Throughout history many Cardinals have been holy men. Some are numbered among the saintly popes, others completed their lives in service to the Church as Cardinals. Below are some of those who did so, and who are numbered among the saints, blesseds and venerables of the Church.
Click a name to view a brief biography.
blessed Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster, O.S.B.
Born in Rome, he entered the Benedictine monastery of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls when he was 11, taking the name of Ildefonso, and was ordained a priest in 1904. He served his own community in various offices until he was elected abbot in 1918. He taught at several pontifical institutes, served as consultor to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and held other high offices. Pope Pius XI appointed him Archbishop of Milan in 1929, consecrated him and created him a Cardinal. Bl. Afredo gave priority to catechesis and promoted the role of the laity in the parish and in Catholic Action. He denounced Fascism and its racist ideology. He championed the cause of the poor during World War II, founded the Institute of Ambrosian Chant and Sacred Music and the Ambrosianeum and Didascaleion cultural centres. Above all, he proposed holiness as a goal for all, and the only means to human happiness. In 1954 he withdrew to Venegono Seminary, where he died with an exhortation to holiness on his lips. He was beatified in 1996.
blessed Alojzije Stepinac
Born in Krasic. After military service in World War I, he studied for the priesthood, attending the Pontifical Germanicum-Hungaricum College in Rome. He earned doctorates in theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University and was ordained in 1930. As a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Zagreb, he worked with the poor and established Caritas there. He succeeded as Archbishop in 1937. He upheld human rights, and with the advance of Nazism, helped organize assistance to Jewish refugees. When Yugoslavia came under Communism, he defended the divine rights of the Church as well as the interests of the Croatian people. For refusing to break with Rome, he was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor. Due to ill health, he was moved from prison in 1951 and put under house arrest in Krasic, where he was allowed to perform priestly functions, receive visitors and write letters to the faithful. “To reward his extraordinary merits,” he was created a cardinal by Pope Pius XII in 1953. In December 1959, he refused to testify against the spiritual director of a diocesan seminary and died in February 1960, apparently by poisoning. He was beatified 1998.
He was born at Bagnorea in Tuscany. His name John is said to have been superceded as a result of an exclamation by St. Francis of Assisi, who had prayed for the child’s recovery from a serious illness. “O good fortune!”—Buona ventura—he cried, discerning Bonaventure’s future greatness. At the age of twenty-two, he entered the Franciscan Order. He was sent to the University of Paris to study under Alexander of Hales (an English Franciscan) and John of Rochelle. There he met St. Thomas Aquinas, and the two received their doctorates at the same time. St. Bonaventure was made General of the Franciscan Order at the age of thirty-five. He strengthened the order, exerting a pacifying influence where there had been internal dissension. When he was nominated Archbishop of York by Clement IV, he was allowed to decline the dignity, but Gregory X obliged him to accept the heavier dignity of Cardinal Bishop of Albano, one of the six suffragan Sees of Rome. St. Bonaventure died while assisting at the Second Council of Lyons. He was canonized in 1482 and declared Doctor of the Church in 1588.
saint Charles Borromeo
Born in the castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore, Italy, Charles was the son of Count Gilbert Borromeo and Margaret Medici. At twelve, he received the clerical tonsure and was sent to the Benedictine abbey of SS. Gratian and Felinus at Arona for his education. In 1560 he was named Secretary of State, made a Cardinal, and nominated Archbishop of Milan (though he was not yet ordained) by his uncle, recently elected Pope Pius IV. He encouraged the Pope to reconvene the Council of Trent in 1562, which had been suspended ten years before, and helped draft the last sessions. He oversaw the catechism, missal, and breviary called for by the Council of Trent. In 1563 he was ordained a priest and made Bishop of Milan in the same year. There he instituted radical reforms in the face of great opposition. He established seminaries, founded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for children, and gave support to the English college at Douai. In every way he resisted the inroads of Protestantism. He died in Milan. He was canonized in 1610.
He was born in Milan, a member of the noble Della Scala family. After ordination, he was made chancellor and archdeacon at a time when the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, in a campaign against the Holy See, was seizing revenues and usurping the investiture of Bishops. Frederick favored an antipope, Victor, against the true Pope Alexander III. Milan supported Alexander, for which the Emperor attacked and razed the city. On the death of the archbishop, Galdin was chosen to succeed him, and the Pope consecrated him in 1165, and created him cardinal and legate of the Holy See. Galdin comforted the Milanese, rebuilt their city, combated heresy among the Lombards, and helped end the schism. He expired preaching against false doctrine at Mass.
saint Gregory Lewis Barbadigo
Born of a noble Venetian family, he was sent by the republic of Venice to the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, where he met Fabius Chigi, soon to be Pope Alexander VII. After being made Bishop of Bergamo, Gregory was created Cardinal by Alexander VII and translated to Padua. For the care with which he looked after his diocese, he was looked upon as a second St. Charles Borromeo. He was generous in his charities and unflagging in his zeal for the reforms of Trent. He enlarged the seminaries at Bergamo and Padua, and at Padua added a library and printing office. Not elated in prosperity, nor cast down by adversity, all that he did showed complete mastery of himself. Canonized 1761.
