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Saints, Doctors, and Fathers of the Church

Patron Saints of Clergy and Religious

The following saints are patrons of seminarians, priests, bishops and other religious. In addition, most religious orders have their own dedicated patrons, and many dioceses have national or regional patrons.

John Berchmans, SJ

Patron Saint of Altar Servers. Jesuit Novice who died at a young age.

Charles Borromeo

Patron Saint of Catechists, Catechumens, Seminarians, and Bishops. Archbishop of Milan and a leader of the Catholic Reformation. Founded seminaries and enforced reforms of the Council of Trent.

Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

Patron Saint of Clerics and Seminarians, known for his devotion to Seven Sorrows of Mary. Entered the Passionist Congregation and died at a young age.

John Vianney

Patron Saint of Parish priests and Confessors. Also known as 'Cure d'Ars. French priest who helped reconvert a Catholic Community in France that had suffered spiritual neglect during the French revolutionary period.

Stanislaus Kostka, SJ

Patron Saint of Novices. Polish novice who entered the Jesuit order on his 17th birthday and died soon after.


Patron Saint of Bishops. Highly esteemed bishop of Milan and one of the Four Great Latin Doctors of the Church.


Patron Saint of Nuns. Sister of Benedict who founded a convent near Monte Cassino.

Doctors and Fathers of the Church

There are three requirements in order for a Catholic scholar to be declared a doctor of the Church: 1) Their written works must demonstrate "eminent learning", particularly in fields related to theology. 2) Their lives must demonstrate "great sanctity". Doctors of the Church are normally canonized before being named as doctors. 3) They must be proclaimed by a pope as a 'Doctor of the Church'.

Before the Council of Trent, many important scholars were recognized as 'Fathers of the Church', but there was no official designation, so there is some variation regarding who is counted as a Church Father. The eminent scholars Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, and Gregory the Great were already recognized in the liturgy well before the Council of Trent, but in 1568 St. Pius V officially designated them the "Great Latin Fathers", and at the same time designated Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostrom the "Great Greek Fathers". No Martyrs are listed as Doctors of the Church even though some were great scholars because martyred Church Fathers were already honored in the liturgy.

The following saints, all of whom were religious or clerics, have officially been declared doctors of the Church.

Athanasius 298-373 Great Greek Father. Archbishop of Alexandria
Cyril of Jerusalem 315-386 Archbishop of Jerusalem
Gregory of Nazianzus 329-389 Great Greek Father. Archbishop of Constantinople
Basil the Great 330-379 Great Greek Father. Bishop of Caesarea
John Chrysostom 347-407 Great Greek Father. Archbishop of Constantinople
Cyril of Alexandria 376-444 "Doctor of the Incarnation." Archbishop of Alexandria
John Damascene 676-749 Priest, monk
Hilary of Poitiers 300 367 "Doctor of the Divinity." Bishop of Poitiers
Ambrose 340-397 Great Latin Father. Bishop of Milan
Augustine 354-430 Great Latin Father, "Doctor of Grace." Bishop of Hippo
Jerome 347-420 Great Latin Father. Priest, monk, Translated the Vulgate
Leo the Great 400-461 "Doctor of Unity." Pope
Peter Chrysologus 406-450 Bishop of Ravenna
Gregory the Great 540-604 Great Latin Father. Pope, Benedictine
Isidore of Seville 560-636 Archbishop of Seville
Bede the Venerable 672-735 Priest, monk, Benedictine
Peter Damian 1007-1072 Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, monk, Benedictine
Anselm 1033-1109 "Magnificent Doctor." Archbishop of Canterbury, Benedictine
Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153 "Mellifluous Doctor". Priest, Cistercian
Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179 Abbess, Benedictine
Albertus Magnus 1193-1280 "Universal Doctor." Bishop of Regensburg, Dominican
Anthony of Padua 1195-1231 "Evangelical Doctor." Priest, Franciscan
Bonaventure 1221-1274 "Seraphic Doctor." Cardinal, Superior of Franciscans
Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274 "Angelic Doctor." Priest, Theologian, Dominican
Catherine of Siena 1347-1380 Mystic, Dominican (Consecrated virgin)
John of Ávila 1500-1569 Priest, Mystic
Teresa of Ávila 1515-1582 "Doctor of Prayer." Mystic, Carmelite Abbess and Reformer
Peter Canisius 1521-1597 Priest, Jesuit
John of the Cross 1542-1591 "Mystical Doctor." Priest, mystic, Carmelite (Reformer)
Robert Bellarmine 1542-1621 Archbishop of Capua, Theologian, Jesuit
Lawrence of Brindisi 1559-1619 "Apostolic Doctor." Priest, Diplomat, Capuchin Franciscan
Francis de Sales 1567-1622 "Doctor of Charity." Bishop of Geneva, Oratorian
Alphonsus Liguori 1696-1787 "Most Zealous Doctor." Bishop, Founder of Redemptorists
Thérèse of Lisieux 1873-1897 Carmelite Nun

Official Recognition of Saints

Martyrs and Confessors in the Early Church

For the first four centuries, the Catholic Church recognized martyrs but did not have a way to designate sainthood for non-martyrs (confessors). The act of martyrdom in itself was proof of sainthood and only the names of martyrs were included as part of liturgical worship. Almost all of the earliest recognized saints of the Church, including most of the apostles and many of the Church Fathers were martyrs. This explanation of how the process of canonization evolved is adapted from Wikipedia.

