Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

April 28, 2017

The Pastor's Page

StKate

St. Catherine was born in Siena, Italy, in 1347, the youngest of twenty-five children.  As a young girl she had a vigorous spiritual life, and her mystical experiences began at age six when she reported her first vision when Jesus appeared to her along with Peter, Paul, and John.

When Catherine was sixteen, her parents insisted that she prepare for marriage.  Catherine steadfastly refused, cut off her long hair, and reserved herself completely for Jesus.  In an effort to seek greater spiritual perfection, she then joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, a lay religious association.  She wore a Dominican habit but continued to live at home.

At age nineteen, Catherine had another profound mystical experience.  Both Jesus and his mother Mary appeared to her, and during this encounter she entered a spiritual marriage in which she became the bride of Christ and Jesus became her divine spouse.

Catherine dedicated herself to a life of solitude, intense prayer, and severe fasting, and she restricted herself to the least amount of food to survive.  Later, she also felt called to a life of service, left her home, and began to care for lepers and cancer patients, as well as those afflicted by the famine of 1370 and the plague of 1374.  She did much to promote harmony between rival factions in the city of Siena.  Because of her apostolic zeal, others joined her, and she challenged them to reform and repent, a message welcomed by her followers, but harshly criticized by those who felt her preaching was out of place for a lay woman.

As Catherine and her associates traveled about Italy, she visited Pisa in 1375.  She made a visit to the Church of Santa Cristina, and while she was in prayer before a crucifix she was given the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion, visible to herself but not to others.

The Church was deeply divided by the Avignon Papacy which had begun in 1309, a scandal in which the Pope resided in France, not Rome.  Catherine was a fierce advocate for unity in the Church, and initially sent a letter to Pope Gregory XI requesting that he return to Rome.  Catherine went to Avignon during the summer of 1376 to make a personal plea.  Gregory XI left France in September, and arrived in Rome on January 17, 1377.

Catherine contributed greatly to the spiritual writings of the Church.  Not a writer herself, she dictated her thoughts to a number of secretaries.  She composed many prayers, 382 letters, and her most significant work, the Dialogue of Divine Providence, a treatise on the spiritual life that included some of her mystical experiences.

Pope Gregory XI died on March 27, 1378, and his successor, Pope Urban VI, asked Catherine to come to Rome.  Catherine was weak because of her severe fasting, and the journey to Rome led to exhaustion.  In January, 1380, she went into convulsions and then into a coma.  Four months later she suffered a stroke and died on April 29, 1380, and she was buried under the altar in the basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Catherine was canonized a saint by Pope Pius II in 1461, named the co-patron saint of Italy with St. Francis of Assisi in 1939, declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and named co-patron saint of Europe along with St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Pope John Paul II in 1999.  She is also the patron saint of nurses.

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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