Convert Saints

Venerable (Blessed as of tomorrow) John Henry Newman is a hero of mine, perhaps, you might say, for obvious reasons. But in fact, he has had a special place in my life since I was a Lutheran seminarian, long before I followed his example and converted to Catholicism. So I am rather looking forward to tomorrow. The girls and I have already added JHN to our little bed-time litany of the saints, along with St Joseph and St Michael (my patrons), St Bernadette (their school patroness), and Blessed (soon Saint) Mary of the Cross.

But I was wondering this morning about “Convert Saints”, by which I mean converts from other Christian traditions, saints who were baptised already before becoming Catholic. I know that there have been many from other religions, notably St Edith Stein and St Josephine Bakhita (I don’t think St Paul or the other apostles count – they were not so much converted from Judaism – which was not a separate religion from Christianity at the time – as to a new sect within Judaism). St Augustine was a convert from Manicheanism, but that that wasn’t really a form of Christianity.

A check on the internet gave me St. John Ogilvie (born into a Scottish Calvinist family in 1579), St Henry Morse (an English Protestant born in 1595) and St Elizabeth Ann Seton (born as an Episcopalian in 1774). Have there been any others than anyone knows about?

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Convert Saints

  1. Alfredo Watkins

    I think Saint Francis de Sales might sort of count, since he converted to Calvinism for a time, I believe. Also, Saints John Roberts and Hugh Green converted from Anglicanism. That’s all I can think of right now.

  2. How about Blessed Niels Stensen (a.k.a. Nicola(u)s Steno), a famous Danish Lutheran scientist, anatomist and geologist of the 17th century (1638-86), who eventually converted to Catholicism while in Florence in 1667, was ordained a priest in 1675 and bishop in 1677, and spent the remainder of his life in Germany, working in the northern missions? He was beatified in 1987.

    While I was in Florence last September I venerated his relics in the church of San Lorenzo.

    My copy of the modern Roman Martyrology says of him, in its 7th entry for the 5th of December: Sverini in Megalopolitana Germaniæ regione, transitus beati Nicolai Stensen, Episcopi Titiopolitani, qui, e Dania oriundus, unus ex clarissimis temporis sui rerum naturæ inquisitoribus exstitit; sed catholicam fidem professus, Deo in tutelam veritatis servire cupiens presbyter factus est, dein episcopus ordinatus ad Europæ septemtrionalis missionem omnem curam impendit. That is, as best as I can gather: “At Schwerin in the Mecklenburg region of Germany, the passing of Bl Nicolaus Stensen, bishop of Titiopolis, who, arising from Denmark, shone forth as one of the clearest inquirers of his time into the things of nature; but professing the Catholic Faith, desiring to serve God in the guarding of truth, was made a priest, then ordained a bishop, [and] expended all his cares on mission in northern Europe.”

  3. Other interesting details about Bl Nicolaus Steno (Niels Stensen) as a pioneering geologist and stratigrapher may be found in Stephen Jay Gould’s essay “The Titular Bishop of Titiopolis”, in his book Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes (1983), pages 69-78.

    In science, Steno is most famous for his curiously-titled treatise, De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus, the translation of which title I leave to learnèd fellow-readers…

  4. I don’t know why my first comment is “awaiting moderation”, while the second is already on display!

    Here are the notes I took at the sarcophagus containing the blessed remains of Bl Niels Stensen:

    -born Copenhagen 10th January 1638
    -Doctor of medicine
    -at university 1656-1659
    -in Amsterdam and Leiden 1660-1664
    -knew Spinoza
    -1666 to Florence – invited by Ferdinand II
    -2 November 1667 converted from Lutheranism
    (because of Corpus Christi procession at Livorno 24 July 1666)
    -gave up scientific studies gradually
    -ordained priest 14th April 1675
    -ordained bishop 19th September 1677
    -Vicar Apostolic in various German cities
    -died in Schwerin 25th November O.S. (5th December N.S.) 1686
    -buried in Florence on 13th October 1687
    -body transferred to the church of San Lorenzo in 1953
    -beatified 23rd October 1988

  5. R. J. Stove

    Don’t forget Saint Edmund Campion, who was originally Anglican.

  6. Not quite a saint, but how about the amazingly-named Angelus Silesius (1624-1677), author of The Cherubimic Wander? He was baptized Johann Schleffer, and was a very pious Lutheran poet and mystic who converted to Catholicism in 1652, taking the above new name; “Silas”, as he was also nicknamed, then published books of hymns (Heilige Seelenlust) and mystical sayings (mentioned above); he became a priest in 1661, and spent his inheritance on the care of orphans.

  7. Another blessed, a beata this time:

    Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hasselblad (1870-1957), a Swedish convert (in 1902) from Lutheranism. See this site for details.