During the month of July, the Church celebrates a variety of saints with feast days and memorials, honoring their unique contributions to the faith and reflecting upon their examples of holiness. From the apostles Thomas and James, to brave women like Maria Goretti and Kateri Tekakwitha, these saints each have something to teach us. Read about five saints we are celebrating this July and why you should know their stories.
July 1 – St. Junípero Serra
July 1 marks the Feast of St. Junípero Serra, who was canonized on September 23, 2015 at the Basilica. He was instrumental in introducing the Gospel to the Americas and protected the indigenous peoples there from Spanish colonizers. Even today, the imprint of St. Junípero’s ministry remains a prominent feature of California, where the 21 missions founded by him dot the coast – and many cities carry those same names as well: from Santa Barbara and Santa Clara to San Diego and San Luis Obispo.
It is estimated that over the course of his ministry, Junípero Serra baptized over 6,700 indigenous people and confirmed over 4,500. Despite suffering from a variety of medical conditions that often made traveling extremely uncomfortable, throughout his lifetime, he made many long journeys on foot, walking 1,700 miles in one trip! At the age of 70, Serra passed away at Mission San Carlos, where he was also buried.
July 3 – St. Thomas
On July 3, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. Dubbed “Doubting Thomas” for his response to word of the resurrection, he demonstrated a fearless devotion to Christ that is often overshadowed by his demands for physical evidence.
Perhaps rather than define Thomas by his doubt, we can understand him as someone with an earnest spirit and inquiring mind. When Mary and Martha asked Jesus to come to Bethany to heal their sick brother, Lazarus, the disciples questioned the safety of the journey, as the people in the region had already attempted to stone Jesus on his previous visit. Thomas, however, insisted they accompany the Lord despite whatever hostility they might face, saying “Let us go, that we may die with him.” Thomas acknowledged the grim realities of their situation while still faithfully and bravely moving forward.
The last Gospel narrative where Saint Thomas is featured is perhaps the most well-known. When Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to all the disciples except Thomas. Why Thomas was not among them remains unclear, but they shared with Thomas what they had seen. Without physical evidence, however, Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had come back. It wasn’t until he had touched the wounds in Jesus’ side that he truly believed in the resurrection. Saint Thomas is featured in the Basilica in the Mary Memorial Altar and the Eastern Buttress of the South Entrance.
July 6 – St. Maria Goretti
Born in poverty in Corinaldo, Italy, on October 16, 1890, Maria Goretti displayed trust in God from a young age. Though she was unable to go to school, she was blessed with a loving family that raised her in the faith. When her father died of malaria, she bravely held to God’s promise of provision, often telling her mother, “Mother, be brave, God will help us.”
When she was only eleven years old, Maria suffered a brutal assault. After she refused the advances of an older farmhand named Alessandro Serenelli, he stabbed her multiple times. She was taken to the hospital, but her wounds were too severe, ultimately taking her life. In her final hours, Maria forgave her attacker, expressing her wish that he would repent and turn to Christ. Alessandro received a sentence of thirty years. While in prison, he had a dream in which Maria appeared to him, offering him lilies that burst into flames. As a result of the dream and the encouragement of a priest, he turned to God. When he was released, he went to Maria’s mother, Assunta, and begged her for forgiveness. She forgave him, and they attended Mass, receiving Communion together. He went on to become a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and was present at Maria’s canonization ceremony in 1950. Her Memorial is celebrated on July 6.
July 14 – Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was the first indigenous American to be canonized as a saint. Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” she is the patroness of ecology and the environment. Born to a Mohawk chief in 1656, Kateri was left an orphan at age four after an epidemic of smallpox took both her parents and her brother. She was raised by her uncle in a Mohawk tribe community, and in 1676, Kateri was baptized by Father Jacques de Lamberville, a Jesuit missionary. Kateri became a devoted Christian, and at age 19, she took a vow of chastity. While her exemplary piety served as an inspiration to some of those around her, others harassed her because of her faith.
Seeking a less hostile environment, she moved to the settlement of the Mission of St. Frances Xavier, a community of Christian indigenous Americans living near what is now Montreal. There, she grew in faith and holiness, spurred on by an unquenchable zeal for Christ, living in prayer and penitence. Only five years later, however, she was called home by the Lord, passing away at the young age of 24 on April 17, 1680. Her last words were: “Jesus, I love you.” Saint Kateri is portrayed in the Hall of American Saints, the Trinity Dome, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, and the southwest nave bay in the Upper Church.
July 25 – Saint James the Apostle
James and his brother John were the sons of Zebedee. Both were fishermen by trade, and partners with the disciples Andrew and Simon Peter. Jesus first met them when they were out fishing on the Sea of Galilee, miraculously filling their nets with fish and asking them to follow him. They assented without hesitation, and throughout Jesus’ ministry, their fiery evangelical zeal and extreme reactions inspired Jesus to rather humorously dub them “the Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).
Their passion for the Lord might have sometimes expressed itself in overzealous ways, but their devotion and willingness to serve demonstrated an unwavering faithfulness to Christ. James, along with John and Peter, comprised a special trio that was closest to Jesus among his disciples, witnessing some of Jesus’ greatest miracles – including the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1) – and accompanying Jesus in some of His darkest hours, such as the Garden of Gethsemane.
Tragically, James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D., becoming the first apostle to be martyred.
Butler’s Lives of the Saints, ed. Bernard Bangley.
The Way of Saints, Tim Cowan.
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. “The Cause of Junípero Serra.”
“Biography of St. Kateri,” The Vatican.
“Saint Junípero Serra,” USCCB.