All Saints’ Day marks the perfect occasion to remember all of those in heaven who intercede for us here on earth. The Communion of Saints is vast and consists of ordinary people who lived an exemplary life in service to the Lord.
However, this great feast day is also a chance to learn more about those faithful Catholics who are almost saints; those who have been declared venerable or blessed but have not quite been deemed saints by the Church. The Church currently recognizes hundreds of faithful as either venerable or blessed, meaning there are still hundreds of saints, and perhaps even many more, yet to be proclaimed as such.
Here are six faithful Catholics declared venerable or blessed within the last several years whose incredible stories are as inspiring as they are diverse.
Bl. Father Michael McGivney
Blessed Father Michael McGivney was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1852. From a very young age, he felt the call of God to become a priest, just like two of his brothers. In 1877, he was ordained and assigned to St. Mary’s church, the first Catholic Church in New Haven. Father McGivney faced many challenges in this parish, including hostility towards Catholics, while striving to prevent this from weakening the faith of his people.
In 1882, Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus to provide financial protection to families who suffered the death of the breadwinner, something he had to face himself when his father died in 1873. He also hoped that the new organization would stop Catholics from turning to anti-Catholic secret societies that offered resources when they were in need, but drew them away from their faith. Father McGivney was an admirable pastor who built strong ties with parishioners and cared for their spiritual and welfare.
In 1890, Father McGivney was impacted by severe pneumonia. Despite seeking out different treatments and remedies, he died two days past his 38th birthday on August 14 of that same year, just as his new Order was moving toward new vitality. His hard work and inspiration earned him the loyalty and affection of the thousands of people who knew him as the founder of the Knights of Columbus. Since its inauguration, the organization has strengthened Catholics in their faith around the world and has offered them alternatives for greater financial security.
The Knights of Columbus is currently one of the world’s largest lay service organizations with more than two million members and donates millions of dollars to various church Charities.
Bl. Carlo Acutis
Carlo Acutis, a young man who died at 15, and whose body remains uncorrupted, could be the first millennial to become a Saint.
Blessed Carlo Acutis was born in 1991 in London, England, and died on October 12, 2006 due to a very aggressive leukemia, Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Carlo is known for his evangelistic work on the internet, which began just a year before he died.
From a young age, he talked to God and showed his interest in everything related to the Church, the Saints and the Gospel. Carlo lived his short life checking up on others, especially the most vulnerable and the ones in need. He used his first savings to buy a sleeping bag for a homeless man he often saw on his way to Mass. Although neither of his parents were religious, he demonstrated his love for God at a young age. He never wanted to pass by a church without going in to say, “hello to Jesus.” As a result, Carlo began to evangelize his parents, which led them to conversion. At his own request, Carlo received his First Holy Communion at the age of seven, in a local convent. Carlo’s true passion was the Eucharist, “The Eucharist is my highway to heaven,” he would say.
At the age of 11, Carlo began to investigate the Eucharistic miracles that have occurred in history. He used his computer skills and talents to create a website that traced that history. During his teenage years, he spent most of his time helping homeless people and volunteering at soup kitchens.
After being diagnosed with leukemia, Carlo’s reaction was very calm and offered his sufferings to God for the Pope and the Church.
“I offer to the Lord the sufferings that I will have to undergo for the Pope and for the Church, so as not to have to be in Purgatory and be able to go directly to heaven.” He died shortly after.
His funeral was packed with homeless and poor people he had helped throughout his short life, demonstrating his generosity and love for others.
In 2018, Pope Francis declared him venerable and his beatification took place on October 10, 2020. After 14 years of being buried, Carlo’s body was exhumed and although he was subjected to a face reconstruction work and dressed in a different outfit, his body was almost intact with all his organs still present.
Carlo is credited with the miraculous cure of a Brazilian boy with an irreversible disease that was cured after touching a relic of his.
Bl. Maria Velotti
Despite her greatness and splendor, blessed Maria Velotti is a figure that very few know about but was characterized by being the humble and reserved founder of the Franciscan Sisters Adorers of the Holy Cross.
Born in Soccavo, Italy, in 1826, Maria Velotti started her suffering when both of her parents died when she was four years old. Maria’s childhood was marked when she was raised by an aunt who was opposed to Maria’s devotion and call to religious life. On Sundays, her aunt would punish her by hiding her shoes, so she would be forced to go to Mass barefoot. The treatment that Maria received with her aunt developed into a sense of obedience and respect, as well as a special perception of the suffering of others.
Years later, Maria was adopted by a couple who had no children, something that finally allowed her to dedicate her time to the Lord without distractions.
In 1853, after an intense spiritual journey and a contemplative life, Maria entered the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi and became a Franciscan tertiary taking the name of Maria Luigia of the Blessed Sacrament. She was perfected in the way of poverty and humility and was favored by unique mystical gifts of union with the Passion of the Lord.
In 1878, along with with other young women, she funded the Franciscan Sisters Adorers of the Holy Cross, aimed to educate girls and promote the role of women during those times. She also dedicated herself to various charitable initiatives.
After suffering from illness for a prolonged period, the Servant of God died on September 3, 1886 in Casoria, Italy.
