SAINT CATHERINE of SIENA (1347-1380), virgin and Doctor of the Church – Patron saint of Italy, nurses and those suffering from illness
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Catherine of Siena, who, throughout the course of her life, was guided into completely surrendering herself to the will of Christ, for it was His will which she valued most highly. What religious scholars and historians viewed as most impressive about her is that she learned that her surrender to her Lord is a goal which is to be realized throughout one’s lifetime.
Catherine, the youngest of 23 children, was born on March 25, 1347 in Siena in the region of Tuscany, Italy. She exhibited an unusually independent character as a child and an exceptionally intense prayer life. When she was seven years old, she had the first of her mystical visions, in which she saw Jesus surrounded by saints and seated in glory.
In the same year, she vowed to consecrate her virginity to Christ. When, at the age of sixteen, her parents decided that she should marry, she cut off her hair to make herself less appealing, and her father, realizing that he was not able to contend with her resolve, let her have her way.
She entered the Dominican Third Order at the age of eighteen 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. As a result, 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. 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, Italy and Pope Gregory XI.
This mystical communion that was at the heart of Catherine’s spirituality inspired her to reach out to the poor and suffering of Siena. When the Black Death swept through her city, she had no hesitation working as a nurse caring for the victims,. She dug graves for those who died of the plague and then buried them properly herself. She accompanied prisoners who were condemned to death to the place of execution waiting with them and praying for them to the end.
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 Pope Urban VI and the unity of the Church.
Offering herself as a victim for the Church in its agony, and exhausted by her efforts for Church unity, Catherine died at the young age of thirty-three on April 29, 1380. She was canonized a saint by Pope Pius II in 1461, and was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Saint Paul VI in 1970.
Saint Catherine left us nearly four hundred letters of spiritual instruction, a series of prayers, and the “Dialogue”, a treatise on Divine Providence.
We commemorate her feastday on April 29.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, newadvent.org and stcatherine-ml.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Catherine of Siena)
“Father, in meditating on the sufferings of Your Son and in serving Your Church, Saint Catherine was filled with the fervor of Your Love. By her prayers, may we share in the mystery of Christ’s Death and rejoice in the revelation of His Glory, for He lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”