saint John Fisher
Born in Yorkshire, England, he studied at Cambridge, receiving a Master of Arts degree in 1491, and was made Vicar of Northallerton, Yorkshire. In 1494 he became proctor of Cambridge, then was appointed confessor to Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. In 1504 he was ordained Bishop of Rochester and made Chancellor of Cambridge, where he introduced the study of Greek and Hebrew, and tutored young Henry VIII. From 1527 he opposed the Henry’s divorce of Queen Catherine, earning the King’s ire. St. John warned Parliament that the King’s encroachments on ecclesiastical authority would be the death of the Church in England. For refusing to take the oath of succession, legitimizing Henry’s offspring with Ann Boleyn, St. John was imprisoned in the tower. The next year, 1535, he was made Cardinal by Pope Paul III. Within a month’s time, Henry retaliated by having St. John beheaded. Canonized 1935.
saint Peter Damian
Born at Ravenna in 988. Having lost his parents, he was left in the charge of a brother, who treated him like a slave. Another brother (from whom Peter took his surname), archpriest of Ravenna, took pity on him and had him educated. He was an apt pupil and became a master and professor of great ability. He joined Fonte Avellana, a hermitage of the Reform of St. Romuald, where he lived a life of great austerity. On the death of his superior, Peter was made abbot and founded five other hermitages. He was prevailed upon by Stephen IX to leave his hermitage and become Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. Alexander II, the next pope but one, allowed him to resign his bishopric and return to his solitude, where he edified the Church by his life and writings. He criticized worldly monks and clergy, including Bishops, who received his rebukes with meekness. He was sent as the Pope’s legate to discourage King Henry IV of Germany from divorcing his wife, and on other missions whose success depended on his spiritual stature. On his way back from a mission to Ravenna, he caught a fever and died. In view of his eloquent preaching and voluminous writings, St. Peter was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1828.
blessed Peter of Luxemburg
He was born at Ligny, a small town in Lorraine, in 1369. He was the son of Guy of Luxembourg, count of Ligny, but lost his father at age three, and his mother, Maud, countess of St. Pol, at four. His education was taken in hand by his aunt, who had him tutored by the most virtuous teachers. As a boy, he was generous to the poor and made a private vow of chastity before he was seven. At ten he was sent to Paris to continue his education, but on hearing his brother was taken hostage by the English, he delivered himself in his brother’s place but was shortly released. When he returned to Paris, at his brother’s behest, he was made a canon at Notre Dame, Chartres, and Cambrai, and appointed archdeacon of Dreux. At the age of fourteen he was named Bishop of Metz. Two years later he was made a cardinal at Avignon by the antipope Clement VII. He returned to his diocese, but was unable to hold it in the strife of the schism. Peter erred as to the true Pope, but his zeal for God, love for the poor, and austerity of life were evident to all. He died at the age of eighteen in the Carthusian monastery in Villeneuve, France. Beatified 1527.
saint Raymond Nonnatus
He was born at Portella, Catalonia, Spain. His name non natus (not born) refers to his delivery by caesarean section when his mother died in giving birth. After a solitary youth as a shepherd, he joined the Mercedarians (a new order for the redemption of captives) under St. Peter Nolasco at Barcelona. Named Ransomer for the order, he traveled to Algeria to free Christian slaves. When his funds were depleted, he remained as hostage for certain slaves whose lot was hardest. When the governor learned he had converted several Muslims, he was sentenced to be impaled. He escaped the death sentence because of the ransom he would bring, but was forced to run the gauntlet. He was then tortured for continuing to evangelize, but was himself ransomed eight months later by Peter Nolasco. On his return to Barcelona in 1239, he was appointed Cardinal by Pope Gregory IX, but died at Cardona a short distance from Barcelona the next year while on the way to Rome. Canonized 1657.
saint Robert Bellarmine
Born at Montepulciano, Italy. He entered the newly formed Society of Jesus in 1560 and after his ordination went on to teach at Louvain. He was appointed to the chair of controversial theology at the Roman College and became Rector. He went on to become Provincial of Naples and then created Cardinal in 1598. An outstanding scholar and devoted servant of God, he defended the Apostolic See against anticlericalism in Venice and against the political tenets of James I of England. He composed an exhaustive apologetic work against the heretics of his day. In church-state relations, he based his position on principles now regarded as democratic—authority originates with God, but is vested in the people, who entrust it to fit rulers. This saint was the spiritual father of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, helped St. Francis de Sales obtain formal approval of the Visitation Order, and in his prudence opposed severe action in the case of Galileo. He left a host of important writings, including works of devotion and instruction, as well as controversy. He was canonized in 1930 and declared Doctor of the Church in 1931.
saint John Henry Newman
Born in London, after a conversion experience at fifteen, he chose a single life. He studied classics and mathematics at Trinity College, Oxford, where he developed evangelical beliefs and was ordained an Anglican priest. Patristic studies, while a fellow at Oriel College, coupled with his sister’s death, inclined him to the high church tradition, and after a grave illness in Sicily, he returned to lead the Oxford Movement. In Tract 90, of Tracts for the Times, he tried to square the Thirty-Nine Articles with the Catholic belief. It was denounced by Anglican authorities. He resigned his position at Oxford and his clerical status, and after further study became a Catholic in 1845, while finishing his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. He studied theology in Rome and was ordained a Catholic priest. He founded the Catholic University of Ireland and the Birmingham Oratory for boys. He wrote voluminously. Some of his views were in advance of his times, which raised suspicions among some Roman authorities. Nonetheless, he was invited as a peritus to Vatican I, though he declined to go, and in 1879 Pope Leo XIII made him cardinal. Though he was opposed to liberalism, his ideas were progressive, and he is regarded as a father of Vatican II. He was beatified in 2010 and canonized in 2019.