Sts. Peter, Gregory the Great, Pius X and St. Leo the Great are but a few of the popes who went on to be named saints.

New saints join long list of papal saints

  • April 26, 2014

VATICAN CITY - With the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II, 80 former popes have been declared saints. The vast majority came from the early days of the Church, when many popes were martyred. Here are 10 of the more interesting sainted popes:

1. St. Peter is considered the first pope. Tradition says he was crucified at the foot of Vatican Hill in the mid-60s during the reign of Emperor Nero, martyred because of his Christian faith and preaching. His tomb is believed to have been found under St. Peter’s Basilica.

2. St. Soter was pope from around 167 to his death seven years later. It’s believed he formally introduced the annual celebration of Easter in Rome.

3. St. Fabian, 236-250, is famous for the miraculous nature of his election. A dove is said to have landed on his head to mark him as the Holy Spirit’s unexpected choice for pope.

4. St. Damasus’ papacy, 366-384, coincided with Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380. Born in Rome, he was a staunch advocate of the primacy of the bishop of Rome as being the direct successor of Peter. He established Latin as the liturgical language.

5. St. Leo the Great, 440-461, was the first pope called “The Great” and is a doctor of the Church. He confirmed the Church’s position on the incarnation of Christ — that He was both divine and human. He is said to have dissuaded Attila the Hun from invading Italy.

6. St. Gregory the Great, 590-604, the second pope to be called “the Great,” is considered “a saint among saints” because he was related to two popes and his mother and two aunts were also canonized. A former monk who did not want to be pope, he often lamented the “secular business” of the papacy kept him from the peaceful and contemplative life of the monastery. He lived a life of simplicity and charity, donating food to Rome’s poor and inviting the poor to join him at meals.

7. St. Nicholas I the Great, 858-867, was the third and last pope to receive the title of “Great.” He worked to strengthen papal authority and staunchly upheld marriage laws, urging bishops of their duty to excommunicate a royal Catholic who left their spouse for another. He supported freedom of choice in marriage and did not support some bishops who excommunicated royal women who married without their father’s consent.

8. St. Gregory VII, 1073-1085, enacted many reforms, such as giving the pope full sovereignty of all Church affairs in the West. He promoted a more saintly episcopacy and priesthood and fought against simony, the buying and selling of Church office. He introduced legislation to lock in the observance of celibacy and established Nov. 1 as All Saints’ Day.

9. St. Celestine V, a Benedictine monk, resigned the papacy a few months after his election in 1294 to return to monastic life. He issued a papal bull affirming a Pope’s right to resign and established rules for abdication. In 2013 Pope Benedict XVI was the next pope in history to voluntarily resign.

10. St. Pius X, 1903-1914, promoted greater piety among the faithful, encouraged the frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, and insisted on proper decorum at Mass. He also promoted Gregorian chant, encouraged singing but cautioned against popular music. He reorganized the Roman Curia and established a congregation of cardinals to codify Canon Law.

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