Saintly relics at the Seelos Shrine

The 5 steps to Sainthood

Speaking about Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, his Holiness Pope John Paul II said, “Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervor sustain me, that I may teach transgressors your ways and sinners may return to you.” (Ps 51: 14-15) Faithful to the spirit and charism of the Redemptorist Congregation to which he belonged, Bl. Seelos often meditated upon these words. Sustained by God’s grace and an intense life of prayer, he committed himself generously and joyfully to the missionary apostolate among immigrant communities in the United States.

In the various places where he worked, Bl. Seelos brought his enthusiasm, spirit of sacrifice and apostolic zeal. To the abandoned and the lost he preached the message of Jesus Christ, and in the hours spent in the confessional he convinced many to return to God.

Below are the steps to being named a saint in the Catholic Church, and where Bl. Seelos’s cause is in the process.

1. Recognition

The local bishop determines a candidate worthy of attention and submits the name to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

2. Servant of God

If many believers report their prayers were answered through the candidate’s intercession, the Vatican opens a “cause.” An official biography is established and the title “Servant of God” is proclaimed. If no serious obstacles surface and if the pope sees “heroic virtue” in the candidate, the Servant of God advances to the next step.

A massive contribution by Father Carl Hoegerl, C.Ss.R., who wrote the official examination of Seelos’ life, virtues and reputation for holiness called a Positio, continued him on the path to canonization. It was in the early 1980s, when Fr. Hoegerl was working in Rome as head of the Commission for Redemptorists and Alphonsian Spirituality, that the Postulator General began urging him to work on the cause of Fr. Seelos. Fr. Hoegerl has the gifts needed for such an undertaking: He knows German, English, Italian and Latin, and holds a master’s degree in History from The Catholic University of America.

In the intervening years Fr. Hoegerl became thoroughly acquainted with Seelos, making several visits to his birthplace in Germany and reading and translating extensive documentation, including letters, poems, sermons, and testimony gathered about him from eyewitnesses in the early 1900s. The work itself, he said, “was not particularly hard, but very exacting…. The great problem is methodology. There are letters, scraps, accounts — how to present this? Every now and then, I would say, ‘Father Seelos, it’s your business,’ and a light would go on.”

3. Venerable

When the candidate’s actions and writings are scrutinized by the Vatican, and after at least one verified miracle is attributed to his or her intercession, the title “Venerable” is bestowed.

Angela Boudreaux’s recovery from terminal liver cancer in 1966 was the miracle that helped beatify Fr. Seelos and put him one step away from sainthood. As a mother with four young children, Angela was told she had two weeks to live. When she was still alive one month later — having prayed at Seelos’ grave on her way home from the hospital and having received a blessing with his mission cross — she was placed on a highly experimental chemotherapy treatment. She was told there was little chance it would work and that the chemicals were so toxic that she would be bedridden and in agony for a full year.

Angela suffered no side effects and made a complete recovery. A few years later, gallbladder surgery revealed only minor scars on her liver. Dr. Rufty, an Episcopalian and a self-described man of science, said it was the closest thing to a miracle he had ever seen. In 1999, Angela underwent an additional series of medical tests as part of the beatification process and she received a clean bill of health.

Seelos tapestry revealed at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
Tapestry featured at Bl. Seelos’ Beatification ceremony at the Vatican

4. Blessed

When one miracle has been officially attributed to the candidate’s intercession, he or she can be beatified, at which time the name of “Blessed” is added to the church’s calendar to be remembered at public Masses. 

Fr. Seelos was one of five people declared Blessed on April 9, 2000 in Vatican City. Five shrouded tapestries depicting the five Servants of God to be beatified hung from the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica during the ceremony. After Archbishop Francis Schulte of New Orleans read a brief biography of Fr. Seelos before the Holy Father, all eyes turned to view Seelos’ tapestry, the second from the left. The veil was drawn back to reveal an inspiring portrait of Blessed Seelos featuring St. John Neumann, immigrants, children, St. Mary’s Assumption church and even a steamboat on the Mississippi River. The original oil painting and tapestry are on display at the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos.

5. Sainthood

When a second miracle has been officially attributed to a Blessed, the candidate can be officially recognized as a saint. The names of saints are included in the church’s public and official prayers; churches may be dedicated and Masses celebrated in their honor.

Currently, the Vice-Postulator assigned to the Seelos cause for canonization is collecting information on several potential miraculous events attributed to the intercession of Bl. Seelos.