Pope John XXIII: Canonization, Contributions & Miracles

Instructor: Christopher Staysniak

Chris has taught college history and has a doctorate in American history.

In this lesson, you will learn about how Pope John XXIII, a popular and influential leader in the Catholic Church, became a saint, as well as some of the unique details about the process.


On the early morning of June 3, 1963, Pope John XXIII lay in his bed, slowly dying from stomach cancer. Around 3 in the morning, he awoke from his sedated sleep and said twice, ''Lord, you know that I love you.'' These words were his last. Beloved around the world, il Papa Buono, or ''the good pope,'' as many called him, lapsed into unconsciousness and passed away later that day.

An Unexpected Legacy of Change

When John XXIII was elected to the papacy at age 77, few expected the venerable outsider would leave behind such a mark on the Catholic Church. His reign was relatively brief, lasting just under five years. But in that time he transformed the institutional church. His most enduring achievement was the calling for and convening of the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II. This conference, which stretched over several years, resulted in the Catholic Church's updating of many of its teachings and taking a more conciliatory stance toward the modern world.

In addition to the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII wrote an influential encyclical, a public proclamation, in 1963, titled Pacem in Terris, in which he advocated for world peace. Time magazine also named John XXIII its ''Man of the Year.''

A Gentle Revolutionary

As one theologian described him, Pope John XXIII, the doughy, squat, kind man who was always ready with a joke, was a ''gentle revolutionary.''

Pope John XXIII
John XXIII, beloved by many as

After John XXIII's death, while the Second Vatican Council was still in progress, Belgian Cardinal Lèon Joseph Suenens, a close friend and ally of the now-deceased pope, planned a speech for the council floor in which he would ask that John XXIII be declared a saint immediately ''by acclamation.'' This would have bypassed the lengthy formal process of becoming a saint. But ultimately his plan was stymied by more conservative officials in the church. John XXIII's sainthood would have to wait. His cause for canonization, to officially become a saint, was opened by his successor, Pope Pius XII in November of 1965 as the Second Vatican Council drew to a close.

A First Miracle

To become a saint, according to church law, one must have two miracles officially attributed to him or her. The first for John XXIII's case for canonization came three years after his death. In May 1966, Sister Caterina Capitani was suffering from a cancerous stomach tumor. While the tumor was removed in surgery, Capitani's health continued to deteriorate. After praying to John XXIII, however, she miraculously recovered. As Sister Adele Labianca, who was caring for Capitani at the time, later remarked in no uncertain terms, ''It was a miracle,'' going on to add, ''Not only was it a physical healing but an internal healing when you could feel the presence of God.'' A followup medical commission could find no scientific rationale for Capitani's unexpected turnaround.

As a result of this first miracle, John XXIII was beatified, the second to last step before becoming a saint, by Pope John Paul II on September 3, 2000.

Changing the Rules

Typically, one miracle is required for someone to become beatified, and a second is needed then to become canonized as a saint. But Pope Francis approved John XXIII's sainthood without waiting for a second miracle. While unusual, the move was well within the pope's authority to dispense with certain requirements.

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