The Church gives the title “Doctor of the Church” to great saints whose writings and teachings helped shape Catholic Theology and Christian spirituality.
These 37 men and women were given wisdom and insight of the faith that served not only the church during their lifetime but also the Church today. We look to these Doctors as examples of authentic witnesses to the Gospel and as great teachers from whom we can learn.
While not every Doctor of the Church has their own novena prayer, we’ve rounded up all those who do:
Saint Ambrose went from an unbaptized layman to Bishop of Milan in just over a week. Even before his baptism, Ambrose was known for his great charity and for using his intellectual gifts to defend Christian doctrine.
As bishop, he studied Scripture and Theology and became known for his preaching. The Church remembers Ambrose as a great theologian and defender of the faith, as well as for his pivotal role in the conversion of Saint Augustine.
Suggested Novena Start Date: November 29
Pray the St. Ambrose Novena here.
After his powerful conversion from a life of self-indulgence and sin, Saint Augustine became a bishop of North Africa and one of the most influential theologians in Church history.
He lived the rest of his life in prayer and service to the poor, not only desiring to know Truth but to teach it to others. His writings, particularly Confessions and City of God, have remained influential spiritual classics.
Suggested Novena Start Date: August 19
Pray the St. Augustine of Hippo Novena here.
Saint Jerome was a priest, monk, and brilliant Scripture scholar who is often considered the most learned of the Latin Fathers. He helped make the Bible more accessible to the faithful by translating almost the entire Bible from Hebrew into Latin. His translation remains the most commonly used in the Church.
Saint Jerome also wrote many works on Catholic theology and defenses against heresy, as well as extensive commentaries on Scripture.
Suggested Novena Start Date: September 22
Pray the St. Jerome Novena here.
Saint Gregory the Great served the Church as Pope from 590-604. During that time, he emphasized the Church’s missionary call to evangelization and service of the poor, and also made some important liturgical updates that we still see in the Mass today.
The most well-known part of Saint Gregory’s legacy among the faithful is Gregorian Chant. Although he didn’t write it, the Church began to use this type of liturgical music under his papacy. For this reason, he is considered a patron saint of musicians.
Suggested Novena Start Date: August 26
Pray the St. Gregory Novena here.
Known as the “Father of Orthodoxy,” Saint Athanasius boldly defended the Church from the Arian Heresy while he served as the Bishop of Alexandria. Even when the emperor wanted to relax the condemnation of Arius, Athanasius stood firm in his position. He was later described by St. Gregory of Nazianzen as “the true pillar of the church” for his commitment to truth.
Suggested Novena Start Date: April 24
Pray the St. Athanasius Novena here.
Saint John Chrysostom earned the nickname “Golden-mouthed” because of his great ability to preach. His writings–consisting primarily of his homilies, letters, and commentaries on Scripture– fill more than 20 volumes, making them the largest surviving collection of the early Church.
Saint John Chrysostom is the patron saint of preachers, orators, and lecturers, as well as education.
Suggested Novena Start Date: September 5
Pray the St. John Chrysostom Novena here.
Saint Basil the Great founded one of the first monasteries in Asia Minor. While he is often called “the Father of Eastern monasticism,” his influence spread far beyond the region, even inspiring Benedict’s monastic rule in the West.
Basil also played an instrumental role in defeating Arianism in the East by helping to develop the Church’s doctrine of the Trinity.
Suggested Novena Start Date: December 24
Pray the St. Basil the Great Novena here.
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus served as Archbishop of Constantinople during the 4th Century. He convened the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople that firmly condemned the Nestorian Heresy that had taken hold at the time and defended Mary’s title of Mother of God and Perpetual Virgin.
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus also helped shape early Trinitarian Theology, setting the stage for its further development by later theologians.
Suggested Novena Start Date: December 25
Pray the St. Gregory Novena here.
Saint Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican priest who wrote prolifically on philosophy, theology, and Catholic Doctrine. His writings, like the Summa Theologica, have guided the Church in her teachings for centuries and his poetry became well-known hymns still used to praise the Blessed Sacrament.
Aquinas is the patron saint of Catholic schools, colleges, and universities, as well as theologians, philosophers, students, and booksellers.
