VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI bestowed sainthood Sunday on four faithful whose lives he hopes will inspire courage in Catholics, including a frail French nun who braved the American frontier and a Mexican bishop who helped a clandestine seminary survive in anti-clerical Mexico in the 1920s.
The new names in the roll call of saints also included two Italian pioneers: a nun who advocated public schooling for girls in Italy in the late 17th century and a priest who was a trailblazer for education of the deaf, dedicating himself to poor children in Naples.
"The Church rejoices in the four new saints," Benedict told a crowd of several thousand faithful for the ceremony in St. Peter's Square. "May their example inspire us and their prayers obtain for us guidance and courage."
Among those celebrating the Mass on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica were ailing Chicago Cardinal Francis George and five churchmen from Indiana, where Mother Theodore Guerin, who is one of the new saints, established a college for women in what was then log cabin country. St. Mary-of-the-Woods College enrolled its first student in 1841.
George, who had cancer surgery in July, read parts of the Mass, and the pope embraced him.
Despite decades of poor health, Guerin, who was born in Brittany in 1798, set out with a handful of fellow French nuns for Indiana. "There they found a simple log-cabin chapel in the heart of the forest" and knelt down to give thanks, the pope said in his homily.
The nuns moved into a drafty farmhouse nearby and turned its porch into their own chapel.
Guerin for years resisted the opposition of a local bishop to her plans to establish a local community of nuns. "Mother Theodore overcame many challenges and persevered in the work that the Lord has called her to do," including schools and orphanages throughout Indiana, the pope added.
"I think today we are blessed," said Irma Davis, 57, from Terre Haute, Indiana. "I feel a sense of inspiration."
Said college alumna Angela E. White, 42, from Indianapolis: "She fought against all the odds. Mother Theodore once said that we are not asked to do all of God's work in this world, just the work we can do, and I think this is exactly what we have to do."
Also in the crowd was the man whose restored vision was judged by the Vatican to be the miracle necessary for Guerin's sainthood.
"Being here with so many faithful, seeing the pope," said Phil McCord, "it's really overwhelming." McCord, a 60-year-old engineer who manages the campus of Guerin's order, recalled how he had faced a corneal transplant after damage from cataract surgery. He entered the chapel at the college, asked Guerin for help and his eyesight started to improve the next morning, said McCord, the son of a lay Baptist minister.
Also made a saint was Bishop Rafael Guizar Valencia. The Mexican was a great uncle of the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the conservative Legionaries of Christ order whom Benedict earlier this year restricted from saying Mass in public after years of Vatican investigation into accusations of sexual abuse of seminarians.
Guizar Valencia, sometimes disguising himself as a street vendor or a musician, risked his life to tend to the wounded during the Mexican revolution. In 1921, he renovated a seminary in Xalapa, which had been confiscated, but the government seized the building again. He succeeded in having the seminary operate clandestinely for 15 years in Mexico City. He died in 1938.
Benedict hailed Guizar Valencia for working tirelessly, even facing persecution, to ensure that seminarians were properly educated "according to the heart of Christ."
Filippo Smaldone, an Italian priest who lived from 1848-1923, pioneered education and other assistance for the deaf and founded an order of nuns, the Congregation of the Salesian Sisters of the Sacred Hearts.
Rosa Venerini was another social pioneer. Living from 1656-1728, she founded the Congregation of the Holy Venerini Teachers and pushed to establish the first public schools for girls in Italy.
It was Benedict's first canonization ceremony in nearly a year.
His predecessor, John Paul II, led several canonization and beatification ceremonies yearly, but Benedict has taken a less visible approach. Ceremonies for beatification, the last formal step before sainthood, are now led by local prelates in the country where the candidate lived or worked.
But Benedict has championed the cause for sainthood for John Paul. A few weeks after John Paul's April 2, 2005, death, Benedict announced that he was putting John Paul on the fast track for possible sainthood by waiving the traditional five-year waiting period before the process can begin.