Venerating the Saints: An Ancient Tradition Actual Today

Nov 1, 2020
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John O'Malley, SJGeorgetown University

Free and open to the public. This event is co-presented with the Bollandist Society and America Media, and is co-sponsored by the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, the Nova Forum, the Harvard Catholic Forum, the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC, the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, the Georgetown Office of Mission and Ministry, and the Collegium Institute. This event will be held on Zoom (registration required) and live-streamed to YouTube.

Few Christian practices are as ancient and widely popular as veneration of the saints.  It is appropriate on this Feast of All Saints to review that history, consider the challenges it has faced, and reflect on its appeal even in our day. Beginning with the early veneration of the martyrs, especially in Rome, the presentation will show how it expanded to confessors who “confessed” or witnessed to the faith under trial and then came to include the veneration of images and relics, which provoked severe controversy. The talk will conclude with consideration of Jesuit saints, saints today, and the work of the Bollandist Society, a unique group of Jesuits based in Belgium who have, for centuries, provided crucial editing and scholarship that have defined the field of “hagiography,” the serious, critical historical study of the lives of the saints.

You can learn more about the Bollandist Society here.


John W. O’Malley, S.J. is University Professor Emeritus of Theology at Georgetown University. A member of the Midwest Jesuit Province, he received his PhD in History from Harvard University in 1965. He has received many academic honors, including twenty honorary degrees, eight best-book prizes, and in 2016 the Centennial Medal from the Graduate School of Harvard University, “the school’s highest honor.”  From 1979 until 2006, John O’Malley was Distinguished Professor of Church History at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology and since then has been at Georgetown University.  In 1995, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science and in 1997 to the American Philosophical Society. His best-known book is The First Jesuits, Harvard University Press, 1993, now in twelve languages. His most recent books with Harvard Press are: What Happened at Vatican II, 2008; Trent: What Happened at the Council, 2013; Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church, 2018; and When Bishops Meet: An Essay Comparing Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, 2019.