"By the fourth century, Confessors, that is "men who had confessed their faith not by dying but by word and life", began to be venerated publicly. (Examples include Ephram, Hilarion, Martin of Tours, etc.) Their names were mentioned in the liturgy and their tombs were honored in like manner as those of the martyrs. Since the witness of their lives was not as unequivocal as that of the martyrs, they were venerated publicly only with the approval by the local bishop. . . . The acts of the process were sent to a regional primate, who examined the cause, and, after consultation with the local bishops declared whether the deceased worthy of public veneration. Acts of formal recognition, such as the erection of an altar over the saint's tomb or transferring the saint's relics to a church, were preceded by formal inquiries into the sanctity of the person's life and the miracles attributed to that person's intercession. . . . . Such acts of recognition of a saint were authoritative only for the diocese or province for which they were issued, but with the spread of the fame of a saint, were often accepted elsewhere also."

Process for Sainthood Formalized in Middle Ages

It was not until the Middle Ages, that Papal approval for saints canonized outside of Italy was sought. Beginning in the 9th or 10th centuries, Papal approval was sought in selected cases, and by the 12th century, canonization was recognized as an exclusive right of the Holy See, at least in the Western Church. Canon laws promulgated by Innocent III in about 1200 set up formal procedures that reserved the right of Canonization exclusively to the Pope, but local bishops were still allowed to the right of beatification. At this time Innocent III also officially recognized the necessity of miracles as part of the process of Canonization, but this was not a new development, since the tradition of praying for the intercession of saints or martyrs in the cause of miracles had been going on since apostolic times.

In 1588 Sextus V established a Congregation to handle matters related to the Cause of Saints within the Holy See, and by 1634, Pope Urban VIII issued a law that required both Beatification and Canonization to be regulated by the Holy See. From the sixteenth century up until Vatican II, therefore, a fairly rigorous and uniform method of Canonizing saints was established, and administered by the magisterium. The process involved the recognition of at least four miracles, (two for beatification, two for canonization) a rigorous investigation into the life and works of a Saints life, and the appointment of a Devil's Advocate, whose job was to argue *against* canonization, in order to uncover character flaws or other hidden evidence against the candidate.

Changes in Canonization process after Vatican II

Changes to the Canonization process began after Vatican II, when Paul VI began to informally waive the requirement of two proven miracles for each level, and allowed a single miracle to establish beatification, and another miracle for canonization. The simplification of procedures for canonization were finally made official by the 1983 Code of Canon Law promulgated by John Paul II. Other changes in the new requirements for canonization all made it easier to proclaim sainthood by making the process less rigorous. :

  • Requires only one miracle for Beatification, and in the case of a martyrs death, no miracles are required for beatification.
  • Requires only one miracle for Canonization
  • Most investigation of canonization, including verification of miracles, is done under the control of the local bishop independent of Rome.
  • The "Devil's Advocate" role is consultative, rather than adversarial.
    • These procedures significantly simplify the process of canonization and encourage the beatification of regional heroes who are not well known outside their local churches. As a result, the number of beatifications and canonizations completed by recent popes is many times then number of those canonized before Vatican II. Until the 20th century, it was rare for a pope to canonize more than a dozen saints during his entire pontificate.

      The following Chart gives some indication of the number of canonizations completed by 19th and 20th century popes. The numbers are somewhat misleading, however, since groups of martyrs (such as the 233 Spanish martyrs, or 108 WW II Martyrs) are counted as a single canonization. Because of group of martyrs John Paul II is credited with canonizing about 483, rather than 111 saints, and the 'Martyrs of Otranto' canonized of Pope Francis in 2013, was extended to over 800 Martyrs.

      Pope #Reign Canonized Beatified
      Pius VII (23 years) 5
      Gregory XVI (15 years) 5
      Pius IX (32 years) 9
      Leo XIII (25 years) 12
      Pius X (9 years) 4
      Benedict XV (8 years) 3
      Pius XI (17 years) 34
      Pius XII (19 years) 27
      John XXIII (5 years) 10 5
      Paul VI (15 years) 21 39
      JP II (33 years) 111 396
      Benedict XVI (8 years) 45 129
      Francis (5 years) 42 75

      Process of Canonization

      The current process of Canonization is determined by Canon law. It is based on tradition, but subject to change. There is no dogmatic guideline regarding canonization, and for that reason the pope has considerable leeway. Since a pope can change canon law, he also has the right to waive certain requirements for sainthood, and recent popes have done so on several occasions. For example, Pope Francis waived the 2nd miracle required for the Canonization of Pope John XXIII, so he could be canonized at the same time as John Paul II. The process of canonization currently proceeds as follows:

      • Servant of God—The process of Canonization starts when a local bishop open's an investigation into the life and virtues of a candidate, and a report is written based on his works, writings, and witness accounts. If the bishop decides to proceed, based the evident virtuous life of the candidate, he is referred to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, and given the title "Servant of God."
      • Venerable—Once the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has reviewed a case they may recommend that the Pope declare that the "Servant of God" under consideration is Heroic in Virtue, and he is given the title "Venerable." At this point the Venerable's body is exhumed and relics are preserved.
      • Blessed—Once a candidate has been declared "Venerable", there are two paths to Beatification. If the Venerable died a Martyr's death, no miracle is required, and once the Pope makes a Declaration of Martyrdom the candidate is beatified and becomes a "Blessed." If the Venerable is a Confessor (one who lives a life of heroic virtue, but is not a martyr), proof of a miracle is required. Once a miracle has been attributed, the Pope declares that it is "Worthy of Belief" that the Venerable is in heaven, and the become a "Blessed". A blessed may be assigned a Feast day (usually the day he died), but in most cases Blesseds are only venerated in their native country or religious congregation.
      • Saint—A Blessed becomes a saint after at least one additional miracle is verified. The pope then declares that the Blessed is certainly in heaven and therefor worthy of the title "saint". Once a saint is canonized his relics may be used in altars, churches may be named after him, and his feast day may be celebrated anywhere in the Universal church.