Catherine was born in Siena, Italy in 1347, into an exceptionally large family.

When Catherine was 16 years old, motivated by a vision of St. Dominic, she entered the Third Order of the Dominicans, the female branch known as the Mantellate. She confirmed her vow of virginity and dedicated herself to prayer, penance and works of charity, especially for the benefit of the sick.

As the fame of her holiness spread, she became the protagonist of an intense activity of spiritual guidance for people from every walk of life: nobles and politicians, artists and ordinary people, consecrated men and women and religious, including Pope Gregory XI who was living at Avignon in that period and whom she energetically and effectively urged to return to Rome.

She traveled widely to press for the internal reform of the Church and to foster peace among the States. For this reason, that Venerable Pope John Paul II chose to declare her co-patroness of Europe: may the Old Continent never forget the Christian roots that are at the origin of its progress and continue to draw from the Gospel the fundamental values that assure justice and harmony.

Catherine knew great suffering. Some even thought that they should not trust her, to the point that in 1374, six years before her death, the General Chapter of the Dominicans summoned her to Florence to interrogate her. They appointed Raymond of Capua, a learned and humble Friar, and a future Master General of the Order, as her spiritual guide. Having become her confessor and also her “spiritual son,” he wrote a first complete biography of the saint.

The teaching of Catherine, who learned to read with difficulty and learned to write in adulthood, is contained in the Dialogue of Divine Providence or Libro della Divina Dottrina, a masterpiece of spiritual literature, in her Epistolario and in the collection of her Prayers. Her teaching is endowed with such excellence that in 1970 Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church, a title that was added to those of Co-Patroness of the City of Rome — at the wish of Blessed Pius IX — and of Patroness of Italy — in accordance with the decision of Venerable Pius XII.

Catherine once had a vision that Our Lady presented her to Jesus who gave her a splendid ring, saying to her, “I, your Creator and Savior, espouse you in the faith, that you will keep ever pure until you celebrate your eternal nuptials with me in Heaven.” For her Christ was like the spouse with whom a relationship of intimacy, communion and faithfulness exists; he was the best beloved whom she loved above any other good. Catherine said that Jesus appeared to her “holding in his holy hands a human heart, bright red and shining”. He opened her side and put the heart within her saying, “Dearest daughter, as I took your heart away from you the other day, now, you see, I am giving you mine, so that you can go on living with it forever.”

Another trait of Catherine’s spirituality is linked to the gift of tears. They express an exquisite, profound sensitivity, a capacity for being moved and for tenderness. According to Catherine, the tears of saints are mingled with the blood of Christ, of which she spoke in vibrant tones and with symbolic images that were highly effective.

In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, she describes Christ, with an unusual image, as a bridge flung between Heaven and earth. This bridge consists of three great stairways constituted by the feet, the side, and the mouth of Jesus. Rising by these stairways the soul passes through the three stages of every path to sanctification: detachment from sin, the practice of the virtues, and of love, sweet and loving union with God.

Catherine was canonized in 1461. She is the patroness against fire and bodily illness. She is patroness of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania; Europe and Italy. She is invoked for people ridiculed for their piety, sexual temptation, the sick and nurses.

Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: Akin, J. (2020, August 29). 8 Things to Know and Share About St. Catherine of Siena. NCR.