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5 Saints to Know this December

Throughout December, the Church honors saints from across the centuries with feast days and memorials, recognizing their commitment to furthering the kingdom of heaven on earth. From resilient authors like Saint John of the Cross, to the first martyr for Christ, these saints each have something to teach us. Read about five saints celebrated in December and why you should know their stories.

Saint Juan Diego portrayed in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel

December 9 – Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin

Born in 1474 near present-day Mexico City, Juan Diego was baptized by Franciscan missionary Friar Peter da Gand at the age of 50. On December 9, 1531, as Juan Diego was making his way to Mass, Mary appeared to him and asked that he go to the bishop and request a shrine be built on the side of Tepayac Hill, that she might bless those who called upon her. When the bishop demanded evidence of the apparition, Juan Diego was disheartened, but he returned to the hill to search for proof. There he found some roses miraculously blooming, though it was almost winter. He eagerly gathered the flowers up in his cloak, and when he presented them to the bishop, they fell to ground, leaving an image of the Blessed Mother imprinted on the garment where they had rested.

After the bishop witnessed the miraculous image, he gave his wholehearted support to the construction of a chapel. Juan Diego’s cloak was placed in the chapel upon its completion, as a reminder of the apparition. Juan Diego resided near the chapel for the rest of his life, acting as caretaker, welcoming pilgrims, and spending time in prayer and devotion.

The Saint Lucy Chapel

December 13 – Saint Lucy

Born in Sicily, Saint Lucy converted to Christianity after her blind mother recovered her eyesight. She was martyred at a young age under the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. The exact reason for her execution is uncertain, but tradition holds that a spurned suitor reported her to the governor, who had her killed for her faith.

In certain Scandinavian countries, Saint Lucy’s feast is commemorated with each town appointing a girl to be Saint Lucy. The girl wears a white dress with a red sash and a lighted wreath on her head, parading through the streets followed by other children. The wreath of candles comes from a tradition of St. Lucy bringing food to Christians hiding in the catacombs: in order to have her hands free to carry more provisions, she wore a lighted wreath of candles, bringing light into the darkness of the catacombs, while the white robe and red sash symbolize her virginity and martyrdom. 

December 14 – Saint John of Cross

Saint John of the Cross portrayed in the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Chapel

Born in Spain in 1542, John was left fatherless at a young age and grew up amidst hardship. But he did not allow tragedy to impede his pursuit of betterment; after growing up in Avila, John went on to study philosophy and scholastic theology at the Carmelite College in Salamanca. When he joined the Carmelites as a friar at age 21, he took the name John of the Cross.

Following his ordination, John became friends with Teresa of Avila, and he soon joined her at the monastery there, where they worked together to reform the Carmelite nuns and friars. To this end, they founded a new order that promoted more extreme ascetic habits, but the old order of Carmelites saw this order as a threat, and had John arrested in 1577. Instead of despairing while he sat in a cramped cell in the monastery at Toledo, where he was given little food and frequently tortured, John poured himself into a poem called The Dark Night of the Soul. This iconic work remains a classic of mystical literature, so well-known that its title has been used as a literary term for the nadir of a story.

John escaped after eight months in prison, but the life he returned to was far from tranquil: dissension plagued the monks, who jealously stripped him of his role as director. Amidst these troubles, John continued his writing until he fell ill with a fever and died on December 14, 1591. To this day, readers around the world continue to study his writings and be encouraged and enlightened by his unique spiritual insights.

Saint Stephen portrayed in the Byzantine Ruthenian Chapel

December 26 – Saint Stephen

Living in the first community of Christians in Jerusalem, Saint Stephen was one of seven deacons appointed to serve the practical needs of the congregation. This allowed the elders of the church to devote more time to prayer and the study of the Scriptures. A Hellenistic Jew, Stephen was described in Acts as “a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).

Leading teachers at synagogues found themselves perplexed with how to handle Jewish followers of Jesus – especially this bright young deacon who was “filled with grace and power… working great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Many challenged Stephen, but as an adept rhetorician filled with the Holy Spirit, he swiftly dispatched their arguments. Frustrated with their repeated defeats in these debates, the teachers decided to bring him before the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy against God and the law of Moses. There, they brought false witnesses against him, but his innocence in the eyes of God remained clear. During his trial, Stephen stood by his arguments, explaining how the law of Moses was no longer binding, foretelling the destruction of the temple, and lastly, rebuking the Sanhedrin. In response, the Sanhedrin “threw him out of the city, and began to stone him” (Acts 7:58a), making him the first person to be martyred for Christ.

December 27 – Saint John the Apostle

Saint John portrayed in the Trinity Dome

Known as the “disciple Jesus loved” (John 13:23), Saint John the Apostle was a zealous evangelist. As the author of a Gospel account, three epistles, and the book of Revelation, John was not only a close friend of Jesus, but a spiritual teacher for the ages.

John first met Jesus when he was fishing with his brother James on the Sea of Galilee. After an entire night of fruitless efforts, they were dubious when Jesus told them to lower their nets into the water once more. Yet they complied and were astonished to watch as they caught more fish than they could keep in their boat (Luke 5:1-11). After this miracle, Jesus asked them to follow Him, saying He would make them fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-22). Immediately, they cast aside their nets to follow Him, and did not look back. There was no hesitation on their part; James and John’s response to the call to follow Christ was immediate, unquestioning, and complete.

As one of Jesus’ closest disciples, John was present for some of the critical moments of Jesus’ time on earth – witnessing the Transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and accompanying Jesus the night before His crucifixion in the garden of Gethsemane. He was also the only disciple to be present at Jesus’ crucifixion. Unlike the other disciples, John passed away peacefully rather than in martyrdom.


Butler’s Lives of Saints, ed. Bernard Bangley

Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour BookWashington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.

The Vatican

The Way of the Saints, Dr. Tom Cowan

A Celebration of Guadalupe
Basilica to Dedicate Statue of Blessed Michael McGivney on the National Shrine’s Patronal Feast Day