|"If you are
what you should be,
you will set the whole world on fire!"
-St. Catherine of Siena
Catherine was born in Siena, Italy on March 25, 1347
to an enormous lower middle-class family; she was one of twenty-five
children. In her early childhood Catherine began to see visions
and was already living an extremely austere life. At the age
of seven she consecrated her virginity to Christ. When she
turned sixteen, Catherine took the habit of the Third Order
of St. Dominic and "cloistered" herself in a little
room in her parent's house. After three years of mystical
experiences and a deepening relationship with Christ, she
rejoined her family and began to serve the sick, especially
those afflicted with the most repulsive diseases, to care
for the poor, and to labor for the conversion of sinners.
Catherine experienced terrible physical suffering
and would live however for long periods on no food except
the Blessed Sacrament. Through these periods, she was always
joyful, happy, and full of practical wisdom. In her life,
Catherine was also continually misunderstood even by the friars
and tertiaries of her own Order. Even so, men and women attracted
to her charm, her love of God, and her extraordinary virtue
began to form a spiritual fellowship around her. During the
summer of 1370, she received a series of special visions which
revealed to her sacred mysteries of her faith. These visions
culminated in a prolonged trance, a kind of "mystical
death," in which she had both a vision of hell, purgatory,
and heaven and heard a divine command to leave her cell and
enter the public life of the world.
At this point in her life and through aids,
since she herself was illiterate, Catherine began to send
letters to men and women in every state of life, even entering
into correspondence with the princes and republics of Italy.
Her reputation as a woman of wisdom only grew, and soon she
was consulted by papal legates about the affairs of the Church.
Amazingly, this little woman began corresponding with Pope
Gregory XI, who, due to the divisions and hostility of the
time, was exiled in Avignon, France. Catherine passionately
urged Pope Gregory XI to come back to Rome and to reform the
clergy and the administration of the Papal State.
Catherine's mystical experiences with Jesus
continued. While at Pisa on the fourth Sunday of Lent, 1375,
Catherine received the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ.
However, because she had specially requested it from the Lord,
the marks did not appear outwardly in her body while she lived.
Mainly through the misgovernment of the papal
officials, war broke out between Florence and the Holy See,
and nearly all of the Papal States rose in insurrection. Catherine
had already been sent on a mission from the pope to secure
the neutrality of Pisa and Lucca. In June, 1376, she went
to Avignon as the peacemaker of the Florentines, but her case
for whatever reason was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, she made
such a strong impression upon the pope, that, in spite of
the opposition of the French king and almost the entire Sacred
College, he returned to Rome on January 17, 1377.
Catherine spent most of the year 1377 in putting
into effect a successful spiritual revival in the country
districts subject to the Republic of Siena. At this time she
miraculously learned to write. Early in 1378 she was sent
by Pope Gregory XI to Florence to try again to make peace.
Unfortunately, in the midst of many factions, Catherine became
involved in the internal politics of the city, and during
a popular tumult on June 22, an attempt was made on her life.
She was bitterly disappointed at her escape, declaring that
her sins had deprived her of the red rose of martyrdom.
At the beginning of August, Catherine heard
the news that peace had been reached between the republic
and the new pope. She instantly returned to Siena, where she
spent a few quiet months dictating her "Dialogue,"
the book of her meditations and revelations.
In the meantime, the Great Schism had broken
out in the Church. From the outset, Catherine enthusiastically
adhered to the Roman claimant of the papacy, Urban VI, who
in November, 1378, summoned her to Rome. In Rome she spent
the rest of her life, working strenuously for the reformation
of the Church, serving the poor and afflicted, and composing
handfuls of eloquent letters on behalf of Pope Urban. Catherine,
however, was coming to the end of her life and had been spending
every drop of her energy. She begged Jesus to let her bear
the punishment for all the sins of the world, and asked Him
to receive the sacrifice of her body for the unity and renovation
of the Church. At last it seemed to her that the entire life
of the Church was laid upon her shoulders, and that it was
crushing her to death with its weight. After a prolonged and
mysterious agony of three months, which she endured with exultation
and delight, she died. Her last political work, finished practically
from her death-bed, was the reconciliation of Pope Urban VI
with the Roman Republic (1380).
Catherine was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461. Her writings
rank among the classics of the Italian language. They consist
of "The Dialogue," a mystical exchange between the
Father and a soul; a collection of nearly four hundred letters,
many of which are addressed to popes, rulers, and leaders
of armies; and a series of "prayers."
source: St. Joseph province website
Drawn by Love
a compre-hensive collection of writings and commentary on Catherine of Siena compiled by Fr.Thomas McDermott, OP
Books by Suzanne Noffke, OP,
a leading Catherine scholar
Catherine of Siena: Woman of the Church
Woman for the World
produced by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose
Immersed In God’s Creation: Catherine of Siena
produced by the Earth Council of the Northeast Dominicans