Ask a Franciscan

Too Many Clergy Among Canonized Saints?

Q: Who was the last saint canonized who was not a member of the clergy? Are only Catholics recognized as saints? Can a non-Christian become a saint?

A. Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962), a physician and mother of four, was beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II and canonized 10 years later, in the presence of her husband and three surviving children. When Gianna was two months’ pregnant with their fourth child, doctors discovered a uterine tumor which could not be removed without causing the death of the child. She gave birth to Gianna Emanuela, then had the tumor removed but died the following week.

Compared to their percentage of Church membership, clergy are overrepresented among canonized saints, partly because clergy martyrs have been better remembered than lay martyrs. Another reason is that many priests or bishops have founded religious communities of women that have promoted their cause for beatification and canonization. Not many dioceses make similar efforts for laypeople.

The Catholic Church formally recognizes as saints only its members but admits that other Christians and non-Christians can be saved.

Sisterhood of Saints