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Pope Francis and His Many Women Saints

Pope Francis has named more than a dozen women saints in the past three years.

<> on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.
<> on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.

In 2003, six years after Mother Teresa died from a massive heart attack, Pope John Paul II beatified her in front of a crowd of 300,000 in St. Peter’s Square.

Now, more than 13 years later, Teresa — one of Catholicism’s most celebrated nuns — will finally ascend to sainthood when Pope Francis officially canonizes her on Sept. 4, 2016, one day before the anniversary of her death.

Her September canonization will come some 10 months after the pontiff confirmed she performed two miracles that saved the lives of two men from India and Brazil. And she isn’t only the one who will achieve sainthood that day: Francis will offer the same honor to four other people, including Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad, the first Swede to be named a saint in 600 years.

Teresa’s sainthood has not come without its fair share of controversy. Journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote an entire book, The Missionary Position, on why she shouldn’t be named a saint, arguing that Teresa’s commitment to helping the poor was more of an opportunity for her to spread religious beliefs than alleviate poverty, and shortchanged efforts to end suffering.

Beyond Teresa, Pope Francis has canonized or announced plans to canonize more than a dozen other women during the last three years. Here are a few of them:

St. Mariam Baouardy

Born in 1846 in I’billin, in what is now Israel, Mariam Baouardy lost both her parents at the age of two, and was almost married off to a distant relative at age 13. She refused and asked to either rejoin her brother or join the church. A servant working for her uncle caught wind of her dilemma and tried to convince her to convert to Islam and marry him instead, then slit her throat and left her for dead when she turned him down. A mysterious nun nursed her back to health and within a few years, Baouardy joined the church, and later served in India. She died at 33, the same age as Jesus, after complications from a broken arm. But in her short life she is believed to have experienced multiple miracles, including curing her own temporary blindness through prayer, and later recovering almost immediately from a life-threatening fall. She credited her survival to the Virgin Mary.

Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas

A Jerusalem-born Christian, Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas joined the Catholic Church as a nun in the late 1800s, when she was 17. It’s believed she quickly began to experience apparitions from the Holy Virgin Mary, in which Mary called for Marie-Alphonsine to found the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary, a congregation for Arab girls and women. She only ever told one priest about those conversations with Mary, and it took 53 years for her experiences to become public.

Émilie de Villeneuve

Born in Toulouse, France, in 1811, Émilie de Villeneuve lost her mother and sister as a young girl and decided to join the church in order to “go there without hesitation where the voice of the poor they call us.” She founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and dedicated the rest of her life to missions across Africa, South America, and Asia. The nuns of her still-existing congregation are known as the blue sisters of Castres because their clothing is blue. Multiple miraculous medical cures have been credited to their prayers, which helped clear the way for Villeneuve’s ascension to sainthood last May.

Euphrasia Eluvathingal

Euphrasia Eluvanthingal, who was born Rosa in India, to a relatively wealthy, landowning family, long suffered from chronic weakness and poor health. Then she claimed to have seen a vision of the holy family, and her suffering was greatly alleviated. In 1900, she officially joined a convent in Ollur, India, where she stayed the rest of her life. Known there as the “praying mother,” she is credited with multiple miraculous healings, and her tomb was later made a holy site where thousands of people have gathered to pray to cure their loved ones’ illnesses. She was canonized by Francis in 2014.

Photo Credit: Franco Origlia, Getty Images

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