As Michael R. Heinlein watched racial violence and counter-protests erupt across America during the summer of 2020, he kept thinking about what he and others could do with their gifts and talents to contribute to healing and the greater good.
An editor and writer, Heinlein, 36, of Fort Wayne, created the book,“Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood,” which profiles the six African-American Catholics who are candidates for canonization.
“What I was hoping to do with this book,” Heinlein explained, “is to show holiness is the answer, sanctity is the answer, and that these six individuals in particular are a model for us of how to address the questions that were re-emerging in our society again. That’s what kept coming back to me in prayer.”
The 120-page book recently received first place in the Newly Canonized Saints category of the Catholic Media Association’s national 2022 Book Awards. His “Teeny, Tiny Theology” series, which introduces young children to basic Catholic theology and some theological terms, also received an honorable mention in the Best New Religious Book Series award category.
Born in 1985 in Kankakee, Illinois, Heinlein grew up in Crown Point in northwest Indiana after his family moved there when he was six. He went on to earn a degree in theology from The Catholic University of America and to become editor of The Catholic Answer magazine.
After moving to Fort Wayne in 2014, he taught theology for three years at Bishop Dwenger High School. When he and his wife, Gretchen, began preparing for the arrival of their first child, Joseph, now five, Heinlein left Bishop Dwenger to do writing and editing work from home. Their family now also includes Anne, three, and John, three months.
Today, Heinlein works as editor of the website SimplyCatholic.com and its e-newsletter, both of which are published by Catholic media nonprofit Our Sunday Visitor in Huntington. He contributes articles to Our Sunday Visitor’s weekly newspaper and to its The Priest magazine. He has also written several Our Sunday Visitor booklets and pamphlets and serves as theological adviser for OSV Kids magazine.
In addition to his work, Heinlein serves as one of the masters of ceremony for Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. Heinlein and his wife are also going through formation to make promises with the Association of Pauline Cooperators, a lay-oriented group within the Pauline Family founded by Blessed Father James Alberione of Italy.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March of 2020, Heinlein quickly expanded his writing to produce books intended to help people navigate the new challenges in their faith life.
“A lot of my writing is, I guess, the fruit of prayer,” he said. “These aren’t anything that I just kind of want to do. I feel compelled to do it.”
“I think anyone in Catholic media ought to be reading the ‘signs of the times,’” he said. “But this cannot be done apart from Christ, which should make prayer so vital to our work. I can trust that my work is a cooperation with Christ’s work when I consider in prayer anything I’m working on. I can always point out ways that prayer shapes and informs my work because it helps me to discern the ways today that I can contribute to the mission of helping draw others into closer relationship with Christ.”
“The Handy Little Guide to Spiritual Communion,” which was published in May 2020, explains the practice of spiritual communion, which came into widespread use while Catholic churches were closed during the early months of the pandemic.
In late summer of 2020, Heinlein and Father Harrison Ayre, the co-host of the popular podcast “Clerically Speaking,” authored the book, “Finding Christ in the Crisis: What the Pandemic Can Teach Us.”
Just as many other people, Heinlein was moved by the racial divide tearing America apart during the summer of 2020. He submitted a manuscript idea for a book about African-American candidates for sainthood, and Our Sunday Visitor approved it.
The candidates are in the early stages of the canonization process, which can begin after a person’s death: Mother Mary Lange (circa 1784-1882), Julia Greeley (circa 1833-1918), and Sister Thea Bowman (1937-1990) each have been named a Servant of God, the initial step in the process. Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), Henriette Delille (1812-1862), and Father Augustus Tolton (1854-1897) have been declared Venerable, which means the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints has reviewed evidence collected about the candidate’s life and has found he or she died as a martyr for the faith, offered his or her life for others, or exhibited “heroic virtue.”
The book, which was released in February of 2021, seems to be the first one profiling all six African-American candidates for sainthood, said Heinlein, who is distantly related to Delille through an ancestor in the 1700s. The book costs $9.95 in paperback and also is available as an e-book.
Heinlein wrote a brief biography of each saint candidate, as well as an introduction and afterword. Each biography is followed by a reflection on the candidate by a Catholic writer, most of whom had been actively commenting on the racial division during the summer of 2020. Heinlein wanted the book to include the voices of Black Catholics and others in the Church because it is a universal church, and he wanted voices who also believed holiness is the key to healing. Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles wrote the book’s foreword.
The award “speaks of these six,” Heinlein said. “It was nothing I did. It’s just that these six, I think, especially when they are all together in this book, sock a punch that really lands in the minds and hearts of the reader.
“I’ve have gotten a lot of positive feedback about it,” he noted, “and I’m grateful for that.”
He has always been interested in sainthood causes, he said, and especially in the stories of these six candidates.
“They excelled in the virtues,” he explained. “In these six cases, they all experienced racism but they never dished the hate back. They were very Christ-like in that way. So, they serve as a model for us today, not only talking about the issues of racial justice, but we all experience the violence and hate of a divisive culture, a divisive society. And how do we do our part to bring the light of Christ to the world around us? I think these six all offer something to every Catholic.”
During their lives, Heinlein said the African-American candidates for sainthood lived and ministered at the margins of the Church because of their race. The Catholic Church began recognizing the contributions of holy men and women at the margins after the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. He supports that effort, saying the canon of saints need to be “a little more representative” of the many types of people and cultures within the Church.
“I hope people can fall in love with these individuals and promote their causes,” Heinlein said, “so that they will be beatified and eventually canonized because we need that recognition of their holiness in the Church.”
Steps to sainthood
After death, a person’s journey to possible Catholic sainthood begins with a cause for their sainthood being opened and the person being declared a Servant of God.
A saint candidate can be declared Venerable by the Pope if the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints reviews evidence collected about the person’s life and finds he or she died as a martyr for the faith, offered his or her life for others, or exhibited “heroic virtue,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said on their website, usccb.org.
A candidate who has been declared Venerable then can be beatified, or declared Blessed, if she or he died for the faith or for others, or, if named Venerable because of heroic virtue, that a miracle can be attributed to her or his intercession with God.
Candidates who have been named Blessed can be canonized a saint if it can be proven a miracle took place through their intercession with God after they were named Blessed.
The Pope has the authority to waive the requirements above and approve a candidate’s canonization, the USCCB website said.
Learn more: “Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood,” edited and partially written by Michael R. Heinlein, and his other books are available wherever books are sold, including Our Sunday Visitor at www.orderosv.com.
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