Saint Catherine of Siena
Virgin and Doctor
(March 25, 1347 - April 29, 1380)
Saint Catherine of Siena, O.P.was a Tertiary (a lay affiliate) of the Dominican Order, and a scholastic philosopher and theologian. Catherine Benincasa was born into a prosperous urban family, her parents being Giacomo di Benincasa, a cloth-dyer, and Lapa Piagenti, a daughter of a local poet. She was the 23rd child out of 25 (Catherine’s twin sister, the 24th, died at birth).
A native of Siena, Catherine
received no formal education. At the age of seven she consecrated her virginity
to Christ despite her family's opposition. Her parents wanted her to live a
normal life and marry, but against her parents' will, she dedicated her life to
praying, meditating and living in total solitude into her late teens. At the age
of sixteen, she took the habit of the Dominican Tertiaries.
Catherine dedicated her life to helping the ill and the poor, where she took care of them in hospitals or homes. She rounded up a group of followers, both women and men, and traveled with them along Northern Italy where they asked for a reform of the clergy, the launch of a new crusade and advised people that repentance and renewal could be done through "the total love for God." Catherine also dedicated her life to the study of religious texts.
In about 1366, St Catherine experienced what she described in her letters as a "Mystical Marriage" with Jesus, after which she began to tend the sick and serve the poor. In 1370, she received a series of visions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, after which she heard a command to leave her withdrawn life and enter the public life of the world. Being illiterate, she dictated several letters to men and women in authority, especially begging for peace between the republics and principalities of Italy and for the return of the Papacy from Avignon to Rome. She carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, also asking him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States.
In June of 1376 Catherine went to Avignon herself as ambassador of Florence to make peace with the Papal States, but was unsuccessful. She had tried to convince Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome. She impressed the Pope so much that he returned his administration to Rome in January, 1377. During the Western Schism of 1378 she was an adherent of Pope Urban VI, who summoned her to Rome, and stayed at Pope Urban VI's court and tried to convince nobles and cardinals of his legitimacy. She lived in Rome until her death in 1380. The problems of the Western Schism would trouble her until the end of her life.
St Catherine's letters are considered one of the great works of early Tuscan literature. More than 300 letters have survived. In her letters to the Pope, she often referred to him affectionately as "Papa" or "Daddy" ("Babbo" in Italian). Her major work is "The Dialogue of Divine Providence."
St Catherine died of a stroke in Rome, the spring of 1380, at the age of thirty-three. The people of Siena wished to have her body. There is a myth that explains how Catherine's head was able to get to Siena, where it has been entombed in the Basilica of San Domenico. The people of Siena knew they could not get her whole body past Roman guards and decided to take only her head which they placed in a bag.
They were still stopped by guards and they prayed to St Catherine to help them because they knew Catherine would rather be in Siena. When they opened the bag to show the guards, it no longer held her head, but was full of rose petals. Once they got back to Siena they reopened the bag and her head reappeared. Due of this myth, St Catherine is often seen holding a rose.
Saint Catherine's body is buried in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, which is near the Pantheon.
Pope Pius II canonized St Catherine in the year 1461. Her feast day, at the time, was not included in the Tridentine Calendar. When it was later added to the Roman Calendar, it was put on April 30, the day after she died, owing to the fact that the feast of Saint Saint Peter of Verona was on April 29. In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, it was decided to leave the celebration of the feast of St Peter of Verona to local calendars, because he was not as well known worldwide, and Saint Catherine's feast was moved to April 29. Other Christians also, including Lutherans, celebrate her feast on the day of her death. Traditional Roman Catholics continue to commemorate St Catherine's feast on April 30.
Pope Paul VI gave her the title of Doctor of the Church in 1970, making her the first woman, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, to receive this honor. In 1999, Pope John Paul II made her one of Europe's patron saints. She is also the patroness of the historically Catholic American sorority, Theta Phi Alpha.
She is the Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Francis of Assisi.
Patron also: Against fire; bodily ills; Europe; fire prevention; firefighters; illness; Italy; miscarriages; nurses; nursing services; people ridiculed for their piety; sexual temptation; sick people; sickness; Siena, Italy; temptations.
Symbols: Cross; heart; lily; ring; stigmata.
Things to Do:
If you have never done so today would be a good time to read some of St. Catherine's Dialogue.
Learn more about the Order of Preachers founded by St. Dominic.
Pray the........Liturgy of the Hours