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Great Biographies of Great Catholics

For chronological listing by date of subject, simply scroll down.

NB: The publication year indicates the earliest version in English that I am aware of, though prior editions--perhaps in other languages--might well exist, and later editions have often been published.



Paul, St. (c.3-c.67) Apostle, Martyr

     Igino Giordani, St. Paul: Apostle and Martyr, 1946, 286. Designed as a beginner biography, but laced with genuine insights. 



Jerome, St. (331-420) Translator, Theologian

     J. N. D. Kelley, Jerome: His Life, Writings and Controversies, 353 pages. Superb study by brilliant Protestant scholar of the ancient Church.



Augustine, St. (354-430) Bishop, Theologian

     Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, 2000, 576 pages. Will never be surpassed, will probably never be equaled.



Thomas Aquinas, St. (1225-1274) Scholar

     G. K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox, 1933, 197 pages. Gilson called this the most insightful study of St. Thomas ever written. Presumes no philosophical or theological training.



Catherine of Siena, St. (1347-1380) Mystic

     Sigrid Undset, Catherine of Siena, 1953, 293 pages. Suggested source: The Advanced Book Exchange. A Nobel Prize winning novelist studies a Doctor of the Church, highly readable.



John Fisher, St. (1469-1535) Bishop, Martyr

     E. E. Reynolds, Saint John Fisher, 1955, 329 pages. Will doubtless remain the top biography of this great saint for decades to come.



Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal (c.1471-1530) Politician

  • Albert F. Pollard, Wolsey: Church and State in Sixteenth-Century England, 1929, 393 pages. All right, so Wolsey was perhaps not a "great" Catholic, nevertheless, with Belloc, I conclude that Wolsey died reconciled, and that his life teaches many important lessons for today, even if, too frequently, via negativa.

  • G. Cavendish, The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey, 1588/1959. R. Sylvester reproduces the original Renaissance English text of Wolsey's long-time aid, and provides excellent notes.


Thomas More, St. (1477/8-1535) Statesman, Martyr
  • R. W. Chambers, Thomas More, 1935, 416 pages. A difficult call, but among so many fine studies, this is still the best.

  • E. E. Reynolds, Saint Thomas More, 1957, 350 pages & The Field is Won: The Life and Death of St. Thomas More, 1968, 396 pages. Incredibly, two excellent biographies from different perspectives by the same superb author.

  • James Monti, The King's Servant But God's First, 1997. The best study of More's spirituality as reflected in his writings. See my full-length review here

  • Gerard Wegemer, Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage, 1995. A thematic study of More's cultivation of courage throughout his life in such a way that it would be there when he needed it most. 

  • Christopher Hollis, Thomas More, 1934, 255 pages. Introductory, but well done. 


Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) Bishop, Anglican
  • Hilaire Belloc, Cranmer: Archbishop of Cantebury 1533-1556, 1931, 333 pages. Far from savaging the once-Catholic Cranmer, Belloc tries, in his way, to understand the man and credit his legitimate insights. 

  • Theodore Maynard, The Life of Thomas Cranmer, 1956, 242 pages. Suggested source: The Advanced Book Exchange. A thoroughly Catholic study, easy to read, and differs with Belloc on several significant points.


Margaret (More) Roper (1505-1544) Lay Women

     E. E. Reynolds, Margaret Roper: Eldest Daughter of St. Thomas More, 1960, 149 pages. Suggested source: The Advanced Book Exchange. The consummate biographer of the More Circle briefly but insightfully presents the life of More's eldest daughter. 



Edmund Campion, St. (1540-1581) Priest, Martryr

     Evelyn Waugh, Saint Edmund Campion: Saint and Martyr, 1935, 252 pages. Beautiful history beautifully told. 



Robert Bellarmine, St. (1542-1621) Bishop, Reformer

     James Brodrick, Robert Bellarmine: Saint & Scholar, 1961, 430 pages. Suggested source: The Advanced Book Exchange. Balanced and truly informative.



Armand Richelieu, Cardinal (1585-1642) Statesman

     Hilaire Belloc, Richelieu: A Study, 1929, 392 pages. More of an analysis than an exposition of the last of the great clerical statesmen. Assumes significant knowledge of French history, but well rewards the effort. 


W. A. Mozart (1756-1791) Composer, Musician

     Marcia Davenport, Mozart, 1932, 400 pages. Most balanced of the major studies of this enigmatic man. 



John Marie Vianney, St. (1786-1859) Pastor, Confessor

     Francis Trochu, The Cure D'Ars : St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney, 1950, 576 pages. Universally regarded as the classic life.



Pius IX, Pope (1792-1878)

     E. E. Y. Hales, Pio Nono: A Study in European Politics and Religion in the 19th Century, 1954, 352 pages. Suggested source: The Advanced Book Exchange. Highly readable.



William Joseph Chaminade, Bl. (1761-1849) Religious

     Louis Reile, Running Giant, 1966, 204 pages. Suggested source: The Advanced Book Exchange. Not a scholarly study (indeed, written as a novel), but the thoroughly engrossing story of an unsung hero. 



Orestes A. Brownson (1803-1876) Political Commentator

     Thomas R. Ryan, Orestes A Brownson: A Definitive Biography, 1976, 872 pages. Exactly as described.



Janet Erskine Stuart (1857-1914) Educator

     Maud Monahan, Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart: Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, 1922. 524 pages. Study of a religious who devoted herself to the education of young girls. Suggested source: The Advanced Book Exchange



Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) Controversialist, Poet, Historian


G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) Journalist


Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) Novelist
     A. H. Winsnes, Sigrid Undset: A Study in Christian Realism, 1953, 258 pages. Examined and substantially approved by Undset herself. Should be read after reading several of Undset's works.


Adrienne Von Speyr (1902-1967) Mystic

     Hans Urs Von Balthasar, First Glance at Adrienne Von Speyr, 1981, 249 pages. Excellent starting point.




Walker Percy (1916-1990) Novelist, Commentator

     Patrick Samway, Walker Percy: A Life, 1997, 506 pages. Samway had unprecedented access to Percy himself, as well as to his materials, and he made superb use of same.



John Paul II, Pope (b. 1920)

 George Weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, 1998, 1008 pages. Monumental achievement.