The elevation of Junipero Serra to sainthood marks the first canonization in the United States. While this reflects the important role of Spanish-speaking Catholics in the country, it hasn't come without controversy.
Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra has been canonized by Pope Francis at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, September 23, 2015.
The Franciscan missionary, who introduced Christianity to much of California as he marched north with Spanish conquistadors in the 18th century, has also been portrayed as a "brutal" missionary. Many Native Americans have protested his canonization, saying that he helped wipe out native populations, enslaved converts and spread disease.
In this photo, Artist Lalo Garcia, 63, hangs his painting of Spanish friar Junipero Serra at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, September 17, 2015.
Saint Junipero Serra
A portrait of Junipero Serra is seen in a display case at The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on August 20, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Despite controversy surrounding his canonization, Vatican officials have defended Serra, saying that he worked in defense of Native Americans, often intervening to spare them from the more brutal colonial officials.
"Canonization does not proclaim someone perfect without blemish, without sins... I think we should be careful in terms of the judgments that we're passing on him," Father Thomas Rosica, a deputy Vatican spokesman, told "CBS This Morning." "There were difficulties, there were challenges, but he did immense good in bringing the gospel to these shores."
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
A statue of Kateri Tekakwitha is seen at the St. Francis Xavier Church in Kahnawake, Quebec, October 21, 2012.
Pope Benedict XVI named her as the first Native American saint in 2012. Kateri Tekakwitha, known as "Lily of the Mohawks," for centuries has been a symbol of hope for the long-oppressed American Indians.
According to her bio on the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs website, St. Tekakwitha was an Algonquin-Mohawk virgin and laywoman. She was born in 1656 in Auriesville, New York. She converted to Roman Catholicism at 19 years old and was renamed Kateri. She settled for the remaining years of her life at the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal in New France, now Canada.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
A painting of Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century Mohawk woman, in a museum at the National Kateri Shrine in Fonda, New York. The painting is attributed to Father Claude Chauchetiere, a French missionary, in 1681, a year after her death.
Kateri Tekakwitha was disfigured and partially blinded by smallpox that claimed the life of many of her family members, she was thrown out of her tribe when she converted to Christianity, and died a few years later.
Saint Damien de Veuster
An undated picture shows Father Damien (Damien de Veuster), born Jozef de Veuster and also known as Blessed Damien of Molokai.
The canonization of Father Damien took place on October 11, 2009 at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI.
Father Damien was a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and member of the congregation of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He as born in 1840 and died in the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1889.
He won recognition for his ministry to people with leprosy, who had been placed under a government-sanctioned medical quarantine on the island of Molokai in the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Saint Damien de Veuster
A portrait of Saint Damien at the Iolani Palace, Coronation Pavilion with Bishop Larry Silva and Princess Abigail Kawananakoa in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 1, 2009.
Pope Benedict XVI praised the missionary at his canonization in 2009, saying that "not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to Molokai to serve the lepers who were there, abandoned by all," exposed himself to leprosy, and "felt at home with them."
President Obama, who was born and spent part of his childhood in Hawaii, has previously said he remembers stories about Damien caring for people suffering from leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease.
Saint Katherine Drexel
This undated photograph shows Mother Katharine Drexel. She was born in Philadelphia in 1858, became a nun in 1891, and died in 1955.
In November 1988, Mother Drexel was beatified by Pope John Paul II, hailing the American heiress-turned-nun for devoting her life and fortune to fighting, "the devastating effects of racism" on blacks and American Indians. She was later canonized in Rome by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000.
Saint John Neumann
Saint John Neumann, born in the Austrian Empire in 1811, became an American citizen at 36 years old in 1848 and died in Pennsylvania in 1860.
According to the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, he was declared blessed by Pope Paul VI in 1963 and canonized a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1977.
He was ordained in June of 1836 by Bishop John Dubois at old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mott Street in New York City, according to the shrine.
