Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Catholic and Orthodox Saints Born in the Present-Day United States

Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri Tekakwitha making her the first female American Indian saint and the first American Indian saint not from present-day Mexico.  Her canonization and other previous conversations dealing with "American saints" who were actually foreigners who worked in the present-day United States made me wonder just how many American-born saints there are.  The answer surprised me and other geographic and demographic facts were even more startling.

View Catholic and Orthodox Saints Born in the Present-Day United States in a larger map

Total Number of American-Born Saints

6 (3 Catholic, 3 Orthodox)

The Catholic saints are Saints Katharine Drexel, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Kateri Tekakwitha.  The Orthodox saints are Saints Jacob Netsvetov, Peter the Aleut, and Varnava Nastić.

American-Born Saints by Sex

3 women (3 Catholic, 0 Orthodox)
3 men (0 Catholic, 3 Orthodox)

There are no American-born male Catholic saints and no American-born female Orthodox saints.  Both the Western and Eastern Churches have roles for the feminine via the Virgin Mary but Catholicism has been more open in expressing, in part, a feminine nature with Mary, many more female saints, and nuns in public.  Orthodoxy meanwhile has been criticized by some for loving Mary while regarding other women as sinful Eves and closing off their nuns from the public. Also, Orthodoxy's nationalist bent along with centuries of persecution from Muslims and then Communist states has given Orthodox a more masculine, fighting nature about it at times at the cost of a softer, more feminine side.

American-Born Saint Martyrs

2 (0 Catholic, 2 Orthodox)

None of the Catholic American-born saints died violent deaths.  Meanwhile, two of the three Orthodox saints were killed.  Saint Peter the Aleut was an Alaskan Native who traveled with Russian seal hunters to California and was captured by the Spanish.  According to later written down accounts, Catholic priests and Catholic Indians tortured Peter to death because he would not change from Orthodoxy to Catholicism.  Saint Varnava Nastić meanwhile moved back to his parents' native Yugoslavia and was mostly likely killed by the Communist regime.

Geography of American-Born Saints

Catholic saints packed together in the Northeast; Orthodox saints on the fringes

The three Catholic saints were born in Auriesville, New York, New York City, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The distance between Auriesville and Philadelphia is 200 miles.  The packed-in nature of the saints shows a closed-in, historical Catholic realm.  Meanwhile, two of the Orthodox saints are Alaskans.  The third was born in the Midwest city of Gary, Indiana but had immigrant parents and lived in the Slavic part of town.  While he was not on the American fringe geographically he certainly was on the cultural fringe.

Ethnic Demographics of American-born Saints

3 of European heritage (2 Catholic, 1 Orthodox), 2 of American Native heritage (1 Catholic, 1 Orthodox), 1 of Mixed European and American Native heritage (1 Orthodox)

Saint Katharine Drexel was of Austrian heritage but born in an established American family.  Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was of English and French heritage.  Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was a Mohawk.  Saint Jacob Nestvetov was mixed Russian and Aluet. Saint Peter was Aluet.  Finally, Saint Varnava Nastić was ethnically Serbian.

Dates of Canonization

1975 - Elizabeth Ann Seton
1980 - Peter the Aleut (Orthodox Church in America)
1994 - Jacob Netsvetov (Orthodox Church in America)
2000 - Katharine Drexel
2005 - Varnava Nastić (Serbian Orthodox Church)
2012 - Kateri Tekakwitha

An American-born saint has been canonized on average every 7.4 years since 1975.  Up until 2000 there were more Orthodox-born American saints than Catholic but the Universal Call to Holiness' recognition of sainthood in many people rather than just a notable few has helped fuel the Catholic rise to tie the Orthodox.  Many faithful pray for the declaration of sainthood for  dozens of beatified and venerable American-born Catholics.  The Universal Call to Holiness' push will likely cause Catholics to take the lead in American-born saints within a decade.


Dan tdaxp said...

Something's up with the Peter the Aleut story... From Wikipedia

" the Jesuit order had been suppressed in 1773, and had only been reconstituted in 1814.[8] There were in 1815 no Jesuits within a thousand miles of California.[8] "

Catholicgauze said...

Maybe it falls under "Anything bad Catholic = Jesuit"? Or the Russians lied. Personally, I think the former may be the case.