Saints 101: What is the Canonization Process?

Every so often a news headline announces to the world that a holy man or woman has been declared a Servant of God or Venerable or Blessed—and are close to being a recognized as a saint. So which comes first? Servant of God or Venerable? And is a miracle necessary or not? The confusion only mounts when one attempts to search online for answers—usually, you’ll turn up a lengthy list of a dozen or so steps that must be undertaking. It’s truly an enormously complicated, multifaceted process that involves administrative, scientific, and theological elements.


Below I’ve created a diagram that boils this down into the five essential steps that must take place in order for a holy man or woman to be decreed a saint. Within each one, are a number of actions that must be completed, at several levels, but this will show you the big picture.


For those that thirst for all the nitty-gritty details, here are the online sources I’d recommended for further reading. In this case, I recommend against turning to usual sources for guidance: the Catholic Encyclopedia at the New Advent site or any number of the Vatican documents on the process. Normally these would be the first place I’d turn for any question about the Catholic teachings and practices on faith and morals, but in this case, they don’t really help resolve the confusion.


Recommended additional reading: Click here for the EWTN explanation. Click here for a more exhaustive detailed treatment by a local diocese. (Note this is a PDF.)


Authoritative sources I used: EWTN, USCCB, and the Diocese of Salt Lake City


A final caveat on process: Almost all of the below items should be asterisked with  a note that many key elements, such as the five-year waiting period, can be waived by the Pope, such as was the case for John Paul II.


A final caveat on veneration: Also it is important to note that when someone has been deemed Blessed they can be venerated, however, there are restrictions on this occurring in public. Certainly private veneration may begin at this stage. Universal public veneration, of course, is certainly permitted after a holy person has been decreed a saint. If in doubt, I’d definitely consult a priest or spiritual director about veneration of holy persons who have yet to be decreed a saint.

Stephen Beale


Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on and A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at

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  • Billy Bob Joe

    great diagram!

  • Jimmy John Joe

    yes quite wonderful 🙂 !

  • FRED

    I loved it.