Suggested Novena Start Date: January 20
Pray the St. Thomas Aquinas Novena here.
The great Franciscan saint, Saint Bonaventure, not only brought peace and order to the Franciscans during a time of great internal conflict, but also a renewed sense of Francis’ spirituality. He is often considered the second founder of the order because of the much needed renewal he brought to them.
Pope Gregory X insisted Bonaventure accept the role as Archbishop of Albano and sent him to the Second Council of Lyon, where Bonaventure made great contributions toward Church unity.
Saint Bonaventure earned the nickname the “Seraphic Doctor” because Jesus always remained at the center of his teaching, his writings, and his life.
Suggested Novena Start Date: July 7
Pray the St. Bonaventure Novena here.
During his time as Archbishop of Seville, Saint Isidore reunited the Church that had been divided by the Visagoths. He almost completely eradicated the Arian heresy in his area and stopped the spread of new heresies.
Isidore also helped establish Spain as a center of education and culture by emphasizing both the Christian faith and classical education. His encyclopedia, or Etymologiae, remained in use for over nine centuries which led some to refer to him as “the Schoolmaster of the Middle Ages.”
Suggested Novena Start Date: March 27
Pray the St. Isidore Novena here.
Pope Saint Leo I became the first pope to receive the title of “Great” and it’s easy to see why! Saint Leo had the gift of intellect as well as the ability to bring peace and resolution to conflict. His abilities led him to unanimously be named the Pope in 440.
During his papacy, Leo preached against Pelagianism and Manichaeism, and even persuaded Attila the Hun to stop his attack on Rome. Saint Leo the Great’s papacy has had a significant impact on the Church even until today.
Suggested Novena Start Date: November 2
Pray the Pope Leo the Great Novena here.
After growing up in poverty, Saint Peter Damian became a reforming Benedictine monk. His fervor led him to take on extreme penances, but also to devote himself to studying the Scriptures. Against his desires, he went on to become the abbot of his monastery and eventually, a cardinal.
Through these roles and through his writing, he helped bring needed reform to the Church, especially among the clergy. Dante even placed him in the highest circles in his Paradiso.
Suggested Novena Start Date: February 13
Pray the St. Peter Damian Novena here.
As the founder and abbot of the Abbey of Clairvaux, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux helped spread the Cisertian order throughout Europe. Despite living a life of contemplation at the Abbey, he had a great evangelical fervor and became known for his inspiring preaching and his theological writings.
The Church remembers Saint Bernard as a Doctor of Mariology, not because of his writing on Our Lady, but because of his great love for her and his deep understanding of her role in the Church.
Suggested Novena Start Date: August 12
Pray the St. Bernard of Clairvaux Novena here.
After his conversion to Christianity through Scripture, Saint Hilary became a Bishop of Poitiers and a staunch defender of the Church. When Arianism spread throughout the Church, Hilary was exiled for defending the faith and for refusing to condemn Athanasius at the request of the Emperor.
During his exile, Hilary continued to care for his diocese and wrote his two most important contributions to theology and Church doctrine: De synodis and De trinitate. When his exile ended, Hilary traveled through Greece and Italy preaching against heretics. His love and courage to defend Orthodoxy led to his nickname as “the Hammer of the Arians.”
Suggested Novena Start Date: January 5
Pray the St. Hilary of Poitiers Novena here.
At the age of 16, Saint Alphonsus Liguori received a doctorate in both civil and canon law; however, he soon gave up his practice and became a priest. He later founded the Redemptorists, an order dedicated to preaching and working among the poor.
Over his lifetime, Saint Alphonsus wrote over 100 works on Catholic spirituality and theology. He made some of the most significant contributions to Catholic Moral Theology and successfully defended the Church against the heresy of Jansenism.
Suggested Novena Start Date: July 24
Pray the St. Alphonsus Liguori Novena here.
Saint Francis de Sales became a priest during the time of the Protestant Reformation and attempted to bring those who were lost back to the true faith. Through his teaching and witness, it is believed that he reconverted thousands of Calvinists.
After becoming Bishop of Geneva, Francis became spiritual director to Saint Jane Frances de Chantel, with whom he later founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary or the Salesian Sisters. Through his spiritual direction with Jane, he combatted the idea that lay people were not meant for holiness and sainthood–an idea summed up in his most famous work Introduction to the Devout Life.
