North Dakota millennial woman advances toward sainthood after the ‘heroic sanctity’ of her cancer battle

Michelle Duppong of North Dakota lived for only 31 years before she died of cancer on Christmas Day in 2015 — but she is now one step closer to being recognized as a canonized saint in the Catholic Church

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, the bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Fall General Assembly voted unanimously to approve the advancing of Duppong’s cause for canonization on the local level.

This means that investigations into her life will continue before they’re eventually sent to the Vatican for further consideration, as church officials at the conference noted.

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Born on Jan. 25, 1984, Michelle Christine Duppong was raised in a Catholic family in Haymarsh, North Dakota, said church officials at the conference as they recounted her life story.

In 2006, she graduated from North Dakota State University. She became a Catholic missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). 

After spending six years in that role on four different college campuses, she accepted a job in 2012 as the director of adult faith formation for the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota. 

On Dec. 29, 2014, she was “unexpectedly” diagnosed with advanced abdominal cancer. She fought the disease for almost a year before dying on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2015.

In June 2022, Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck started Duppong’s cause for canonization. 

He said that her “holiness of life and love for God certainly touched us here in the Diocese of Bismarck, at the University of Mary, and throughout FOCUS, but hers is a witness which should also be shared with the Universal Church,” as shared on the diocesan website.

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On Nov. 1, 2022, Kagan declared Duppong to be “Servant of God Michelle Duppong” during a Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck (see the Mass in the video link, below). 

This Mass marked the formal opening of the cause for canonization, noted the website.

With Kagan’s opening of the cause for canonization, there will now be investigations into her life, noted church officials at the conference. 

Part of this process involves inviting the bishops to provide their input on her cause. 

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, speaking on behalf of Kagan to his brother bishops on Wednesday, said that Duppong had a “profound impact on those who knew her.”

Duppong displayed “heroic sanctity” during her battle with cancer, said Listecki — and was a “heroic model of Christian suffering.” 

During her life, Duppong was “known for her joyful witness of the gospel.” 

She had a zeal for sharing her faith with others, said Listecki.

Since her death, her gravesite in Haymarsh has become a place of pilgrimage, explained Listecki.

He said her parents have received many reports “attesting to the favors attributed to Michelle’s intercession.” In particular, people have attributed her intercession related to cancer and infertility, said Listecki. 

None of these occurrences have been confirmed as miracles by the Vatican, however. 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas said Wednesday that he had “heard many incredible stories” of Duppong’s life and work — and that “her impact is beyond North Dakota, for sure.” 

While “all Christians are called to be saints,” according to the USCCB website, “saints are persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.”

After a person dies, there is typically a five-year waiting period before the process toward canonization begins, says the USCCB. 

Once the person has been approved by the Vatican and declared to have lived a holy life, the person is declared “Venerable,” according to the Vatican’s website.

After this step, the Vatican has to approve of a miracle attributed to the intercession of the potential saint. 

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Usually, this involves a medical healing that cannot be explained otherwise by science.

Purported miracles can be submitted for investigation to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, which is the organization that determines the legitimacy of these claims. 

Scientists and doctors will vote on whether the alleged miracle can be explained by science, the Vatican website says.

Once the miracle is approved, the person is “beatified” and given the title of “Blessed.” 

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A second confirmed miracle is required prior to canonization in most cases, says the Vatican website.

There are a handful of U.S. citizen saints, according to the Vatican website: St. Frances Cabrini, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Katharine Drexel, among others. 

There are also several Americans who have been declared “blessed,” including Bl. Michael McGivney, Bl. Solanus Casey and Bl. Stanley Rother. 

Should she eventually be canonized, Duppong could become the first American who lived in the 21st century to become a saint. 

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