Bishop Rafael Guizar Valencia (1878–1938) was canonized in Rome on Oct. 15, 2006, by Pope Benedict XVI. He was the seventh Knight of Columbus and the first bishop/Knight to be declared a saint. His feast day is celebrated on October 24th.
Rafael Guizar Valencia was born in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacan, Mexico, on April 16, 1878. He was ordained a priest in 1901. With the start of the Mexican revolution in 1910, persecution of the Catholic Church became severe, and Guizar became a special target because of his outspoken defense of the Church.
He went underground – disguised as a junk dealer – to continue his work as a priest. In 1915, when the Mexican government ordered that he be shot on sight, he escaped to the United States, and then went on to serve the Church in Guatemala and Cuba.
While in Cuba, he was consecrated as bishop of Veracruz, Mexico. The end of the revolution enabled him to return to Mexico in January 1920, and he joined Knights of Columbus Council 2311 in Jalapa, Veracruz, on Aug. 16, 1923.
As bishop, he founded a clandestine seminary to train future priests, noting that “A bishop can do without a mitre, a crosier, and even a cathedral, but never without a seminary, because the future of his diocese depends on the seminary.”
Bishop Guizar Valencia was forced to flee Mexico once again in 1927 during the persecution of the Church under Mexican President Plutarco Calles. He returned in 1929, the year the Church reached an accord with the Mexican government, in part because of successful lobbying by the Knights of Columbus to get the U.S. government to take an active role in solving the crisis.
After his return to Mexico, Bishop Guizar Valencia continued his ministry, and became known as “the bishop of the poor.” He died of natural causes on June 6, 1938, and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Jan. 29, 1995.