In honor of our new Holy Father from Argentina, Pope Francis, the following is a list of 10 South American saints every Catholic should know. I have often remarked that South America seems to be a continent that is never talked about much, and the same seems to have gone for many of its saints. Aside from one or two, many of these saints are new to me as well.
A quick note - some might notice that such saints as St. Francis Solanus and St. Peter Claver are missing. This is because I only chose saints and blesseds who were born in South America, excluding major evangelizing saints from other countries who had a tremendous effect on the countries there (St. Peter Claver and St. Francis of Solano were both from Spain, for example).
Now here is a fascinating figure. Much like St. Catherine of Siena who seems to have inspired a great part of the spiritual life of many women saints, St. Narcisa was a laywoman whose life was marked by much of the same devotional and penitential aspects as that of St. Catherine. Indeed, a line can be drawn fro St. Catherine down to St. Rose of Lima, then to St. Maryane de Jesus de Paredes to St. Narcisa - all of these saints lived as tertiaries of religious orders (Dominican and Franciscan), and lived lives of extreme penance and charity to others.
St. Narcisa lived the same form of life, albeit she remained a laywoman throughout it. Her life was marked by sanctity at a very young age, and her time was often spent in prayer under a guava tree that is a pilgrimage site to this day. Later on, she spent much time in caring for abandoned children and the impoverished, before finally entering a Dominican convent as a consecrated virgin laywoman, and spending the rest of her life there. Her acts of mortification were much along the same lines as St. Rose of Lima and St. Maryanne de Paredes, and she spent eight hours a day in prayer. Upon her death, her body was found to be incorrupt.
It seems to me that St. Alberto is a perfect living corrective to the misinterpretation of "social justice" that has come into the Church as of late, something which I really feel that Pope Francis is going to correct as we speak.
St. Alberto Hurtado was a father to the poor, and actively was involved in bringing the Gospel of Christ into the realm of hard labor, trade unions, and everyday work that would barely garner enough wages to scrape together a living. He brought Christian values into the world of labor unions, fought to restore the Church from within by calling for better catechesis, and founded shelters lumped under the name of Hogar de Christo (Home of Christ) for taking care of poor and abandoned children.
3. St. Marianne de Jesus de Paredes (Ecuador)
I first heard about St. Marianne when I was studying the life of St. Rose of Lima. In much the same way, St. Marianne lived a reclusive life as a Franciscan tertiary (rather than a Dominican tertiary like St. Rose). Her life is a hard one to approach, let alone even begin to understand due to the mortifications she inflicted on herself.
The "Lily of Quito" and first canonized saint of Ecuador, St. Marianne was known as a saint before her death by the locals. Only leaving her home to attend Mass, St. Marianne's life was filled with some of the most extreme penances ever known, much along the same lines of Bl. Henry Suso. She was blessed with many spiritual gifts, including the ability to read consciences, ecstacies, and the ability to heal others through merely making the sign of the cross over them.
Known as the "Rose of Baba and Guayaquil" in her home country, Bl. Mercedes was a contemporary of St. Narcisa de Jesus. After having suffered the shock of a bad fall from a horse, her life quickly became one of penance and pious devotion to Christ. She spent most of her life taking care of abandoned children, although she also helped the Jesuits in missionary work amongst the Native populations. She also founded the order known as the Sisters of Mariana de Jesus (named after the saint above).
5. St. Rose of Lima (Peru)
“If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace,
how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within
itself, how many joys and delights! No one would complain about his
cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know
the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.”1
St. Rose of Lima's ardent love of the Crucified is something that I can barely even begin to comprehend. Much like many saints in the Christian West, her life was lived in complete devotion to the Passion of Jesus.
Living life as a Dominican tertiary, St. Rose of Lima spent her days living in a shack in a garden. Her entire life was marked visions and mystical experiences, as well as extreme mortifications, and yet, as with so many who engaged in such penances, was known for her charity and love of the poor, whom she supported through her embroidery work and gardening.
6. St. Frei Galvao (Brazil)
Formally known as St. Anthony of Saint Ann, St. Frei Galvao was an educated Franciscan, devoted son of the Blessed Virgin, and confessor and spiritual director to a collective of lay recluses known as the "Recollection of St. Teresa".
He was known for all kinds of mystical elements in his life, and was one of those saints known for bilocation, as well as levitation and the reading of consciences. Strangely enough, he is also associated with paper rolled into little pills that allegedly have been associated with several miraculous cures of terminal and/or incurable diseases, with the words "After childbirth thou didst remain a Virgin: O Mother of God, intercede for us" written on the paper.
7. Bl. Laura of St. Catherine of Siena (Colombia)
Bl. Laura's life seems to have been an extremely full and busy one - originally an elementary school teacher, she began to serve as a missionary to the Native populations in her country. With a handful of companions, she ministered to the Natives, fought racial discrimanation against them, and is known today as a defender of Native rights there. She also founded a religious order known as the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of Immaculate Mary and of Saint Catherine of Siena (quite the mouthful!).
Interestingly enough, she is due to be officially canonized by Pope Francis on the 12th of May this year!
8. St. Teresa of the Andes (Chile)
A true spiritual daughter of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of the Andes was of the same order, the Discalced Carmelites, and was even inspired to enter the religious life by reading St. Therese's autobiography, Story of a Soul. Like the Little Flower, she wrote many letters of correspondence with others concerning the Christian life which are beyond rapturous in their mystical content.
As with St. Therese, she died at the very young age of nineteen, just a few months after having entered the Carmelite order.
Bl. Ceferino is one popular blessed amongst the peoples of Argentina. Born of the indigenous Mapuche people of the region, Bl. Ceferino was almost a kind of South American version of a St. Dominic Savio, though he outlived that young saint by a few years.
Educated under the care of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, the famous priest and visionary, Bl. Ceferino grew in virtue and holiness, eventually visiting Pope St. Pius X and studying for the priesthood. Unfortunately, the "Lily of Patagonia" succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the tender age of nineteen.
He is the first beatified indigenous South American, and his reputation as a beloved member of his people and of God's Holy Church continues to this day.
10. St. Paulina (Brazil)
Brazil's first canonized saint, St. Paulina's life of virtue began at a young age, and was lived in spite of the heavy cross of suffering diabetes for most of her life. Living in a time before it was really treatable, she ended up having to go through two amputations and succumbed to blindness near the end of her life. And yet, through all of this, she soldiered on in service to the poor and sick, founding the Little Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, and also taking on the care of elderly slaves and their children who were unable to work.
To this day, she is known as the unofficial patron saint of those suffering with diabetes.
1 - From here.