About St Catherine

Perhaps the best known Dominican woman, Catherine was the youngest of 23 children born into the Benincasa family in Siena, Italy on 25th March 1347

At the age of 7 Catherine had a vision of Christ set over the Church of San Domenico. She later explained that she had vowed her virginity to Christ on that day.

At the age of 13 Catherine joined a branch of the Dominican Order as a laywoman and ,such was her reputation for holiness and wisdom, that a group of men and women gathered around her and were known as the Caterinata.

Her most famous writings “The Dialogue”; a series of conversations between herself and Christ show the amazing relationship that existed between them. Catherine’s Letters were written to many followers and were a tremendous source of Catherine’s teachings.

Catherine was an amazing woman. From being illiterate she became a woman who was fearless in her work for the Church. Her reputation eventually brought her to public attention where she became involved in Italian Political Life.

In 1376 she went to Avignon as a mediator and managed to persuade Pope Gregory X1 to return to Rome. However, the Great Western Schism began with his successor Urban V1 who returned to Avignon. Catherine was worn out with all the stress and died in Siena in 1380.

Catherine was canonised in 1461 and in 1970 Pope Paul V1th proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church. Catherine’s feastday is celebrated on April 29th each year.

( Sr. Patricia O’Reilly OP)

“The value Catherine makes central in her short life and which sounds clearly andlongdom

consistently through her experience is complete surrender to Christ. What is most

impressive about her is that she learns to view her surrender to her Lord as a goal to

be reached through time.

She was the 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa and grew up as an intelligent,

cheerful and intensely religious person. Catherine disappointed her mother by cutting

off her hair as a protest against being overly encouraged to improve her appearance in

order to attract a husband. Her father ordered her to be left in peace, and she was

given a room of her own for prayer and meditation.

She entered the Dominican Third Order at 18 and spent the next three years in

seclusion, prayer and austerity. Gradually a group of followers gathered around

her; men and women, priests and religious. An active public apostolate grew out of

her contemplative life. Her letters, mostly for spiritual instruction and encouragement

of her followers, began to take more and more note of public affairs. Opposition and

slander resulted from her mixing fearlessly with the world and speaking with the

candor and authority of one completely committed to Christ. She was cleared of all

charges at the Dominican General Chapter of 1374.

Her public influence reached great heights because of her evident holiness, her

membership in the Dominican Third Order, and the deep impression she made on the

pope. She worked tirelessly for the crusade against the Turks and for peace between

Florence and the pope

In 1378, the Great Schism began, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between

two, then three, popes and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the

last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of

Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church

in its agony. She died surrounded by her “children” and was canonized in 1461.

Catherine ranks high among the mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. In 1939,

she and Francis of Assisi were declared co-patrons of Italy. Paul VI named her and

Teresa of Avila doctors of the Church in 1970. Her spiritual testament is found in The


Ref http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1368


She was the youngest but one of a very large family. Her father, Giacomo di Benincasa, was a dyer;

her mother, Lapa, the daughter of a local poet. They belonged to the lower middle-class faction of

tradesmen and petty notaries, known as “the Party of the Twelve”, which between one revolution

and another ruled the Republic of Siena from 1355 to 1368. From her earliest childhood Catherine

began to see visions and to practise extreme austerities. At the age of seven she consecrated her

virginity to Christ; in her sixteenth year she took the habit of the Dominican Tertiaries, and renewed

the life of the anchorites of the desert in a little room in her father’s house.

After three years of celestial visitations and familiar conversation with Christ, she underwent the mystical experience

known as the “spiritual espousals”, probably during the carnival of 1366. She now rejoined her

family, began to tend the sick, especially those afflicted with the most repulsive diseases, to serve

the poor, and to labour for the conversion of sinners. Though always suffering terrible physical

pain, living for long intervals on practically no food save the Blessed Sacrament, she was ever

radiantly happy and full of practical wisdom no less than the highest spiritual insight. All her

contemporaries bear witness to her extraordinary personal charm, which prevailed over the

continual persecution to which she was subjected even by the friars of her own order and by her

sisters in religion. She began to gather disciples round her, both men and women, who formed a

wonderful spiritual fellowship, united to her by the bonds of mystical love. During the summer of

1370 she received a series of special manifestations of Divine mysteries, which culminated in a

prolonged trance, a kind of mystical death, in which she had a vision of Hell, Purgatory, and

Heaven, and heard a Divine command to leave her cell and enter the public life of the world. She

began to dispatch letters to men and women in every condition of life, entered into correspondence

with the princes and republics of Italy, was consulted by the papal legates about the affairs of the

Church, and set herself to heal the wounds of her native land by staying the fury of civil war and the

ravages of faction. She implored the pope, Gregory XI, to leave Avignon, to reform the clergy and

the administration of the Papal States, and ardently threw herself into his design for a crusade, in the

hopes of uniting the powers of Christendom against the infidels, and restoring peace to Italy by

delivering her from the wandering companies of mercenary soldiers. While at Pisa, on the fourth

Sunday of Lent, 1375, she received the Stigmata, although, at her special prayer, the marks did not

appear outwardly in her body while she lived.

The works of St. Catherine of Siena rank among the classics of the Italian language, written in the

beautiful Tuscan vernacular of the fourteenth century. Notwithstanding the existence of many

excellent manuscripts, the printed editions present the text in a frequently mutilated and most

unsatisfactory condition. Her writings consist of the “Dialogue”, or “Treatise on Divine

Providence”; a collection of nearly four hundred letters; and a series of “Prayers”. The “Dialogue”

especially, which treats of the whole spiritual life of man in the form of a series of colloquies

between the Eternal Father and the human soul (represented by Catherine herself), is the mystical

counterpart in prose of Dante’s “Divina Commedia”.

A smaller work in the dialogue form, the “Treatise on Consummate Perfection”, is also ascribed to

her, but is probably spurious. It is impossible in a few words to give an adequate conception of the

manifold character and contents of the “Letters”, which are the most complete expression of

Catherine’s many-sided personality. While those addressed to popes and sovereigns, rulers of

republics and leaders of armies, are documents of priceless value to students of history, many of

those written to private citizens, men and women in the cloister or in the world, are as fresh and

illuminating, as wise and practical in their advice and guidance for the devout Catholic today as

they were for those who sought her counsel while she lived. Others, again, lead the reader to

mystical heights of contemplation, a rarefied atmosphere of sanctity in which only the few

privileged spirits can hope to dwell. The key-note to Catherine’s teaching is that man, whether in the

cloister or in the world, must ever abide in the cell of self-knowledge, which is the stable in which

the traveller through time to eternity must be born again.

Ref: http://www.domsistersnigeria.org/viewcontent2.php?tab=3St-Catherine-of-Sienna