A Saint of Our Own

How the Quest for a Holy Hero Helped Catholics Become American

By Kathleen Sprows Cummings

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 halftones, 1 fig., appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6553-5
    Published: August 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4947-4
    Published: April 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4948-1
    Published: February 2019
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5155-0
    Published: February 2019

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit Bookshop.org

Awards & distinctions

First Place, 2020 Catholic Press Association Book Award in Gender Issues - Inclusion in the Church Category

Second Place, 2020 Catholic Press Association Book Award in History Category

What drove U.S. Catholics in their arduous quest, full of twists and turns over more than a century, to win an American saint? The absence of American names in the canon of the saints had left many of the faithful feeling spiritually unmoored. But while canonization may be fundamentally about holiness, it is never only about holiness, reveals Kathleen Sprows Cummings in this panoramic, passionate chronicle of American sanctity. Catholics had another reason for petitioning the Vatican to acknowledge an American holy hero.

A home-grown saint would serve as a mediator between heaven and earth, yes, but also between Catholicism and American culture. Throughout much of U.S. history, the making of a saint was also about the ways in which the members of a minority religious group defined, defended, and celebrated their identities as Americans. Their fascinatingly diverse causes for canonization—from Kateri Tekakwitha and Elizabeth Ann Seton to many others that are failed, forgotten, or still under way—represented evolving national values as Catholics made themselves at home. Cummings’s vision of American sanctity shows just how much Catholics had at stake in cultivating devotion to men and women perched at the nexus of holiness and American history—until they finally felt little need to prove that they belonged.

Open Access ebook sponsored by an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships Open Book Program.

About the Author

A nationally recognized expert on Pope Francis and Catholicism, Kathleen Sprows Cummings, author of New Women of the Old Faith, is professor of American studies and history and William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.
For more information about Kathleen Sprows Cummings, visit the Author Page.


“Offers an erudite scholarly history of canonization of American exemplars of holiness, and why it is important to American Catholics."—Choice Reviews

“As Cummings shows in intricate detail, canonization is painstaking work that requires labor, money, miracles, investigations and no small amount of luck. . . . Our future saints, some of whom have already passed beyond the veil, will disclose to us as much about ourselves and our church as they will about their own heroic virtue.”—America Magazine

“Offers a substantial contribution to understanding U.S. religion, hagiographical developments, and the shifting priorities of the Catholic faithful. It takes up a relatively unexplored topic, providing an astute and interesting analysis of the evolution of U.S. saint-seeking from the early twentieth century to today.”—Catholic Historical Review

“Astute and lively. . . . The work’s gracefully interwoven stories and analysis illuminate individual personalities, religious communities, and the transformations of ‘U.S. Catholics’ understanding of themselves both as members of the church and as citizens of the nation’. . . . A wonderful feat of historical imagination.”—American Catholic Studies

“This book does more than tell the story of American men and women who have been canonized by the Church since the nineteenth century. The author also relates the unique aspects of the canonization process woven within the story of an immigrant Church becoming aware of its role in the totality of the universal Church.”—Catholic Library World

“A fascinating account of American Catholics’ persistent efforts to secure a national saint. . . . [Cummings] deftly weaves her transnational story of American Catholic saint-seeking using a phenomenal range of sources. . . . Her engaging narrative draws the reader into the complexities of the process, the importance of Vatican connections and papal prerogative, the vagaries of individuals assigned to causes, and the evolving understanding of sanctity in the twentieth century.”—Theological Studies