Blessed Maria Velotti went through trials and sufferings, but never lost faith. Over and above, she learned how to be good and generous with everyone. Pope Francis confirmed her heroic virtue and titled venerable in 2016. In 2019, he also approved a miracle attributed to Blessed Maria Velotti, which would enable for her beatification that took place on September 26, 2020.
Bl. Benedetta Bianchi Porro
Blessed Benedetta Bianchi Porro was born on August 8, 1936 in Forli, Italy. When she was only three months old she contracted polio, which made one of her legs shorter than the other. During her childhood, kids would make fun of her and call her “the cripple,” but she never got offended and responded, “it’s the truth!”
Benedetta was a delicate sensitive child, intelligent, happy and very contemplative. She began keeping a diary when she was five. In one occasion she wrote, “The universe is enchanting! It’s great to be alive.”
During her teenage years, she began to lose her hearing and to stagger. In order to walk easier, she had to start using a cane. At the age of 17, she travelled to Milan, Italy, where she enrolled in a physics course to please her father, but she later discovered that her true calling was to medicine. She wanted to engage with others as a doctor to help those who needed aid the most. Although some of her teachers were opposed to having a medical student who was partially deaf, she proved to be a brilliant student.
At 21 years of age, she was diagnosed with Von Recklinghausen’s disease, a rare condition that left her blind and deaf. Due to her illness, she was forced to leave medical school. At home, she began to evangelize others through letters in which she discussed faith and the love of God. She underwent different surgeries that left her paralyzed, blind, and she could barely speak. In a short period of time, she also began to lose all her senses.
In the darkness of her pain, she was illuminated by the light of Jesus. She became a gift to others. Many people visited her attracted by the mystery of girl who, struck by a terrible suffering, reacted with love and hope. Benedetta passed away January 23, 1964, after receiving Communion and Reconciliation.
In 1975, her cause for canonization was approved. In 1993, she was declared venerable by Pope John Paul II. On September 14, 2019, day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Benedetta Bianchi was beatified.
Bl. Dom Justo Takayama
Blessed Dom Justo Takayama was so exceptional that he is very unique in the Japanese Church. Also known as the “Samurai of Christ,” this Japanese nobleman was beatified by the martyrdom he suffered during the persecution of Christianity in his country during the 16th century. Although the blessed was not executed like other saints, he had to give up his social position and died due to the pain he suffered for not giving up his religious beliefs.
Blessed Dom Justo Takayama was born in 1552 into a position of wealth and power. By his father’s request, he was baptized when he was 12 years old and took the Latin name of Justo, just three days after the Spanish Jesuit missionary San Francisco Javier had arrived in Japan. Takayama and his father used their power to protect Catholic missionaries who were there to spread the Word of God, contributing with their authority to the evangelization of Japan.
In 1587, Chancellor of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, launched a campaign against the Christians and drove out the missionaries, forcing Japanese Catholics to abandon their faith. Although many obeyed, Justo Takayama and his father stood firm, and continued to spread the Gospel. As a result, they lost their land, position, special status and honor in their community. When Christianity was finally banned in Japan, he and other 300 Japanese Christians were forced to leave their country for exile in the Philippines, then a Spanish colony. There, he lived a life of holiness until his death two months later. He died after falling seriously ill, due to the suffering from persecution. He spent most of his life spreading the Word of God.
In 2016, Pope Francis approved the decree recognizing his martyrdom. His life is an example of fidelity to the Christian vocation despite all difficulties in life. The Japanese “Servant of God” Dom Justo Takayama, was beatified on February 7, 2017. Blessed Takayama is now one step away from full sainthood.
Ven. Augustus Tolton
Father Augustus Tolton was the first freed black slave from the United States to become a Catholic priest. Born in Missouri on April 1, 1854, Augustus was born into slavery. There are indications that their owners freed his family at the outbreak of the Civil War.
Although Augustus and his siblings attended Catholic schools, they were subjected to situations of cruelty and racism because they were black. At the age of 16, through teachings on the Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass, Augustus heard his call to priesthood.
Due to the fact that U.S. seminaries wouldn’t receive African-Americans, it was not until 1880 that Augustus was accepted into a seminary in Rome. He believed that once ordained he would serve as a missionary and be sent to Africa, however, Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni insisted that the United States had to see the first black priest. He then obediently returned to work with the black community in the U.S., the place where he was most persecuted. He was assigned to serve as a missionary in Quincy, Illinois.
Fr. Augustus soon became well-known for his beautiful homilies, his voice and his talent when playing the accordion. His effectiveness as a preacher and spiritual leadership began to attract large numbers of white people who attended his Masses to hear his sermons at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chicago, something that his fellow white priests didn’t like. Despite all the challenges he had to face during his apostolate, Father Augustus never gave up and accepted the cross he had to carry for being the only black priest in the country.
Father Augustus never spoke in public about the racism he suffered from his fellow Catholics. Instead, he taught that Catholicism has always welcomed the different races, since one of the wise men, who Father Augustus called “a negro king,” was one of the first ones to greet the newborn Savior. He also preached that the Catholic Church was the only true liberator of blacks in America. He died on July 9, 1897, at the age of 43, of a stroke during a heat wave in Chicago.
He was named Venerable by Pope Francis on June 12, 2019.