Amanda Skofstad | May 23, 2019
In new research, Kathleen Sprows Cummings — University of Notre Dame associate professor of American studies and director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism — chronicles how canonization, or the intricate process of naming someone a saint, prompted a minority religious group to define, defend and celebrate its American identity.
Cummings’ “A Saint of Our Own: How the Quest for a Holy Hero Helped Catholics Become American” is the first study of multiple causes for canonization within a United States context. In addition to cataloging a variety of historical figures elevated as models of Catholic virtue and American ideals, Cummings sets out to “bring into focus U.S. Catholics’ understanding of themselves both as members of the Church and as citizens of the nation, and to understand how those identities converged, diverged and changed over time.”
While holiness as a concept may transcend time and space, it is lived out by people who are inseparable from the cultures and contexts in which they lived. U.S. Catholics were without a saint born on their American soil until the 1975 canonization of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Cummings claims this void left many American Catholics feeling “not only spiritually unmoored but also periodically subject to the condescension of their transatlantic counterparts.”
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