Explained: Kerala Catholic nun Mariam Thresia is a Saint. What does that mean, and what does sainthood take

Shaju Philip
Mariam Thresia was born in the Chiramel Mankidiyan family in Puthenchira village of Thrissur district in 1876. (Source: Mariam Thresia official website)

On Sunday, Kerala-born Catholic nun Mariam Thresia was declared a saint by Pope Francis in Rome. She is the third nun and fourth clergy member from Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church, one of the prominent eastern churches under the Vatican, to be canonized into the league of saints.

Here is a look at Mariam Thresia, sainthood and its long-winded process, and those waiting to be elevated as saints in India.

Mariam Thresia

Mariam Thresia was born in the Chiramel Mankidiyan family in Puthenchira village of Thrissur district in 1876. She began a life of prayer at an early age, and longed for a life of seclusion.

As she led the life of mystic, Thresia worked to provide solace to the sick, and offered charity to the poor in the village. She wanted to become a nun, and joined the Order of Franciscan Poor Clares.

Later, upon realizing that she wanted to lead a life dedicated to prayers, Thresia, in 1913, formed a community “House of Solitude” along with a few others. That was the beginning of the Congregation of Holy Family, which later grew into a prominent religious congregation of nuns.

She died in 1926 at the age of 50. In 1975, the Church began the process of her canonisation. She was declared venerable in 1999 and was beatified in 2000.

What sainthood means

It is titled that is conferred posthumously. Once a person is canonised as a saint, he or she is venerated in the Church. Then, churches and church-run institutions can be named after such persons, and Christian children can adopt the names of these saints at the time of baptism.

The relics of the person declared as saint are venerated, and festivals are held in their names. Their places of birth, death, and burial become centres of pilgrimage.

List of saints

The Catholic Church has a very long list of saints that has been under preparation from the beginning of the Church. Saints in the early centuries after Christ had been martyrs who died after persecution by the Roman Empire. Later, those who lived pious lives and stood for the Christian faith were also made saints. There are Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, ordinary men and women among the long list of saints.

Making of a saint

The making of a Catholic saint is a long process. The early saints did not go through any formal procedures, but in the 17th century, the Church introduced guidelines for declaring a person as saint. The guidelines were subsequently revised.

As the first step, the call for beginning the canonisation process of a person should come from within the local community, which has to establish that the candidate lived a saintly life. If the demand seems worthy, the candidate’s diocese constitutes a special body to examine his or her life.

If the committee finds that the case of the candidate is strong, the diocese presents the case at the Congregation for the Cause of Saints in Rome. If the Vatican is convinced, it confers the title of 'Servant of God' on the candidate.

The serious process of canonisation begins thereafter. A Church official, who oversees the canonisation process, is appointed as postulator. He has to probe that the candidate lived by Christian virtues.

Documents and testimonies are collected and presented to the Vatican Congregation. If the person declared as 'Servant of God' is found virtuous enough, he is elevated into the next stage, 'Venerable.'

At this stage, the postulator has to prove that a living person received a miracle from God through the intervention of the 'Servant of God'. If this is done, the candidate is declared 'Blessed' by the Vatican.

During the 'Blessed' period, the proof of another miracle caused by the intervention of the candidate must be established. If this is done, the 'Blessed' is declared a saint.

In the entire process, the Church has to be convinced that two miracles, mainly healings of illness without medical attention, had happened due to the intervention of the person to be made a saint. A team of doctors have to ascertain that the healing happened without medicine.

Saints in India

With the elevation of Mariam Thresia as saint, there are now 11 saints connected with the country, according to the official data of the Church.

Of the eleven, Gonsalo Garcia, born in India to Portuguese parents in Mumbai in 1557, is considered to have been the first India-born saint. In 2008, Kerala-born Sister Alphonsa was declared as the first woman Catholic saint from India. Mother Teresa had a fast-track to sainthood when she was canonised in 2016.

Waiting in a long queue

In the category of the Blessed, a step before that of sainthood, there are six individuals at the moment. They include Devasahayam Pillai, a Hindu layman who converted to Christianity, hailing from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. He died in 1752.

In the category of Venerable, there are 11 persons from across the country.

And there are 42 persons from the Catholic Church in the country in the list of Servants of God.