Catholic Saints Who Were Missionaries

Before his conversion, St. Paul the Apostle persecuted Christians, including St. Stephen.
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The Catholic Church venerates, or honors, holy people who have led lives of heroic virtue. These people are known to Catholics as saints. The Catholic Church recognizes hundreds of saints, many of whom performed missionary work. Missionary saints have brought the Catholic faith not only to the poor and oppressed but to anyone open to learning about the life of Christ.

1 St. Paul the Apostle

St. Paul is one of Christianity's earliest missionaries. Before his conversion, he persecuted Christians, including St. Stephen. St. Paul was on the road to Damascus, where he intended to arrest Christians, when he heard the voice of Jesus ask why Paul was persecuting him. Paul immediately converted and spent the remainder of his life as a Christian missionary. Nearly half of the New Testament is attributed to St. Paul. He is believed to have been martyred about 64 A.D. Church records indicate his remains are in the sarcophagus lying under the altar of the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls in Rome.

2 St. Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier was born into a wealthy family in northern Spain. He left his wealth behind, however, after meeting St. Ignatius Loyola, and they were ordained together in 1537. St. Francis worked at many foreign missions in Africa and India. He founded the first Christian mission in Japan and was on his way to China when he died. He is credited with baptizing more than 30,000 people and is the patron saint of missions.

3 St. Pedro de San Jose Betancur

St. Pedro de San Jose Betancur was the first Central American to be named a saint. St. Pedro was born in 1626 to a poor family in the Canary Islands. He later traveled to Guatemala hoping to find a government job. By the time he reached Guatemala, he was so impoverished he went to the Franciscan mission. He studied for the priesthood, but, unable to complete his education, joined the secular Franciscan order. He founded a hospital for the disabled poor, a shelter for the homeless and a school for Guatemala's poorest children. At night he walked the streets of wealthy neighborhoods seeking donations.

4 St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne was born in 1769 in Grenoble, France. She entered a convent at 18, but her convent was closed during the French Revolution. In 1818, St. Rose was sent as a missionary to the American frontier in Louisiana Territory. She founded the first American house of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a log cabin. Despite knowing very little English, St. Rose taught the Christian faith to French and American Indian children and later opened several schools for young women. St. Rose spent her last years teaching Christianity to the Potawatomi Indians in Kansas.

5 St. Marianne Cope

St. Marianne Cope was born in Italy and later emigrated to the U.S. She entered the Third Order of St. Francis in New York, but in 1883 answered a call to care for people with leprosy in Hawaii. After working with leprosy victims for several years, she opened a hospital and school for girls on Maui. In 1888, she opened a home for poor women and girls on Molokai and taught them pride and cleanliness while making their lives more cheerful and fun.

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.