St. Catherine of Siena

Categories: Profiles

Catherine of SienaCaterina (Catherine) Benincasa was born in Italy in 1347. Her hometown of Siena had been devastated by the Black Death, and many of her siblings did not survive.

When she was six years old, Catherine had her first vision of Christ, who smiled at her and blessed her. In 1363, ten years later, her parents insisted that she marry. Having made a vow of chastity a few years before, Catherine started a fast to dissuade her mother and father. Eventually her father changed his mind and allowed her to remain faithful to her vow. She then joined the Mantellate, the local association of Dominican tertiaries. She spent the rest of her life caring for the poor and sick, often giving away food from her own home.

In 1366 Catherine experienced what she described as her “Mystical Marriage” to Christ. A few years later she started traveling throughout Italy and dictating letters, begging for peace in Italy and the return of the Papacy from Avignon to Rome. She also began to dictate The Dialogue of Divine Providence, a conversation between a soul who “rises up” to God and God himself, which is considered her most renowned work.

In 1375 Catherine received the stigmata. Five years later, she suffered a stroke and died in Rome on April 29, 1380. After miracles were reported at her graveside, Blessed Raymond of Capua, O.P., moved her body inside the Basilica di  Santa Maria sopra Minerva, although her head and thumb are entombed in the Basilica di San Domenico in Siena.

Pope Pius II canonized St. Catherine in 1461, and Pope Pius XII named her a patron of Italy in 1940. Thirty years later, Pope Paul VI named her a Doctor of the Church, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, making them the first women to receive this honor.