St. Neumann is credited with establishing the first system of parochial schools in various parts of the country when he came to Philadelphia. And the first unified system of Catholic schools under a diocesan board. According to the shrine, those of Italian extraction remember St. Neumann as the founder of the first national parish for Italians in the United States.
Saint Marianne Cope
This 1883 photo provided by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities shows Mother Marianne Cope posing for a photographer.
In 1918, she died of natural causes at 80 years old on the remote Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai, where the Hawaiian kingdom exiled leprosy patients to control the disease.
Her remains were exhumed from Kalaupapa in 2005 during her canonization process and taken to Syracuse, New York, where her religious congregation is based.
She gained sainthood in 2012.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton
This undated portrait of Mother Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, is a reproduction of an original tintype owned by family friends of the Setons in Italy.
According to her bio on the The Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton website, she was born August 28, 1774 with the name Elizabeth Bayley. Born Protestant, she grew up in New York City during the American Revolution. Her later Catholic faith would cost her family, friends and social status.
Seton established the first free Catholic school for girls in the nation and founded the first American congregation of religious sisters, the Sisters of Charity. She also raised five children.
In 1975, she became the first American-born saint to be canonized by the Vatican.
At a meeting of the American hierarchy in 1852, Baltimore Archbishop Francis Patrick Kenrick declared, "Elizabeth Seton did more for the church in America than all of us bishops together."
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini
Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first American citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic church.
St. Frances Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants. According to her biography on the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus website, she was born the youngest of 13 children on July 15, 1850 in a small village called S'ant Angelo Lodigiano near the city of Milan, Italy. She died in 1917 and was canonized in 1946.
In 1880, with seven young women, she helped found the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The pope at the time had told her to go to New York to help the thousands of Italian immigrants in the U.S. and she did.
She organized catechism, education classes for Italian immigrants and provided for the needs of the many orphans in the U.S. She also established schools and orphanages. She later traveled the world to do the same. She made 23 trans-Atlantic crossings and established 67 institutions including schools, hospitals and orphanages.
Saint Isaac Jogues
Cardinal Timothy Dolan passes in front of a likeness of Saint Isaac Jogues during a ceremony to bless the newly refinished doors at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, October 14, 2013.
According to St. Jogues bio on AmericanCatholic.org, he and his companions were the first martyrs of the North American continent officially recognized by the Catholic Church. The Jesuit missionary was captured by a Mohawk war party, and on October 18, 1646 was tomahawked and beheaded.
He was canonized in 1930.
Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne
In this drawing St. Rose is seen among Native Americans.
Rose was born in 1769 in Grenoble, France. As a young child she adopted the mission that she wanted to go to America and teach the Native Americans, according to the Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duschesne website. In 1817 she travelled to America where she would spend the rest of her life serving and educating people in the Midwest.
At 72 years old she was finally allowed to travel to Kansas to teach Native Americans. Although she only spent a year doing so, the Indians called her Quakahkanumad (woman who prays always) and revered her for her deep devotion to "the Great Spirit."
She died in 1852 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
Saint Theodore Guerin
The tapestry depicting Mother Theodore Guerin hangs from the main facade of St. Peter's Basilica during an open-air mass in St. Peter's square at the Vatican Sunday October 15, 2006.
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the mass during the 2006 canonization ceremony of Mother Theodore Guerin, a French-born nun who struggled in the 19th century in the American frontier land.
St. Theodore was born on Oct. 2, 1798 in Etables, France. She entered the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé sur-Loir in 1823. She spent 17 years in France educating children and caring for the sick poor.
According to the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Shrine website, in July 1840 she traveled to the United States to establish a motherhouse, to educate children of pioneer families and to once again take care of the sick poor.
While in the U.S. she established a school now known as Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. In March 1842, she opened another school in Jasper, Indiana. In the years that followed, Mother Theodore established schools throughout Indiana and Eastern Illinois, two orphanages in Vincennes and free pharmacies at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and in Vincennes.
She died in 1856.