While there are at least 10,000 saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, none of them are African American. The Rev. Augustus Tolton, Sister Thea Bowman, Julia Greeley, Mother Henriette Delille, Mother Mary Lange, and Pierre Toussaint are the six Black American candidates in the sainthood process. It’s a process that’s not easy or guaranteed to result in official recognition, meaning from the moment their causes opened, the real work began.
Though each candidate has a guild to headquarter their causes in their respective states, a small movement in Baltimore is pushing in different ways for all six to become saints. Lange was the only one to serve locally.
Venerable Father Augustus Tolton
Augustus Tolton was refused seminary training in America because of his race before getting educated and ordained in Rome. He is considered the first Catholic priest of acknowledged African descent to serve in the United States.
Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman
Sister Thea Bowman is the only candidate in the Saintly Six born in the 20th century. She was also the only African American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and was adamant about breaking racial and cultural barriers through her teachings.
Servant of God Julia Greeley
Julia Greeley was born into slavery in Missouri and was emancipated in 1865. She is recognized for her relentless charity work. She often gave away what she didn’t need and begged if she did not have enough to spare. She even delivered to people at night so as to not embarrass those she was helping.
Venerable Mother Henriette Delille
Mother Henriette Delille founded the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1842 in New Orleans, which taught slaves and supported orphans and the elderly. The order also built a home for the sick, elderly and poor.
Venerable Mother Mary Lange
Mother Mary Lange found the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1829, creating one of the first religious orders for African American women recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. The school she and other sisters opened is still active in East Baltimore, now St. Frances Academy.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint
Pierre Toussaint was a former slave in Haiti who became a hairdresser in New York City. He was considered a philanthropist throughout his life and was a benefactor for the city’s first Catholic school for Black children and the Oblate Sisters of Providence. He also helped gather resources to build Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.