Suggested Novena Start Date: January 16
Pray the St. Francis de Sales Novena here.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria was an Egyptian bishop and theologian, best known for his role in the Council of Ephesus. During this Council, he strongly condemned the Nestorian heresy that was spreading during this time and helped establish the first Marian Dogma which affirms her title of “Mother of God.”
Suggested Novena Start Date: June 19
Pray the St. Cyril of Alexandria Novena here.
Saint John of the Cross, often called “The Mystical Doctor,” founded the Discalced Carmelites along with Saint Teresa of Avila. As tensions rose between the Calced and Discalced Carmelites, a group opposed to the reform imprisoned John for several months; during this time of suffering, he composed a great part of his most famous poem Spiritual Canticle.
After his escape, he helped establish several monasteries throughout Spain and continued to write poetry that focused on the soul’s journey to God. His most famous work The Dark Night of the Soul is still considered a poetic masterpiece, not only in Spain, but within the Church.
Suggested Novena Start Date: December 6
Pray the St. John of the Cross Novena here.
Saint Robert Bellarmine was an Italian Jesuit scholar and cardinal, as well as a significant figure in the Counter-Reformation. His three-volume Disputations on the Controversies defended the Catholic faith against the arguments of the Protestant reformers.
Ballarmine acted as a spiritual father of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, helped St. Francis de Sales obtain formal approval of his Order, and attempted, though unsuccessfully, to defend Galileo Galilei.
St. Robert Bellarmine is the patron saint of catechists and catechumens.
Suggested Novena Start Date: September 9
Pray the St. Robert Bellarmine Novena here.
While most often invoked, even among non-Catholics, to help to find lost items, Saint Anthony of Padua’s legacy in the Church goes far beyond that.
Anthony became the first theologian in the Franciscan order and expertly preached the faith with fervor and eloquence, earning him the nickname “the Evangelical Doctor.” His tongue remains incorrupt as a testament to his great teaching.
Suggested Novena Start Date: June 5
Pray the St. Anthony Novena here.
During her time as a Carmelite, Saint Teresa of Avila had many mystical experiences– seeing visions of both Jesus and Mary. She wrote extensively about her experience with prayer in her well-known works The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle which have shaped Christian spirituality and our understanding of contemplation.
Saint Teresa also worked to reform the Carmelite order and founded many convents committed to contemplative prayer. Her numerous contributions to the Church lead Pope Paul VI to name her the first woman Doctor.
Suggested Novena Start Date: October 7
Pray the St. Teresa of Avila Novena here.
During her time as a Third Order Dominican, Saint Catherine of Siena experienced several mystical experiences recorded in her Dialogues. She received the stigma (though not visible during her lifetime), and entered into an extraordinary union with God known as a “mystical marriage.”
In addition to her deep prayer life, she also became an influential figure in the Church, boldly calling its leaders, including, the Pope to holiness. Many consider her to have single-handedly ended the Avignon papacy, and helped bring about peace and reconciliation between the Pope and those who opposed him.
She is one of the four female doctors of the Church.
Suggested Novena Start Date: April 21
Pray the St. Catherine of Siena Novena here.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower, was once described as “the greatest saint of modern times.” This privilege may seem surprising for a young woman who spent much of her life as a cloistered French Carmelite; however, her spiritual autobiography Story of a Soul, which describes her “little way” of spiritual perfection, remains an influential and beloved work in the Church.
Suggested Novena Start Date: September 23
Pray the St. Therese Novena here.
Saint Irenaeus was the most recently named Doctor of the Church, despite being one of the earliest born saints on this list. As a bishop and the most prominent theologian of his time, Irenaeus played a primary role in developing Christian theology and defining orthodoxy.
His major work Against Heresies exposed Gnostic cults and provided thoughtful defense of Christianity; historically it remains important as the first compendium of Christian theology.
Suggested Novena Start Date: June 20
Pray the St. Irenaeus Novena here.
Which Doctor of the Church do you plan to pray with? Leave a comment and let us know. As always, please feel free to leave your prayer intentions with us below.