Religion: Angels in the Wings

Article excerpt

How to become a saint.

When the notoriously conservative U.S. Catholic bishops threw their support behind the sainthood of Dorothy Day, a famous socialist activist, eyebrows shot up at what some interpreted as a political move. But Day's cause isn't a sudden trick by the bishops to soften their image after high-profile clashes with the Obama administration. Day's sainthood was a no-brainer to Catholics left and right, and her cause has been in the works for decades.

The path to canonization begins at the grassroots level, when members of a parish or Catholic order agree that someone of unusual virtue lived among them. They start to build their case, usually by investigating the possible saint's life and writings. When Cardinal Timothy Dolan called Day "a saint for our times" at the bishops' vote, he was echoing the case her supporters had been making for decades, starting with a 1983 article that appeared in a Catholic magazine just three years after her death. Pope John Paul II officially recognized her cause in 2000, raising her to the status of "servant of God" and setting off the search for miracles.

Documenting the two miracles required for sainthood is a time-consuming and costly ordeal. Miracles are usually medical cures and require proof that the person who prayed to the potential saint was actually ill, that they received a lasting cure, and that no other explanation can be found. …