The terminology of saints and holy people
According to the Vatican, the cause for sainthood cannot begin until five years after a person’s death.
Usually a promoter group is formed. This might be a diocese, a religious order or even a parish.
The diocese in which the person being proposed for sainthood died is responsible for beginning the investigation, and the bishop of that diocese is asked by the promoter group to begin the investigation. The bishop obtains permission from the Vatican to do so. He then usually forms a diocesan tribunal, or special court, to assist him.
Witnesses are called to this tribunal to explain the things they saw or heard that demonstrated heroic virtues of faith, hope and charity, or “cardinal virtues,” which are prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude and others specific to the proposed saint’s life. All documents, letters and testimony related to the person are gathered, and they can then be called “Servant of God.”
Once the bishop and his diocese complete their investigation, all of the material they have gathered and their reports are sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Nine theologians examine a prepared summary report and vote on whether or not they believe the cause should move forward. Once a majority vote is received, the cause is then given to the bishops and cardinals in the congregation for their review.
If those members of the congregation believe the cause should move forward, it is passed on to the pope, who gives his approval. A decree is drafted and read/published publicly, and the person is now called “Venerable.”
For a person to move toward beatification, whereby they are called “Blessed,” a miracle attributed to the potential saint is necessary. Documentation of the miracle is given canonical (Church) examination. If the conclusion is positive, the pope can then decide to beatify the person. A feast day is generally assigned to that candidate as well.
For sainthood, a second miracle attributed to the intercession of the person is needed and must go through the same examination. If accepted, the pope may decide to move the beatified person to canonization.
Late in 2011, Pope Benedict signed decrees that recognized the miracles needed for the canonization of Blesseds Marianne Cope and Kateri Tekakwitha, who are expected to be formally named saints in 2012, along with five other persons. He approved the beatification of some 70 persons and accepted seven decrees that allow persons to be called “venerable.”
In the U.S. Catechism for Adults, you will find cited a number of American Catholics who have made contributions to Church history. Some are saints, some are on the road to sainthood, and some were simply holy and good people. Among these are Father Isaac Hecker, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Cesar Chavez and Father Patrick Peyton.
You will also see reference to a “Doctor of the Church.” This is a title that’s given to a saint or holy person who has made an important contribution to theology or church doctrine. Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Pope Gregory I were the original Doctors of the Church and were named in 1298.
Since 1970, three women have been named Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Therese of Lisieux. In 2012, Pope Benedict will add Hildegard of Bingen to that list.
Additionally, some saints are “mystics,” but not all mystics are saints. Mystics are persons who strive to have stronger relationships with God through prayer and devotions. But some mystics also receive special graces from God, such as visions — like those of St. Bernadette — or stigmata — like those of St. Pio.