On November 1, the Catholic Church has a feast, All Saints' Day, to honor the countless saints who are not formally canonized. Those familiar with this feast may wonder, “how do I become a saint?” The Catholic Church believes that anyone can become a saint and calls all men and women, whatever their state in life, to seek holiness and sainthood.

Catholic saints are men and women who lived devoutly religious lives, in obedience to God’s will. They become saints the moment they enter heaven; however, the Church does have a process to recognize those souls that it can confirm are in heaven as saints.

The official process for the Church to declare someone a saint is called canonization. This thorough process exists because of how important the saints are as examples for the faithful.

There are several stages to sainthood.

  • Servant of God: The person’s life is investigated by a bishop, usually of the deceased’s diocese. This is usually started at least five years after the death of the person, to allow for calm reflection on their life, works, and writings. The bishop will look for evidence of a life lived devoutly and virtuously. The evidence gathered is submitted to a panel – known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints - for further consideration. They will ensure none of the person’s writings or works go against the teachings of the Church. They may also interview people who knew the person. When a person is formally considered for sainthood, they are known as a ‘Servant of God’. 
  • Venerable This Congregation will further investigate the evidence presented by the bishop. On their approval, the Pope will then decide if the person was of ‘heroic virtue’. If the Pope decides this is the case, the person is declared ‘venerable’ and is a step closer to sainthood. 

It is possible to be considered ‘venerable,’ but not to become a saint because of the next stage in the process: miracles. Saints must have two miracles attributed to them across two stages to be canonized. Miracles are usually mysterious medical recoveries which cannot be explained by science.

  • Blessed: After the Church establishes one miracle, the venerable person’s cause is presented to the Pope, who determines if the person is worthy of being called ‘blessed.’ However, if a candidate for sainthood is considered a martyr, because they died for their faith, they do not need to be associated with miracles. 
  • Saint: To complete the process, a second miracle and the blessed person’s cause is presented to the Pope again. If he determines that the evidence is clear and that contrary reports are not credible, he may initiate the canonization procedure. This is the hardest step in the process to sainthood. However, it can be waived by the Pope. 

The actual act of beatification, in which a person is declared blessed, or of canonization, which is officially recognizing a saint, usually takes place during a special celebration at Saint Peter Basilica. Sometimes, though, the pope beatifies and canonizes in the country where the person lived and died.