The votes are in and here are the saints readers nominated for being the most influential of their time—the results contained quite a few surprises. Other than St. Bernard and John Paul II, discussed in separate previous posts here and here, they are:
1. The Apostle Paul: The author of most of the New Testament and the last of the apostles actually received the most votes from readers. Writes Bill Dingas, a retired engineer and catechist from Livingston, Texas: “Paul is the greatest evangelist ever—doing the impossible by our standards of bringing the good news to the gentiles. Paul with just a few friends, converted most of what is Turkey today (sadly taken over by Islam), making several trips from Israel the Asia Minor, Rome, Greece just to name a few stops. A considerable part of our New Testament comes from Paul. … Who knows (God does) where we would be today without his efforts!” Here’s how another reader put it: “My vote is for St. Paul of Tarsus because he disseminated belief in Jesus throughout the Mediterranean and to the Gentiles, laying the foundation of Christianity and massive change throughout the civilized world in his lifetime.”
2. Mother Teresa: As influential as St. Bernard was, one reader writers that: “Mother Theresa’s influence is wider, also through her humble humanity, because she lived in an age of modern media, and millions could see her work and feel her influence.” Here’s what another reader had to say: “Despite not being formally declared a saint by the Church, Mother Theresa is easily the most influential saint of her time. She was the most influential woman in the world during her lifetime. World leaders listened to her. When she asked to see world leaders, including presidents and prime ministers, she was given immediate access. For example, during the 1981 famine in Ethiopia she asked President Reagan for help. He responded by promising to …do everything possible to help and rushed in with food and medicine. Being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 is another obvious example of her influence in the world.” In fact, in terms of sheer number of votes it’s a tie with John Paul II. I agree, at least in the twentieth century, she and John Paul II stand apart.
3. St. Augustine: After John Paul II and the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine topped reader lists. Here’s Bill Dingas again: “If you have read and studied Saint Augustine you would read a phenomenal path which only could have been guided by God (as Saint Paul was). … Augustine’s conversion is a model for anyone seeking God—and also shows the importance of prayer. Augustine was so intelligent that much of our faith formation comes from his influence—using his skills of philosophy and scriptures. His book City of God is a masterpiece. …As with Paul his contribution to the deposit of faith is so profound I also wonder where we would be without him.” Indeed, in terms of his sheer intellectual contributions to the life of the Church, Augustine would not meet his peer until the time of St. Thomas Aquinas. And, his role in shepherding Christianity from the Roman imperial era to the start of the Middle Ages certainly earns him the distinction of one of the most influential saints of his time.
4. St. Patrick: It’s actually a tie with Augustine. “He not only converted the good part of an entire people/culture, but those people returned the favor, strengthening Christianity in a beleaguered Europe,” one reader noted in the comments section.
5. St. Joseph: One reader calls St. Joseph the “most impressive saint.” She sums it up this way: “Simply this man had to be tops at the time of Jesus. The man chosen to play, pray, teach, and protect the son of God. Trusted companion of Our Blessed Lady. The human that with God’s guidance defeated a king, out-smarted an army.” The reader went on to share heartfelt story about how St. Joseph has helped her through some major personal struggles. “In my life, St. Joseph, upon request delivered my terrific handsome smart loving husband of 28 years. The father of our 10 children. When my husband was killed in a mill accident I knew I could not handle the 7 children left at home by myself and ask St Joseph’s help again. It took me 5 years to get a workmen’s comp. settlement. I fed kids on a credit card. And in the last 13 years 4 kids have graduated from college. And three more are going.” (Her name is being withheld to protect her privacy.)
6. St. Jerome: As one reader pointed out, translating the Bible into the Vulgate—the common or everyday language of the people in his time—is no small accomplishment, and certainly earns St. Jerome a spot in the top ten. Plus, the reader added, the next most significant event in biblical publishing was not for roughly another thousand years, when the Gutenberg printing press was invented.
7. St. Peter: It should go without saying that the first pope and the leader of the early Christian community ranks among the top ten most influential saints of his time. Peter took command of the Church from the get-go, setting forth the procedures for finding a replacement apostle for Judas, presiding over Pentecost, preaching to the Jews, and ultimately founding the Church in Rome—all indispensable steps in the establishment of the Church immediately after the time of Jesus.
8. John the Baptist: Writes one priest: “He was indispensable to open the way for Jesus Christ. He prepared Christ’s first disciples and pointed Him out to them. Jesus Christ insisted on being baptized by him. Saint John the Baptist was even more influential than he intended: despite his disclaimer some of his followers formed a stubborn group that, for some years after his death, continued his cult and refused to go over to Christ.”
9. St. Athanasius: “He defied three emperors and numerous heretical bishops to preserve orthodox Christology for all time,” one reader opined in the comments section. “To top it off, his Life of Anthony popularized monasticism and facilitated the spread of the monastic way of life throughout the Christian world. In his lifetime he was a towering figure.” I’ll add one other monumental feat to this list: Athanasius developed the first New Testament canon. No one (at least successfully) has disputed his listing in the roughly 1,500 years since.
10. St. Catherine of Siena and St. Francis of Assisi: It’s hard to pick between these two saints—so similar in their special relationship with the Passion of Christ and their influence on their contemporaries despite not holding any high offices—that they will share this spot together. I’ve already written a fair amount about both, so I’ll refer readers to past posts here, here, here, and here.
What about Mary? More than one reader wondered why the Mother of God would not have automatically been deemed the most influential saint of her time. Mary’s absence was not an oversight. But her influence is so obviously far above and beyond anyone else’s, by the obvious fact that she participates in such a special way in the work of Christ’s redemption. It goes without saying that as a saint Mary belongs in a category all of her own, a fact recognized by the fact that the special honor the Church pays Mary is recognized as hyperdulia as opposed to the dulia rendered to all other saints. Moreover, she is a figure who quite clearly transcends her time in ways that no other saint has—as testified by her many apparitions down the centuries, her role as Mediatrix of Graces, Co-Redemptrix, and Queen of Heaven, to name just a few.
St. Michael the Archangel
St. Gregory the Great
St. Pius V
St. Hildegarde of Bingen