St. Catherine Fieschi was the daughter of a Viceroy of Naples, and born in Genoa.
Her family had given to the church two popes, nine cardinals and two archbishops. Though noble in birth, rich and exceedingly beautiful, Catherine rejected the excesses of the world, and begged her divine Master for some share in His sufferings.
At 16 years old she wished to enter the cloister but found herself promised in marriage to a young nobleman. She was obliged to obey her parents’ intentions.
Her spouse treated her with such harshness that after five years, wearied by his cruelty, she somewhat relaxed her principles and entered into the worldly society of Genoa.
After a time in that life she became enlightened by divine grace as to the danger of her path, Catherine broke with the world and entered upon a life of rigorous penance and prayer. In a vision she saw Jesus with His cross, and heard His reproaches. “O love!” she cried. “I will sin no longer!”
For 23 years she could take no nourishment but Holy Communion, and she drank only a little water mingled with vinegar and salt. Every day she prayed for six to seven hours on her knees, and never relaxed this practice. Her heroic fortitude was sustained by the constant thought of the holy souls of purgatory, whose sufferings were revealed to her, and whose state she has described in a treatise full of heavenly wisdom.
Catherine devoted herself to the service of the hospitals, undertaking the most disagreeable jobs with joy. Seeing her good work, the administrators of the large hospital of Genoa confided to her its entire management. She served there without any remuneration whatsoever.
Her examples also induced her husband to practice patience and amend his ways; before he died, he joined the Third Order of St. Francis and faithfully followed its penitential exercises.
A long and mysterious illness during the last nine years of her own life served to draw Catherine closer to God. The most able physicians could not help her, and judged that her illness was not from natural causes.
Her first biographer wrote an account in detail of her last month on Earth, and assures the church that she left this mortal life in a state of total purification. She died on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Sept. 14, 1510.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini