Sister Blandina Segale was one of four candidates whose Cause, opened earlier this year, was approved by bishops

During the US bishops’ autumn general assembly in Baltimore this week, they approved by voice vote the Causes of four men and women as part of the episcopal consultation in the Catholic Church’s process for possible canonisation.

The four candidates are Julia Greeley, a former slave who lived in Colorado; Sister Blandina Segale, a Sister of Charity who served on the frontier; Fr Patrick Ryan, who ministered to those suffering yellow fever; and Mgr Bernard Quinn, who fought bigotry and established a black church and orphanage in Brooklyn, New York.

The four Causes were presented individually to the group of bishops prior to their vote.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver presented Greeley’s Cause to the bishops because she lived her adult life in Colorado and ministered there to those in poverty while she was poor too.

Greeley was born a slave in Hannibal, Missouri, some time between 1838-1848. She lost the use of her right eye from an assault by a slave owner. Freed from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, she went to Colorado, where she became Catholic a few years later.

As a lay Franciscan, closely affiliated with the Jesuits at her parish, she was actively involved in promoting the faith and devotion to the Sacred Heart. She died in 1918.

Sister Blandina was described to the bishops as anything but bland, and even had a run in with Billy the Kid during her work in the American frontier.

She was born in Italy in 1850 and immigrated to Cincinnati when she was four. She joined the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati when she was 16 and worked in schools, orphanages and hospitals in Ohio, New Mexico and Colorado.

She became a defender of the poor, the sick, the marginalised, Native Americans and Mexican and Italian immigrants. She often visited jails and became involved in issues such as human trafficking and juvenile delinquency. She died in 1941 aged 91. Her Cause was introduced by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, told the bishops about Fr Patrick Ryan, an Irish immigrant, born in 1845 and ordained in 1869 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Fr Ryan was pastor of Ss Peter and Paul’s Parish for six years. In 1878, he died at 33 years old of yellow fever.

His community in Chattanooga was struck with the epidemic that killed hundreds and during the epidemic the priest went to the worst infected areas of the city to help the sick and the needy.

The other priest’s name submitted for the canonisation process is Mgr Bernard Quinn, born to Irish immigrants in 1888 in Newark, New Jersey.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn presented the priest’s cause to the bishops. Mgr Quinn was ordained to the priesthood in 1912, and served as a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn where he particularly emphasised priestly and religious vocations for black Catholics.

In 1922, he established St Peter Claver Church for black Catholics in Brooklyn and years later built an orphanage for the African-American community that was twice burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan before it was successfully built the third time.

Five years must pass from the time of a candidate’s death before a Cause may begin. The bishop of the diocese or eparchy in which the person died is responsible for beginning the examination into his or her life and names a postulator to conduct the investigation. The local bishop consults bishops in his region on the advisability of pursuing the cause. A canonical consultation with the body of bishops is part of the process.

Materials and documentation supporting the cause must be gathered. Once that phase is completed, the documentation is sent to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Three major steps come next: first is the declaration of a person’s heroic virtues, after which the Church declares the person “Venerable.” Second is beatification, after which he or she is called “Blessed.” Third is canonisation, or the declaration of sainthood. In general, two miracles must be accepted by the Church as having occurred through the intercession of the prospective saint; one must occur before beatification, and the other after beatification.