In the past century, popes have canonized more ordinary people living in the world
If you open up a large book of saints, odds are likely you will have a difficult time finding a saint who wasn’t a priest, monk, or nun at one point during their life. The difficulty in learning about lay saints can sometimes give the false impression that, “if I want to become a saint, I must live secluded from the world or become a missionary in a foreign land.”
Thankfully, in the past century popes have made a specific effort to canonize more lay saints who were ordinary people living in the world and sanctifying it with their extraordinary virtue.
Many are becoming familiar with holy men and women like Saint Gianna Molla, Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, Saint Thomas More, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha and Saint Maria Goretti, but there are many other examples of holiness that deserve attention.
For the purposes of this article here are four more “secular saints,” who serve as an inspiration to all of us and remind us of the “universal call to holiness” that God is calling all of us to embrace.
Venerable Antonietta Meo
Born in 1930 to an upper middle class family in Rome, “Nennolina,” as she was affectionately called, loved God at an early age. She attended Catholic school and was a playful girl until she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer.
Her leg was amputated and she was given an artificial leg so that she could keep playing with her friends. What was remarkable about this little girl was the many letters she wrote (dictated to her mother) before her death at age six.
In the letters she said things with such child-like simplicity, “Dear baby Jesus, you are holy, you are good. Help me, grant me your grace and give me back my leg. If you don’t want to, then may your will be done.” Once she was asked by her father, “Do you feel much pain?” And Antonietta replied, “Daddy, the pain is like fabric, the stronger it is, the more value it has.” She would even have a big feast on the anniversary of her amputation, celebrating it because of the suffering she was able to offer to Jesus. She died before reaching the age of seven.
Blessed Chiara Badano
Raised in an Italian family who had prayed for a child for eleven years, Chiara joined the Focolare Movement at age nine. She was an ordinary student and loved pop music, dancing, singing, swimming, hiking, and tennis. Chiara would often be teased at school for her religiosity, but that didn’t prevent her from making strong friendships with those at school.
Chiara was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a painful bone cancer, at the age of 16. In the midst of all the treatments she went through, Chiara kept a cheerful disposition and her smile continues to captivate the world. She would often repeat the phrase, “If this is what you want, Jesus, so do I.”
She died at the age of 18 and her last words were, “Goodbye. Be happy because I’m happy.”
Blessed Ivan Merz
Born in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivan joined the military at his parents’ request and served briefly in World War I. Afterwards he continued his university studies at Vienna and then moved on to the Sorbonne University in Paris. He returned and completed his doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Zagreb and became a professor there, teaching French language and literature.
In the midst of it all he took a personal vow of celibacy and devoted himself to works of charity. He became a leader of youth movement in Croatia and worked for liturgical renewal in his country. Even in the midst of the war he fasted and said, “Memento mori – bacon is waiting there to set me a trap! Those who think that fasting is just a little something, do not really know what they are talking about. There is no spiritual life without fasting… Oh God, provide me with a strong will, even if I were barefoot and naked!” Ivan died at the age of 31.
Saint Juan Diego
The first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas, Juan Diego was a married man who is famous for receiving the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He worked the fields and wove mats for a living before the apparition, being part of one of the lowest classes in Aztec society. Little is known about his wife or a possible son the two had, but what is known is that after the apparition, Juan Diego devoted himself to prayer and lived near the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the rest of his life. His wife had died two years prior to the apparitions.
He was a humble man who simply wanted to share with pilgrims the many graces he was given and catechized anyone who came to him. He once said, “I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf.” All he wanted to do is lead others to Mary and it was of little significance to him whether anyone remembered who he was after his death.