St. Catherine of Siena
For Christ Alone
St. Catherine of Siena, born Caterina Benincasa, was born in Siena, Italy on March 25, 1347 to a very large family. At a very young age, Catherine experienced her first vision of Christ. Just a year later, at the age of 7, she is said to have consecrated her virginity to Christ and experienced mystical visions. When she was 12, she told her parents that she did not wish to be married. She wanted to devote her life to God.
However, when her parents tried to force her to marry her sister’s widower, Catherine responded by fasting and cutting her hair in an attempt to make herself as unattractive as possible. Despite Catherine’s religious nature, she did not choose to enter a convent and instead she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, which allowed her to associate with a religious society while living at home. At 15, in 1363, Catherine joined the “Mantellate”, a group of Dominican laywomen in Siena. They were devoted to offering service to their neighbors with generosity rather than out of obligation.
Marriage with Christ
Catherine was the first young woman ever to join the Mantellate. All of the other members were widowed and some did not wish to accept a member of such a young age. Many believed that the Mantellate taught Catherine to read and write. Catherine began to attract people who were drawn by her humility, piety and generosity to the poor.
When she was 21, Catherine had an experience of what she referred to as her “mystical marriage to Christ”. Such mystical experience changed Catherine’s life. In her vision, she was told to return to public life and to help the sick and the poor. And so, she was moved to immediately pursue her mission. In the process, she attracted followers who helped her serving the poor.
Admonishing the Pope
Her ministry eventually moved beyond the confines of her local community. Catherine began to travel and called for reform of the Church and for people to confess and to love God totally. She involved herself in politics and worked to keep the city states loyal to the Pope.
In 1376, Catherine worked to repair the breach between Pope Gregory XI and a league of northern Italian states led by Florence. Since 1305, the papacy had been a cause of division among the Italians and the French. The conflict with the emperor and the turmoil in Rome had forced the popes to retreat to Avignon. It became clear to Catherine that Pope Gregory XI’s return to Rome from Avignon was the only way to bring peace to Italy. Catherine shared with the popular Italian desire to restore the papacy to Rome. Pope Gregory XI was willing, but his influential French advisers resisted.
And so, Catherine conducted a campaign of letters to all sides and even offered to mediate directly. She wrote to Pope Gregory XI six times, admonishing him to return to Rome. Encouraged by the people of Florence, Catherine went to Avignon on a peacemaking mission where she met with Pope Gregory XI. Not long after the encounter, Pope Gregory XI returned the papacy to Rome. Catherine’s efforts to reconcile the pope and the Italian states finally succeeded during the reign of Pope Urban VI, Gregory XI’s successor.
Her Last Years
From the year 1375, Catherine started to dictate letters to scribes. In 1377, Catherine established a monastery for women outside of Siena. She is credited with composing about 380 letters, 26 prayers and her definitive work, the Dialogue.
Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Pope Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. In 1380, Catherine died in Rome at the age of 33. She was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461. Her feast day is April 29.
5 Interesting Facts About St. Catherine of Siena
- St. Catherine of Siena is the patroness against fire, illness, the United States, Italy, miscarriages, people ridiculed for their faith, sexual temptation, and nurses.
- St. Catherine of Siena is one of only four female Doctors of the Church. The other three are Teresa of Ávila, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Hildegard of Bingen. She was declared with this title in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
- St. Catherine of Siena was made co-patroness of Rome in 1866 by Pope Pius IX, co-patroness of Italy in 1939 by Pope Pius XII, and co-patroness of Europe in 1999 by Pope John Paul II.
- St. Catherine of Siena was so joyful as a child that her family called her “Euphrosyne,” Greek for “joy.”
- In 1375, St. Catherine of Siena received the stigmata that, according to the biography written by her confessor, was only visible to herself per her request of God.
Prayer to St. Catherine of Siena
O God, who set Saint Catherine of Siena on fire with divine lovein her contemplation of the Lord’s Passionand her service of your Church,grant, through her intercession,that your people,participating in the mystery of Christ,may ever exult in the revelation of his glory.Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.