the Vatican's blessing to hallow him: The official register of saints, the Bibliotheca Sanctorum, runs to roughly 10,000 names, but only a few hundred of those have been officially canonized since 993, when the papacy took up the practice. The rest are saints not because a pope said so, but because their neighbors and admirers did.

Correction, June 3, 2010: This article originally and incorrectly stated that Catherine Drexel was the only Catholic saint born in the United States. Elizabeth Ann Seton also was born in the United States. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)

Correction, June 17, 2010: This article originally included the wrong date of
Damian De Veuster's canonization. It was in October 2009, not March. Also, he was originally from Belgium, not "of Belgian descent," though the church considers him American. (Return  to the corrected sentences.)

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You can read James Verini's other work at www.jamesverini.com.